We’re thrilled to introduce our 2014 SOAPBOX honorees, Rachel Falcone & Michael Premo.
What are your names?
Rachel Falcone & Michael Premo.
Your bio, in six words or less:
Helping stories rise.
What is your neighborhood?
How did you get connected with The Laundromat Project?
I (Michael) was a Create Change Resident in 2009 with the Laundromat Project. We had just started recording stories with people impacted by the housing crisis with our project Housing is a Human Right. Sound was our primary medium in addition to photography, and we were looking for way to bring the stories we recorded full circle. The laundromat is the perfect place to do that–a place where so many different kinds of people of all classes are intersecting in a neighborhood and a place where listening to audio stories for more than two minutes makes sense. The LP supported our first installation at Wash and Play Lotto Laundromat in Fort Greene. We had photo portraits hanging above the washers and audio playing out loud while people did their laundry. What we loved the most was that the laundromat itself added another soundtrack; the hum of the washers and the conversations of people added a beautiful layer of complexity to the piece.
In a few words, tell us about your creative practice. What motivates or inspires your work?
Our creative practice uses storytelling, technology and art to support change. We are inspired by people who are dreaming a new reality into existence.
How has your practice shifted or been transformed since your 2009 residency with The LP?
Some things are the same. We really value listening. We also love to show people as the giants we know they really are. We use heroic-size images and first person storytelling at the core of what we do. And participation has become an increasingly important aspect of our work.
When we started, we were really using stories to connect people across diverse experiences and that connecting was happening more in the way we shared our work, through the exhibitions and events we created. Process was always important to us, and how we listened, but now we are even more focused on how the process of telling stories can also create connection, and how technology can support that. We are increasingly becoming curators and creating opportunities for co-creation.
In an exhibit that The LP supported in Philly, we started to create ways for people to share and within the span of the show, hear themselves added to the soundscape. Last summer we released a Hip-Hop mixtape called Home that featured contributed verses from dozens of emcees from around the globe. And our latest project, called Sandy Storyline, about the impact of Hurricane Sandy, is a completely participatory and collaborative project where anyone can share a story through a variety of mediums.
Please tell us about an artist, curator, activist, or project that has inspired you.
I always like to highlight Luisa Dantes, Director of Land of Opportunity in New Orleans. She’s been working on her project for nearly 8 years post-Katrina, and is building one of the coolest new platforms that is pushing how we tell non-linear stories online at landofopportunityinteractive.com. I think the project has huge implications for documentary producers and news outlets looking to tell complex stories. We’re so honored to be collaborating with her to share stories about the impact of Katrina and Sandy together–look out for that later this summer.
Tough question. So many.
i’m inspired all the time by some amazingly talented folks we get to work and collaborate with. But some beacons are people like Gordon Parks. There’s a story about his first major cover feature which was for Life magazine in the last 40s. I think it was also one of his first real official gigs.
Basically the magazine wanted to run a cover photo of the kid he had been documenting, showing the world “life in Harlem.” But he thought the particular photo could get him hurt, or killed, either from the police or other guys in the neighborhood. On the flip side it could make him famous and sell a lot of magazines. The story goes that he snuck into the Time-Life building at night and destroyed the negative after the editors refused not to use it! In the end Life still ran the story, but buried it in the back and off the cover. And despite or maybe because of that he still went on to become the great Gordon Parks.
That story is it for me right there.
Also, lately I’ve been thinking a bunch about Carrie Mae Weems and the long-term documentary photo work of Barbara Ann Kenneally. Barbara’s work is an inspiring testament to tenacity and holding true to your vision.
Favorite book, movie, or album about NYC?
Too many! The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs is on my mind because of the upcoming Jane Walks this weekend.
Nas’ Illmatic. And it’s the 20th Anniversary of an album that summed up a particular experience and era. That could have been no where else but New York in the early 90s. I miss the era when you could guess the neighborhood of the MC by their flow and production. The production on that and others of the era by Pete Rock, DJ Premier, etc etc captured NYC’s sonic essence like a time capsule in soundwaves.
What do you love about your neighborhood?
We are not in a flood zone, so that’s a plus. We love the stillness that makes it feel like home. The sweet neighbors that keep trying to get us to play pinochle.
Do you have any upcoming shows or exhibitions scheduled? How can people find out more about your work?
Sandy Storyline is an ongoing project that you can follow at sandystoryline.com
Michael has a new exhibit premiering a brand new body of work called Water Warriors. Featuring photos and abstract video shot with Andrew Stern, Water Warriors is an intimate look into a Canadian indigenous community who has dared to challenge a powerful adversary: the fracking industry.
The show runs as part of Bushwick Open Studios May 30th – June 1st at Be Electric 1298 Willoughby Ave in Bushwick. Details will be announced soon at beelectric.tv/
What other artists’ work or exhibitions are you looking forward to and can recommend?
We have been wanting to go see the Carrie Mae Weems show at the Guggenheim. There is also Open Engagement coming up at the Queens Museum–not to be missed!
Anything else you want to tell us?
Thank you to The LP for all of your support over the years! We couldn’t have done it without you.
Rachel Falcone uses oral history, art and technology to engage people in the telling of their own stories.
Michael Premo is an artist, cultural worker and Human Rights activist.
Rachel and Michael are Co-Creators and Executive Producers of the award-winning transmedia storytelling project Sandy Storyline, a participatory documentary that collects and shares stories about the impact of Hurricane Sandy on our neighborhoods, our communities and our lives. The project won the inaugural Transmedia Award from the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.