San Francisco

Over spring break I visited San Francisco for the first time. The city was beautiful and the food was incredible. My favorite parts of my trip were the DeYoung Museum, the Jewish Contemporary Museum, and The Pirate Supply Store.

O'Keeffe's "Licking Cow"

The architecture of the DeYoung Museum was beautiful with the landscape surrounding. I sat outside for awhile before exploring inside. They had a very good exhibition on Georgia O'Keeffe. The exhibit focused on her works and life on Lake George with her husband Alfred Stieglitz. I was not very knowledgable about O'Keeffe before the exhibit. I loved her use of color and her alternate perspective. Of course her close up paintings of flowers were beautiful, but I enjoyed looking at her "Licking Cow." She painted the cow vertically — every person (including myself) turned their head in front of the painting to view it horizontally. O'Keeffe made the decision to paint and display the image vertically but it was hard for the viewer to accept this change of perspective. I love how the painting looks the way she created it because it takes the viewer out of the idea of the form as a cow to a composition of beautiful colors and shapes. 

The Jewish Contemporary Museum had some really outstanding exhibits. One on "Arthur Szyk: The Art of the Haggadah," "Jason Lazarus: Live Archive," and "Frog and Toad: The World of Arnold Lobel." I loved looking at Arthur Szyk's Haggadah illustrations. I had seen similar illustrations in Haggadah before but have never looked at it from a design standpoint. The way he incorporated imagery and typography is much different than the typography I've studied in school. The Jason Lazarus exhibit had one piece that really stood out to me called "Too Hard To Keep." The artist receives photographic donations and displays them in exhibits and on the project blog. Digital photos can be emailed or texted to Lazarus but are requested to be deleted from all of the sender's devices. I found it interesting that he provides a safe haven where the photos can be kept but releases the burden of someone having a traumatic photograph one can't bear to look at. It was haunting to look at the images and not know the story behind them. Finally, the Arnold Lobel exhibit was much more up-beat. They displayed his sketches and mock-ups for Frog and Toad and illustrations he completed for other authors. It was fun to revisit stories from my childhood from an artistic standpoint and how see how he illustrated life lessons so beautifully. 

Pirate Supply Store: Mustache Mirrors

While walking around the Mission District my friend Rachel and I discovered 826 Valencia, a non-profit tutoring organization disguised as a Pirate Supply Store. Their goal is to get kids aged 6-18 excited about writing and inspired to write. The store was really fun, the walls were covered in jokes, the store was full of activities, and they sell everything from wooden legs to  eye patches. I purchased their Tenth Anniversary Quarterly composed of students' writing and a foreword by Lemony Snicket. All of the store's proceeds go towards the tutoring services they offer. We spent awhile speaking to the man working there about volunteering and possible internship opportunities. The courses they offer for students all sound incredible, as does volunteering. I mentioned that I live in Ann Arbor and he said they have a store there, The Robot Supply Store, which I had heard of but did not realize the connection. I went home to do more research and discovered that the co-founder of 826 Valencia is a TED Prize winner and has similar stores all over the United States. I'm very interested in becoming more involved with the organization. 

This was only a brief summary of my trip. I loved San Francisco and am beginning to search for jobs in the city. To read more about my trip, please visit my travel blog

Aimlessly Scrolling

Last Monday I decided to re-activate my Facebook and re-download all of my social media applications to remind myself what I am responding to. My plan was to return to the social grid for one whole week and create at least one post on each platform. I did this before deactivating myself again last night.

The past week was an interesting experiment to say the least. It felt like I had been offline for so long, but it was only two months. The first few hours back on social media was fun, everything I looked at was new and exciting. However, it didn't take long for this excitement to change. After the first few hours I had nothing new to look at. I already explored and interacted with all of my close friend's Facebook pages and even scrolled through some of their old Instagram photos. When I resorted to looking through my Facebook News Feed, I grew frustrated. I spent a good amount of time looking at things without commenting or liking. Occasionally I would read an acquaintance's post or be reminded of someone I completely forgot I knew. I kept looking and looking but had no idea why. It seemed as though I was just scrolling to pass time. I had the same feelings when looking through my Instagram feed, previously my favorite social media platform. I had no idea why I was viewing these repetitive and mundane images that did not benefit my wellbeing.

