No Show* // an exploration of the human condition

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With vision boards covering the walls, and the arched ceiling of The Dome atop the historic Humboldt Bank Building covering our heads, we gathered to tackle a concept central to human survival: Nourishment.

Incredibly intimate and highly marketed, we chose Nourishment for the No Show* debut to spark introspection and innovation among pioneers within the food industry. “How,” we asked chefs, food brand CEOs, writers, entrepreneurs, “how can we recalibrate the experience of nourishment for the rapidly changing 21st century? How do we define nourishment today?”

As a collaborative project with Gershoni Creative, No Show* allows us to combine our passions in designing for human connection, creating a community that drops pretense in favor of cross-pollination and genuine inquiry.

The topic of Nourishment quickly turned to the tensions and challenges within the food industry and across our society: 

// How do we ensure that nourishment is inclusive?

// Do we seek to feed, or do we seek to profit?

// Where can we work across difference to create a resurgence of human connection within the food movement?

Touching on issues of income disparities, changing agricultural practices, and industry temptations to indulge rather than feed, leaders in the food movement gathered to share personal stories and professional insights, creating a collective intelligence for the future of food. Our deliberate conversation encouraged action by illuminating the threads of connectivity across the spectrum of our experience, highlighting potential solutions to the challenges we all face in finding, and generating, true nourishment.

Photo credit: Gershoni Creative

Photo credit: Gershoni Creative

Over the course of the year, this series on the Human Condition will cover topics such as: Belonging, Attraction, Design & Power, and Legacy & Heritage. We aim to use No Show as a space to grapple with issues that are central to the challenges society, in hopes of building a more connected, caring, and innovative future. Additional insights on each topic to follow.

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In DIALOGUE // Erica Deeman

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Erica Deeman is a contemporary photographer whose current work in portraiture upturns assumptions on identity, humanity, gender, and race.  Having joined us for a recent Dialogue: On Power, we explore the importance of reframing representation, historical legacy, and the redistribution of power.

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ERICA DEEMAN: ON POWER & REPRESENTATION 

Photo credit: Anastasiia Sapon, San Francisco

Photo credit: Anastasiia Sapon, San Francisco

Ariel Cooper: To start from the very beginning, what was your childhood like?

Erica Deeman: I was born in Nottingham, UK. My mom is Jamaican, my dad is English. I went to an all-girls private school from a very early age, and wore a school uniform every day. I lived in a formal environment and though not clearly spoken, a feminist agenda was present. Since it was an all-girls school, the headmistress was, by her title, a woman, and the focus was on academic excellence. Art was not given a foremost position in terms of my education, but being an educated, intelligent woman definitely was.

AC: How do you see that experience translating into your work?

ED: A formal nature and presentation is a legacy of my education, and the concept of historical references can be seen throughout my work. Having been taught from an early age that you could do anything as a woman, the potential of women has been a theme running through my life, with my first body of work focused on the silhouettes of women.

There were very few references of African diaspora in my childhood, both historical or representational. There were maybe four other women of color in my school and that similarly reflected the society I was growing up in at the time. The history we learned was so blatantly focused on the European perspective. So the concept of historical representation is present in my work as I look back and review the visual stimulus we were given and try to articulate and place people who are not white Europeans.

Courtesy the artist and Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco

Courtesy the artist and Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco

The history we learned was so blatantly focused on the European perspective. So the concept of historical representation is present in my work as I look back and review the visual stimulus we were given and try to articulate and place people who are not white Europeans.

AC:  As if you are creating a different type of history for people to look back on?

ED: Yes, using the framework and the familiarity we have with historical visual references such as portraiture, and re-articulating that for the African diaspora and for people of color.

AC: You mentioned you gravitated towards marketing with a desire to be a creative. How do you see your education in Public Relations informing your work?

