Category Archives: Mission 1: Big Brother

Mission 1 Report: We’re Watching Too

[Submitted by worm and bread, Providence, RI]

“We placed flyers on about 6 Providence Police cars as a reminder of their position at public servants. Their will should bend to ours, not the other way around. Police have no say over what we are or are not free to do. Unfortunately we were not able to record the reactions of the officers upon discovering the flyers due to both logistical concerns and riskiness.”

Mission 1 Report: Crossing the Line

[Submitted by Where’s Waldo, Seoul, South Korea]

I’m lucky enough to have few tangible figures of authority in my life. I don’t have a boss, professor, or anybody else I’d have to kiss ass to on a daily basis and I live in Seoul, South Korea where, as a foreigner, most authority figures deem it too much of a hastle to badger me about misdemeanors on account of the language barrier. I can hop the subway turnstiles, jaywalk through bustling intersections, pound beers on a public bus, and nobody will say a thing to me so long as I’m not causing any real problems. Besides, the police here are nothing like the police in the United States. They’re mostly just kids who stand around and look bored. They don’t even carry guns.

Of course, a horribly corrupt government runs the show behind closed doors, just as it does in practically every country. Hardline conservatives maintain power through war mongering and exploiting fears of a North Korean invasion, backed generously by donations from the virtually unchecked mega-corporations that fuel the nation’s economy and the support of a United States that wants to maintain stability in perhaps it’s greatest Asian ally. Nevertheless, the influence of “the man” is pretty tough to discern in day to day life. Big brother is invisible.

That’s why I was startled a few weeks ago when I arrived at one of my most regularly used metro stops and found a new fleet of security guards. They were decked out in reflective vests and visors and ridiculous yellow armbands and carried comically threatening batons. The youngest of them looked to be about 60 years old.

As I was waiting for the train to arrive a shrill noise penetrated through the calm jazz on my ipod and I pulled out my earbuds in time to realize that one of those silly guards was blowing his whistle frantically, waving his baton, and making a beeline toward me. At first I was confused—perhaps some emergency had occured—but then I surmised hat he simply wanted me to step back. I was standing more a foot from the edge of the platform but my toes were a few inches over the edge of a yellow safety line. Here’s a close-up the yellow line in question:

I inched back and he changed course, headed for a group of teenage girls a few cars down in a similarly precarious position. The train did not arrive for 5 minutes.

Over the next few days I saw the guards harass a number of commuters. I witnessed them forcibly grab one guy, whose toes were at most six inches over the yellow line, and pull him back from the tracks. The guy was talking on his cellphone, so I suppose he didn’t hear the guard shouting at him and he looked none too pleased when apprehended, but he quickly complied. Here’s a snapshot I took on my phone of one guard looking particularly smug. Note the indecision on his face, as he debates whether to berate me for photographing him or drag the woman with the shopping bags back away from the platform.

He decided to go for me first so, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take any more photos.

It’s a baffling double standard. These guards aren’t present at any other station on the Seoul metro, where commuters are left to avoid the threat of oncoming trains at their own discretion. Their absurd vigilence confirms a theory I’ve long held. Authority is motivated most strongly by a lust for self importance. That’s perhaps especially true of volunteers, for in such situations monetary incentives are conspicuously absent. I suppose that we all need to feel important from time to time, and these old geezers probably don’t have much else going for them. Perhaps it would have been reasonable to let them have their fun, but after watching them with scorn for several days I couldn’t resist the temptation to turn it into an Art Art Revolution
mission.

How official are these guards and who authorized them to patrol the station? If I donned a stupid yellow sash and reflective visor, could I simply order my fellow commuters around? My first inclination was to try and see, but I quickly realized that as a highly consipcuous foreigner in an ethnically homogonous country in which I’m barely proficinet in the language, I’d have a hard time pulling that off.

To complete the mission, I ultimately opted to create a work of art that would be visible to the guards, as well as to the commuters harassed by them. Since the drama revolved around an arbitrary yellow line, I decided to buy some paper of a similar shade and create my own yellow line by taping it to the station floor. Some of my lines exceed the real line, so that commuters harassed in these spaces might explain to the aggressors, “but I’m behind the line!” Others delineate impossibly small spaces, demonstrating the absurdity of confining people unnecessarily within an already crowded station. Instillation was difficult given the guards’ vigilance and my first two attempts were stopped before I was able to complete them. My third attempt, a six inch extension of the existing line lasted a little longer, but not long enough for me to properly photograph my efforts. My last attempt was somewhat more successful and, while I got a number of curious stares from passerby, the guards didn’t notice and my art was still intact when I boarded my getaway train. Here are a few shots:

In some respects creating a work of art with such short life expectancy seems like a waste, but I rest assured knowing that, at least, several unsuspecting passerby bore witness to it. Also, I’ve still got dozens of yellow sheets left over, so I plan to try again and if I have any luck, I’ll be sure to share.

