An Exclusive Look at Park Life: The New UtopiaJuxtapoz // Saturday, 04 Jul 2009
Park Life: The New Utopia
Exhibition Dates: June 27th – July 25th, 2009
Subliminal Projects Gallery
1331 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Text and images by Trina Calderon
The gang at Studio Number One (SNO) worked hard on a theme and concept for their 2nd annual group show, Park Life. This year’s theme, The New Utopia, was a brainchild of the studio to pose several questions to both the artist and the viewer. “Why do we create utopias? What can we learn from our past utopias? How does our current existence inform our ideas of utopia? How can defining a utopia help us evolve, empower and unify ourselves? Can a better fantasy help us create a better reality?”
The designers of SNO and several other artists who were handpicked to participate give us their creative interpretation of utopia. Park Life features the work of Shepard Fairey, Amanda Fairey, Florencio Zavala, Cleon Peterson, Zach Gibson, Kristian Henson, Casey Ryder, Jesselisa Moretti, Simon Steinhardt, Philip Lumbang, Ernesto Yerena, Marissa Textor, Adrianne Reade, Date Farmers, Jeremy Kaplan, Fighting, POW WOW, Seth Ferris, Sage Vaughn, Maya Hayuk, Michael Muller, Jessica Williams, Hellovon, Eric Elms, Mansi Shah, Tanya Rubbak, Gail Swanlund, Edwin Bethea, Jeremy Landman, Devin Gallagher, Nicholas Bowers, Spencer Elden, and Z James.
Preparing the exhibit involved evaluating the gallery and applying some physical changes to the space. The arches were painted different colors to evoke different emotions and text was written above each one to make the viewer make conscious thoughts or choices – SEE, BELIEVE in the first room and IS, WAS, and WILL BE in the next, ZERO and INFINITY in the third, and from the hallway, CREATE, DESTROY, and TRANSFORM. Little potted plants were added and the gallery had a homier feeling.
Flo Zavala and his shrine
Florecio Zavala, Associate Creative Director with SNO, was part of the vision for this show. “I think that as a whole we have been looking internally at ourselves (the studio) and what we’re doing, even though our work had a definite purpose and a vision. It was almost with the changing of the guard and the presidency, and this whole other shift in thinking and things opening up, that it was real important to re-evaluate ourselves. We thought with this idea of Utopia it’s interesting because it’s kind of antiquated, but at the same you need utopia, because it’s in your goals or your aspirations that you need to be working towards something, even if it’s the ideal or even if you are working towards this ideal society."
He continues, "No matter what you work in, whether it’s design or art or advertising, I think that there seems to be more of this process and working toward this goal and really redefining things for ourselves in the same way we were doing it in our studio for artists and designers and people who are putting these symbols out there and creating this culture. Not that none of these people’s works didn’t have that purpose before, but kind of forcing everybody to take a step back and be a little more objective and come up with different kinds of solutions. We were just posing this question and seeing how people responded to that. Whether it was the older idea of utopia, which is the physical place or perfect environment or more about relationships or tied in with technology or things that are more relevant today. There is a lot of designers and artists in this show and I think it is a nice mix, because you have this emotional interpretation of utopia but then you also have this practical approach to utopia.”
He created a shrine for the show, meant to be non-denominational, and instead a symbol. “I started working on this piece one, because I liked the idea of a place that people could gather and meet and share ideas. I think in terms of it being a spiritual piece, I think that part of the defining of that utopia, it’s something that doesn’t exist. Everyone is guided by whatever kind of higher power they have, it can be religious or not. I kind of matched up all those ideas together.”
Casey Ryder and “Trim Tab”
Casey Ryder started as an intern with SNO and came on full-time after he graduated from Otis School of Design in 2007. His idea of utopia is “Living up to those values you work towards and it’s actually something that you are doing, and making it happen. There’s no like point of – this is it, we’re in the utopia. It is what the time and place always stands for.” His piece “Trim Tab” is a mixed media work on wood. He used a portion of a picture of Buckminster Fuller and some black and green colored graphic symbol abstraction to create a design that reflects his form of progress. “This is going back to the constructivist field and right after WWII, kind of rising from the ashes and how shitty the world was, we can make this place better, and look towards the future. I’m using Buckminster Fuller, he was another visionary who saw this idea of progress and utopia. He saw that these things can exist and can happen. We’re working towards these ideals and thinking of the new utopia I want to get back to that idea of a utopia and how today when we say things can get worse, how can we make it better? It’s just bringing back that kind of sensibility and idealistic approach. This is just saying that no it can get better, no matter what happened in the past. We can bring it to the future and make it happen.”