ED: Advertising is about a single, clear message that people can understand. With art, you have a little bit more room for interpretation. In some ways, the wider the interpretation, the better the art. The more concise the interpretation for advertising, the better the advert. I understand that repetitious, visual recognitions are crucial to getting your message across. Because I work in series, I create environments where the only thing I'm changing is the person within the portrait. The idea that you can create something that is instantly recognizable as belonging to a campaign or a brand — I definitely still have that within me.

The only difference is that I've given my work a bit more room for interpretation. When you create an ad campaign, the logo has to be the same size. I can see that the spacing and design of my images is very similar, it's almost like there is no real change in dimensions. In some ways, it replicates the way people look at people of color. My work builds off the idea that we group things and we generalize. The work fits into that expectation, but forces you to kind of look further.

AC: This visual recognition is evident throughout your work, with the concept of the silhouette being very prominent. What drew you to the silhouette, and how has that evolved throughout your art career thus far?

ED: The first time I invited a woman from the African diaspora into my studio, the image that I made was a silhouette. I wasn't there to make a silhouette. It's something that I saw. There is a historical importance -- the silhouette is a mass medium that people use and formulate identity from. This is important in the context of my work because women of color were never really included within the silhouette.

It [the silhouette] is strongly linked to features in character. Physiognomy and the legacy of pseudoscience is still within our psyche somewhere. The reality is that we can look at someone's face, or we can look at the shape of a feature, and think, “That person is dishonest, or honorable, or a criminal,” or all these different elements and assumptions. We still have a resting bitch face. We have people that alter their faces to be perceived as more favorable. The silhouette is a tool to enhance and open up that dialogue. With my work, I have the opportunity to give more detail and humanity to my subjects.

AC: Re-envisioning the silhouette to include all the nuances that exists, rather than just an outline or a shell.

ED: Exactly. Through my own experience of moving to the States, I felt the expectation that's placed upon you because of the color of your skin. It's been very important for me to think about how I could open up a wider visual narrative for people of color, for women from the African diaspora, so they could be perceived with more depth and with more character, and with more adjectives used to describe us.

AC: Could you share a bit about the relationship you have with the subjects you photograph and how you choose whom to photograph?

ED: Many of the women I found were strangers from the street. When I started making the work in school, I waited outside in areas of high foot traffic in search for women of color. It isn't important for me to have a deep connection with somebody before I make an image, but it turned out that many of my subjects became friends and helped me find additional people for more photographs.

It is an interesting experience to ask somebody for a formal portrait, because firstly, it is very formal, and secondly, there are so many expectations around beauty, and what it means to be in a portrait within such a formal setting. There's always going to be a problem with beauty, and how it's defined, and I enjoy challenging and asking those questions -- what does it mean to be beautiful within a photograph, and how is it measured and owned?

I realize that within portraiture, I am making the images. It is my interpretation, and a photograph or a visual representation could never really, truly supply any real information about who a person is. So, in a way, my subjects are my great vessels in which I can deliver my message.

AC: Similar themes of authority and representation were prominent in our recent Dialogue: On Power. What reflections do you have on that conversation and how these themes relate to your work?

ED: History is very important for me. As we get access to more information, it's very clear how history is articulated and how it can be re-articulated and redressed. For me, in my work, art has power. It's very important to look at who is making the work, and who is in front of, and the vision of the work, and how that has formed representation. In connection to our dialogue, we all have some measure of power. With my work, I'm trying to re-contextualize it on gallery walls.

We can look at how power has been distributed, and we can use that information as a springboard to create a wider, more sympathetic narrative. I think one of the great successes of the movie Moonlight, is not necessarily this great, dynamic storyline, but just the possibility of emotion for the characters involved. Emotions that challenge us all to think in a broader way. I think that's very powerful. There is power merely in the act of transforming a thought into a deeper emotion that could make one stop for just a second and think, "If this woman can look like this on the gallery wall, maybe she could be this in normal life,” or “maybe he could have so much more depth than what I've previously expected.”

We have people that alter their faces to be perceived as more favorable. The silhouette is a tool to enhance and open up that dialogue. With my work, I have the opportunity to give more detail and humanity to my subjects.

