Make a Thing – Jonn Herschend & Will Rogan | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

Make a Thing – Jonn Herschend & Will Rogan | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

[MUSIC PLAYING] Hey, guys. We’re outside the offices of
“The Thing” in San Francisco. It’s a quarterly
publication that invites artists to create
useful objects that incorporate text, which are then reproduced
and distributed to subscribers. It was co-founded by John
Herschend and Will Rogan who have their independent
careers as artists, but collaborate to
make this project. John works in a
wide range of media, and has used such structures
as PowerPoint and infomercials to pose questions about
how we assess truth. And Will’s practice
trains his eye on the everyday landscapes
around him, which he then uses as a starting point
for playful and profound interventions. In each of their practices
and in this shared project, John and Will think
a lot about things and the meaning of physical
objects in an increasingly digital world. So let’s go talk to them
and see what kind of a thing they want you to make. Hi, I’m Will Rogan. And I’m John Herschend. And this is your– Art assignment. We met in graduate
school at UC Berkeley and at the time were both making
work that contained language in some way. And we were also both
highly interested in finding a way to
publish something. At the time there
was a lot happening, I think, in terms of
magazines disappearing. Uh, there was a fear,
it was like 2007, that we were going to lose
all this to the virtual world. And we really wanted to
not have that happen. And so the desire to publish on
objects is where this came out. And we also really loved
the idea of publications, and we modeled “The
Thing” after the, what we thought
a publication was supposed to be with, you know,
editors and managing editors. Four times a year
we release an issue with an individual
creative person. Each issue is conceived of
by that creative person. We act as the editors
and sort of help them get to something that
makes sense within this context. And then those issues are
shipped out to subscribers and sold in stores. What we try and get across
to the person who we’re working with is that we’re
after making an object that will– that people will be
forced into the situation where they have to use
it or not use it. The artist needs
to know that this is about people interacting
with their work, potentially. Your assignment is
to take something from the virtual world
and make it physical. Like an emoji
that maybe you want to send, like a crab or
something, or a thumbs up to a friend,
make it physically and then send it to them. Or put something on
someone’s actual wall. And then send it to us so
we can see it virtually. John, I like this assignment,
and it has the potential to be very funny. But the more I thought
about it, the more I thought it’s pretty
serious and poetic, too. Like, it reminds me of your
favorite saying about light. Oh, light, the visible
reminder of the invisible light? That’s the one. Because when I started
to dig back, I mean, all art is kind of
an effort to make the invisible visible, right? Like, you can think back
to ancient depictions of mythological beings,
or the long history of religious depictions in art. I mean, I get
totally overwhelmed thinking about this
assignment and its precedence. Yeah, I think you might be
going back too far though. I think there’s, there’s
more recent stuff that– Yeah, well, then I was focusing
on like that last step of, of sort of making
the virtual physical and then virtual
again by sharing it. And I was thinking
about the piece from the ’60s by
Robert Morris, “Box With the Sound of
its Own Making,” where you see this wooden
box and from the inside you can hear the sound
of its own making. I love that piece. I think I might
actually have a better art historical precedent. For the first time ever,
I should do the voiceover. Because I want to talk about the
French street artist Invader. All right. He’s good, right? He’s good. Yeah. Although he actually attended
the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris,
Invader claims to have graduated from
a tiling school on Mars. And since the 1990s, he
has traveled the world, covertly installing
mosaics inspired by ’70s and ’80s video games. There’s 8-bit Pac-Man
ghosts, Donkey Kong, and of course Space Invaders
from the eponymous 1978 video game. It’s the perfect image,
because of course, Invader the artist is invading real
public spaces with his art. The idea is to bring the
virtual world into reality, he has said. And by making the
virtual physical, we’re reminded that the pixel
itself has an art history. I mean, pixel-like shapes were
used to create images long before they were ever used in
Space Invaders or Angry Birds. And then there’s the question
of physical and virtual privacy. Like many street artists,
Invader is anonymous. And when he’s
photographed, he insists that his face be, you
guessed it, pixelated. Like John and Will’s
assignment, Invader’s work asks us to consider
the relationship between our offline
on online lives. What’s the difference between
the virtual and the physical– is there one? And I think the idea of
art pushing boundaries is, is so important. And I– part of what we’re
doing with “The Thing” is, is trying to play around
with those boundaries, both for us in our own work,
but also for the larger conversation of what is art. Is it commodity? Is it utilitarianism? Is it decoration? Is it inspiration? Those are things that I
think art functions can function in all those–
it doesn’t have to be one. With the internet it’s hard to,
it’s hard for something special to rise to the surface. And I kind of see– and,
and yet, we all, like, put so much energy
towards this thing, right? We’re all constantly dumping
our attention and energy into this place that reduces
everything to one context. So I think to take something
out of that and make it real and make it in a physical thing
is a resistance to that, I guess, in a way. What is quality I
think is something that it’s made with
enough care that you want to take care
of it, that you want to keep it and
have it on your desk, and give it to your kids, or,
you know, give it to a friend that you really care
about this thing. Because we live in a– we live
in a throwaway culture, right? I think the aesthetic
in the beginning was this kind of like really
classic, like, mailed object. And that’s why it’s so reduced
to looking at so sort of brown with black text. It’s about, like,
what’s the best vehicle to just get this object
from where we are here to this other person? We’re going to
take this recording and turn it into a VHS tape. And we’re going
to package it up. Make it really beautiful,
nice labels, nice box. And then we’re going to
share it with our parents. Then we’re going to find
someone to be a chess player, yeah– our parents, probably. My reactions are like, smiley
face, thumb up, thumbs down, unicorn. I mean, those are like
the crab, make a crab. So maybe, you know, pulling that
crab out and making it real, and giving someone
a crab instead of an emojicon– or emoji. [MUSIC PLAYING]

