Thursday, August 26, 2010

QÜESTIONS - An Interview with Noah Scalin

Here at the Mütter Museum we are fortunate to have a collection that inspires artists and craftspeople the world over. In our Museum Store we carry some of their creations. From the cute and clever to the genuinely thought-provoking, we are pleased to offer a wide variety of interpretive work. It's a truly symbiotic relationship which benefits both artist and institution.

Since most of these folks are also really interesting people, we thought it would be fun to interview them. Our second QÜESTIONS interview features artist and graphic designer Noah Scalin. Noah is the creator of the Skull-A-Day project and author of the book SKULLS. Naturally, we carry Noah's book in the Mütter Museum Store, but we also have a small selection of the ACTUAL art pieces created during the famed 365 days of his project.

Noah has visited the Mütter Museum as a guest and also as a speaker during our 2009 Day of the Dead festival. More recently he visited us to complete a special temporary art installation: A skull made entirely of brain slices (the brain slices are a recent addition to the Mütter Museum's collection). See the youtube video of this exciting one-of-a-kind creation here. And watch this insightful interview with Noah by the Mütter Museum's curator, Anna Dhody.

Noah has even written a song inspired by the Mütter Museum. It's called "Enlarged Heart."

Now on to our QÜESTIONS:

Introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do.
I’m an artist, graphic designer, and activist based in Richmond, Virginia.

In 2001 I started the socially conscious design and consulting firm Another Limited Rebellion, which works with wide range of organizations including many theaters in New York City.

I also started the Skull-A-Day project, which began as my personal creative project to make a unique skull image every day for a year and now has now progressed into its fourth year as an international community art project.

What do you think motivates your work?
The knowledge that life is extremely brief and that there are opportunities every day to create unique experiences that can bring some moment of discovery, and hopefully joy, to both myself and the people that encounter my work.

If your life was a book, what genre would it be?
Magical Realism. I like to live life as if anything is possible; and considering some of the strange things that have happened so far, it seems to be working.

What fictional character most resembles you and why?
I’d like to think I’m like Gomez Addams of The Addams family. He has a wonderful joie de vivre, is comfortable being different, is passionate about the things & people he loves (including the darker side of life), and has excellent fashion sense!

That said, I asked my friends what they thought and they said: The Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, Gargamel, Professor Snape, Captain Orlok from my own League of Space Pirates project, and myself! So take that how you will.

What non-fictional character most resembles you and why?
Well in a very literal sense there’s a guy here in Richmond that’s apparently my doppelganger and looks so much like me that even my own father said so. He’s also a graphic designer. I’m considering hiring him to go to events in my place to see if anyone notices.

What's your poison?
Tea, in all its forms. Iced or hot, green or black or white, I just can’t get enough of it.

What is the last song you had on repeat?
I recently discovered the wonderful “My Woman” by Al Bowlly, from 1932, which is the source of the sample used in 1997’s catchy “Your Woman” by White Town.

Name three things that scare you.
– People that prioritize money, stuff, and power over the health & wellbeing of others.
– People that only see things in terms of black & white dichotomies.
– Evil Robots

In your opinion, what is the greatest invention that has occurred in your lifetime?
The internet. I can barely remember how I got anything done without it!

If you saw a red door, what color would you paint it?
Black and white striped. Then you would think something very exciting is behind it, like maybe a pirate.

Direct attack or subterfuge?
I prefer direct subterfuge.

What's the most rewarding part of your work?
Discovering that it has inspired others to be creative! I love finding out that people have made art or created their own daily project because of mine. My current favorite is being done by a friend who is a jeweler; she’s making a reliquary a week!

If you could influence human evolution, what do you think a good physical trait would be?
Fur. Less money spent on clothes and more time getting petted.

How about non-physical?
A greater empathy for the plight of others.

How did you first learn about the Mütter Museum?
I read about and ordered one of the fantastic Mütter calendars shortly after they first came out and became obsessed with the museum.

What is your favorite specimen?
There was a photo of a girl with a condition called “enlarged heart” that was part of a traveling exhibition that came to NYC many years ago that struck such a chord with me that I wrote a song about it.

How does the Mütter's collection inspire you?
The collection is such an incredible peek into of the diversity of the human experience. Just being in the presence of so many amazing things serves as the ultimate life-affirming memento mori. Just talking about it makes me want to get back to making things before my time runs out!

What's next for you?
My next book, 365: A Daily Creativity Journal, is a functional guide to creating your own yearlong project and will be published by Voyageur Press in December!

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