Within a photograph, and within visual depiction, there is power. There is the power to elevate, and there is the power to denigrate. I think that within this environment and within this body of work, it's definitely an empowering, shared moment. Using the portrait and its historical ability to elevate and position, especially within the gallery setting. Within a walled, framed environment that has always been its intention.

AC: You just mentioned creating a more sympathetic narrative. How did that desire influence your creative decisions for your new series, Brown?

ED: Brown came from the expectation about my own heritage. I am biracial, and I have always found that people expected my dad to be black and my mum to be white. It's the other way around. In this series, I wanted to explore that expectation of the black man.

An image can challenge a legacy of physiognomy, this idea of "othering," and the elevation of European features. The portrait has provided a way to understand someone and depending on the depth and environment we assume, "This person looks a particular way, which means this person is fantastic, and great, and all of those wonderful, positive characteristics." But then we've seen other photographs or depictions and assume, "This person is obviously a criminal,” or "This person is dishonest."

For the Brown series, color was incredibly important for me. The backdrop is a color that is very close to my own skin tone as a way to insert myself into the image. Obviously, I am within the image because the portrait is a shared moment, but I wanted to have some kind of physical element of myself within the image. This particular color opens up a narrative about color and definitions. I also used a very formal portrait style that we are used to seeing, but not with men of color. Not with men from the African diaspora.

Another creative decision I made was the naked torso, which speaks to the idea of removing clothing as the key identifier and class positioning for these men. I wanted the viewer to look at the faces within a repetitive environment and try to understand who they are against the beautiful color that is emanating.

When people create work, especially photography, the assumption is that the person creating the work has all of the power. I return back to that word, because the assumption is that you, behind the camera, are in the strongest position. But with this body of work, it's not always true. There is so much of me that I have to give in order to create something that we share together. The process is completely shared in terms of that power dynamic. We are definitely making something together.

Courtesy the artist and Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco

Courtesy the artist and Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco

AC: What are you hoping to bring to your next body of work?

ED: It's always about evaluation. I'm always asking, "How am I evaluated?" In everyday life, I'll walk into an office to look at some prints, and someone's going to say hello to me, and within that split second they are evaluating me.

My practice is centered on evaluation. That is the concept that I always bring to the work. When you look at this person, right now, what are you thinking? How am I being perceived? How am I perceiving the person that's in front of my camera? How is the person in front of a beautiful, framed piece of work in a gallery wall evaluating this person? That's where I am. That's me. I'm always there.

AC: Is there anything you want to share about your current shows at BAMPFA (Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive) and your first show with Anthony Meier Fine Arts?

ED: Other than that I'm super excited about it? No. This will be the first time that so many of my portraits will have been placed on the wall -- over 30 of them. I feel that it's going to widen the narrative of these men and women, and I’m excited to be in both Berkeley and San Francisco!

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Edited by Brianna Colburn & Ariel Cooper

Letter from the Editor // An Exciting Year Ahead

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2017. A year of collaboration. A year of focus, determination and discovery. A year of shaping the human experience to inspire next-level thinking.

Our first collaboration is with San Francisco-based Gershoni Creative. The event series, called No Show, is a hybrid of our pop-up ThinkTank format and Gershoni Creative’s cross-disciplinary approach to building brands. No Show invites industry leaders to come together, to drop pretense in favor of cross-pollination, engagement and innovation, tackling issues central to the human experience — nourishment, belonging, attraction, design & power, and legacy & heritage. Details from each dialogue will be shared throughout the year.

No Show is a series open to the community -- if you’d like to nominate an innovative mind to take part, please be in touch.

Photo credit: Vinobosh Photography 

Photo credit: Vinobosh Photography 

Our second collaboration is with the Berlin-based DO School. The Do School is known for their unique approach to innovation strategy, bringing together leaders and young entrepreneurs to solve challenges. Complementing our cross-disciplinary critical inquiry process, together we will be working internationally with both late-stage startups and Fortune 500 companies to move the needle on the future of people, product, and purpose for organizations and brands.

