KEEPING THE WORLD HUMAN AND DIRTY
“Welcome to FriendsWithYou. The friends have magic powers never seen before, and are improving lives one person at a time…”
The artist duo was created with one basic concept in mind – to become friends with you. Sam Borkson and Arturo Sandoval combined forces in 2002 and have been rapidly spreading their art around the globe ever since, expanding their playful and spiritual vision to modular toys, animation, public parades and large scale art installation.
Pictoplasma talked to them in 2006, as they were in the process of building up an unachieved cult status.
Pictoplasma: How do you feel about all the attention you and your characters are getting?
FriendsWithYou: It’s definitely magic! We started it all as a little sewing art project and developed it within a very short time. Before we knew it, our creations were accepted into many homes and hearts and became what they are now. It takes tons of hard work, but also a lot of luck and balance.
The way things keep evolving is great. I sit down to write stories about these characters and they just flow out of me like a giant river being held up by a dam—and then the dam explodes. I thank collective energies and the universe for giving us the connections and knowledge to bring people together and inspire the world, one person at a time. It’s overwhelming sometimes, but most of the time it’s just beautiful chaos.
Pictoplasma: Has the system in which they exist changed?
FriendsWithYou: Not really—not very much. I think the characters have always existed, and we are just continuously learning new things about them and defining them more and more. Somehow they begin to live their own lives and have adventures of their own.
Pictoplasma: What do your characters mean for your work, your world and for you personally?
FriendsWithYou: Defining these archetypes and exploring these characters within their world helps create relationships with the giant scope of the collective unconscious. They are everything to us and they describe us perfectly. Anybody who connects with the characters feels them reflecting something they love about themselves.
We believe it’s the most human art form, and that is why it will change the world. It was important to make art like this, so that people could be exposed to it and feel the magic in their own hands..
Pictoplasma: Do you consider your work to be part of a larger movement?
FriendsWithYou: Very much. It would be crazy to think otherwise, even though it will follow its own unique path. Each of these characters helps to bring all people to the point where they see these spirits, creatures and characters, maybe for the first time. We are creating a new type of perception—another reality—and it’s really exciting and adventurous.
The inspiring thing about what we are all doing is finding out about the nature of the human spirit, apart from the things we already know. We are uncovering a mystery and creating a new world that has no limitations. We see many people making similar types of characters and following similar ideas—but we also feel that it’s important to fully explore the world. Each person is like a one-of-a-kind radio that can tap into these worldwide broadcasts and uncover something uniquely magical.
Pictoplasma: What sets you apart from all the other one-of-a-kind radios currently transmitting their character-messages?
FriendsWithYou: While I do believe there is an overarching movement taking place, I also feel that our little microcosm is special in its own way, just as each little piece of the puzzle is. While many people might just perceive what we do as toys or characters or a single idea, I think it’s important to dig deeper and deeper and uncover what defines your contribution to the bigger picture by making something that is so powerful that it can stand on its own and really be special.
Pictoplasma: What is the power of the characters that makes them so omnipresent?
FriendsWithYou: One thing we learn from today’s world is the meaning and importance of the visual representation of feelings. The Japanese are so proficient in this skill that everything from television to octopus balls has its sacred character. It’s something that everyone can relate to immediately. It’s the square root of conveying a feeling that can’t be represented as well in any other way. It’s about archetypes and icons, the main ingredients that formulate all culture.
Pictoplasma: Yet most people’s reaction towards characters tends to be that they are childish. How do you explain their current attraction to today’s generation of 20–40 year-old adults?
FriendsWithYou: We are the first people that were raised by pop-icons. We know Batman, Pacman, and Mickey better than we know any scientist or Nobel Peace Prize winner. Our heroes are all fantasy, and still they are so much better than the human qualities they represent. Characters are our first look into this world. I learned more from Big Bird than a lot of adults around me, and a trust is developed there. I think characters can do lots for humans, including bringing our whole world together! But violence and sexuality definitely rear their heads inside of characters; everything that is being created is a mirror of us and our feelings.
Pictoplasma: If characters are a way to uncover our unconscious, what is so new about the characters that have emerged over the last few years?
FriendsWithYou: Changes in the world set a new pace everyday. Looking at a map doesn’t really do it justice. Myspace has developed into a country of its own. Now, in essence, large bodies of water no longer separate our societies. And this is what gives us the best chance for learning and evolving.
In primitive times it worked the same way. The people who were not separated by mountains and jungles were able to become civilised more quickly. Cultures separated from each other in the forest are still primal in many ways. Through this combined collective unconscious we will evolve very fast.
Our world right now is in a very volatile state, always trying to balance itself out. The world looks so tiny on our computer screens, and things like Myspace and email show us how similar we are to each other. At the same time, we now see all the potential we have to affect the world in a really major way. You put up a website and you can reach millions upon millions of people with an idea. I believe artists, the impure beings that they are, will suffer to change the world in some way; they have a great responsibility right now to compete with all the signals we are bombarded with daily. We must infiltrate Coke and Nike with signals that keep the world human and dirty. As we become isolated and machine-like and lose our humanness, the world might start to seem like a giant global corporate conglomerate. As creative people it’s our job to observe the good and the evil of the world and make sure we understand that we are a bit of both—and that purity is on the opposite end of the spectrum. So get a little dirty, believe in magic, luck and friendship, and help us to spread it all throughout the world. We love your spirit and your spirits love you to.
Pictoplasma: If the goal is to infiltrate commercial signals to keep the world human and dirty, what kind of images and ideals of the human body and life are being addressed by current designer toys and e.g. popular collectable urban vinyl series such as Trixy, Dunnies, MAD*L or Qees?
FriendsWithYou: *dance and smile…
Originally published in The Character Encyclopaedia, 2006
Since its inception in 1999, Pictoplasma serves as a unique forum for a growing international scene of artists, theorists and creatives, redefining the boundaries of contemporary character representation. The main focus of the project remains firmly on the emphatic quality of images to create a direct emotional bond with the viewer, communicate globally and push anthropomorphic appeal to new limits. THE CHARACTER FILES gather thoughts, texts, essays, interviews and case studies of Pictoplasma’s ongoing research – in no particular order – while it closely accompanies the scene as it moves towards a completely new understanding of character…
…SO LET’S TALK CHARACTER!