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This week we meet with Jon Rubin, a Pittsburgh based artist whose practice often focuses on cultural exchange, pushing us to imagine other people and their lives more complexly. For his assignment, he asks you to do the same by bridging the gap between you and your neighbor. Here’s what he means:

1. Tell a neighbor that you’re participating in an art project and that you want to film one of their rooms
2. Record (in landscape!) through that room from left to right, being as slow and stable as possible.
3. Make sure to have an object or wall in the foreground of the in point and out point
4. Upload your best take using #theartassignment
5. Fame and glory (your work might be in a future episode)

Special thanks to Kelly Sultan and the Estate of Larry Sultan.

Check out more of Jon's work: http://www.jonrubin.net/

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(PBS Digital Studios Intro)

We're in Pittsburgh today, and we're getting ready to meet up with the artist Jon Rubin, but before we do so, we've stopped off at one of his projects.  It's Conflict Kitchen, a restaurant that serves food from countries that the US is currently involved in some level of conflict with.  It's currently serving Cuban food, and also plays host to performances and events that look to deepen our knowledge and engagement with the country of focus.  Other works have included a sign in Columbus, Ohio that tells the current time and temperature in Tehran, Iran, and the Lovasik Estate Sale, for which he purchased an entire estate sale of a Pittsburgh family and shipped it to the Shanghai biennial, where the sale was held during the run of the exhibition.  Cultural exchange can too often be an empty term, but Jon's work compels us to imagine other people and other lives in rich detail.  He does a magnificent job of collapsing the space between here and there, and that's exactly what he's gonna have us do.

Jon: Hi, I'm Jon Rubin, and this is your Art Assignment.

(Intro)

Here, There, Here is a video that actually tracks the space between the room we're in right now to an art center that's about a mile and a half from here, so I was invited to be part of this exhibition in the art center, and I was really curious, you know, could I depict the space, which is not very far, between, you know, where I spend every day of my life and this exhibition that I'll spend very little time in.  I thought, wow, wouldn't it be wonderful just to sort of ghost-like tunnel right through the spaces and construct this, like, singular space out of all these, you know, individual spaces, so that's how it started.  I realized like, just going to my neighbor's house, which I'd never been in before this project happened, was like, wow, it's so beautiful, the walls are yellow, and, you know, and they have a teenage daughter who seems like she's always in a funk, and could she sit in the space and with these yellow walls, it was like this film was already sort of there, and I just arrived with it, and all I have to do is like, capture just a piece of it, and it was already sort of so wonderful, and I'm not looking for, you know, drama or comedy or things that are, you know, sort of standing out, I'm looking to kind of--for the beauty of what already exists.  There's these miraculous moments, and oftentimes, in our own homes, we're impervious to them, because you know, we experience them every day, we just go one home over and it's like you're in a new world.

Here's your assignment.  I want you to go to a neighbor's house, it's a great excuse, and say you're participating in an art project.  You want to film just one of their rooms, and in order to film this, I know you don't have a steady-cam, I want you to stabilize your camera as much as possible, move as slowly as possible, and evenly as possible through that room.  Think about the in and out points for this.  You want to start with an object or wall on your in point, and you want to end with an object or wall at your out point ,so that we can use those in and out points to stitch you together with all the other footage that's being shot.  In the end, we'll have this space that actually doesn't really exist in the world that we can tunnel in through around the world through all of your participatory videos.

John: I love this assignment, Sarah, you know how I feel about cartography.

Sarah: I do.

John: And this is kind of like a way of like, mapping the world of Art Assignmenters and then we're gonna stitch it all together so we can see the universe of the Art Assignment.  

Sarah: Through their neighbors.

John: Yes, as told through their neighbors, which is even better!

Sarah: What I love about this is, you know, for those of us who live most of our lives online, we routinely imagine the lives of others through their social media profiles or et cetera, but there are these whole other worlds that could be right through the wall.

John: Right.

Sarah: That, you know, maybe they don't have a YouTube channel.

John: Right.

Sarah: But you now, through this, have a way to access their lives.  

John: Yeah, like the incredible and astonishing mystery of your neighbors revealed.

Sarah: And in this assignment, we also have questions about voyeurism that have come up before, like in Deb Sokolow's stakeout assignment.

John: Yeah, but I think here, we're like, definitely ethically clear with voyeurism.  Like, we're on the good side, because you're asking permission.

Sarah: Right, you're asking permission and you're approaching their space in a very consistent way, almost deadpan, and that's where our art historical precedent comes in.  

Jon Rubin's piece HereThereHere was actually inspired by the photographer Larry Sultan's work.  Larry Sultan's series Pictures From Home began in 1982, which a visit to his parents' house in Palm Desert, California.  He took pictures of them posing in their natural environment, doing everyday things, surrounded by the lush color and patterns of their 70s suburban decor.  While the subject is deeply personal, Sultan's gaze is remarkably straightforward and unironic.  In the 90s, he went on to photograph other domestic interiors, but this time, they were of homes in the San Fernando valleys, serving as sets for pornographic films.  While much further from home, Sultan's gaze remained consistent and exceptionally nonjudgmental.  Whether they're his parents or adult film actors, the people are just people, in all of their flawed but sympathetic glory, and the houses are just houses, the sets upon which daily life unfolds.  Here, we're asked to turn our eye on the interior spaces of our neighbors, not to cast judgment, but to create a collected portrait of the spaces we inhabit.  What will it show us?  How different we are?  How similar?  What will we see when we look inside the house next door or on the other side of the world?  

Jon: I think people don't want to be exploited and they don't, you know, they're concerned perhaps about, you know, that you might represent them in a negative light, but that said, you know, once approached, most people are so much more open than you would imagine, and this little world develops between you, where you're constructing a new reality together, and you know, I think, you know, voyeurism is both a kind of insight into the lives of others, but it's also an opportunity for you to clarify what you're projecting on to, you know, other peoples' lives, and you know, in many ways, it's just reflecting back to your own interests, right?  You're sort of, you know--things you pay attention to in anyone else's world or space or story says a lot more about you than them.

I was thinking we'd go over to my neighbor's house and actually, I filmed in her house before, when the woman before actually lived there and had, unfortunately, she passed away a couple years ago, but Morgan and her daughter Lola and her husband Gabe moved into the house and I was thinking we could just like, you know, try to film a little scene in there and see how it goes.

So we're in my neighbor Morgan, Gabe, and Lola's house, and I shot here before when I made the original film, and I'm gonna kind of walk through how I would construct a shot and how you might be able to do it yourself.  So I've got a camera, not everyone's gonna have it, but if you have a camera with a strap, the strap can help as a sort of stabilizing device, and you want to start at an in point, which is something--a wall or an object that's in the foreground--and have your camera, you know, completely focused on that.  It might be blurry because it's so close, but that's fine, and then, you want to be perfectly parallel to the wall that you're shooting against.  You don't want to move the camera this way or that way, just try to keep it parallel, try to keep it still, and then start filming and move as slowly as possible.  Don't worry about sound, because we're not gonna use any sound.  Try not to make any really jumpy movements, and then think about where your end point's gonna be, and make sure you get very close to it and bring the camera all the way through and keep it running and then stop.

I think it's great to try it multiple times.  The first one is really your test, and then watch it, see what it looks like to you, recognize how much you actually move when you don't think you're moving, and then do it again, do it again, until you get a take that's just exactly what you want and then just send us that one perfect take.

My ten year old and I went and knocked on every door, right, so obviously you got a ten year old girl there with some creepy guy, asking if he can come back and, you know, film inside your house, and 50 people said yes, only one person said no.