Interview: FriendsWithYou Discusses Their Artists Talk with MOCAtv and the Art of Positivity

The dynamic art and design duo shares their ideas about social engineering and spiritual awareness.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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FriendsWithYou isn't your typical artist collective. In fact, if they are even to be called a "collective," then Samuel Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III aren't the only members. FriendsWithYou literally aims to include all of their viewers, fans, and participants in the meaning, execution, evolution, and importance of their work. 

Samuel and Arturo work in painting, sculpture, large-scale experiential installation, live performance, film, and architecture, articulating a message of positivity, spiritual awareness, and inclusiveness through their post-pop, post-Internet visual language. They've exhibited at the High Line NYC, Art Basel Miami, Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Haus der Kulturen der Welt Museum in Berlin, and beyond, sharing the simple happiness of everyday life through art in reduced archetypes.

We caught up with them to discuss their recent Artist Talk with MOCAtv (video below), where they show Alia Shawkat their studio in Los Angeles. Directed by Lance Bangs, the video highlights their mission, dedication, and passion for using art to mean much more in every single person's life. They've earned the admiration of followers of their work, and they will undoubtedly be "friends with you" sooner rather than later. 

In your MOCAtv Artists Talk with Alia Shawkat, you immediately begin talking about the psychological nature of your work. When in the trajectory of your practice did you realize that you could affect people with a "system of reduced archetypes"? Did traveling, schooling, or youthful aspirations influence you? 
It comes from a desire to heal ourselves. The search begins in the understanding of the spiritual pathway. In modern society we feel that there is no connection, just false ones through the Internet. We wanted to empower ourselves, and through that thinking, we feel that we began to empower the people around us. The reduction of the archetypes comes from a place where relatability and the connection to each other is the goal. We feel that people can identify with these figurations and we communicate something pure and honest through them. We have always wanted our art to be impactful and transcendental in its simplicity. And yes, being exposed to world culture was huge; we feel so lucky that we could see the entire world through our magic computer screen window. We were able to be students of the world, and that opened us up to new perspectives and new ways of thinking.

We are in service of the world to be a beacon of light and a healing concept by visually and physically inspiring people.

How would you describe "service art" to someone who's unfamiliar with the way people can derive meaning and fulfillment from art?
Simply through the process of healing ourselves with our practice, we hope that the work acts as amulets that project our intentions to all viewers and participants. We are in service of the world to be a beacon of light and a healing concept by visually and physically inspiring people. Like allowing adults to bounce or play in our environments—we're empowering people through our sculptures and hopefully providing them with a sense of spirituality through these interactions. 

In the Artists Talk, you highlight architecture and film as genres you consider art, in the amount of time they take to plan and execute (citing Rainbow Valley), while also thinking about how the pieces will function in the world. Can you talk about the magic in reflecting on these projects later on, especially with how "miraculous" it seems when they get pulled off? How do you continually find the money and resources to execute these large-scale endeavors?
We believe in the power of synchronicity and that by working hard and trying to open this portal of the dream, that it can be manifested. We always start by thinking with no limits; how do we really hit our audience over the head with our art and how do we affect lives in a positive and powerful way? So we decided to go huge—dream as big as our heads can go and then see where we land.

We feel very grateful for the projects we have done up until now, and we have seen how each of these projects started in a very small way and then led to the next one. It has grown and grown, and not only in scale. We also feel that we have learned how to affect people in their homes and in their lives, and we hope to spread more into world culture. We are interested in culturally changing the spiritual landscape of our world, and it feels like a lifetime plan. This is why we hail great architects and filmmakers, for their pursuit of the calling—of the holy, widely functional life we all work to create with our creations. It's the most exciting thing in the world. 

You are constantly spreading "Magic, Luck, and Friendship" as part of your message of positivity. How did you cultivate your own spiritual awareness to the point where you realized its benefit for others?
It was from tough, very difficult places and desperate feelings that this project was spawned. If you are alone, you only need FriendsWithYou. We wanted to be that; the same way religion calls it God, we call it everything. We love the idea of animism, in that, it says that everything has a soul. In that thinking, we feel that all the forces of the universe help us to push forward our mission. If you smile, everything will smile back at you, and we want to feed that good dragon for the battle against the sadness and the hate. It’s the most fulfilling thing ever. 

