YoungArts’ ‘Together, a short film’ Features Works by Zoë Buckman, KAWS + Shepard Fairey

By the beginning of March, most Americans will have been in some manner of lockdown conditions for an entire year. And during that time, we’ve been essentially told over and over again to limit our contact with other human beings, lest something as innocent as a casual conversation with a friend or a stranger lead to our untimely demise via this insidious COVID-19 virus.

We’ve also been mostly cut off from experiencing art in person – though that has impressively inspired some particularly innovative ways of delivering it to us (see BlackBook‘s recent story on the Boston Lyric Opera’s The Fall of the House of Usher). And as a project of National YoungArts Week+ – January 25 – 31 – the National YoungArts Foundation organized 18 artists, including such marquee names as Zoë Buckman, Shepard Fairey, KAWS, and José Parlá, as well as alumnae, and art scholars Jean Shin and Isabela Dos Santos, to collaborate on Together, a short film, the end result of which is as visceral as it is fantastical – and is meant to accomplish just what the title says.

All were asked to create works/frames that were themed around birds and eggs, in a way attempting to explicate the changed nature of our contact with the human and natural worlds during twelve months of this soul-crushing quasi-quarantine. Most of the finished frames seem to convey something of a sense of hope, and many appear rife with mysteries and riddles to be explored and solved…or perhaps not solved at all.

Beautifully, even ethereally animated by Igor + Valentine, the final film is made up of 1500 individual digital frames – and repeated viewings bring countless surprises, as well as seemingly endless provoking of thought. Each frame is also available for purchase for just $175, and proceeds will, of course, go to support the work of YoungArts.

Seeking a bit more insight into the project, we engaged both Buckman and YoungArts Board Chair Sarah Arison on what it all means.

Zoë, what drew you to being involved in YoungArts?

ZB: The ethos of YoungArts is very dear to my heart. I was educated in the post Thatcher London state schools system, where creativity was rarely fostered or nurtured; so the idea of providing young artists with excellent mentorship and career-long guidance is such an important and essential one.

How have the pandemic conditions affected the YoungArts program?

SA: As an organization dedicated to helping artists pursue a life in the arts, we provide support to YoungArts award winners and alumni at every stage of their development. We work with artists in ten disciplines across the visual, literary and performing arts – so we had to listen, learn and experiment to better meet their needs during this difficult time. 

Through our annual nationwide competition and a rigorous blind adjudication process, we selected 142 award winners, ages 15-18, at the Finalist level to participate in National YoungArts Week+ – a virtual re-imagination of our signature program. Rather than meet in-person in Miami, artists received online classes and interdisciplinary workshops with recognized leaders in their fields, such as bestselling author Edwidge Danticat and celebrated visual artist Zoë Buckman.

This week is now all about sharing their work with the public. Our incredible panelists and teams have produced a series of virtual performances, writers’ readings and an exhibition streaming every night through January 30 at 8 PM ET on YoungArts.org. 

What was the impetus behind the bird / egg theme running through the works included in the film?

SA: Together, a short film is about solidarity, interdependence and community. Its overall message affirms that artists hold the transformative power of hope, and that we need to support them and each other during times of crisis. In many ways, telling this story through the artists’ interpretations of birds allowed our animators Igor + Valentine to work with different visual styles, and to illustrate an ecosystem as a metaphor for our artist community and communities at large. 

Zoë, what was the inspiration for the frame that you contributed to the film?

ZB: I had already been embroidering and painting predatory animals and women dancing/exalting/praying/etc for my latest series – so the bird for this film came quite organically for me. It is not fully formed, the threads are loose, and so it is in a place of transition where nothing is certain. I feel that’s really our constant state of being in life, but one that for many people was amplified by the uncertainty of the pandemic.

How have the pandemic conditions affected the way we engage with art right now?

ZB: 2020 has highlighted our basic human need for expression, unity, transcendence. And that is something that good art can offer, as well as a dissecting of the status quo. So I think many people have come to yearn for and appreciate art during this time, as well as opening their minds to new ways of viewing and experiencing art forms under restrictive conditions.

SA: The way we engage with art has changed as much as the way we support artists. I was personally inspired by the American Ballet Theater’s virtual gala, which usually welcomes approximately 400 guests in New York. This year over 20,000 people from around the world were connected and shared an experience immersed in virtual dance.

With no capacity limitations or geographic boundaries, I think increasingly more arts and cultural organizations around the country are thinking about how to broaden and deepen their audiences – and most importantly, to champion the essential needs for artists and the arts in our society.  

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