Artist Interview: Movers and Shakers
Meet the Eyebeam Access Residents
Movers and Shakers in conversation with open call jury member Kenyatta Cheese
Learn more about the Open Call: Access.
Movers and Shakers execute direct action and advocacy campaigns for marginalized communities using virtual reality, augmented reality, and the creative arts. Their aim is to highlight and provide solutions to issues that affect marginalized communities. During their Eyebeam residency, the coalition will work on an interactive anthology of poems, illustrations, and augmented reality (AR) animations entitled Columbus the Hero? with a focus on telling the story of Christopher Columbus from the oppressed perspective. Each piece of content will come to life with their ‘Movers and Shakers AR’ app. Glenn Cantave and Idris Brewster spoke with Eyebeam alum, Kenyatta Cheese, Co-creator, Co-founder of Know Your Meme and Everybody at Once.
Kenyatta Cheese: So, in terms of the moving and shaking that you’ll be doing at Eyebeam, what do you think the next year or so looks like for you?
Glenn Cantave: So there are a few projects that we’re looking to roll out. One is the augmented reality book on the true story of Christopher Columbus. We’re testing it out in schools, and we want to see how students react to it and want to make it better. And the book itself can live as an installation in public spaces. In a perfect world, we’d like to get it into Columbus Circle so that anyone can use their smartphone and see the truth about who this man really was. So that’s one of the aspects. Want to talk about monuments?
Idris Brewster: Yeah, so we originally started by wanting to put monuments and statues (digital statues) of positive, powerful black and indigenous figures at Columbus Circle to represent something away from the terror of Christopher Columbus. We thought that idea could actually be applied not only to Columbus Circle, but all around the city. And so we thought about creating a prototype for one neighborhood, and we thought about starting with Harlem. We would create a guided AR tour where people would be able to take out the app, go out to 125th Street and Lenox and see a picture of something related to Harlem and the history of that block, personified in a 3D-model that, best case scenario, is interactable with the user. We think if we can perfect Harlem, or one point, that’s something that could be scaled not only to New York City, but to a lot of different places.
GC: And so part of the problem that we’re addressing is that—whether it’s the schools or the public spaces, it’s mostly white men that have had the mic for…centuries.
GC: Representation truly matters. We’re taught from a very young age that we’re nobody because our history has been altered and erased in a lot of different ways. And so the value of using augmented reality in public spaces is that we can put up a lot of digital statues for cheap. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that we don’t need permission to do so. We can just do it. We don’t have to wait for anyone. And the third thing is that the statues can be fundraising mechanisms for good. Meaning, if we’re putting this statue, lets say of Colin Kaepernick, in a public space, the user can click on Colin Kaepernick. It can lead to a landing page where they can donate to the ‘Know Your Rights’ campaign—as one example.
Another problem is that New York City has 1.1 million students in their public schools, but there are 940,000 students of color. The problem is that the books are not about them. The curricula is not about them. And so we want to change that up. And as far as the public spaces are concerned, there are 155 statues of men. There are six statues of women. It’s absurd. That’s just got to change.
KC: It’s funny—whether you talk about textbooks or statues in public spaces—these are both things that we take for granted, right? People don’t necessarily think about the textbooks they learn from as being political.
IB: Oh yeah, we’re trying to disrupt a lot of perspectives and traditional narratives. I think that’s one of the main reasons why we’re doing what we’re doing. It’s ‘cause people need to shift the way they take things in and look at the world around them.
GC: So the woke folk get it, but the modern American political consciousness and collective consciousness does not understand the implications of a system that is founded on genocide and slavery. The ultimate goal of this content is to make it accessible for all so that 10 years down the line, we have a higher standard for how we uphold these systems. Right now, we are electing leaders that are perpetuating a system that is designed to oppress people of color, women and LGBTQ people. And so over time, it’s our goal to shift that consciousness so we are electing leaders that can create systems and processes that are for the benefit of the people.
KC: That’s good. That makes me think about the idea of access. There’s an interesting thing here in terms of the access on a policy level. These stories aren’t in textbooks that sit in schools now because the folks who do have the access, who have the funds and who have the time to organize, are the folks who have already benefited from—from supremacy. Because they have the access that they have, they’re able to affect change in that way.
I think that makes your work really interesting because there’s something very asymmetrical about it, right? You don’t necessarily have access as they do, but you have the technology and you have the knowledge. And you’re able to apply and you’re able to essentially get in there on a different level in order to add commentary, add more context for that work. Does it resonate?
IB: Yeah. [laughs] I think a big thing is a connection to the community and the masses. I think that’s one of the biggest parts for us. We are out here doing the grassroots work to figure out what we need to do. And I feel like we have deeper connection to the people.
KC: How has that been important especially when you are trying to intervene with these large power structures. What is the importance of collectivism here?
GC: The way that power structure exists in 2018—the door is still closed for a lot of people of color in a lot of ways because that’s how it’s designed. What’s interesting to me about augmented reality is that you don’t need to be within the traditional framework of power to get the word out. So we have a limited window of time because eventually others will catch up to this technology and push forward more conservative and often more bigoted agendas. The value of using augmented reality here is that people are interested in it at the base level. Not even because it’s about Columbus and not even because it’s about empowerment, but because the tech is cool.
IB: So many people we see, when they see the tech, they’re just like, “What is going on?!” It happens every time.
GC: Yeah so people want to see it because it’s cool, but we have this message that is behind it, something for people to grab onto. If you can mobilize the masses, then you can change something. We want to use this unique window. Although we don’t have that much money, or that many resources, our platform isn’t tremendous, we can reach a lot of people very quickly if we do this thoughtfully and properly.
KC: How important is the technology you’re using?
IB: I feel like it has to be some sort of media—some sort of thing to grab attention and to get the viewers’ eyes. Once we get the eyes, we can funnel them where we want to funnel them. It’s not the technology that we’re dependent on, it’s the wow factor and the drawing in of the masses. The technology—augmented reality—just offers us the best opportunity to do that right now.
GC: In my view, it’s a matter of democratizing access to narratives and resources. To have people see things and think of things in ways they have not. Last year in July, I met with a city council member and I said to them that Columbus Circle is extremely problematic. It needs to go. It’s offensive. They responded that they never thought about it before. And that’s the point. So whether it’s word of mouth, whether it’s AR, whether it’s stickers, whether it’s a little hand-written note, whatever gets the message across, is the most important part.
KC: Something you said earlier really struck me as also being an important part. You talked about the call to action. If you do the AR statue, you’re also giving people an opportunity to do something about it—to take action. Can you talk a little bit about that. Why that is important?
GC: I believe that true leadership is the ability to either harness existing energy or generate the proper energy towards a sustainable change. And so it’s one thing to hold a protest or to spread out a specific message, but if you’re not getting people to do something sustainable; whether it’s changing laws or whether it’s mobilizing other groups to advocate for other causes, or pressuring leaders to allocate resources where the community needs it. All of this is necessary, but it’s not just about making noise for the sake of making noise.