An Interview with Melissa Unger

Institute 193 recently had the pleasure of speaking with Melissa Unger about Seymour Projects, an initiative she founded in 2011 as an international catalyst for “multidisciplinary projects that support the exploration of the subconscious mind and encourage the expression of creativity and imagination.”

Unger is a fascinating person: after building a career in media production in the United States, she moved to Paris in 2004, where she managed the esteemed contemporary art gallery Galerie Thaddeus Ropac. In 2007, she became a freelance writer and a creative consultant to an impressive roster of arts organizations in France and the U.S. In 2008, she helped found ‘Hello, My Name is Bill,’ an underground special events collective.

Since 2011, Seymour Projects has developed from a Facebook page into an entity that engages art, psychology, technology, and philosophy in unexpected ways. Read the interview to learn more about Unger, and about how you can get involved with Seymour Projects.

Social media has played an important role in Institute 193’s growth. How has Seymour Projects’ Facebook creative community been developing?

It’s been great! Seymour was actually ‘born’ on Facebook. It began as a virtual bulletin board onto which I posted articles & events that interested me, and then it evolved into a forum for creative exchange. The more I posted, and the more feedback I received, the more ideas sparked in my mind and the more encouraged I was to take the step and develop Seymour further. In Seymour’s case, our website, online magazine and even the organization itself, came AFTER our Facebook page. Talk about social media playing an important role!

Seymour’s creative community is now a project in its own right and has been developing steadily over the past year since our ‘official’ launch. At this writing we just welcomed our 600th ‘member’. Because Seymour’s creative community is international and isn’t limited to a specific topic, artistic medium, or city, it provides for enriching exchange. I hope that it will inspire people to further develop their creative projects in the same way that it inspired me to further develop Seymour. Social media is obviously very powerful and effective when leveraged positively for project building, inspiration and motivation.

Has it facilitated any exciting connections?

We’ve facilitated a whole bunch of connections, mostly by putting people in contact with each other to collaborate on personal artistic projects, find venues to showcase their work in various cities, and obtain internships in Paris. We’ve also provided lots of advice & direction on a variety of creative issues. But despite what I had originally hoped, all that currently happens less via open interaction on the Facebook wall and more via private messages sent to the Seymour team. We then do our best to connect those seeking help, with people in the community who can answer to the specific need they have expressed. I’m still hoping that community members will take the plunge and start using our Facebook page to collaborate and connect more openly amongst themselves.

What do you hope to accomplish with your FB community as Seymour grows?

I’d love to tie our weekly online magazine into our Facebook page more effectively. We are currently brainstorming ways to encourage the creatives we interview for the magazine to be more directly active in the Facebook community. In the coming years, we’d like to evolve this idea into a virtual mentoring community directly on Facebook.

I’m so happy to see that Seymour’s community on Facebook appeals to creatives from many different levels of experience. I dislike how typically in most creative fields, there is a sort of caste system in which budding creatives are made to feel ‘lesser than’.  To me ‘famous’ doesn’t equal ‘better.’  Creativity is creativity. So at Seymour, we mix everyone together. I think that no matter where you are on your creative journey there is always someone you can learn from and someone you can teach. I’d like to help facilitate that type of peer-to-peer communication through our Facebook page.

What are some specific Seymour projects you’re excited about for the rest of 2012?

A big part of Seymour’s raison d’etre is the exploration of the subconscious mind. You can read more about our mission on our website: www.seymourprojects.com.

There are two projects that I’d like to get rolling this year. The first is a creative residency program in which participants would commit to creating work based on the exploration of their subconscious. Cut off from all electronic communication or outside influences for a set period (i.e.: a week or more) they would then have to create from that space. A kind of ‘automatic’ creating, like automatic writing but extended to all creative mediums. In this era of constant communication & information overload, opportunities for this type of quiet, contemplative creation are becoming increasingly rare. We’d like to provide a place for this sort of work, a sort of monastic creative residency if you will.

We recently launched a precursor project to lay the groundwork for the larger project. To check it out and participate, click here.

The second project is more abstract and still in the nascent stages. At Seymour, we’re also fascinated by Jung’s ideas relating to the collective unconscious and Teilhard de Chardin’s Noosphere concept. The folks at Princeton University are working on a similar notion with their Global Consciousness Project.  Anyway, I’d like to get Seymour on board with this sort of exploration and perhaps attempt to create a work of art based on images or ideas culled from the global collective unconscious. I’m currently exchanging ideas with two awesome collaborators and working to develop a project along those lines, but it will likely be for 2013 or later. We’ll be seeking funding for both projects soon. Anyone interested in underwriting either of these projects can reach us at contactseymour@gmail.com.

Favorite place to see art in Paris?

Impossible question. Paris has so many incredible cultural centers of all kinds in which to see art, from the grandest museums to artist’s squats. I love them all. But I know you want one….so I’ll say: La Maison Rouge.

The exhibitions are always exceedingly well curated and they usually show a private collection of some kind. Because I am so interested in both art and psychology, this place is a perfect blend for me. I see great art and also get a peek into the mind of the collector.

Favorite exhibition so far this year?

My answer is directly related to your previous question. It was a show at La Maison Rouge entitled: Memories of the Future- The Olbricht Collection.

Thomas Obrist is a medical doctor and art collector from Essen, Germany. The exhibit covered a period of five hundred years from the 16th century to Contemporary Art and featured a huge diversity of media and genres. The main theme’s of Olbricht’s collection are: ‘death and its representation, vanity, religious faith, war, the fragility and beauty of the female body, and artists’ renderings of the strange and the marvelous’ … all topics I’m fascinated by. I loved the exhibit.

…and if I’m allowed to sneak in a second favorite, I’d say: Dan Miller at Galerie Christian Berst. I could look at Miller’s work for hours and hours. His new, large-scale works are astounding.

Institute 193 is committed to promoting the work of artists from a very specific place: Kentucky and the southeastern United States. As someone with deep connections on both sides of the Atlantic, have you noticed any differences or similarities in how creative communities are supported and how they grow?

Interesting question and I think there isn’t a simple cut & dry answer, but if I were to make a sweeping generalization, I think that I’d say that–generally speaking–creative communities in the United States are more generous and open with information exchange and with the sharing of contacts and lessons learned. I can’t really speak about other European countries, but in France where people are culturally more reserved, I feel that sharing information between artists doesn’t seem to come as naturally. In the U.S. creative people help each other out a lot more easily and openly, and this enables creative communities to flourish more effectively.

Conversely, in France, the arts receive better across-the-board government funding and support than in the U.S., as do the artists themselves and as a result creative communities are able to grow in a more organic manner based on genuine affinities rather than evolving via a ‘meritocracy’ of private grants, commercially dictated work, etc. that generate somewhat fabricated artistic communities based on an outside source’s fairly arbitrary and sometimes even biased, selection process.

Last full album you downloaded/bought?

Patti Smith’s latest album: Banga. I love her. She’s just so fucking cool.

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