Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Prestigious TED Prize Goes to Graffiti Artist

"Women Are Heroes in Kibera Slum," J R's sprawling installation in Nairobi, Kenya, in early 2009.

$100,000 to a street artist?

The celebrated TED Prize, previously awarded to humanitarians like Bill Clinton and Bono, was awarded to Parisian artist J R, who paints elaborate, king-sized murals of local people in the world’s poorest slums. Like many street artists, J R remains anonymous because of the illegal nature of his work.

According to the New York Times, the award is prized just as much for the publicity it raises as the cash:

For most recipients, the value of the six-year-old award has less to do with the money than with the opportunity it grants the winner to make a “wish”: to devote the funds to a humanitarian project that will almost inevitably draw donations and other help from the organization’s corporate partners and influential supporters. The chef Jamie Oliver, the 2010 prize winner, recently proposed setting up an international effort to further his campaign against obesity; Mr. Clinton’s wish has channeled significant resources toward the creation of a rural health system in Rwanda.

"Portrait of a generation," Paris, 2006.

Banksy and Shepard Fairey are household names, with commercial work and museum retrospectives. Now, J R joins Bill Clinton in an award for humanitarian work.

Is mainstream acceptance toward street artists changing, or are the artists themselves forcing change?


Filed under: africa, art, politics, racism, social justice, world, , , , , , , , , , ,

McDonald’s is Scary and Intoxicating

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Frightening photos, one per day, of a McDonald’s Happy Meal over the course of six months.

Artist Sally Davies tried a little experiment from the coffee table of her Manhattan apartment in April of this year. No mold or signs of life blemishing this food during the entire time-lapse project. Scary to watch. Makes you think twice before enjoying that addictive slab of factory-processed meat and genetically-modified potato.

Or does it?


Filed under: food, health, pop culture, , , , ,

Look Up: Objects of Beauty, Stylized Graffiti, Social Commentary

Above, an ingenious street artist whose iconic image is an arrow pointing towards the sky, has hit Los Angeles with his  art. The video above is a nice introduction to his work and influences (growing up in apartment buildings, saving money to go to Paris at 19), while the video below (titled “Movie Star Arrow Mobiles“) is less a tutorial and more an art object itself.

The artist’s new self-described project includes images of 100 Hollywood celebrities, dangling from electrical wires throughout the famous city:

Above flew to Los Angeles for 12 days and hung his new revised “Movie star arrow mobiles” in the heart of Hollywood giving Los Angeles a large dose of exactly what it obsesses about; movies and the actors that make the city of Los Angeles so uniquely scandalous.

Happening upon one of his mobiles, created from wood and stenciled with one or two-word directives, is a thing of beauty. Catching the shadows of these spinning art objects or watching people’s faces as they engage with the eponymous work is just as intoxicating.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Filed under: art, consumerism, culture, , , , , , , , , ,

Art and Lists

What can you decipher about a person from their to-do list?

Liza Kirwin selects her favorite lists by American artists and architects. What’s fun to note is the variety of expression: not only straightforward to-do items, but watercolors, collages, and the poetic interspersed with the mundane. Kirwin is a curator at The Smithsonian, and knows her stuff. Among my favorite bits here is a list by the architect Eero Saarinen, who designed the iconic St. Louis Arch. I remember first encountering his spiritual, earthly architect in a small chapel at MIT my freshman year in college.

Another artist, James Penney, can be seen trying to manage his life as a young artist in New York:

In his 1932 sketchbook he made a list of survival tips, including “spend what you have on materials” and “don’t go back to Kansas.” On the opposite page he sketched the steel joints, lifting hooks, and pulleys in the construction of Radio City Music Hall.

That fortitude and desire to make it in the Big City reminds me of Joan Didion’s famous farewell to the artist’s Manhattan life in “Goodbye to All That” (as well as the subsequent ode by another essayist who I’m gaga about–Eula Biss–in her collection No Man’s Land). I’d love to see what Didion or Biss have on their to-do lists, and what it reveals about the writer at work.

Filed under: art, writing, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Short Film about Child Soldiers

So I’m a bit obsessed with Marina Abramovic these days.

Not so much the stalker-type obsessed, but definitely willing to read about her work, the details of her retrospective at MOMA, or pointers to her long career. Two bits from today’s reading about Abramovic: a long, thoughtful account of waiting in line to sit with the artist on Jezebel, and a short film she did for the UN’s “Stories on Human Rights” in 2008.

The film is visually beautiful, of course: children playing with toy guns, a juxtaposition of clean lines in a white shelter, and sudden, jarring images of young pre-pubescent girl soldiers lying in bed under a pink comforter, cradling their guns.

What’s most striking to me about the video, however, is the unsuppressable joy of the child actors. This does not seem accidental: the artist’s inclusion of their play-fighting could easily have been left on the editing room floor. Yet the children’s ecstatic faces when playing with guns is evident, and jars us from losing ourselves completely in the pure aesthetics of the film.

According to Amnesty International, 250,000 children function as soldiers in wars around the globe (including in Uganda, where I recently visited). This is the point of the film. After witnessing the beauty in Abramovic’s work, you’ll understand why this statistic (250,000!) resonates so soundly.

Filed under: art, war, , , , , , , , ,



» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
March 2018
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Pics from Africa 2010

About Me


About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More