Our world is going through a beautiful moment of consciousness, and people want to feel a part of the whole world.

What other artists, past or present, do you feel embrace positivity or connectivity in the same way (or similarly) that you aim to?
We think all artists are the philosophers of the times; we react to the needs of the world as humanity evolves, and we learn about ourselves and our world. We think it’s hard to be alive and not feel excitement and positivity for the evolution of our world. We are seeing that through information, the world is changing so quickly. We feel that we relate to the artists of the Renaissance, in that, our world is going through a beautiful moment of consciousness, and people want to feel a part of the whole world.

We all are connected, and we think that trend is being broadcasted from art in all different ways. Ai Weiwei is doing this through holding his government accountable; he is a fighter, an activist for positive change. Jodorowsky has developed an art practice called “psycho magic” that is solely used for healing. Even one of our good, close buddies Bert Rodriguez helps us all laugh at ourselves. Murakami teaches psychology about the ego and temptation through his work. I feel all artists are working somehow towards their own healing and/or the healing of others, even if it's through their own catharsis. 

What kind of music do you listen to? It seems like you enjoy hip-hop based on the video.
Oh man, we like whatever fits the situation—booty for dancing, the Cure for feeling, psychedelic for thinking, chanting for meditating—everything! Good music has its time and place. It’s amazing. 

How does design specifically aid in blurring the line between high and low art? 
We use design as a tool in our process and in our thinking. We really like how Eastern cultures use design to convey emotions and tell a big story with such simple visual language. Design has shaped history and simple designs, like a smiling Buddha or some sacred symbols that trigger your consciousness. We do this throughout our work; we have designed some specific archetypes that we use again and again to help connect people to their own emotions as they see these pieces. It’s like a visual mirror in our eyes. 

Per the MOCAtv video, how have you made your studio into a space where you can create, entertain, and be constantly inspired?
We looked for just the right spot, and it was in the recesses of a parking lot. The architectural vortex gave way to something magical that continues with our daily pursuits. The studio is a wonderful place to dream and work together. We are happy to have a nice, large space to think really big ideas and have our friends come to contribute and collaborate.  

What projects and/or collaborations are you most proud of?
Each endeavor is amazing. Rainbow City was an incredible dream—to do something so huge and open the High Line Park Section 2 by bringing so much to so many people. Also, our playground Rainbow Valley is a really successful project. That piece really came alive once people started using it. The entire journey is so exciting; the people we meet and work with are the entire reason for doing this. We are so grateful for what we have been able to do in our lives, the places we have been, and the things we have learned. This journey and the people around us succeeding really makes us feel proud.

Every action creates a wave, and together we think the world can really do something incredible with a unified goal.

What influenced your move from Miami to Los Angeles?
We really followed our bliss and are always excited for new adventures. We want to experience as much of life as possible and keep learning and finding new, amazing people to collaborate with. Miami is an incredible place and will always be that way in my heart. There are so many amazing gems in Los Angeles that we are turning over regularly. People love to make good projects out here, and we think this city is such a great place to explore. There are so many amazing artists for us to look up to in so many creative fields that blossom out here.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists, especially those interested in social engineering beyond simply "making art"?
Work hard and do it for the right reason. Everyone is needed to make something so bright. It’s time to connect our world for good and start the process of what we were really put on this Earth to do. The more artists and people that join this state of consciousness, the better. We are going to see amazing things in our lifetime, and this moment is so important. Every action creates a wave, and together we think the world can really do something incredible with a unified goal.

What is your dream for the world in 2013 (and beyond)?
It’s ever-expanding. We hope to shine and be open to learning, playing through life, and infecting as many people as possible with the friendship virus. We want the world to join together and become a global village, where we evolve through new information and power our world with love. We are working on creating works that will truly transform people’s lives in a variety of ways, and we can only wish to continue proposing dreams. And hopefully a few do come true. If we can make each person that sees our work feel something, then that will be a great victory for us!

We love you everybody, the universe is on your side. Keep going. You are not alone. We are FriendsWithYou!!!


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