Mission 1 Report: Sketching a Professor

[Submitted by Radish, Providence, RI USA]

I saw one of my professors in a cafe and realized that he was quite an appropriate subject for Mission 1, perhaps even especially so due to the subject matter of his course (Abnormal Psychology). It’s a large class and he doesn’t know my name, but he certainly recognizes me, as I have occasionally asked him questions after class. I also do research in the same building where he works, and we sometimes run into each other in the hallways and acknowledge each other non-verbally (I am hesitant to stop and chat with a professor when I’m running up to lab with a brain in my hands).

Anyway, he was sitting in one of a pair of puffy armchairs that had a small table between them, and as the other armchair was vacant, I sat there and placed my cortado on the table. He looked up and nodded and smiled at me, then returned his attention to the newspaper he was reading. I fortunately had a little sketch pad with me, and quickly dashed off this drawing. You can’t tell from the drawing, but he was wearing the full suit he normally wears to class, and I liked the way it contrasted with the baseball cap he wore.

I am quite certain that he was aware of the fact that I sketched him, but I don’t think he minded. When he got up to leave, he smiled at me and wished me good luck on the upcoming exam.

Mission 1 Report: Sketching Cops

I have attempted to sketch many different cops of various levels of “real cop” to worry about. By this, I mean that there is obviously less of a chance that campus security will bug you about sketching them. If a “real” cop is the subject, I think sticking to affluent areas is the best plan–they’re more likely to leave you alone. The first day of sketching cops yielded some funny results:

Cop #1: It's hard to sketch someone's face if they keep rotating their body to keep you from seeing it.


Cop #1, a fine campus policeman, pictured above, HATED being watched. It was like he had ants in his pants–I don’t think he had any idea what to do about it, so his response after a few seconds was to try to keep his back to me. I actually moved to see him better and he turned again so that he was now facing a wall. Not wanting to push my luck, I left this dutiful watcher where I found him.

Cop #2: Wary initially, then acted reasonably friendly


Cops #2, above, and #3, below, were standing together. Also campus police. I stood in the middle of a courtyard with my sketch pad, and began to draw. This time I stood about ten feet away. I think at first they were going to play that they had no idea who I might be drawing. I don’t know what they were thinking, since there wasn’t much in the ten feet between me and them that I could have otherwise been drawing. I took a step or two forward and one of them looked at me. I nodded, and he nodded back. Contact had been made. The other one (#3) was doing the turn away trick I had experienced with cop #1, but I had already made a quick sketch of him. #3 also seemed deeply uncomfortable. #2 was playing it cool. Eventually, he asks me, “You drawing us?” I replied that I was. “Can I see it when you’re done?” He asked. I told him he could. When I showed it to him he told me he liked it. I think I captured something of him pretty well, so I guess I agree with him. Cop #3, below, did not ask to see his drawing.

Cop #3: He didn't like being drawn at all. He really did have tiny sunglasses. I think the mutual discomfort of drawing this man comes through in the drawing.


I decided to try one more day, but it was raining, which made it difficult. Some campus policemen I found were walking inside to escape the wet. I walked a while and came upon an actual cop in the street, in a rain coat and boots, looking pretty bored and wet. I found some kinda shelter and began to draw him–however, my picture got wet. I was inspired, though, by the look he gave me when he saw me drawing him. I felt I could really see a wide range of emotions in his face–confusion, questioning, dismissal, even a bit of self-pity. My original drawing got wet and didn’t do him very good justice, since I drew it on my knee, so I went home and redrew it quickly in charcoal and pastel.

It was dark and rainy, and he gave me a very strange look from the shadow under the brim of his cap. I think that look alone was worth the exercise.

BKS

Mission 1 Origin: Sketching (Out) a Professor

I thought up the idea for this mission somewhat by accident. I was in an art class in college and assigned to “walk around drawing people.” I wanted to see how I could push the assignment in interesting ways. I began by walking up to perfect strangers and asking them if I could draw them. That evolved into not asking people if I could draw them–I started this with people who were talking to my friends, then started not asking strangers, then I began to literally follow people who were walking down the street and drawing them as I walked. I got some fascinating drawings of the moment in someone’s eye when they first begin to suspect they were being followed. Every person I drew and every approach I took yielded fascinating human and artistic insights, but it also didn’t really feel right to “pick” on people who were just going about their daily lives and didn’t necessarily want the scrutiny.