More and more, our work has uncovered the need for human-to-human connection in business. We’ve worked with companies like Lyft, Google, and Kaiser to shift perspectives, inspire action, and organically script the path to results.

One topic that needs a shift in perspective is power. So much so, we felt a deep-dive is necessary. This year we will bring over 30 cross-industry thought leaders together to address how the topic of Power is articulated, contested, and informed in the 21st century. We will expand our signature pop-up ThinkTank session to extend across multiple days, employing a wide spectrum of perspectives to move the needle on the topic’s critical role in pressing business and social issues. By connecting across disciplines, the Dialogue series will use deep inquiry to form a collective intelligence that can have a cross-cultural, cross-generational, and cross-gender impact.

We’ll continue to communicate monthly -- our blog interviews with the likes of Ivy Ross, Tomas Saraceno, and Erica Deeman, among others, will go-live in the coming months.  

For those of you who have been loyal followers from the get-go, we thank you. And for our new friends - stay tuned, this year is shaping up to be the most exciting yet!

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a holiday message

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Dialogue is a practice.

 
In dialogue, we discover ourselves in relation to others.
We question, bridge difference, form a collective intelligence, and cultivate new understanding.

2017. How can we all create more of this?  

Happy Holidays.
 

 
Artwork & studio: Richard T. Walker 

Artwork & studio: Richard T. Walker 

 

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In DIALOGUE // Shantell Martin

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Shantell Martin is a British visual artist whose work is a meditation of lines. Creatures, faces, and conversations emerge in Shantell's stream-of-consciousness pieces, as she combines fine art, technology, and performance art. In our conversation, we hear about the evolution of her work, the exploration of identity, and her latest collaboration with a team of MIT neuroscientists, decoding the artistic process into a creative DNA. 

 

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visual artist, shantell Martin on her creative DNA

Photo credit: Catalina Kulczar

Photo credit: Catalina Kulczar

 

Rimma Boshernitsan: How did you grow up, and what made you pursue Art as a medium?

Shantell Martin: I grew up in Southeast London, in a place called Thamesmead, built in the late 1960s. It was meant to solve a lack of housing at the time, a place for people of different races and economic status to live together, but it didn’t really work.

It ended up being a predominantly white, working class place. Being mixed-raced meant that I stuck out. I didn't look like anyone around me at school, in my home, outside of school, which contributed to me becoming an artist. If you look like everyone around you, there is more pressure to fit in. But if there's something different, you're given a passport to be the different person.

At that time, I didn't know art was a thing you could do. Art wasn't around me — there were no galleries or museums. I didn't know any artists and I didn't know it could be a career. I did art instinctively. I think I got into it because it was the one thing someone taught me I shouldn’t do. I remember one of my teachers said, "Don't apply to art school, because you won't get in." And because I have a bit of a defiant nature, I said, "Well, this person thinks I can't do it, so I'm going to apply to art school."

Once in art school, everything shifted. You could be different, and it was celebrated, rather than rejected. It also was a revelation to understand that what I was doing naturally, was actually art.

RB: Did you realize that when you were in art school already, or was it before that you came to that realization?

SM: Going to art school made me realize that I was much more confident than many people around me. I think this was a side-effect from growing up in Thamesmead. You had to have a touch-look on the outside, otherwise people would beat you up.

I went to Camberwell College of Arts and did a one-year foundation there, graduated with distinction, and then went to Central St. Martins to do my 3-year BA. I graduated with first class honors. It was good because it reflected how hard I had worked, but also hard because it put pressure on me for the final assignment.

Before art school, I could fail and it didn’t really matter because there were no expectations. Now, I was at the top of my year and suddenly felt a lot of pressure, as if everyone was asking, "Well, what are you going to do?" I felt that people now expected something from me.

RB: Was it pressure from yourself, or did you feel pressure from others?