32 thoughts on “Make a Thing – Jonn Herschend & Will Rogan | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

  1. OH MY GOSH I LOVE THE INVADER!! I NOW KNOW WHO TO CREDIT FOR ALL OF THE PAC-MANS AND INVADERS AND AMAZINGNESS THAT I SAW ALL OVER WHEN I VISITED PARIS LAST SUMMER!! The tour guide mentioned them, so I looked out for them and saw them everywhere, but I never really got any background on them. I just had so much fun looking for them.

  2. This assignment is fascinating. I'm in the middle of exams at the moment, but I'll come back to it once they're over! I love the concept of turning a bunch of pixels on a screen into a physical thing that one can hold.

  3. Only parents have VHS players. Funny. Now super hipsters own beta players or maybe Laser disk players?
    This assignment has a whole lot of potential. I'm not struggling for ideas this time round. The hardest part will be to make it nice. To the secret lab!

  4. Nick Offerman has got you covered on the emojis:
    (Seriously I'm starting to think Offerman is some kind of internet prophet or something)

  5. there's a space invader on one of the houses i walk past in rennes every so often that's been there as long as i can remember. i wonder if he's who it came from.

  6. I have a thought. Who wants to do an Art Assignment meet up at VidCon and maybe exchange these physical things with each other?

  7. I already make costumes out of 8-bit/16-bit characters, I think this is gonna be my first art assignment! I'll try to change what I usually do and make something different for this 🙂

  8. I have an awesome idea for this, but I don't know if I have to knowledge/resources to pull it off… stay tuned…

  9. I really like the ideas behind this! I'm not instantly inspired, but I really hope I can come up with something because it sounds so cool.

  10. I'm doing a cosplay of a video game character this weekend, but I can't give myself as a gift, and I was already planning on doing that anyway, so that's cheating.

    I'll think about it!

  11. Wow, I've actually seen some of those pixelated artworks that John was talking about.  I see them in Shibuya and Ikebukuro when I head out to Tokyo sometimes.  I always thought they were so cool, but I didn't realise it was the same artist doing them ^^;.

  12. I suppose it is the smartass in me that led to my first thought on bringing an "emoji into existence" would be to gift someone with the poop emoji.

    I need to get more sleep. >>

  13. I often find that when (even slightly) older artists, particularly trained artists talk about the internet, they talk as if they have never really engaged with the internet. 
    John and Will talked about putting energy towards the internet, and how hard it is for something to rise up, but they seem to be missing the many, many amazing art communities online and they seem to be talking as if digital art is less precious than physical art.

  14. I don't know why, but I'm drawing a complete blank for this.  All I can think of is to maybe draw something from a video game I like?  But that seems too easy because that's just fanart.  People do that all the time.  idk, maybe I'm overthinking it…? :/

  15. I rather like bookbinding. Maybe I could print a story I keep coming back to and bind it into a book? I don't know anyone I'd give that to, though.

  16. The easiest thing would probably be creating some sort of tumblr stream or facebook timeline in form of a photo wall. But maybe I'll also think of something different. Definitely going to keep this Art Assignment in mind.

  17. The internet has just opened up competition. Yes, it's harder to succeed now. It's a great thing. We were always headed in this direction.

  18. I love that you expanded on the assignment using the work of a street artist, and Invader made a perfect choice. Great assignment! already thinking about it… 🙂

  19. my room mate really love tinder, im going to put a poster on her door and either carbor cut outs or real men that she can push to the left or tick to go into her room

  20. As a true lover of physical objects (I studied art history, after all …), I love what these artists are doing in terms of pushing people to consider their relationship to objects. I also think this is super interesting to think about in terms of what the Walker is currently offering in its shop: Similar ideas of mass availability and democratization of big-ticket art, only they are accomplishing it through employing new media, versus using traditional distribution models (the magazine) as a resistance to it.

  21. Not sure this is the right place for this comment, but after reading a recent piece by Adam Gopnik about the economics of art, I thought the  combined powers of Sarah and John (a mashup of The Art Assignment + Crash Course Economics) to tackle the question of how much art is really worth, or at least what are the different ways of thinking about the question of "value" in the art world. Getting your insight on the art market, as other-worldly as it seems to be, would be very fascinating, I think.

  22. I uploaded my response in a picture…I'm really tempted to print it out. Then I would have a physical version of a virtual version of a physical representation of a virtual thing. 🙂

  23. *sigh I'm so not creative enough for this stuff. *puts on thinking cap I need to finally do my first art assignment.

  24. My friend sent me a short passage she wrote, and this could be the perfect way to express my reactions to her!
    This assignment is so exciting beause it made me think of what I want most to be in real life! The thoughts of it makes me happy and opens so many things in the future! This is too late as a comment.

  25. How can Sarah link every contemporary artwork to something in the past ? I mean, it must be really hard work researching ! #lovelovelove

  26. Favorite quote from this: "What is quality… it's made with enough care that you want to take care of it." – John Herschend

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