This week I took a quick moment to catch up with Adam Hoppus and Chris Schons, awesome curators of ‘Night of the Exquisite Corpse’, the most recent show hosted at Light Grey Art Lab. They were kind enough to share a behind-the-scenes glimpse of their curation process, and some of the successes and challenges of putting together a large scale, multi-artist show.
Q: The ‘Night of the Exquisite Corpse’ paper toy show has been a great success so far. Where did the idea of choosing to do paper toys stem from?
Adam: I had been talking with Light Grey Art Lab about multiple show concepts for a while. They wanted to do something really different than the kind of shows that had been in Light Grey so far. I pitched the loose concept of a collaborative paper toy show and that was the one that they really thought would be great. I immediately reached out to Chris (Schons), as I knew he was really interested in paper toys as well, to work with me to co-curate the show.
Chris: For me it turned out to be a nice coincidence. I had some paper toys laying around that I intended to submit to Pink Hobo’s final show a while back. Although they were unfinished, they were designed to be really artist-freindly and gave me a great base to work from when Adam ask me to come on board.
Q: The horror / exquisite corpse theme seemed like a great match for the format – was that your plan all along, or are there any interesting ideas that didn’t make the cut?
Adam: There were a ton of ideas around the theme/concept of the show in the beginning. It was tricky because I wanted the toy to mimic the theme of the show. I didn’t want a “dunny” style show where it was just random art on a base toy. I wanted it to all tie together. At one point we were going to do, like a Saturday morning cartoon/tv show concept. I was working on a TV themed toy for a really long time and just kind of spinning my wheels. I actually got the idea for the exquisite corpse toy from some advice given to me by Matt Hawkins (one of the participating artists and well known paper toy designer). I asked him what he would prefer when working with someone else’s toy template. He responded something really customizable. That statement got my brain going and I thought “Why stop customizing at the toy? What if you can mix all the toys together?” That lead me to think exquisite corpse toy with three interchangeable parts. Also it’s something I haven’t really seen before in a paper toy design. The “corpse” part just lead me to a play on words and make “corpse” be the actual theme of the show. I figured it would be a really fun theme for everyone involved.
Chris: The original idea was to have each part on it’s own 8.5 x 11 sheet and you could purchase a random set and trade with people. It turned out to be a bit too complicated, and the larger format allowed people to make a more complete final image. For the theme of the show we toyed with a few variations of “Pop Culture” but in the end zombies were just seemed like a great fit.
Q: Do you think the consistent die line made the show more of a success, or in retrospect, would you have liked to see variety?
Adam: I absolutely love the toy. Chris and I felt that a consistent, but simple design would really bring out the creativity of the artist. We did allow for the artist to add as many additional parts as they wanted and the arms were allowed to be completely redesigned. So it kept a certain level of consistency while allowing for a moderate level of customization. I think it was a great balance. I think the amazing thing is how completely different all of the toys look, yet they are all the exact same shape. Give or take a few extreme customizations. That’s the magic of the artist.
Chris: I’m a big fan of series and multiples in art, so I think the final result of a small army of similar toys looked great. I do wish we’d had a chance to offer up more examples of custommization options, since a lot of the participants weren’t familiar with paper toys or constructing 3D art.
Q: Was the show invite only, or did you have an open call for entries? What influenced your artist selection?
Adam: We personally invited about 60 artists, both local and from around the world. Then we also posted a call for entries. We actually ended up at about 50/50. We got around 26 invited and selected the rest from the call for entries. For me choosing, I wanted a variety of styles and personalities. I also wanted artist who where a little more playful and looked like they would enjoy the project. I specifically sent out invites to some of my favorite paper toy designers too. I was ecstatic when Tougui, Matt Hawkins and Dolly Oblong accepted.
Chris: I tried to seek out artists who had weird or uniques styles, people who probably wouldn’t sit down and make paper art on there own.
Q: How was your experience co-curating the show? Did you each have specific tasks, or did you collaborate throughout the entire process?
Adam: Working with Chris was great. Collaboration on the toy design was fantastic as I my personal style is to get very detailed and complex. Chris approached the design very basic and simple. We both created and mocked up multiple versions, taking bits and pieces from each other’s designs until we landed on the final design. From there we knew we wanted to incorporate the “exquisite corpse” concept into the show, but we couldn’t have people touching and manipulating the toys in the gallery. Chris designed and programmed a digital version of the entire show that functioned as our online gallery and interactive experience at the opening. It is amazing! While he was doing that I was cutting and assembling all of the physical toys for the show, checking for mistakes the artists might have missed. So many people forgot to put the score/cut lines on their toys! It took me a little over 120 hours to assemble all 52 toys. I think we were both tired of looking at the toys by the time of the opening. Ha ha.
