An interview with Mo by Young Thawt
Nike recently released the Disruptive Pattern Material Terminators. With the project they asked you to work on being focused on the environment and natural landscapes do you feel ³Camo² is a serious new movement in art?
We are natureıs creatures, and like ALL other creatures, we are camouflaged. We have a survival instinct that is as potent as any crocodileıs or sewer ratıs. The survival instinct is undeniable. One of the best ways to survive is to not stand out. We try not to stand out. When we stand out, we are targets. Regarding camouflage, the only difference between us, and the non-sentient animals, is that we have to camouflage ourselves. We do it with our Gap, our Gucci, our Grunge. Into what environment do you blend? Camouflage is everywhere.
Then, of course, there is camouflage as pattern. Iım not a huge fan of camo for camoıs sake. Iım not generally attracted to that aesthetic. But then I consider Big Brother and its growing arsenal of tools of control: video cameras in traffic corridors, supermarkets, lobbies, in our phones, even on our own desktops; GPS in our cars, laptop computers and cell phones; all vigilant tools that are helping The Man to keep a closer watch on our movements, a shorter leash around our necks, a tighter grip on our wallets. We can almost always be seen by someone or something weıd probably prefer was not seeing us.
So, with the ubiquity of these tools to monitor us, it seems a natural response would be to blend-in. Iım not necessarily speaking about donning any particular disruptive patterning to evade this omni-present eye, but I believe this awareness is raging in us at a subconscious level and manifests in many ways including camo-fashion. Regardless of how much or little camo patterning we notice, camo-as-pattern is a reflection of an inner personal and societal dialog. When that inner dialog occurs in enough of the artists in a society, it will naturally be reflected in the art of that society. Thus, regardless of whether it is recognized as a Movement, Camo already is a movement. Whether or not is it credited as such depends only on the politics that accompany it as well as how frequently it appears in art that is recognized as Art.
On another front, camo reflects a very martial frame of mind. Camouflage markings are rooted as much in disappearing as in warrior markings. To me, there is no way to separate the iconic ³camo² pattern from its military heritage. Camo is tribal and we seem to be in a warrior mode. The invasion of Iraq is a grim pronouncement our societyıs urge to controland even start war to do so. Iım not sympathetic to this and therefore donıt want to have anything to do with camo-as-pattern, particularly its martial affiliation. Therefore, I feel a drive to distance myself from this visual device. Yet, as an artistan antenna of societyI am receiving and sending its pulse through my art whether I like it or not.
The intent of camouflage is to blend the individual with the landscape. This distinctly reflects the philosophy you have expounded for the design scheme you employed in the AF1. Basically without context camouflage is useless. Can you explain your design philosophy with regard to the AF1 project?
Originally, the art direction for the AF1 was camosort of. It was a design conflict from the start. Tom Leudecke, a footwear designer at Nikeıs Innovation Kitchen, invited me into the project after he noticed my Labyrinthine Projection drawings. But the people in the Active Life group who were commissioning me wanted to do a series based on camo. ³We love your landscapes,² they professed. ³Can you do a landscape Labyrinthine Projectionmaybe something with just clouds? Do your trip. (But do it in camo).²
I worked very hard at rendering clouds in the LP style, but as you pointed out, camo is meaningless without context. I showed my early sketches to my friend and confidant, Senior Footwear Designer, Mark Smith, Nikeıs laser pioneer. His feedback was that the patterns were cool, but without recognizable imagery, without the mass of lines converging into a photo-real image, it wasnıt ³your trip.² So I went back to the drawing board. In order to see clouds, there must be something recognizable that gives meaning to billowy, colorless forms. Thatıs when I began working from a painting I had done of Oregonıs Mt. Hood. After that rework, the scene included three distinct grounds: the clouds in the background, the mountain in the middle ground and a grouping of trees and a caribou in the foreground. This approach created a clear image to see; now it was ³my trip.² With a successful drawing on the table, the challenge became unifying the entire surface and integrating the individual ³canvases² which I had pre-defined by using black in my color-way to outline these larger areas of light tan. This was the point when my philosophy of unification and universal identification had room to grow artistically. The Labyrinthine Projection, which I define as, ³the hand-rendering of a photo-real image using a single, continuous, non-intersecting line of consistent weight,² now had a voice to act as metaphor for the interconnectedness of all things.
The double-readı involving the seemingly opposing forces of logic and emotion play a central role in your designs. Since the process you employ in creating your art is technical and logical while eliciting an emotional response, do you find the symbols you used (the Brain and the Hand) will convey the unity in the seemingly disparate forces?
Actually, the two most significant symbols Iıve employed are the brain and the heart representing logic and emotion respectively. These are the icons that I hope help my audience to understand that these disparate forces work in harmony and balance each other, and are always at workif not in the moment, then certainly in the end. They are the conceptual equivalent of night and day, the sun and the moon: opposites that rarely coexist in the moment, but are equally represented in the final tally of the day.
