If someone gave you two minutes to define the Truth, what would you say? And if you were asked to step inside a recording booth set up within a giant inflatable sculpture to address that question, would your answer come more easily?
That’s what three artists who formed the Cause Collective—aimed at bringing the “public” back into public spaces through art–are determined to find out with their fantastically inventive Truth Booth. Shaped like a cartoon-speech bubble with TRUTH boldly printed on the side, the Truth Booth was created by Ryan Alexiev, Jim Ricks and Hank Willis Thomas, who met while studying at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco/Oakland. In 2006, they’d originally developed a project, The Truth Is I Am You in the Socrates Sculpture Park in New York, that later led to a permanent installation at the University of California San Francisco. Over 300 feet long, it lines a covered walkway and showcases 24 native languages, form Amharic to Urdu, spoken by the diverse student population at UCSF. A single line from a poem written by Ryan and Hank was translated into each different language, with the phonetic spelling in English and visuals in sign language.
The truth is…
The truth is I love you. The truth is I know you. The truth is I see you. The truth is I hear you. The truth is I fear you. The truth is I feel you. The truth is I adore you. The truth is I respect you. The truth is I follow you. The truth is I judge you. The truth is I choose you. The truth is I remember you. The truth is I remind you. The truth is I frighten you. The truth is I become you. The truth is I believe you. The truth is I resist you. The truth is I am you.
Translating the poem into so many languages proved far more challenging than the collective realized. “The word Truth, with a capital T, is so difficult to translate and difficult to explain,” Ryan explains. “This notion of the Truth became an interesting thing. We even began to wonder if it was a platonic Western concept that doesn’t exist in other cultures.”
Far more interesting to these artists was asking others about their truths instead of telling them what to think. With generous support from the Arts Council of Ireland and the San Francisco Foundation, In Search of Truth (The Truth Booth) launched at the Galway Arts Festival in Ireland in 2011. Although the trio was initially worried that the simple yet philosophical nature of the question might turn people off, they were pleasantly stunned when there was a line out the door every day. “Most of the responses floored me,” Ryan says of the answers that ranged from quirky and funny to thoughtful and philosophic. “The ones that were the most spontaneous seemed to be the most entertaining and enlightening.”
“It’s always a surprise,” Jim adds. “I’m always impressed with how open people can be. It’s difficult to sit down in front of a camera and open up like that.”
A very common response in Ireland was “There is no Truth,” in part, Jim believes, because the respondents were interpreting the question as purely philosophical and giving an answer they thought the artists wanted to hear. The trio debated whether or not to change the question to “State one thing that is true,” but then decided that the open-endedness of “What is the Truth?” allows for much more freewheeling answers. “I’m surprised that such a simple format can open lines of positive and direct cross-cultural communication and understanding,” Ryan says. “It makes me realize how absent the voice of ordinary citizens is in mainstream media.”
The Truth Booth then traveled around arts fairs and rural community events, popping up at the LOOK3 Festival in Charlottesville, VA, the Hofstra University-hosted presidential debate in 2012, and on the campus of George Washington University in January 2013 before traveling to Afghanistan in August and most recently to Cleveland. Next stop is Pakistan.
As The Truth Booth hits a passionate nerve with an even wider audience–it’s collected nearly 5,000 recordings and 166 hours of video so far–the trio’s conviction in their project has grown. “I believe in The Truth Booth in ways I didn’t previously,” Jim says. “Allowing the public of any nationality or ethnic group to speak for themselves on a universal topic or concept is both simple, beautiful and of enormous value to us as humans.”
While the blow-up Truth Booth continues its global travels, the hundreds of hours of video are being edited; some of the results can be seen on the project’s website: insearchoftruth.net. The trio’s ultimate goal is to edit the videos into a documentary and a book of photographs, set in iconic landscapes juxtaposed with respondent’s faces posed against a simple, white background. To speed up the process, they’ve teamed up with Free Press Unlimited, and they also plan to create a permanent website that will give visitors an interactive platform where the videos are searchable by geography and category. Whatever happens in the future, The Truth Booth has already changed Cause Collective’s approach to art-making, making work that is more rewarding, inspiring, and empowering.
“I feel like it’s a process,” Ryan says. “When we started in Ireland we had no idea what we were going to get. Hopefully the answers—or the Truth—will come out. I just want to keep going.
“The Truth is in the journey,” adds Jim. “It’s about connecting people. That really is the Truth.”
Want to learn more?
The Cause Collective is a team of artists, designers and ethnographers creating innovative art in the public realm. Their projects explore and enliven public spaces by creating a dynamic conversation between issues, sites and the public audience. By exploring ideas that affect and shape society, they seek to add the ‘public’ back into public space and art.
To support the quest for Truth, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or Cause Collective, 1777 Yosemite Ave., Suite 305, San Francisco, CA 94124.
To view more videos from In Search of the Truth (The Truth Booth) visit http://www.insearchofthetruth.net/index.html