A review of museum pioneer Nina Simon's new book, The Art of Relevance.
Wonder. It’s something we long for, isn’t it? I do, at least. That’s why when I saw the ad for the Wonder exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery in DC, I had to go. What an audacious and somewhat unimaginative title: Wonder. What kind of a curatorial tour de force could justify such a choice?
JEFF HULL HULL IS THE CREATIVE DIRECTOR OF NONCHALANCE, AN INDEPENDENT SITUATIONAL DESIGN STUDIO IN SAN FRANCISCO WHOSE MISSION IS TO PROVOKE DISCOVERY THROUGH VISCERAL EXPERIENCES AND PERVASIVE PLAY. THEIR GROUNDBREAKING IMMERSIVE NARRATIVE PROJECT THE JEJUNE INSTITUTE BECAME THE SUBJECT OF A FEATURE DOCUMENTARY FILM CALLED THE INSTITUTE. IT IS RUMORED THAT NONCHALANCE HAS RECENTLY RELEASED AN INVITATION-ONLY EXPERIENCE, CALLED THE LATITUDE SOCIETY.
Odyssey Works: WHY CREATE EXPERIENCES?
Jeff Hull: Experiences are the only thing of value, at the end of the day. When we look at our entire reality and our beliefs about it, they are constructed of countless experiences, both tremendous and infinitesimal. Many of us are dissatisfied with components of our reality, whether they be personal, societal, economic, political, etc. (ridiculously, my dissatisfaction is aesthetic). And so, we can begin to create new experiences for each other, and begin to tell a new story. Starting small, then allowing that story to grow.
OW: How do you understand immersivity and interactivity? How does it work and what is the point?
JH: True "immersivity", for me, is an experience that is not bound by any time/space limitations, which means it can present itself or reappear at any given place or time.
For example, when you buy a ticket for an event, the expectations are immediately set that "I will experience product 'x' between the hours of 8 and 10pm at the following address". How engaged with an experience can you truly be, already knowing it's limits? Even something like Burning Man ends when you leave the playa.
That's why it's so difficult to package nonchalance. We never want to sell a ticket, or have any kind of turnstile to entry. The very act implies that the world we created has an end to it.
OW: What are you trying to do with your work?
JH: I'd like to offer intrigue and mystique to people's lives. Life does not have to be mundane. On the surface level, it's very much about play and fun and adventure. Beneath that layer, though, I am trying to challenge people, and ask them to take small meaningful risks in their lives. I am a Situational Designer. I produce immersive narrative adventures that take place in the real world. It is "game like", in that life is game like. Just please don't call it an "ARG" (alternate reality game).
OW: What led you to your current approach to art-making? (What led you to start breaking traditional molds?)
JH: Honestly, I think it is delusions of grandeur; this notion that I could curate people's reality. Even if just for a moment. It's audacious, but that's in my blood. I'm fifth generation Californian... I come from the Bay Area tradition of "innovation culture". (Not to be confused with the tech industry, which doesn't really reflect the values of its forefathers.)
As I grew up in Oakland I kind of swam in the milieu of pseudo-revolutionary movements, the human potential scene, new age visionaries, street lunatics, various youth subcultures and scenes. These crackpot utopian ideals still inform my work, to a degree.
OW: Who are your influences? Can you describe an experience in which art changed you?
JH: Equal parts Werner Earhart, Walt Disney, and RammEllZee. (Ramm was one of the early New York graff artists, a contemporary of Basquiat and Haring, who were all doing very literate work in public space. He has this entire thesis about the power of syntax called "Gothic Futurism", and his work evolved from painting on trains to making albums, garbage sculpture, and surreal costumes. His entire existence was like a performance; he had the personae of a Demi-God from an alternate dimension who was ready to battle you for the fate of the Universe).
I was on a pilgrimage to New York, and I got to hang with Ramm at his "battle station". After several hours of collaborating on a sculpture, I woke up on his floor, totally disoriented. He was passed out too, but before the vodka and fumes hit us (to his ultimate demise, this was how he worked) he had granted me profound knowledge on the nature of reality building. He had also given me the only copy of a VHS document called "The Evolution Griller". It is one of my most treasured possessions.
That experience changed me. Was it art? It was art-making. And it was life. As much as possible I try not to separate art from life.