Is there more beauty in the individual line or person for that matter, or the overall picture or collective?
When I look at a single flower in a meadow, I appreciate its singular, unique beauty as much as I appreciate the vista of flowers and foliage that collectively are the meadow. Itıs apples and orangesrelated and equivalent, but not the same. The relationship between them is akin to the function f(x) in mathematics: different ranges within the same domain.
In your dealings with oppositional movements such as individuality VS. The whole, sentence VS. paragraph, feeling and thinking, have you found that these supposed
opposites are in fact one in the same?
No, these antonyms are not one in the same, but balancing forces and therefore co-dependent, and often mutually exclusive. You cannot have a paragraph without sentences any more than you can have a community without individuals. An individual is one who stands apart. But if there is nothing to stand apart from, that individual ceases to exist as an individual. Sure, you can take a sentence out of a book and still understand most, if not all, of the story without it. But, that sentence was there for a reasonit had a purpose. And though all the sentences are important and serve a purpose, some sentences are more purposeful than others. Thatıs where being an individual becomes a more significant factor. But I donıt want you to get the idea that Iım talking about fate or anything like pre-determinism; thatıs not my gig.
If there can be no distinction made between our surroundings and our bodies, due to atomic and molecular structure, is individuality a myth?
No, individuality is not a myth. It is real, but like time, it is a human construct. I think individuality is one manifestation of our unique place (at least on this planet) as sentient beings. Consciousness creates a sense of self and therefore individuality. But this is a matter of perspective. From the atomic perspective, we are barely distinct since we are made of the same basic molecular building blocks used by almost every other material and held together by the same energy forces that bind an infinite variety of these tiny structures. Obviously, there is another perspective, an overriding common one called anthropocentrism. Anthropocentrics demand that we not only to see ourselves as individuated from others and environment, but take the further step of suggesting that we are superior and therefore exclude accepting how insignificant our individual existences generally are. They then go on to profess how superior the conscious existence is. I donıt buy it. Perhaps this is human, but it is pervasive and is one notion I wish to question. I wish to reinforce the notion that, though our individuality is important to us, and those who know and care about us, we serve a greater purpose than merely existing as an individual. The further one gets from a spot on the planet, the smaller we become to the point of non-existence. Itıs a big universe and our individuality seems quite meaningless at that scale. So, again, itıs a matter of perspective.
Do you consider your artwork to be an attempt to manifest the Jungian philosophy of individuation, or the achievement of a wholeness of self by unifying the collective
consciousness with the personal consciousness?
That is a great question. I only pray that one day I could manifest such an achievement as individuation. But of course, true individuation is impossible, for the process involves constant death and rebirth; it is an Ourobourosthe snake that eats its own tail. To synergize an awareness of both my individual as well as the universal consciousnesses would be a potent achievement. But one huge step must be made by society first: an acknowledgement and recognition of a universal consciousness as opposed to these fractured religious dogmas that we pretend are spiritual and seeking a real awareness.
As far as Jungian philosophy consciously entering my work, it is currently limited to an exploration of the opposites of light and dark within the individualthe persona versus the anima. I believe that I am as valid a topic of study as any other person in this pursuit, and, I give myself the additional benefit of unfettered access. My most significant body of work is my self-portraiture because each work is a visually powerful foundation against which many Jungian philosophies can be illustrated. The great contemporary Norwegian figure painter, Odd Nerdrum, states it most boldly: ³The strictly personal turns universal through its convincing self-revelation.²
The ³Labyrinthine Projections² have a fluid, kinetic quality to them. This display of interconnectednessı is fairly complex in its technical approach yet simple and direct in its finished state. What does this lend itself to with regard to the message of the project?
Some speak of my Labyrinthine Projections as fractals. Regardless of the complexity of the process or simplicity of the image, I like that up close, the Labyrinthine Projection is reminiscent of so many other forms we encounter in nature such as a finger print, a brain-coral or, a landscape seen from altitude. This reinforces the underlying notion to the project, not simply that there is an interconnectedness of all things, but that this interconnectedness is a response through Nature of Nature by Nature. Itıs deep shit. Nature is constantly recycling forms and functions into new mixes, remixes, and remixes of remixes. Thereıs another example of it: contemporary music is more and more fabricated from bits and pieces of yesterdayıs beats and samples. Recycle: its natural.
The manifestation of everything in life is a result of this tension between opposites: simple/complex, old/new, Dark/Light, positive/negative, Masculine/feminize, joy/anger, for this is where dynamics exist and static ceases. One thing Iım not reluctant to assert through my art is that the Dark is not necessarily bad or evil. There should be no ill or prejudgment of it for it is necessary, if for no other reason than that it gives meaning to Light and thus is an inseparable part of maintaining universal balance.
