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This week's assignment comes from Jonn Herschend and Will Rogan, who cofounded THE THING Quarterly, a publication that distributes everyday objects conceived of by different artists. They ask you to consider the meaning of physical objects in an increasingly digital world and Make a Thing.

John Green then talks about Invader, a French street artist who travels the world and installs mosaics inspired by video games from the 70s and 80s.

1. Take something from the virtual world
2. Make is physical
3. Upload a photo of your physical object using #theartassignment
4. Fame and glory (your work might be in a future episode)

Find out more about The Art Assignment and how to submit your response:

Sarah Urist Green: Hey guys, we're outside the offices of The Thing in San Francisco. It's a quarterly publication that invites artists to create useful objects that incorporate text, which are then reproduced and distributed to subscribers. It was co-founded by Jonn Herschend and Will Rogan, who have their independent careers as artists but collaborate to make this project. Jonn works in a wide range of media and has used such structures as PowerPoint and infomercials to pose questions about how we asses truth. And Will's practice trains his eye on the everyday landscapes around him, which he then uses as a starting point for playful and profound interventions. 

In each of their practices, and in this shared project, Jonn and Will think a lot about things, and the meaning of physical objects in an increasingly digital world. So lets go talk to them and see what kind of a thing they want you to make. 

Will Rogan: Hi, I'm Will Rogan.

Jonn Herschend: And I'm Jonn Herschend.

Both: And this is your Art Assignment.


Will: We met in graduate school in UC Berkeley, and at the time were both making work that contained language in some way, and we were also both highly interested in finding a way to publish something. 

JH: At the time, there was a lot happening, I think, in terms of magazines disappearing. Uh, there was a fear, it was like 2007, that we were gonna lose all of this to the virtual world, and uh we really wanted to, uh, not have that happen, and so the desire to publish on objects, is where this came out. And we also really love the idea of publications, and we modeled The Thing after what we thought a publication was supposed to be, with, you know editors, and managing editors.

WR: Four times a year, we release an issue with an individual creative person. Each issue is conceived of by that creative person. We act as the editors and, sort of help them get to something that makes sense within this context, and then those issues are shipped out to subscribers, and sold in stores. 

What we try and get across to the person we're working with is that we're after making an object that, um, will, that people will be forced into this situation where you have to use it or not use it. This artist needs to know that this is about people interacting with their work, potentially. 

Your assignment is to take something from the virtual world and make it physical.

JH: Like an emoji that maybe you want to send, like a crab or something, or a thumbs up to a friend, make it physically and then send it to them. 

WR: Or put something on someone's actual wall. 

JH: And then, send it to us, so we can see it, virtually. 

SUG: John, I like this assignment, and it has the potential to be very funny, but the more I thought about it the more I thought it's pretty serious and poetic too. Like it reminds me of your favorite saying about light. 

John Green: Oh, uh, light, the visible reminder of the invisible light?

SUG: That's the one, because when I started to dig back, I mean all art is kind of an effort to make the invisible visible, right? Like you can think back to ancient depictions of mythological beings, or the ling history of religious depictions in art. I mean, I get totally overwhelmed thinking about this assignment and its precedents.

JG: Yeah, I think you may be going back too far though. I think, uh, there's more recent stuff that...

SUG: Yeah, well, then I was focusing on, like, that last step of, of sort of making the virtual physical and then virtual again by sharing it, and I was thinking about the piece from the '60s by Robert Morris, Box With the Sound of Its Own Making, where you see this wooden box, and on the inside you can hear the sound of its own making? I love that piece.

JG: I think I might actually have a better art historical precedent. For the first time ever, I should do the voice over, because I want to talk about the French street artist, Invader.

SUG: All right!

JG: He's good right?

SUG: He's good!

JG: Yeah!

Although he actually attended the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Invader claims to have graduate from a tiling school on Mars, and since the 1990s, he has traveled the world, covertly installing mosaics inspired by '70s and '80s video games. There's 8-bit Pac-Man ghosts, Donkey Kong, and of course Space Invaders, from the eponymous 1978 video game. Its the perfect image, because, of course, Invader the artist is invading real public spaces with his art.

The idea is to bring the virtual world into reality, he has said, and making the virtual physical, we're reminded that the pixel itself has an art history, I mean, like, pixel-like shapes were used to create images long before they were ever used in Space Invaders, or Angry Birds. And then there's the question of physical and virtual privacy. Like many street artists, Invader is anonymous, and when he is photographed, he insists that his face be, you guessed it, pixelated. Like Jonn and Will's assignment, Invader's work asks us to consider the relationship between our offline and online lives. What's the difference between the virtual and the physical? Is there one?

JH: I think that the idea of art pushing boundaries, um, is so important, and part of what we're doing with The Thing is trying to play around with those boundaries, both for us, in our own work, but also for the larger conversation of what is art. Is it commodity, is it utilitarian, is it, um decoration, is it inspiration? Those are things that, I think, uh... art functions, can function in all those. It doesn't have to be one. 

WH: With the internet, its hard to, its hard for something special to rise to the surface, and I, I kind of see, and yet, we all put so much energy towards this thing, right? We're all constantly dumping our attention and energy into this place that reduces everything to one context. So I think, to take something out of that, and make it real, and make it in a physical thing is a resistance to that  I guess, in a way.

JH: What is quality, I think is something that's made with enough care that you want to take care of it. That you want to keep it, and have it on your desk, and give it to your kids, or, you know, give it to a friend. That you really care about this thing, 'cause we live in a throwaway culture.

WR: I think the aesthetic in the beginning, was this kind of, like, really classic, like mailed object. That's why its so reduced to looking so, sort of brown, black text. Its about, like, what's the best vehicle to just get this object from where we are here, to this other person. 

We're gonna take this recording, and turn it into a VHS tape.

JH: And we're gonna package it up...

WR: Make it really beautiful, um, nice labels, nice box.

JH: And then we're gonna share it with our parents. 

WR: Then we're gonna find someone with a VHS player, yeah. Our parents probably. 


JH: My reactions are like smiley face, thumbs up, thumbs down, unicorn, I mean those are like, the crab, make a crab. So maybe, you know, pulling that crab out, and making it real, uh, and giving someone a crab, instead of an emojicon, or (laughing) an emoji.