The best way I can describe my week on social media is "brain dead." Every idle moment from laying in bed reluctantly waking up in the morning, sitting and eating breakfast, waiting for the bus, on the bus, waiting for a friend, etcetera, was spent scrolling through something for the sake of being busy. When I was offline, sitting and waiting for class to start meant sitting and waiting for class to start. I would read a book or observe my surroundings, both options useful in shaping who I am as a person. When I replaced these activities with constant scrolling, I felt as if gave up myself to be determined by my so called community online.

The most frustrating part of my experience was that all of my friends agreed with me. This past week as I would complain about how much I hate being back on social media they would respond saying something along the lines of "I know, it's so pointless" but won't join me in deletion. I'd like to find a way to visualize my clarity offline to encourage my friends to let go of this strange thing mainstream culture is so attached to. 

Life Without Social Media

For months I've been working on my Integrative project that deals with real life damages caused by social media. After exploring these ideas for so long, I've finally deleted all of my social media accounts. Going off of the social grid has been in the back of my mind all semester but was nervous to make such a huge change. Today marks the 3 week anniversary of life without Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter. Every time I think about social media, see a site, hear about one, or am showed something on a social media platform, I write about it in a journal. During the first week I had about 3-7 entries a day. Now, I have less and less, sometimes going a day or two without writing.

Currently, I'm home for break and have realized it is a lot easier to be off the social grid here. At school I am constantly surrounded by people that use social media as an essential resource and their online life as the one they feel they most accurately exist on. Everyday I sit on the bus or in lecture and see someone on Facebook. Everyday someone tells me to look at a photo on Instagram. Everyday a friend assumes I saw their Snapchat. At school, it seemed like it was impossible to escape. At home, I hardly bring my phone anywhere. Here, I'm not concerned that someone will contact me and that I'll need to respond immediately out of fear of being excluded.

Social media is all about being a part of something, whether it is the physical website or happenings outside of the online community that appear in documentation online. It bothers me that Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter etcetera are all about showing off what you have and what you're doing. What about the person who is excluded from what you have and what you're doing? With social media platforms, we believe we are glorified for our possessions and experiences. We continue to post to gain assurance towards our lifestyle. However, we are constantly comparing our lifestyle to other's. There's always someone with something better. As a result, we curate ourselves more and more. I believe that this curation is damaging to our emotional wellbeing.

Additionally, I had a brief Snapchat relapse that brought me sadness and anger. I looked at snaps my friends sent me, most of which from events I was not invited to or in attendance. Having these experiences shoved in my face felt odd to me. I'd rather not know that I wasn't a part of something than have to experience it secondhand. Going on Snapchat for a short amount of time made me realize how happy I am being off of it. I'll never know what I'm missing and I've been living a much happier and more productive life.

"The Hitori Date Photo" Keisuke Jinushi

A friend sent me this CNN article on Japanese freelance photographer Keisuke Jinushi. The photographer has a blog on how to create what he calls "Hitori Date Photos" or "One Man Date Photos." He posts pictures to his Instagram and Facebook that appear to be posed with a significant other. In alternate photos, he reveals tricks used to make it look like someone else was with him. This, he says, makes the trip feel and look less lonely.

CNN: What do your friends and family think?
Keisuke Jinushi: My male friends say, “You seem happy!”
But my grandma said she burst into tears after reading my blog because her grandson seems pathetic in these photos.

I find it interesting that instead of looking for a significant other to make opportunities like a visit to a coffee shop or a bus ride less lonely - he instead posted heavily posed photos to Facebook and Instagram to make it look like he was happy. Yet another example of curating a life online that is useful towards my independent project. Additionally, the gender gap reaction to his photos is useful towards my project. Those that are so heavily involved in social media have trouble looking past their online lifestyle to see how it effects offline life. It's simple to look at online posts and read them at face value when that is something a culture is used to doing every day. Those who are not immersed in these practices see the dangers in his practices and other's alike.