SM: It was internal. I never had people expecting me to achieve great things or waiting to see what I do next. But it was hard to quiet the voices that say, “you don’t deserve this.”

At that time, I was academically successful, but I didn’t understand what success in life really was. There were all these eyes watching me, but I didn’t even know my next step. It brought up internal conflicts within myself.

As I look back at some of my old work, I think, "Wow. Who is that person?” Outwardly, I was very confident, but internally, there was a deep sense that I didn’t deserve my accomplishments. As I’ve gotten older, these conflicts have subsided. I work hard. I understand that we're all unique in what we are able to give to the world. We have to discover what it is, and we have to work at it. It takes a lot of practice -- but if you work hard enough, you should feel like you deserve to give what you have and receive in return.

RB: What inspired the use of markers over other tools; lines and drawing or painting?

SM: I’ve tried everything, but I've always gravitated toward drawing, even when I was young. Anyone can pick up a pencil or a pen or a marker and draw. It's the most simple, accessible form of art.

After art school I moved to Japan, a country that is very craft-based. There you see generations of craft mastery. One family makes swords, another has mastered ink-blots, or calligraphy, and they do these crafts with such skill. They master it. Being in Japan, and experiencing its culture, I thought to myself, "If I'm going to master one thing in this lifetime, what could it be?"

Photo credit: George Evan Andreadis 

Photo credit: George Evan Andreadis 

I thought, "What if I make a line, the most accessible element available to all of us, and master that? What if I take a single line and make it look like me? What if I take line and make that my fingerprint, my identity?"

...I thought to myself, “If I’m going to master one thing in this lifetime, what could it be?

RB: Do you feel like your work evolved tremendously after you came back from Japan?


SM: It's a mixture. When I moved to Japan, I was young and no one knew me. I didn’t speak the language and I wasn’t trapped by certain stereotypes of who I should be. Being there, gave me space to ask, "Who am I? Who do I want to be?"  Without a confirmed identity, I could explore. The entire experience was really valuable.

My work in Japan was predominantly digital. I was half-doing these very detailed drawings with pen and paper on one side, and then on the other side, I got into live-performance and drawing live. I would draw under camcorders, and do visuals in clubs to alongside DJ's, dancers, and musicians. I would connect my computer to a drawing tablet and then connected that to a projector.

The great thing about having hours and hours to draw in a club, digitally, to music, is that you don't have time to think about what you're doing. You don't have time to hesitate, you don't have time to be anyone else. You just create a line.

Just imagine you've done that for hours in the club, and then you pick up a marker and you put that marker in your hand, and you're like, "Oh wait. I can just draw. I don't have to think about drawing, and I don't have to look at what I'm drawing, and I don't have to stall or hesitate about what I'm drawing, because I did this for so many hours in the club." It works with a pen in my hand on the wall or on a car, or on a shirt, or on a face, so the work I did in Japan really laid the foundation for what I do now.

RB: Would you say that your work while in  laid out the foundation for the work that came out of artist residency at Autodesk, Pier 9?

SM: Yeah, I think my residency at Pier 9 was an evolution. When I got to Pier 9, I was comfortable with my line. But I had to ask myself, “How do I continue to grow? How can I get uncomfortable again? How can I be vulnerable again?” So I started inventing tools which allowed me to draw two lines, or bold lines, or multiple thickness of lines at the same time. The work that I did at Pier 9 evolved out of trying to get uncomfortable again.

RB: Did the residency at Pier 9 change the way that you connect with other artists?

SM: Yes and no. When I got back from Japan and arrived in New York, I would visit galleries and they would say "We love your work. Where have you shown?" and I'd say, "Oh, I haven't," and they'd respond, "Oh, well thank you, but no thank you."

It was a catch-22 — if you hadn’t had your work in a gallery, others assumed you couldn’t sell your work, and wouldn’t take the risk of giving you a show. It was all about commerce. So I had to take galleries completely out of the equation. If galleries weren’t a platform for my art, I would create a new platform.