The interconnected nature of your work seems to destroy the idea that objects should only exist and be defined by their differences concerning the landscape they occupy. What is the overall goal of such a vantage point?
I want to bring a greater awareness to everyone that we are all in this together. I wish everyone would engage and consider each other with more open mindedness simply due to the fact that the landscapeatomic, earthen, or spiritualis created by the inclusion of each of itıs components, not the separation. There is too much ³me-ness² in this culture, which I believe creates a downward spiral of spirituality and results in lots of unhappiness and discontent and lots of kids on Ritalin, moms on Paxil and dads on Viagra.
Nike is a global company with a huge marketing machine. Since your art has a messageı or a driving philosophy behind its process, how will you use the AF1 project as a platform for your ideas or beliefs?
I have to be smart not to bite the hand that is feeding me, thatıs for sure. But Nike makes that easy for me by extending me the respect and trust I deserve and give in return. The film maker Michael Moore put it best when asked how he can bring such negative attention to corporations, including the film companies (such as Disney) while Disney-owned subsidiaries distribute his films: ³A capitalist will sell you the rope to hang him with if he thinks heıs going to make a buck on it.² (Though one day there may be no trees to hang him from if we stay this course.)
I donıt have to bring my entire bag to the table; I donıt have to share all of my thoughts or all my beliefs through this single relationship. So I have chosen to share what is appropriate and respectful of my patron which continues to $upport$ me to do work in other areas. It's quite simple, really. The greatest benefit for me through this relationship is the opportunity to engage an audience greater than my voice has reached alone and I take that opportunity sinceriously.
Since you seem to be developing a close relationship with Nike through the AF! Project, and your Michael Jordan venture, what will you do with the opportunity to speak to large audiences through your work and do you feel a certain amount of responsibility to sayı something, if anything at all?
I feel compelled by only one thing through this opportunity to address a larger, broader audience, which is to speak the truth, my truth. My truth is my story in its most crafted and most revelatory form. For, through the strictly personal, the universal is revealed. We all feel pain and happiness and anger (when asked about what he thought when he learned that he was the Chosen one, His Holiness, said that he couldnıt believe that he, who grew up filled with so much anger, could be the 14th Dalai Lama) so we can all identify with each other regardless of manner. I think how much more beautiful this world would be if people helped each other rather than competed against each other. It reduces us to scavengers and I believe we are capable of more. Nike is big on story these days. That continues to be a driving force behind their design and product innovations. I like being a part of that story, and hopefully the collectors and wearers of my shoe will, too. That is one very conscious element of the concept behind this Air Force 1. The wearer becomes part of the story. It goes something like this:
One day, a runner and track coach named Bill Bowerman wanted a better running shoe, so he put some urethane in his wifeıs waffle maker. The waffle-sole was born and a bunch of shoes were made and they sole like gangbusters. Then a few decades down the line, the Air Force 1 was invented and it was real popular and the kids bought them up like gangbusters. A few decades after that, an artist named Mo was asked to decorate the Air Force 1 with artwork that would reflect his story. So he did and the shoe sold like gangbusters because anyone who wore the Air Force 1 by Mo became a part of this story when they put the shoe on their feet and fastened the ankle strap, thus touching the magic button and continuing the chain of characters in the unfolding story.
Thatıs what is meant by the phrase, ³and continues from here,² burned around the signature on the thumb-tab of the ankle strap. It is the closing bookend to the phrase at the beginning of the line that reads, ³A story is a path, this one starts here² With the Air Force 1 by Mo, the wearer becomes a part of the story by making physical contact with the concept. I love it! And I invite people to share in the continuation of this story by emailing me through my website: www.virtualMo.com where I will be adding a blog for visitors to share their stories.
Finally, whatıs your favorite project you have worked on thus far and what can we expect from Mo in the not too distant future?
I am extraordinarily fortunate in that Nike commissions me to produce videos, soundtracks, motion graphic presentations, in addition to original art. Every few weeks bring a completely new creative challenge and I consider this a great personal success. But, this Air Force 1 project stands above all others and I really have to give huge shouts to Tom Leudecke; the infamous Tinker Hatfield; and Jesse Leyva, Sharron Polk and Lori Krauss in marketing. But a huge debt of gratitude rests squarely on Mark Smith who has given me acres of professional and creative land to cultivate.
As far as whatıs next for Mĝ, look to the Jordan XX low for the next big thing and thereıs talk of a Dunk project as well. But right now Iım concentrating on a commission for Michael Jordan that will grace his home. Itıs good to be the Mĝ!
Mr. Thawt, I liked your questions, a lot, they warranted an exploration beyond what I previously understood about my own workgood job. Thank you for your interest in my work and for the opportunity to share it. -Mĝ