Laís Pontes "Born Nowhere"

The power of the ability to curate a life is visible in Laís Pontes’s photographic series “Project Born Nowhere” that exists on social media. The artist edited fourteen portraits of herself to create fourteen unique identities and a Facebook page for each. Working off of self portraiture, Pontes transforms herself in a way similar to the transformative works of artist Cindy Sherman. For each photograph, Pontes dresses up and digitally edits herself. Here, she transcends ethnicity and personality to crowd-source identity. After creating a headshot of each person, Pontes adds the photo to the “Born Nowhere” Facebook page. She invites the Facebook community to look at the photo and describe the woman’s interests, history, background, and more. The collectively perceived identity becomes the identity the artist uses to curate the rest of her character’s Facebook page. For example, Pontes created a woman called "Ana Cristina." Facebook users commented on the photo and decided she is:

33 years old, used to be a very shy girl since she always felt like the ugliest one of all. Due to her lack of social skills, she was a great student. Accepted at all the best universities. She went to Stanford and later became a secret agent. She shed her inhibitions and displayed openly lewd behavior which she had kept hidden for years, especially when she got drunk, which happened quite often. Dyed her hair and got a tattoo to assert her freedom. Loves to go out with dark and brooding men. Her next mission is as an undercover waitress in a small town in the States. Born nowhere.

Another one of Pontes’s characters is drastically different. “Catriona Born Nowhere” is a 30 year old Middle Eastern heiress and fashion designer living in New York City. Pontes shows her audience how easy it is for others to create a false self on Facebook and how much we can gather about an identity from how one portrays oneself online. Furthermore, perhaps the best exhibition of the artist’s success is the Facebook community’s interaction with her pages once an identity is created. The artist invites users to experience and interact with her Facebook profiles, many users believe each to be a real person. Recently, on Ana Cristina’s page, Pontes uploaded a picture of an ultrasound with the caption “Christmas came early... I will never be alone again! Happy!” Twenty-nine people liked her update and others commented by congratulating her or asking the gender of the baby. User’s interactions with Pontes’s pages showcase what Facebook allows it’s personality-anonymous users to do in a more exaggerated way.

Stacy Born Nowhere

Amber Born Nowhere

Shena Born Nowhere

TEDxUofM: UNTAPPED_spaces [a pop-up gallery]

This Friday I co-curated a pop-up gallery for TEDxUofM at Vellum Restaurant with fellow marketing team heads, Sarah Angileri and Melissa Weisberg. At the event we showcased artwork from previous TEDxUofM conferences to celebrate our history and promote our upcoming event in March.

Shea Hembrey

For the past few weeks I've been helping market and curate the TEDxUofM pop-up gallery. In honor of the event tonight, here's one of my favorite TED talks.

In his hilarious and inventive presentation, artist Shea Hembrey talks about his biennial, "Seek". Instead of searching for artists for his biennial, Hembrey made up 100 artists and created a work for each artist in only two years. I love how he created a history and personality for each character so each would be believable. Since he created a background for each, every artist had distinct works but were all tied together by his craftsmanship.

The Couple in the Cage

Artists Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez-Pena created a fake group of people called "Amerindians". This traveling performance (1993) exhibited the Fusco and Gomez-Pena wearing garments that appeared as though they could be traditional "tribal" wear in addition to mass manufactured "american" clothing. Surprisingly, viewers did not see the piece as a satire, but an actual group of people they had never heard of being displayed as if in a circus. The shift in understanding of the piece magnifies issues in cultural understanding and morality.

My Integrative Project is the first time I've ever done performance art. I'm currently exploring what the next step of my performance is. Is the presentation style the best way to get my idea across? How can I show my piece in the March gallery? Seeing the way "The Couple in the Cage" showcased their performance helps me get out of my rut and opens a world of doors that push what performance art can be.

Truthful Performance

After realizing the original performance I created was too outlandish to be believable and relatable, the obvious next step was to tone down my character. I thought back to my original interests in approaching topics of appearance on social media and decided to create a new performance without Ellen.

Last Wednesday, I preformed for an LS&A class called "Visuality in New Media." I introduced myself as Melanie Parker, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan that started a career as an Online Image Curator. Melanie Parker wanted to help people improve their social online image as opposed to their professional image. I spoke less about what an Online Image Curator is and more about why I started this business. Throughout the presentation I told three true personal accounts and presented them as ways people used social media platforms to make their social lives "better." These stories did not necessarily show personal mental well being. At the end of the presentation I revealed myself as a Senior in the Stamps School and opened the floor for discussion.

I found this performance to be more successful than my previous performances because students began to tell me stories about themselves and friends that were similar to ones I told. To me this revealed that the presentation was believable enough that students were able to relate to it. Additionally, I had the opportunity to hear some relevant stories that I can use in future projects.

