Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A World that seems Off: Motorola's Mateo Guez Collabo


A quick note on a current exhibition that baffles me/concerns me somewhat. For the month of May, the window of Camera, the bar and screening space attached to Stephen Bulger Gallery, has been taken over by something called "Off World." When you walk by, you see the large window covered with black vinyl. In a few places (maybe 8 to 10 or so) the black vinyl has been cut away to reveal a cellphone screen unfurling images of kids scavenging and playing in Smoky Mountain, a slum/refuse site in the Philippines.

The project is a collaboration between Motorola (one can see their logo on each small screen) and artist/filmmaker Mateo Guez. There is a special mobile-tech aspect in that the images can be downloaded to one's own phone via Bluetooth (or as I like to describe it, magic). The images can also be downloaded from the "Off World" website, with new sets of images uploaded weekly.

The whole thing makes me a bit uncomfortable. Uncomfortable, I guess, about these kids not being compensated by Motorola for their participation in this whole sponsorship thing. (You think at least they could've given them a phone or something, though I'm sure that would seem similarly in poor taste.)

It also actually makes me uncomfortable that these are images people can take with them on their phone, a discomfort again related, perhaps, to the privilege of having this technology to tote around pictures of people whose yearly income probably doesn't even total the cost of said mobile device.

At the same time, I can reason the other way with myself--like well, these are images of extreme poverty, and they should make you uncomfortable. Or, well, at least more people know now about these kids and their situation--isn't that a good thing? And don't people tote around/possess newspapers and magazines full of horrific images, for which the subjects are not compensated one iota? How is it different or worse toting around the images on a phone?

Still, I feel somehow that this dialogue, internal or otherwise, is not really justified by the means. Ideas? Gripes? Defenses?

Image of Mateo Guez's Super Hero, Smokey Mountain, 2008 from Contact Festival

6 comments:

Michael Wheeler said...

I walked by this too and had similar reservations. At the end of the day i'm guessing its likely more useful/helpful for the images to be disseminated than not. Even the spinoff from things like this blog post means an minute raising of awareness of the poverty in this part of the Philippines.

Maybe its up to the artist in this context to make sure the corporate sponsor is also contributing to reducing the problems he/she is documenting....

A.K. said...

An art critic with a social conscience, and a well tuned moral compass: one of the reasons I enjoy reading uneditmyheart. Thanks.

Leah Sandals said...

Thanks for the feedback guys.

I get the sense this is in many ways the artist's call -- as Michael suggests. The company maybe gave him the money to do what he wanted to to, and this is it? Maybe?

Andrew Mallis said...

Your conflicted feelings are à propos and shared.

We're having a closing party tonight (Sat) @ Camera Bar 7-9pm for the installation. We'd love to continue this discussion.

Anonymous said...

Dear Leah
I understand your reaction...
I'm just surprised, that, as a journalist, you didn't investigate more before presuming!
"Off World" is part of a largest aventure start 9 month ago...
There is an In World behind all that...
I made a documentary and a feature film...
Gave jobs to hundreds of people...
Worked in close collaboration with two foundation in Smokey montain...
Spent a years with this people and kids...
So all that is not about pity...
All that is about trying to give this people a future...
All that is about showing to the world that behind the poverty, those kids have something that we lost... faith, love, joy...
I know what I'm talking about....
OFF WORLD is the result of an intense, sincere, enormous work, who will make a change!
Don't hesitate to contact me if you really want to know, and not just react basicaly without doing real reaseach on how people work!
Best
Mateo Guez
matguez@rogers.com
http://theofilms.blogspot.com
http://adventuresintheoffworld.blogspot.com

Leah Sandals said...

Thanks Mateo, I'm glad you joined the discussion here!

I think if I was doing an actual article on the work, I would have gotten in touch.

But I was basically responding to the work itself here -- and in a way, maybe trying to report on how everyday passerby (eg. me) might experience the work in its presented context.

Maybe in future it would be useful for you to include some information about your approach in your didactic panels & exhibition card materials?

I did look on your site and see that you had been working on a feature film "Off World" but the connection wasn't clear.