Wanting to change things up, I wandered into Brown University’s venerable “University Hall” where the Deans and the College President reside. I sat down in the waiting area outside an office belonging to one of the senior college Deans. In front of me were two Professors, I think in Political Science, having a discussion while they waited to talk to the Dean, and it immediately occurred to me that these men, who were so used to judging students and other academics would be the perfect studies for my “without permission” sketches. The one of the two I selected is below:

He really didn't like the fact I was watching him


This man did not like to be drawn, in fact. He kept going back and forth between being mildly agitated that I was sitting there drawing him and putting on a bold show of being unaware of my existence. He turned his head and tried to carry on his conversation while showing me as little of his eyes as possible. My quick rendering of him perhaps didn’t do his expression justice, but the feelings I had sitting there of intruding on this authority figure’s day were very visceral in a way that I didn’t feel when drawing the tourists. Maybe it was my imagination, but I had a very strong sense that this man felt very uncomfortable in the role reversal and wanted to do something to get out of it. For a moment, I even experienced a slight fear that he would call me out on it, but he did not. After not too long the men were called in to their appointment by the Dean’s secretary and the experience ended.

BKS

Mission 1 Report: Crimestoppers

Crimestoppers: Hello, this is L.A. Crime Stoppers. How may I help you?
Caller: I’d like to report a suspicious loitering person.
Crimestoppers: Ok. How long has the person been loitering?
Caller: They’ve been there for hours.
Crimestoppers: And is there anything in particular suspicious about their behavior?
Caller: Well, they’re dressed in all black, they have this shiny bling around their necks, and they seem to be waiting for something…I’m not sure, but they might have a gun.
Crimestoppers: OK. We’ll send a car around to check it out. What’s the address?
Caller: 347 Prospect.
Crimestoppers: OK, a car has been dispatched and should be there shortly Can you give me a physical description of the person?
Caller: Yeah. They’re about average height, average build…maybe a little on the muscular side. Regular, brown hair…he’s also very white.
Crimestoppers: Could you hold a minute?
Caller: Yeah.
[Pause]
Crimestoppers: OK, yes, we have a report of officers on the scene. Is the suspicious person still present?
Caller: Let me look. [Pause] Yeah, he is and…oh shit, now there are three of them!
Crimestoppers: Three of who?
Caller: Three suspicious white guys hanging around, all in black with the bling, just shooting the breeze.
Crimestoppers: [Pause] Are the men you are watching in uniforms?
Caller: Yeah, it kinda looks like uniforms.
Crimestoppers: Those aren’t criminals. Those are police.
Caller: Well, I knew he was a police, but this is L.A. we’re in, man.

[This entry is a work of fiction by RTS, inspired by the assignment ]

Mission One: Keeping Tabs on Big Brother

DIFFICULTY: 8/10

Our first mission is going to require a bit of courage and a bit of
discretion, but we selected it because it highlights some great
aspects of “revolutionary” public art, in that it both plays against
the status quo and participates in the world outside the artist’s
studio.

Here’s the mission: Find someone in a position of power such as a
police officer, company president, or university dean. Make him or
her the subject of an artistic study that makes him or her
uncomfortable. Keep in mind, you too may feel uncomfortable doing
this. You should think carefully about whether or not you want to ask
your subject for permission–great options exist whether you want to
or not. You could:
1. Find a cop standing around and stand about ten feet from him and sketch him. Let him notice you.
2. Tell your boss or academic adviser that you have to draw someone
for an art class you are taking and ask if you can quickly sketch them.
3. Eavesdrop on an authority figure having a conversation in a public
place and write something or make a work of art inspired by what was said.
4. Think of your own way to fulfill the assignment.

Part of this assignment is to get you thinking about how context is
*key* in public art. “The best public artist is aware of the unusual
nature of the site he’s chosen or the task he’s performing and seeks
to inform it through the artistic content.” – Jon Paul Nakatamo

Once you have completed the assignment, respond to the following
questions (feel free to share with us your answers or keep them to
yourself):
1) How did this exercise make you feel? Uncomfortable? Guilty? Empowered?
2) How did the authority figure react to being the subject of your study?
2) How did the stretching of social norms in this assignment come
through in your art, either consciously or subconsciously?

MISSION DEADLINE: October 4th