Theatrical Performance

After determining the general theme of my project, I was able to narrow my research and brainstorm. I sat and wrote all of the ideas that came to my head once again without worrying if it will lead to anything. Through this came odd projects: food that photographs itself, headgear that holds your phone right in front of your face, or creating a fake subculture of people convinced their phone is their soulmate. I realized that all of my ideas seemed as though they were making it easier for people to use devices, but in fact pushed boundaries to ask viewers and users "how far is too far?"

Through practice and realization I was led to the idea of offering Instagram lessons as a performance course. I wanted to create a workshop that taught people how to use Instagram not professionally, but socially. The lessons would teach posting etiquette, hashtags, subject matter, food Instagrams, selfies, etc. I thought that this obsessive documentation and posting arose from the desire to create a celebrity life.

For a few weeks I worked with a student in The School of Music, Theatre, and Dance (Ellen Sachs) to create a highly exaggerated character. This character, Melanie Parker, was obsessed with popularity and convinced this could be achieved on Instagram. I wrote two performances that taught audiences how they could achieve fame through Instagram by carefully curating their experiences.

On October 23, Ellie and I performed an Instagram Workshop to about 30 freshmen in the Stamps School of Art & Design. The audience was told by their professors via email that there was an Image Consultant presenting in the school about how to portray oneself online. The students were under the impression that this was a legitimate and professional presentation.

At the end of the performance I handed out an evaluation for students to give to their professors. From this I learned how the audience perceived my piece. Additionally, I visited one of the classes that viewed my performance to reveal myself as a student and discuss my project. What I found useful from our discussion was that students who did not use social media assumed that the character I created behaved in a way that was accurate to how their peers behave on Instagram and Facebook. However, students that use social media couldn't relate to the piece. I assumed it was because they were too involved that they weren't able to look beyond the culture they're so heavily immersed in. However, they felt they couldn't connect to the presentation because the character I created was too heavily exaggerated. Melanie Parker was too focused on celebrity culture and popularity when most are attempting to appear attractive to their immediate online community. 

The Box I Am Stuck In

After a long and relaxing summer of working and traveling, the school year approached too quickly. I had arrived in September feeling completely lost about what to do for IP. The first month or so I felt so paralyzed with fear at the idea of having to figure out what the biggest project of my life thus far would be. The main thing that held me back was the daunting end to my college career. This meant being forced into the real world in search of a job. The IP project was the be-all end-all of my career. If I did something incredible, I would be successful. What was scaring me more was the possibility that I might not have an incredible project and would never even be able to find a job. 

My professors assured me that I was at a good stage, but I had trouble believing them. They assigned us with a quick project - to make a creative map or our interests and inspirations. I took this opportunity to write down every theme I was interested in without worrying if it would lead to anything. One of the more helpful sections of my creative map was in the top right corner where I drew a box and wrote everything that was scaring me about the project. Doing this allowed myself to play.

Working on my map, I thought it was just that ... play. It seemed like word and image vomit - until I took a step back. I found connections between my past works, artists that inspire me, and interests that I had. I realized that my main interests lie in satirical artwork and the internet, specifically social media. Joking to my friend I said that my IP project is just going to be a huge 8 month long prank.

IMG_1776.JPG

"I Forgot My Phone" by AdBusters

About two years ago I was introduced to AdBusters, a Canadian anti-consumerist magazine. This video they recently posted slowly unfolds a story that shows viewers how moments are invaded with technology and therefore never truly experienced. 

Often anti-technology propaganda explicitly tells audiences they should stop using technology. These attempts at breaking users out of their habits is rarely successful because our immersion in this culture makes it difficult to realize what we are doing in order to move beyond it. AdBusters created a simple and relatable piece that is an incredible truth to 21st century lifestyle. Upon viewing, I saw myself in many aspects of the short clip and was ashamed that I participate in this on a daily basis.

Integrative Project Introduction

In the fourth and final year of my BFA degree at the University of Michigan's Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Desgin, I'm required to complete a series of classes called "Independent Project." By April 2014, I will have a senior thesis project, paper, and exhibition. Trying to narrow down all of my interests into one project over the past few months has been exciting and frustrating. Slowly but surely I'm discovering what I'd like to achive in my last year at the Stamps School.

Here, I will post updates about my project and findings in addition to outside infuences I've found. Below is a photo of my studio space.

Photo by Cy Abdelnour

Photo by Cy Abdelnour