Two years ago while walking through San Francisco, a peculiar looking semi-truck parked in the Tenderloin caught my attention; it was small with large eyes and a partial face painted on its side, as if someone was looking out through window blinds. As I walked by I observed people casually standing in a line but nothing seemed to be advertised. My general assessment was that thought it was for a film shoot and nothing more than. Oddly, a week later, I was in that presumed "film shoot."
JR is an artist known for his murals. Do a search and you will find eyeballs, faces, and giant photo collages of people in black and white. He is a French artist with a prolific amount of work that is humanitarian centric. I wasn't sure who would be in the truck when I first stepped into the mobile studio, but to my surprise JR was there.
The premise behind the Chronicles series of murals is fairly straightforward. We were photographed then interviewed. At the end of all of the shoots, the photo and videos were collaged together to make a huge, interactive mural. Each portrait in the mural is then digitally tagged for later use with the augmented reality app that connects to the interview. Everyone was welcome and we were able to represent ourselves however we saw fit. Bring a dog, put a cat on your head, dance around naked and do jumping jacks. To prepare I was asked to ruminate on their only question, "How would you like to be remembered?"
"How would you like to be remembered?"
Seven simple words but it’s the heart of a person. If you had an opportunity to be acknowledged, and put yourself into a history book, or an interactive mural in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, how would you answer? It was clear to me because it was a question I had struggled with that question my whole life. I am an artist: wealthy, poor, sick, healthy, happy, it is always who I am. I grabbed a cliché, oversized paint brush and one of my paintings of Chinatown, and off I went.
JR was in the trailer with the crew and greeted me, "You are an artist. That's great. We need more artists!" I stood in front of a green screen inside the odd truck I had first eyed weeks ago. Photos and videos were taken of me painting the tiny canvas with a giant brush. JR had a rough representation of the collaged mural with little people pinned up on the side of the trailer. A place to underpin all of the portraits and think through his final product. I thanked JR and the crew as I left and made my way to the sidewalk for the post shoot interview.
As I sat at a folding table on the corner of Polk and Sutter, readying to record my story, it felt like an odd family picnic. The gentleman conducting the interview was younger and unassuming, with a comforting demeanor. After a bit of small talk, he jumped in, "What would you like to say?" The night before my shoot I was preparing my story, in anticipation of this moment. Then, I decided to dismiss my preparedness; I was going to speak from the heart. Now that the question has been asked, I have second thoughts about my daring decision the night before.
I don't remember talking. I do remember seeing people walking by in the city as words were pouring from my mouth. At one point I remember thinking I was yelling. In this part of the city it wouldn't be a strange sight, someone yelling in the street. And just like starting, I don't remember stopping. "That was beautiful." the gentleman said and gestured that I could leave.
What the hell did I just say?
I was away and missed the opening for the Chronicles of SF at SFMOMA. Oddly, I was relieved. I still had doubts about my decision to do my interview freestyle. Eventually, I gathered myself up to confront myself and visited the mural.
The Chronicles of SF is a kinetic video mural that is 107ft long by 16ft high. It is comprised of interconnected video screens. The mural slowly moves from left to right and loops seamlessly. The video is active as people are moving and doing different actions. Situated in the public gallery, it is free for anyone to visit. The bleacher stadium style room is a truly amazing way to experience the work.
The museum was holding a tour and a group was talking about the mural.
"Does anyone know anyone in this mural?" the docent queried.
I raised my hand.
"And who do you know?"
"Me" I replied.
And then the fun began. The small gathering of people followed me to my spot in the mural where I posed instinctively in the same position in front of myself. I answered some questions about my experience with the project and wished I had business cards.
One of the interesting features of the mural is the interactive audio. You can download the JR app to your phone and then use it to scan the people in the mural. There is an audio component to everyone in the mural. Although it does not work on the actual mural which is backlit,, it does work with any print version of it.
I recently posted a short video of this augmented reality experience with the app. I purchased the book a while back but only looked at the photos. It was with much trepidation that I finally scanned my photo and listened. I was pleasantly surprised that I was not yelling. I admire jazz musicians and improvisations. If you are thinking about the last note you are already behind. Although we always think we could do something better in hindsight, the story is honest and from the heart.
I look forward to visiting the mural again. It is a wonderful and honest snapshot of the city I live in and the people who share it.
JR's official site