‘They’re so frightened of being wrong they have exempted themselves from being fashionable’ says British artist Grayson Perry in today’s headline in The Independent. He is referring to the personality-free trend in fashion which could be extrapolated to the fearful norm-driven world we live in.
Is being inoffensive, non-descript and safe serving the civilization? How does this transfer to style in the workplace?
Any workplace has its subcultures. Take a hospital, the doctors generally don’t mix with the nurses, and the technicians are a culture of their own. Some would attribute these divisions to hierarchy, but there is also an element of workstyle. Each subculture almost has its own language; there are types of people that prefer certain types of work. These differences are not inherently bad; they just are. If these types of people worked better together, understood one another’s language and yet had no expectation that one would begin to behave like the other, you might get a more interactive, dynamic work culture.
What if we had a cosmopolitan approach to dealing with different work styles? Instead of attempting to create a melting pot or a smoothie out of our diversity, how about fully imagining the potential of each person and appreciating that supporting unique style has more potential to create delicious possibility?
Cooperation is often confused with compliance or conformity. Perhaps because it’s easier for the mind to grasp, there is often a push in societies and workplaces for everyone to adhere to the same norms.
Collective potential is maximized when we steer away from conformity and more toward imaginative collaboration based on the appreciation of the potential of many independent and unique styles. In order to effectively mix different styles, it’s important to understand the distinct nature of your own style and that of others.
An understanding of aesthetic or taste can help identify different styles without them being seen as a source of conflict, but rather an appreciation of human possibility.
Realizing collective potential requires three types of action:
For more from Grayson Perry on creativity, identity, war, refugees, check this out:
“From the ice age, they still made culture…. When we’re fighting wars part of the reason is for the freedom for us to express ourselves.”
In the words of Raqs Media Collective:
“The best kind of art, like the rain, invokes a re-ordering of the cognitive and the sensory fields. It asks of its actual and potential publics to open doors and windows and let the other worlds in. This re-ordering–subtle slight, sure, sharp or soft as the case may be, whether it is a desultry drizzle across a few frazzled or jaded synapses, or the neurological equivalent of an electrical thunderstorm and sudden downpour — is why we bother with art in the first place. When it rains art, we do not reach for umbrellas. It makes sense to let ourselves soak, as long as we can, like children dancing in the season’s first rain.”
In the same vein, my art practice does not discriminate audiences in the application of art but almost always disrupts a habitual pattern to inspire a personal or social shift. As Creative Director of limeSHIFT, our art interventions have influenced empathy, community and leadership in private companies, universities and neighborhoods in Boston, Chicago, and New York City. Many of our working practices are directly informed not just by individual artistic processes, but also by the working modes of artist collectives.
Artist collectives have occurred throughout history, often gathered around central resources, for instance the ancient sculpture workshops at the marble quarries on Milos in Greece and Carrara in Italy. Collectives featured during both the Russian revolution when they were set up by the state in all major communities, and the French Revolution when the Louvre in Paris was occupied as an artist collective.
An artist collective is an initiative that is the result of a group of artists working together towards shared aims. These aims can include almost anything that is relevant to the needs of the artist, ranging from purchasing bulk materials, sharing equipment, space or materials, through to following shared ideologies, aesthetic and political views or even living and working together as an extended family. Sharing of ownership, risk, benefits, and status is implied, as opposed to other, more common business structures with an explicit hierarchy of ownership such as an association or a company.
The aphorism “a rising tide lifts all boats” is associated with the idea that improvements in the general economy will benefit all participants in that economy. Beyond sharing materials and ideologies, artist collectives have showcased time and again that collaborative processes tend to benefit all of the members of any given community.
The first client. The first project. The first co-created corporate art installation.
How meaningful is a startup’s first engagement? For limeSHIFT, it was everything.
Last month, limeSHIFT finished its first engagement with a corporate client. An idea that originated in an MIT classroom became a reality at Life is Good’s Boston headquarters. limeSHIFT, as a concept, has been evolving for years; it’s the culmination of work started by Yazmany Arboleda and Nabila Alibhai with their 2013 orchestration of Monday Mornings in Kabul, where the mission was to use the insertion of art and beauty to transform a community and change public narrative.
By moving this practice into a corporate setting, limeSHIFT was testing a new idea, using public art methodologies in a private community. As noted in limeSHIFT’s first blog post, I wrote, “our job was to create art that would inspire Life is Good’s employees to spread optimism externally.”
Through a process of quantitative and qualitative research and workshops, Yazmany and I dug into the culture, ethos and inspiration at Life is Good. The result was two art installations, #electricJOY and #helloSUNSHINE, located in the stairwell and lobby entrance, respectively.
Employee feedback was overwhelmingly positive. On #electricJOY, Christine Kwitchoff, Director of Global Sourcing, noted that “this mural has sparked so much conversation and really sets the tone for our interaction with others.” Colleen Clark, Director of Optimistic People stated, “it’s a beautiful representation of the people at Life is Good and the reality and the authenticity of the moments they go through in any given day.”
The inspiration for #helloSUNSHINE came from a workshop where Emily Saul, Director of Programming at Life is Good Kids Foundation, wrote the following as the intended message for those entering the space: “Hello, I see you. You matter. Your time matters. What you do here is valuable. Be inspired to be here and help make Life Good for the world.”
