How Shea Hembrey Became 100 Artists

Arkansas-born artist Shea Hem­brey kicks off his TED talk by con­fess­ing to a hick child­hood in which he and his sis­ter “would com­pete to see who could eat the most squir­rel brains.” That mod­est joke sets the stage for his intro­duc­tion of Seek, a project Hem­brey con­ceived in response to his dis­ap­point­ment with sev­er­al exhibits of con­tem­po­rary art in Europe, includ­ing the Venice Bien­nale. Find­ing much of the work he encoun­tered too obtuse and inac­ces­si­ble, Hem­brey decid­ed to cre­ate an inter­na­tion­al bien­ni­al of his own, fea­tur­ing the 100 most inspir­ing artists he could find.

The twist, of course, is that all 100 artists (and art­works) were cre­at­ed by Hem­brey him­self, in strict accor­dance with two per­son­al cri­te­ria:  First, the work must be some­thing he could explain to his grand­ma in less than five min­utes; next, its process must engage the three “H’s” of head, heart, and hand.

All 100 pieces fea­ture dis­tinct mate­ri­als, char­ac­ter and craft, and tak­en togeth­er they pro­vide an impres­sive show­case for Hem­brey’s humor and vir­tu­os­i­ty. But that grand­ma of his had bet­ter be hid­ing a degree in semi­otics, or at least an old copy of the The Post­mod­ern Con­di­tion, because the suc­cess of Seek’s joke is large­ly depen­dent on our knowl­edge of the world it lam­poons.  And for all the deter­mined folksi­ness of his man­i­festo, the posi­tion Hem­brey stakes out — some­where between par­o­dy and homage — would not be unfa­mil­iar to the cura­tors of the Venice Bien­nale.

Sheer­ly Avni is a San Fran­cis­co-based arts and cul­ture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Week­ly, Moth­er Jones, and many oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low her on twit­ter at @sheerly.

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  • christopher palermo says:

    I shall add this to my on-going list of worst TED talks, of which there are fifty-two at this point, and count­ing. Is this the last gasp of the Me Gen­er­a­tion? or just a pro­lif­er­a­tion of it? TED talks are peo­ple with huge egos rat­tling on about shit we already know. Ideas worth spread­ing your legs for, cuz the speak­er is so damn cute.

  • christopher palermo says:

    Just kid­ding.

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