Walking by the New Museum on Friday night, you might not expect to see a bunch of people sitting on the museum’s floor with beers in one hand and pencils in the other, drawing each other’s portraits. From the door, a deep bass booms. As part of The New Museum’s Ideas City, experimental rock musician and artist EMA put on what was essentially a salon-style draw-in for the digital generation.
Hosted by NEW INC, the New Museum's co-working space, and a cyberfeminist research collective, Deep Lab, the event urged patrons to sketch strangers, scan in the images using their cell phones, and submit them to a collage of work being projected onto the museum's wall in a grainy, and slightly psychedelic style that matched the scratchy beats played by EMA.
Watch: [Video] EMA Explores The Future's Void
Titled Does it Still Feel Weird if I Just Use My Hands, the project touches on issues of privacy, surveillance, and the distribution of images by considering both how we interact with strangers, and how we share images that are not taken with a camera. “I get anxious when someone pulls out a camera, and I worry where the images will end up,” writes EMA in the small handout given to participants, donning a crude yet enticing scribbled portrait on the back. “On the other hand, I find that having someone draw you feels ever so slightly ticklish… It takes investment and reveals something about both drawer and subject,” she says.
Despite the potential for awkward conversation, people were happy to participate in the performance. Looking over other people’s sketches, there was a range in how the drawers chose to portray their subject. There were lifelike portraits, cartoon doodles, and a face made with one line. It was interesting to see how other people see you—unmediated by the convenience and immediacy of a cell phone camera. This opened up discussions and allowed for a connectedness relatively uncommon to art institutions.
EMA joined in the drawing game between sets. With the flickering of the projected drawings and a comfortable pillow to sit on, the participants—mostly millennials—reminisced to a time before phone apps. "It's refreshing to see people sitting down, interacting without their phones,” one of the members of NEW INC, who was passing out pencils and beer, facilitating the unique drawing experience, told The Creators Project. “It’s cool to see people just looking at each other."
Read more about EMA on her website.