Chris: It was really easy working with Adam. Initially we went back and forth as we were sorting out the design. My goal was to keep the template super simple so artists wouldn’t be too confused illustrating for a 3D shape. Once we settled on the template, Adam did all the heavy lifting on assembly and I got to work on the interactive gallery.
Q: What advice would you have for someone interested in curating a project on this scale? What was your greatest success, and what was the biggest challenge?
Adam: Honestly the show was a complete success. The toy was clean and simple to understand. Light Grey was great with handling a lot of the communication to the artists. I think my main goal was I wanted to do a show that the artists themselves would really enjoy. Not many of them had ever done paper toys and were really happy with the whole process and final result. The biggest challenge of course was just the timing of physically assembling the show, and for Chris, digitally assembling the show. We worked out a great timeline with Light Grey though that kept everyone on task. So I guess I would say being aware of our timeline and doing plenty of test runs and prototyping was key for this show’s success.
Chris: I’d day the sooner you can find your focus the better. Our biggest challenge early on was defining what the end product would be. Since we were doing something more complex than a traditional show we ate up a lot of time and energy sorting out all the potential variations. What size is the toy? How many parts is it? Should it be a blind pack? Should we sell downloads? In the end simplicity won out, which I’ll definitely keep in mind when working on future projects.
On the production side, I’d recommend getting a comprehensive checklist ready of everything that needs to be done and every asset that needs to be created. If I’d planned out the gallery sooner I could have made a template for artist’s to drop their work into and saved some time on my end.
Seeing all the assembled zombies together on opening night was probably my favorite part, followed by the interactive gallery (even if it took way more time in photoshop than I’d have liked). It was a great chance to put together some of the various web programming bits I’ve picked up over the last year, and watching people laugh as they sifted through it was quite rewarding.
Q: Part of hosting a successful show involves marketing. What tools or strategies did you use to generate buzz pre and post opening?
Adam: We had 50+ artist in the show. Some very well known. We relied a lot on them, twitter feeds, blogs, tumblers. Also contacted websites that specifically covered events like ours (art + designer toys). Papered the town with fliers. All that good stuff.
Q: What were you favorite designs? Which was the most innovative in regards to the die line?
Adam: There are a lot of AMAZING ones, but I think my personal favorite was “Tommy Too Dead” by Bob Rissetto. Not only was the art fantastic, but he played with the customizing concept beyond what I had even envisioned. He opted to not make arms, including them as artwork on the torso, and instead he made a collection of oversized weapons to custom mutilate your toy with. It was such a clever idea!
Chris: Kyle Fewell’s Meat zombie and Kris Mukai’s Guts were great for their supberb weirdness. Andrew Kolb’s Silence in Space had a cold creepiness to it that I really liked.
Q: When the show closes do you have any plans to start or continue any paper toy projects? Anything exciting in the works?
Adam: As tired as I am of assembling, I originally wanted to do three characters. I started with my zombie football player. I wanted to continue the stereotypes with a nerd, and a cheerleader. I’ll probably still make those. I also have several other toys I am working on including a B-Boy themed toy and a slightly racy videogame themed toy. I’m currently working on a piece for an upcoming Expletive show and toying around with a new illustrative/paper toy piece based on morning and night.
Chris: I spent a ton of time refining the template and ended up having paper toys on the brain for a month or two, so I have a really random set of potential projects in mind. I ended up with a long list of zombies I want to make, so I’m revisiting my original template and seeing if I can come up with a simpler version and expand my undead army. I also had some test for a paper toy inspired board game that I might play with, as well as some stuff for kids. Outside that, who knows. As soon as I wrap up my current illustration work I’ll be making some art in honor of our cat Stinky. Baby’s room needs more cat art.
Q: Any other information, or reflections you’d like to share about the show, the curation process, or the aftermath?
Adam: A personal victory I am walking away with is that after assembling 50+ paper toys, I walked away without a single scratch or injury. Good job me.
Chris: The project was a lot more involved than I expected but it really came together in the end. People really seemed to enjoy the show so maybe I need to get a head start on the template for Night of the Exquisite Corpse 2…