Brazilian-born, Brooklyn-based fine artist Vik Muniz has exhibited his work all over the world. Using unexpected materials to create portraits, landscapes and still lifes — which he then photographs — he delights in subverting a viewer’s expectations.
Why you should listen to him:
Because he’s self-effacing, frankly open and thought-provoking, all at the same time. Vik Muniz’s explorations into the power of representation and his masterful use of unexpected materials such as chocolate syrup, toy soldiers and paper confetti mean that his resulting images transcend mere gimmickry.
Muniz is often hailed as a master illusionist, but he says he’s not interested in fooling people. Rather, he wants his images to show people a measure of their own belief. Muniz has exhibited his playfully provocative work in galleries all over the world and was recently featured in a documentary entitled “Waste Land,” screened at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. The film follows Muniz around the largest garbage dump in Rio de Janeiro, as he photographs the collectors of recycled materials in which he finds inspiration and beauty. Describing the history of photography as “the history of blindness,” his images simply but powerfully remind a viewer of what it means to see, and how our preconceptions can color every experience.
“Public shaming as a blood sport has to stop,” says Monica Lewinsky. In 1998, she says, “I was Patient Zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.” Today, the kind of online public shaming she went through has become constant — and can turn deadly. In a brave talk, she takes a hard look at our online culture of humiliation, and asks for a different way.
Susan Cain is a former corporate lawyer and negotiations consultant — and a self-described introvert. At least one-third of the people we know are introverts, notes Cain in her new book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Although our culture undervalues them dramatically, introverts have made some of the great contributions to society – from Chopin’s nocturnes to the invention of the personal computer to Gandhi’s transformative leadership. Cain argues that we design our schools, workplaces, and religious institutions for extroverts, and that this bias creates a waste of talent, energy, and happiness. Based on intensive research in psychology and neurobiology and on prolific interviews, she also explains why introverts are capable of great love and great achievement, not in spite of their temperaments — but because of them.
Artist Liu Bolin began his “Hiding in the City” series in 2005, after Chinese police destroyed Suo Jia Cun, the Beijing artists’ village in which he’d been working, because the government did not want artists working and living together. With the help of assistants, he painstakingly painted his clothes, face, and hair to blend into the background of a demolished studio.
Since then, the so-called “Invisible Man” has photographed himself fading into a variety of backgrounds all over Beijing. Spot him embedded in a Cultural Revolution slogan painted on a wall, or spy him within tiers of supermarket shelves stocked with soft drinks. Just as with Bolin himself, the contradictions and confusing narratives of China’s post-Cultural Revolution society are often hiding in plain sight.
Shea Hembrey’s art imitates nature’s forms, in an attempt to appreciate how humans have always appropriated and learned from forms in nature. An early fascination with birds (as a teenager, he was a licensed breeder of migratory waterfowl), led to “Mirror Nests,” a series of metal replicas of bird nests exhibited at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology observatory.
Hembrey works with focused concentration on a single project, letting his research into his subject direct the media and methods of the final product. He has produced works on folk and faith healing inspired by his healer grandfather, and his view of art was profoundly changed while studying Maori art while he was a Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholar to New Zealand.
Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. She spent the first five years of her decade-long study focusing on shame and empathy, and is now using that work to explore a concept that she calls Wholeheartedness. She poses the questions:
How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness? How do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to recognize that we are enough – that we are worthy of love, belonging, and joy?
Poet Rives does 8 minutes of lyrical origami, folding history into a series of coincidences surrounding that most surreal of hours, 4 o’clock in the morning.
Alwar Balasubramaniam’s work aches to express the overlooked, the invisible, the inexpressible. Quiet white sculptural forms, hung on a wall, unlock philosophical questions as one watches the light pass over them. What is their form, and what is their shadow? What are those mysterious white hands reaching for, around the corner and through the wall?
Trained in painting and printmaking, Balasubramaniam has been experimenting with a range of materials (fiberglass, wax, gold) to create sculptural works that bring forth his ideas and his search process. His work is often very tactile, very physical, but it symbolizes an exploration of big questions: what defines the self? what confines us? how do light and shadow shape our view of the world?