We unveiled the artwork during a Boston Artweek Panel where Bert Jacobs, CEO of Life is Good said:
In the end, our first project with the help and support of the Life is Good community inspired us to continue with our work. It encouraged us that there is, in fact, a place in the world for more social practice art. For that, we are eternally grateful. The first truly is everything.
“What they did was open up a curiosity in all of us that I think makes us better decision makers and better community members.” – Colleen Clark, Director of Optimistic People at Life is Good
Curiosity is a critical trait of people who bring about innovation in our world. From Thomas Edison to Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein, we have seen humans shift the narrative of our collective existence by allowing their curiosity to transport them from awareness to action. Some of the most celebrated artists of all time have created masterpieces by using their curiosity to experiment on canvas (Claude Monet, Jackson Pollock, and Jean-Michel Basquiat) and more recently on everything from smartphones (Miranda July) to building facades (Jenny Holzer) to plates (Vik Muniz). In her latest book “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear,” Elizabeth Gilbert makes the case that allowing ourselves to use curiosity as a tool for everyday living could not only bring about a more fruitful life, but a more pleasurable one, too.
The way that Gilbert sees it:
“The trick is to just follow your small moments of curiosity. It doesn’t take a massive effort. Just turn your head an inch. Pause for a instant. Respond to what has caught your attention. Look into it a bit. Is there something there for you? A piece of information? For me, a lifetime devoted to creativity is nothing but a scavenger hunt — where each successive clue is another tiny little hit of curiosity. Pick each one up, unfold it, see where it leads you next.”
This is the first in a series of blogs featuring limeSHIFT artists.
In 2011, artist Lyn Godley filled a gallery in Cologne, Germany with 75 images of birds in flight with points of light along their wingtips and tails. Dimming the lights so that the fibre optics showed up more, the wingtips of the birds became like a constellation in the night sky and the dark magnificence of the room unexpectedly drew crowds that would come and sit quietly, sometimes for hours and often repeatedly, in an embrace of calm.
This is not a typical response; the average amount of time viewers spend in front of a piece of artwork is 30 seconds. Multiple hours is not the norm. For the next year, Godley talked to doctors and art historians and dug into research databases to understand why! She found that exposure to images of nature, natural fractals, and repeated pattern has healing capabilities, reducing stress and improving overall health in the viewer. She also found that particular wavelengths of light result in reduction of stress and calm the body on a physiological level.
(today, we continue our interview with William Kentridge. The first part can be found here)
YA: Tell me a about the history of Johannesburg, since you’ve mentioned it, and how it’s affected your work. Apartheid and the reality of –
WK: Well, there’s a 2 billion year history of Johannesburg, which was a meteorite impact, which tilted the earth, which brought the gold to the surface, which is the reason Johannesburg existed. So it has a geological – not a geographic – X. And the hills around Johannesburg are essentially made by these piles of earth that came out of the mines, from the gold mines, those are our hills. But unlike most hills, which are fixed, and mountains, which are symbols of eternity, these are portable properties. They’re owned by the mining companies that excavated them and, as the price of gold goes up, they will get erased. So it’s a kind of a city that animates itself, it erases itself. You’ll see a hill and over the course of three months it will literally be rubbed out. It will be blasted away with high-pressure waterjets. So there’s a way in which the city is a new city. At my age, I’ve been alive for, like, 40% of the age of the city. The city’s only 130 years old.
YA: How old are you now?
WK: 56, 40% of the age of the city. So there’s that sense of it being an unfixed entity. And one that’s changed over 50 years, there’s no doubt, that I remember the city. It’s very bleached in terms of its colors, particularly in winter, it’s very harsh light, high contrast. So there’s a way in which it has an affinity with charcoal drawing, so there’s a lot of links that go across. It’s a bastardized, city of bastardy. It doesn’t have a long tradition. All its traditions are imported, recent, from all over. So I think it’s a city that proclaims both a virtue and the necessity for mixed traditions for constructing itself out of abandoned objects and thoughts. Read More…
It is a blinding bright winter morning in Johannesburg and I am sipping on honeybush rooibos tea while I wait for one of my artist heroes: Mr. William Kentridge. We are meeting again for the first time since the opening of his retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York to discuss his dream of being an elephant, how apartheid influenced his practice, what keeps him curious, and the exercise of embracing a multiplicity of mediums. This was my third time in South Africa, where I have been travelling annually to support an arts empowerment program at Nkosi’s Haven (an orphanage founded with the aim of looking after mothers and children directly affected by HIV/AIDS).
A lone sofa sits in a wide open space with a simple Maplewood coffee table in front of it. The proportions of the space lead me to think that it could be a double decker bus garage designed by Mies van der Rohe. Instead of tall buses, exquisite three-dimensional corpses occupy the place: musical machines that feel like oversized puppets. My memory keeps going back to one, a rolling tri-pod upholding a sewing machine with megaphones for arms. These would soon thereafter be shipped to New York for his solo show at the Marian Goodman Gallery titled Second-hand Reading. Read More…
This script was branded on an over-sized T-Shirt hanging in the Carpenter Center at Harvard for exhibition ad usum “to be used” by Pedro Reyes.
Reading Doris Sommers, The Work of Art in the World, got me searching for examples of Pedro Reyes work, who is the epitome of an artist who disarms us with both the beauty of his work and his process which is often spiritually transformative. He is the type of artist limeSHIFT strives to engage in order to create change within organizations and in communities; his work is not just sculptural but also engaging and he strives for it to be participatory and useful for social and psychological transformation. Read More…