Pop-Life: “We’re Revolting!” From Social Media to Socializing

By Chie Davis

Sculpture by Elyse Graham

With the cyclone of cyber culture wrapping us tight around technology, it has never been more of an opportune time for artists to capitalize on the power of social media. A slowly rebounding economy combined with the dangling temptation of purchasing online has urged creatives to come up with inventive methods to both share their goods on the internet. Digital pop-up ‘events’ have revolutionized this online effort by providing an immersive experience that links the shopper, their social network and a brand within a controlled space and limited time.

California bred fashion designer, Rachel Roy, who generally sells her wares at mainstream department stores like Nordstrom and Bergdorf Goodman, recently teamed up with British R&B songstress, Estelle to launch an exclusive 3-day jewelry pop-up shop for Facebook fans. Not only did the sparkly trinkets sell out in six hours, but it also boosted Roy’s online fan base by 100%, accumulating 1 new fan nearly every second. Deep pocket designers armed with a stable of golden marketing reps are not the only ones recognizing the power of social media to influence and mobilize a community. Local curators and fine artists have taken note- carving out their own space amongst the bustling online marketplace.

Arts critic turned social media guru, Su Wu, best known for her blog “I’m Revolting,” found comfort in the changing tide of consumer trends. Seeking solace online after the arts publication that she wrote for in Chicago folded, the spunky lover of avant-garde aesthetics “wanted to have a place to dump my interior world online, sort of look for ideas that were percolating, to think about some emerging thoughts and some trends I was noticing. That just spiraled into an arts blog.” 3 years after the inception of “I’m Revolting,” a passion project that Wu tinkered with for a year before going public, she has amassed an avalanche of readers, including over 300 thousand Pinterest followers. “For me, blogging and Pinterest have made a case for the pleasure in taxonomy, in making lists and finding patterns, and in this impulse to arrange. Going at it without any scheme meant that I didn’t have to worry about that scheme-that this was totally a pure, indulgent respite.” It is studying theories on taste, attraction to process, materials and artistic instruments that fuels the now Downtown L.A. resident’s quest, which reigns supreme over simply hawking artist wares online and making a profit. Delicately pondering each word before it spills from her lips, Wu explains,  “I’m really interested in the idea of taste and how it’s learned… or if it has any other significance, like whether the visual information that we’re drawn to says anything more about us. I think it’s important to at least try to make sense of our emotional responses.”

Admiring the work of visual artists globally and connecting with them through her blog,Su Wu unknowingly began to piece together an online community of inquisitive crafters, all yearning to peel back layers and peek beyond the veil. The “amazing thing about the internet is that you can find your own community. You can reach out to these people across the world, in Australia, Japan, Detroit, New York and L.A. and create your own tribe, with people who love the things that you love. I think we’re all just looking for some understanding, especially in those areas that are the most deeply held and difficult to articulate,” Wu reveals.

While the conceptual complexities behind the work showcased on the “I’m Revolting” blog, such as leather shipping boxes or paper-made clothes, may prove difficult to decipher for the untrained eye, retailers could not ignore Wu’s online influence- a simple presentation of odd yet alluring pieces, attracting page views. Etsy.com jumped onboard first, asking her to curate a column. “Creatures of Comfort,” followed suit. Instead of mocking the mold of executing an online digital pop-up to capitalize on Wu’s social media reach, the curatorial arrangement melded social media with an in-person social experience—facilitating a 3-week pop-up on the site of Creatures’ Los Angeles exhibition space/retail store. Wu immediately salvaged talent from her online artist community- bringing the “We’re Revolting” pop-up to life.

Elyse Graham, a native Angelino that creates neon-colored geode sculptures out of urethane, sand and resin from her Lincoln Heights studio, says that while she’s shown at pop-ups before, this one felt different. “Su is an independent curator, so she didn’t really have a financial stake in it. She just took pieces from people that she’d never met before and really liked and put their work together.” Wu beams describing the rush that she received while curating pieces online to create an equally dynamic offline experience. “There’s a certain type of relationship that you have with people on the internet, that you admire from afar. Having the artists here, engaging with one another, going to their studios and having an excuse to visit their physical spaces to touch their work, I don’t think that feeling can duplicated, even for all of the wonders and miracles of the internet! Part of the real joy of doing this pop up is looking at work from artists that I already admired and thinking about new directions that we could go in together.”

Joanna Williams, a textile maven who has worked with retail giants including Anthropologie, showcased her hand-woven wool rugs from Mexico at the “We’re Revolting” pop-up, seeking to illuminate local awareness about a global movement. She worked with Wu to create new color palettes, specifically for the exhibit. “In LA, there is a really interesting group of women who are bringing weaving to the forefront of the creative scene. I have seen it spread to other parts of the states as well. Those rugs have been around since the ’80s, but no one has really been giving them the attention they deserve. I want (people) to appreciate a craft that is still thriving.  It can be hard to translate that online if you haven’t seen the rugs in person. They really are a tactile thing,” Williams explains.

 

Bridging the gap between one’s sacred online space and real life, while exposing emerging artists to a new audience was key for Wu. “Its not this jet set art world, of people who are going around to art fairs. It’s a lot of people who are working on a very small scale, sometimes home studios, doing really experimental work,” she says. Artists were keen to apply and exhibit ideas that had been long bubbling- from Doug Johnston, a New York artist that specializes in coiled basketry who created the show’s lighting installation using the same technique, to David Neil, an Australian metal smith who produced both bangles and hand cut aluminum combs for the show.

For Wu the “We’re Revolting” pop up was a product of sampling, planning, and the fine juxtaposition of objects, all while observing how they react to each other- a delicate balancing act that is not required online. The preparation involved in showcasing and sharing products in a physical space, is far more intimate, she contends. “In this world where there are so many choices and the price of things is much more removed from the cost of production, so many of the decisions we make are aesthetic decisions, curatorial decisions, and taste is more and more an element of social organization. It’s not the most important element, and it’s bound up in all the other ways we stratify ourselves for better or worse, but it does reach across certain boundaries of time and space and create new communities,” says Wu. The “I’m Revolting” artistic community was strengthened in the process of creating the pop-up, Wu reflects, due in part to the collaborative spirit of the artists involved, open to producing pieces that comfortably straddle the line between use and art, while seamlessly conversing with consumers at the core- both online and off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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