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Meet the Fine Artist Who Works With T-Shirts and Chain-Link Fence

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Jan 30 2020

From putting photos of texting drivers on billboards to calling out mass surveillance with tech company t-shirts to sending 1000 journals around the world to connect strangers, Brian Singer (also known as Someguy) lives and breathes provocation.

His winding path evolved from leading teams at Facebook, Pinterest, and serving on the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA)'s board to interrogating the systems that shape our reality through fine art and design. I first connected with Brian while creating a public art installation inspired by his work. Sitting down for a chat with him reminded me why art at the edges is key to activating social change and reimagining our future.

In one sentence, who are you?

I’m the guy you root for in the movie who doesn’t actually win in the end, but also doesn’t get eaten by zombies. I’m also an artist and designer who gravitates towards thought-provoking work.

What do you do? How did you learn it?

At the core of my work is deconstructing and reconstructing words, symbols, and objects in order to shift their meaning. I wish I could say how I learned it. I can trace some of it to my roots in the design and communications profession. And by being curious. Well, that and just trying and failing and trying again.

What are your three favorite possessions?

My guillotine cutter, not just because of how useful it is, but also because I got it off Craigslist for a great deal. My studio (technically not a possession because I rent it), but it allows me not just the physical space, but also the mental space to create. And a giant crocheted crab pillow that my mom made when I was a kid, because it’s a crab pillow.

What does a typical work session look like?

It truly depends on what I’m making (or if I’m still in ideation phase). For many of my projects, there’s a significant planning phase where I’m just figuring out what approach to take. Once that’s ready, I start production which can consist of tying thousands of knots, or counting and sorting paper. Sometimes I wish I just did one thing, so my routines were more regular, but the truth is each session is entirely dependent on the project (and lately, the projects have been pretty diverse).

How do you get over creative block?

I shift gears. If I’m struggling with a concept, it doesn’t help to keep focusing on it. Instead, I dig into a different project, take a walk, read a book, get high, anything to get my mind off of the initial project. Once that’s done, the ideas seem to come more easily (though sometimes they come at 4am).

What was the last item on your to do list?

This? My to-do list is never ending in that there’s always too many things to do and never enough time, so items get moved to the next day, and the next. Today, I’ve prepped for and conducted a recording session for one of my projects and followed up on a proposal. After this, I’m sending a list of available pieces to a gallery, setting up tax payments, planning my week, getting groceries, and going to my nephew’s birthday dinner. My life is pretty exciting.

How do you see the world in 2078?

I’m not very optimistic about the future of humanity. Not because I don’t think we’ll survive, we probably will. Us, and cockroaches. I just think that humans have a tendency towards power and wealth at the expense of other humans and the planet. Maybe we’ll have flying cars and nanobots and we’ll live to be 200 years old, but society will still be a pyramid, with the masses supporting the very rich at the top. Sorry, that’s so dismal.

What’s your number one bucket list item?

Right now, number one is to leverage the very tactics that the advertising industry uses, but to help parents raise their children. This isn’t packaging carrots like junk food, but more like Brave New World for good. Yeah, wrap your mind around that.

Who are you creative crushin’ on lately?

So many crushes. Miranda July? Rigo 23? Matt Bonner (creator of the baby Trump balloon)? There are so many, but one who continually inspires me is Ivan Cash. He’s a brilliant creative with the right twist to his ideas around the effects of technology on society. One of his recent projects was to create sunglasses that block out digital displays.

  • Lauren Ito

    Design Researcher, IDEO San Francisco
    Former digital nomad turned design researcher for IDEO's learning studio, Lauren believes in the power of design to advance equity across communities. She is fueled by explorations of identity, poetry, and creative agency. Lauren is currently designing an art exhibition exploring political participation through art.
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