Now, I’ve built a career on being an independent artist. I've shown at institutions, at museums, I lecture, I teach, I travel, I produce my own shows, I work with brands. Yet I’ve continued to work against the boxes people try to put me in. Why do people put artists in a box? Well, because it's easier to sell. I think we need to work on combating the perspective that art is only for people who can spend money on it. I’m on a journey to make people feel welcomed into the world of art. Art has such a huge benefit to us as a people, and we need to make it more accessible, not exclusive and elitist. It it a movement, and it is growing.  

RB: Would you say there's one person or several people that have inspired your work? Or has it been something internal?

SM: It has been more internal, especially since most of my work is spontaneous. It's intuitive. Yes, there is a layer of process and practice underneath, but the bottom line is, I am meditating through drawing, through spontaneity. It takes a lot of intention to be intuitive. You have to allow yourself to open, to draw it all from the inside out.

I am inspired by external forces when I see people who are committed, working hard, being compassionate, and selfless. When I see those types of people, I think to myself, "Wow. I want to be more compassionate like that person," or, "I want to be more forgiving like that person." They are values we can all aspire to.

RB: Has it meant anything for you to have people watch you as you work?

SM: Immensely so. It is important to have people watch what I do for a number of reasons, mostly selfish ones.  First, it keeps me honest, and it keeps me working. If I'm by myself, it's easy to get distracted. But when people are watching me, I remember who I am — an artist. I have to do what I do. Secondly, I am passionate about engaging with my audience. Rarely is the audience involved in the practice of creating the art. Usually the artist will work in a studio and then their work turns up framed in a gallery. The engagement opens up possibility. Perhaps I’ll get inspired from an interaction.

Also, I feel as though there is a collective magic in our joint creation. When you have a final piece of work, everyone will engage with it in their own way, bringing their own emotional baggage in their perception. But when the work is actually being produced, we all share that experience. For me, that process is the work, that moment when the drawing unfolds and people join me there.

RB: It sounds like the evolution of your work has changed your perception of connection.

SM: Definitely, connection is sharing, and if I can share my moment of what I do, then I'm connecting with people, and visa versa.

RB: What’s next for you?

SM: I'm working on several things at the moment. I have a show at Albright Knox opening early next year. It is after the Picasso show which is pretty exciting.

An ongoing project that I'm excited about is a collaboration with a PhD Neuroscientist, Sarah Schwettmann, from MIT. She's in the Brain and Cognitive Science (BCS) department. Turns out that we are asking very similar questions in our work, such as "where does the creative process come from?" and "what is our creative fingerprint?"

This project is an attempt to decode the creative process into its core elements, similar to how we think of human DNA, in hopes of finding the fingerprint of each particular artist.

For example -- In my artistic process, I start with a single line. I think of it as the DNA. Once I’ve finished that line, I see the negative spaces and depending on its shape, I either see a tree or face. It is almost as if the drawing is completed in my mind before I’m finished. But I was curious to examine if seeing a completed image from this one line, will allow me to see something similar in two weeks? In a year? So we sought out to have artificial intelligence learn my drawing to see if we could discover a creative fingerprint of Shantell Martin.

Imagine if we’re able to collect the data of an artist throughout their entire career to see how they evolve.

A lot of this process starts with data collection, which tracks the trends of my work across hundreds of pieces, so we can start to build out the DNA. We can synthesize all of this to show that, for example, 98% of the time I will put a face in a particular shaped negative space. Eventually, we want to set up an experiment to test if someone who has never seen my work before would drag and drop similar elements into the lines I create. Is there a pattern? If it is the same as me, am I still unique? How does my “fingerprint” play out here? Or how is collective consciousness tied into this process?

This is all just the first stage, but at some point we could create a software which allows people to try this out for themselves, ending up with their “creative fingerprint,” or perhaps I could devise a tool for myself to record all the data from my drawing.  

I wish I could go back to when I was young and weird and start recording data then. We can't do that, but what if I could have a device that captures and analyzes the evolution of my line for the rest of my life?
 

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