UR INTERRUPTED: #Selfies & Social Discussions at Interrupt Mag’s Genius Lab
Written and Photographed By Brian Bahe
I grew up with an older sister and mom with whom I’m close. I watched a lot of Lifetime and made for TV movies about domestic violence and eating disorders among young girls and I can quote Mean Girls at the drop of a hat, but I don’t know what it means to live my life constantly reminded that a very narrow perception of classic American female beauty exists. It’s in magazines, ads, TV, and movies. It’s everywhere.
I will admit the parameters of beauty have changed in my lifetime–no longer is it just white, long-haired skinny women who are considered beautiful–but there’s still a long way to go before body issues among girls cease to exist. Interrupt Mag is working to enact some change on this topic and many other social and cultural issues by enlisting help from the people it affects most.
Interrupt Mag is monthly online participatory magazine. This means each issue is a collaboration with anyone and everyone interested in generating content for the publication. If you look around Interrupt Mag’s website, it feels like the personal blog of someone you know. You don’t necessarily know the people in the photos or who wrote essays, but their faces and writing style are familiar. You know someone like them.
Interrupt Mag was founded by Cameron Russell, a model. That’s probably the last thing she’ll introduce herself as though, and rightfully so. Russell has been working on social and political issues—body image is just one of those issues—for many years.
Her goal with the magazine is to help others create and share their opinion. For instance, how does a black teenage male feel about the George Zimmerman verdict? You didn’t hear much, if anything, from that demographic following the trial. Russell is working with young teenagers to get their perspective on that subject heard.
To celebrate the launch of the very first print issue of Interrupt Mag, a six-day art lab called the Genius Lab was held on the Lower East Side of Manhattan (215 Bowery, on Rivington between Bowery and Chrystie) .
When you walk into the Genius Lab, you find yourself standing over a welcome mat with the words “I AM HERE” greeting you. Immediately, you get the sense this is a space where artistic autonomy and freedom of expression are not only nurtured but encouraged.
The theme of the Lab is #SELFIES. Rather than chastise this modern form of self-portraiture, Interrupt Mag has turned the genre into a means of engaging young people in a conversation about art. The subject: themselves and their peers. “Everybody is an expert in their own culture,” Russell said.
On both sides of the art space are three installations designed as backdrops for selfies. Three of them were made by the Interrupt staff. One amalgam of thick pink and white tendrils is a little off putting until you see “love” and “you” in cursive lit by a pink light bulb. Another backdrop is an American flag with a small white board that says “MY DREAM FOR AMERICA IS:” and you fill in the rest.
The other three installations were made by artists each given a topic (Dream, D.I.Y., and Love). Adalky Capellan created the surreal Dream backdrop. It could either be seen as a tie-dyed canvas or a blown up photo of a cell as seen through a microscope. Dream-like indeed.
Earnest English created the hands-on D.I.Y. backdrop. The piece is a work in progress, as it requires people visiting the Genius Lab to color in the mosaic pattern of hands with “GENIUS” running vertically down the middle. The piece was less than half colored in when I left. Earnest’s piece was a major hit with a younger boy and his father, both taking to the canvas like it were an oversized coloring book.
Most of the people visiting the Lab were passersby. The glass doors and front wall of the space slowed people midstride as they peered inside. A majority of these people come in a little confused, but they’re completely on board by the time they leave .
Russell could be found talking to people and answering questions about the artworks, the magazine, and the mission of Interrupt Mag. At the end of every conversation she’d ask if they wanted a printout of their selfie. The answer was always yes.
“I wanted to start thinking about how we can use art to engage and have real conversations about things that are more complex,” Russell said about the magazine and Lab. “Selfies are a really innate way that people felt comfortable making media.” Helping people to create, and facilitating the opportunity to actively participate in media is what the magazine is all about.
If you missed out on The Genius Lab this weekend you’re in luck because today is the last day to check it out! It’s open from 10am-10pm so be sure to go. Photos from the Lab can be viewed at Interrupt Mag’s blog. Stop by and take a selfie. Take six.