Fri April 16th
My work explores social issues and relies primarily on photography, film, performance, and language. I’m drawn to intervening in physical and digital public spaces to highlight our shared humanity and create avenues for participation and community. I’m interested in communities both local and global, digital and physical, and the places where they intersect.
While it is possible to just focus on the sadness in the world, my work attempts to provide opportunities for hope, whether through seeing the beauty that surrounds you, doing a simple action, sharing your story, or remembering the child inside.
Hurt people hurt people and right now systems are designed to perpetuate hurt. Can we collectively reimagine the systems that govern our lives, especially the subliminal ones that are so ingrained that we no longer see or question them?
I hope that we can come together and decide that we want to heal our personal and global scars and remain on this planet together, as climate change is really the biggest problem of our times and the way we treat the Earth is just a reflection of how we treat one anther.
I see all my projects, my art, as a consistent effort to adjust the hands of fate, while also letting go of control of my own destiny in the process. In that tension is both the truth and the inspiration for each day!
Human kindness is the most valuable community asset that I experience through my work. Art can enable an interaction that is not based on a capital transaction, but rather one based on care, empathy, and love. As humans, the only thing we are truly meant to do is to evolve – physically, emotionally, mentally, sexually, etc. But, let’s be real – evolving, growing, is hard work. To really evolve, you have to face yourself on a deep level, to question fundamental ideas and perceptions you hold as true, and to let go of control. Giving and receiving kindness enables evolution to occur when society profits by you not evolving, not questioning, not growing, which is why I think kindness is a particularly powerful asset that can occur through art in community.
I think that’s easiest to explain on a per project basis, using three recent projects as examples.
The Compliment Project, which started in 2016, is part of a continuous exploration of language in public space, which either controls our bodies (no parking, no loitering, stop) or sells us products (billboards, bus ads, store names) rather than encouraging us to interact. In an effort to place the language of love into public space, I designed and started posting compliment posters in the streets of San Francisco and created a website (thecomplimentproject.org) where anyone could download them for free. The project has so far spread over two million compliments in eight languages worldwide, and has been featured in publications all over the world including The New York Times. Earlier this year, I published a book with Chronicle Books that is an expansion and re-imagination of the original compliment posters I designed. The book features 50 colorful powers with 50 unique compliments and each one was designed by different folks on the design team at Chronicle.
Fueled by the idea that dreams in the inherently poetic voice of a child have the potential to bridge superficial divides and instigate meaningful change, this spring, I traveled to schools across America with filmmaker Aimee Hoffman talking to young people under 18 years old and asking them what they would change if they were the President of the United States – artifacts from this journey are online at ifiwerethepresident.org. Their main message was that we need to move past what separates us to treat one another with kindness and respect and unite as one. The website also includes a template for young people to add their voice in re-imaging the future and a K-12 lesson plan for educators to facilitate this activity in schools and ground it in a broader discussion of civic engagement and art as a tool for change.
On World Toilet Day (Nov 19, 2018), I organized a public performance piece with Lava Mae to raise awareness about the lack of access to public hygiene in San Francisco and hopefully catalyze positive change. The participants affixed (removable) vinyl stickers onto mirrors in publicly accessible bathrooms around the city that say “you are loved” and a wall label that encourages viewers to take part in the solution. Sadly, San Francisco has only 24 public toilets and none are open from 8pm-7am. Not surprisingly, we’re in a league of our own for street cleaning costs, spending more than four times as much as Chicago which is almost five times larger and more than three times as much as Los Angeles whose population is more than four times greater. The performance was a plea to get to the root cause of this issue by providing 24/7 safe and convenient access to bathrooms and showers. The website lovesticks.org also has additional ways to get involved.
If I Were The President and You Are Loved are still early in their inception so I don’t have as tangible results to show but the former aims to elevate the youth voice and their platform of beliefs to a national level to unite us for a better future and the later aims to provide 24/7 safe and convenient access to toilets and showers for all humans. Both are lofty goals and it’s just the beginning. 🙂