Kristian Henson, Art Director at SNO helped develop the show identity along with Flo and Cleon Peterrson. He assisted in the creation of a flag for the show and explained how they are very intrinsic with the value of a place and really mark an identity. Their flag was loaded with meaning. “You know the USA flag, it has the stars. I didn’t know what they meant, I thought it was states, but it was supposed to represent the sky. Like reaching to the heavens. This place is kind of meant be a utopia, people come from other places here - the slaves, the middle-class. It’s the land of opportunity. It is this somewhat utopian place and we don't really realize that. People come here wanting something better, and in thinking how we can do that similar idea in a more international way, in a way that's thinking about all life in some way, that's what we did with that this flag. We have little arrows in each corner, representing different values. The up arrow is progress, the circle is about reusability or recycling , or sustainability. The two arrows is a Native American symbol of friendship, the idea of putting down your arrows and being one. The twisty one is kind of the joke element, the wild card. You kind of need that, like punk music.”
The flag of the New Utopia
In addition to working on the show identity, Kristian also created a piece that reflects his minimalist sensibility. This is something I could get behind. He represented the whole notion of doing good with what we have, kind of making the world a better place now, instead of having to add to it to do it. He printed black ink on black in a screenprint that read “OH SWEET NOTHING.” To add to it, he placed several prints and a empty jar on the ground in front of his work to explore what people might think to do - would they take a print for themselves and leave nothing behind? Or leave something and not take anything? Or take the jar at the end of the night (it did fill up with dollar bills)? He was taking a stab again at posing some conscious choice to the viewer, and making them think about their actions. His idea of utopia? “Wanting something more, but also a realistic view that there is nowhere else to escape to. We can make this place better now.”
Choosing to take a different path than the artists, Simon Steinhardt created a small book titled, “50 Mediations for the New Utopia.” A selection of passages that are essentially thoughts on how to make the world a better place. The cover is a digitally manipulated color photo Simon took at Joshua Tree that has the sun setting and stretches past the spine to reveal the moon coming up on the back cover, he pointed out it how it has both the present and the past. Here is an excerpt:
8. A GREATER TRUTH
Lies. We hate them, yet we use them as tools to help us create or preserve an alternate reality that suits our egos better than the reality in which we actually exist. As we move toward the New Utopia, how do lies alter our path of progress? What lies must we cast aside in order to coexist? What lies are hardest to detach from?
Imagine stepping into a dressing room with your ego, you and it as two distinct individuals. All the truths and lies about you, including some that you don’t even recognize, are the clothes in there: your character, your values, your desires, and all the things you think other people think about you. Try each one on. If it fits, wear it. If it doesn’t, hand it over to your ego, and consider what your life would be like if you were never to wear it again.
Simon has been a published writer since he was 14, and is probably the only one working at SNO who uses words more than graphics. The book is on display at the show, easy to pick up and read.
“It’s really along those lines of making progress, and taking action. There’s also this tongue and cheek quality to it, because it's mediation. Which is sort of like, having better thoughts. So how do better thoughts actually make the world a better place? They don't. Some of it's like, ‘imagine yourself and you are there and you are doing this thing, ok? So, go do it, actually go do it!’ I hope it's inspirational. I hope people get something out of it. People who are like, 'oh it's kind of spiritual’, well, I don’t need to make this a new religion. Some people are a little jaded on the idea of meditation or religion, that it's something that’s kind of fun. You can take away really whatever you want, it's somewhat ambiguous in that sense. If you want to take it really seriously you can use it as inspiration. If you just want to have a laugh at the people who take this seriously, it’s there too.”
Some other highlights in the show are a collection of mixed media assemblages (animal cracker and Ritz boxes and Hello Kitty stickers) with ink drawings of these stoic but emotional male faces by Date Farmers, a digital collage “Perfect Smile” by Sarah Hass that is a pieced together face that is “thank you” and “yes”-ing to a shower of pills that are falling into her open head, and an amazing drawing by Marissa Textor titled, "Niagara Falls." Park Life is a nice collection of work by a community of artists that enjoy thinking and using art to make you think.