Want to Know What It's Like to Be a Millennial? Visit This Performance Art Piece (on a Boat)
Artist Moses Storm in his original downtown L.A. exhibit
In her book Generation Me, author Jean Twenge characterized Millennials, the demographic born between 1980 and 2000, as noticeably more narcissistic than preceding generations. This self-absorption is evident in the core concept of "Modern Millennial," the performance art exhibit in which 25 year old artist Moses Storm crowdfunded a loft space where he resided 24/7 and invited audiences to come watch him live his day to day life. Before this experiment in Kickstarter-fueled concept art closed at the end of September, spectators could view Storm engaging in activities that ranged from checking email and returning phone calls to hosting parties and rock shows for local bands.
Earlier this month, "Modern Millennial" hoped to return for another round of Storm-centric voyeurism, this time trading the loft space for a 35 foot schooner sailboat in Redondo Beach's King Harbor. The artist hoped to relaunch on November 9th, but damage to the ship's mast has postponed the comeback. Once repaired, the avant-garde vessel, named Islands Lady, will dock twice a day, 7 a.m. and 3 p.m., to take patrons on a two hour cruise where they can observe Storm and experience his unique brand of art.
"I have a friend who had a boat. Its an idea that I tossed around when I first started, to just do it in a boat," explained Storm while nestled in a pseudo-tree house during an interview at Franklin Village's Bourgeois Pig. "The idea was to make every piece in there Instagram-able, to be able to Instagram it and get likes. That's personally how I hear about art shows, on Instagram. In my mind, there's nothing more Instagram-able than being on a boat. Its out of the norm."
Storm's utilization of mobile photo sharing exemplifies an ability to temper narcissism with tech savvy, a trait that typifies not only the youth demographic formerly known as Gen Y, but the exhibit itself. The $8,461 used to lease the loft space was generated entirely on Kickstarter. Patrons could find the East Pico address on Storm's Tumblr, as well as his cell phone number, which, when called at the location, prompted the artist to lower a styrofoam wig head from the fire escape with keys to the building. Upon entering the second story apartment, one realized there is an intellect behind MM's self-centered facade.
Stepping over the threshold, audience members were bombarded by a clinical shade of white that predominated every wall and piece of furniture in the loft. At the entry sat a table with written instructions to return the keys into a provided green bowl, put on one of the lab coats hanging on the nearby wall, and to pick a card, which supplied an interactive element, such as "act like you are freezing." After donning both coat and characteristic, viewers made their way through the first floor of the exhibit, which housed an assortment of 21st century artifacts: a tower of iPhones, a display containing a Makers Mark bottle and an American Spirit cigarette box. At the center of the room stood an ivory-hued table where spectators could sit with the artist and commune.
Storm and an audience member communing
"I would sit across from people and just listen to them and people honestly opened up to me: about attempting suicide, getting raped," he said. "Horrible things. No one listens in this generation. We're so used to using a stock quote we read of Instagram as advice. Its not based on any truth. That was something I was guilty of, and not making eye contact. That's been the biggest shift in me, sitting there and being present."
On the loft's second story, entire walls were covered with Storm's personal journal entries. Black felt pens were supplied, encouraging the audience to add to the verbal mosaic. Another wall displayed oversized icons and memes of political causes, such as the equal sign used during the marriage equality battle. These images criticized not the worthy causes but the armchair activism these cyber symbols enabled. Most of these pieces will return for the new nautical incarnation, but on a condensed scale.
First floor of "Modern Millennial"
"My actual journal entries will be up, and new sections of paper for people to add to," he said. "There's a little fold out table — it's much smaller. Everything is condensed and jam packed in. Its 35 feet, compared to 2,000 square foot loft."
The change of venue was motivated by necessity. On Sept. 29, during an initial interview with the artist at the Pico Boulevard loft, the building's owner entered the unit with four other middle aged men. The owner berated Moses for hosting late night events and threatened him with eviction if there was another party.
"I knew he was a shady dude," Storm said. "It's why I did it in that building. Its the only building that let me have a 24 hour open space."
Several attempts were made to reach the building's management, but no one was available for comment. Despite the threats, Storm hosted an event planned ahead of time with Subway, an sponsor interested in "Modern Millennial."
"They wanted to bring 100 subs. The idea was Subway Feeds 100 Fresh Artists," he said. "That whole day I had Subway reps calling me up saying, 'Hey, don't worry about it, we have a lot of people coming down. Get ready its, going to be huge.' That's the last thing we needed. I had to go through with that, because it was an investor. I had to sneak 100 party subs upstairs."
The original Modern Millenial
By 10 p.m., the space was packed with over 200 people, resulting in a noise complaint from the building manager, Storm said. Storm attempted to evacuate the guests, but they assumed it was part of the performance. "Everyone is waiting, like, 'Moses, you know how to commit! You're hilarious!' I'm like, 'No no you gotta go.' The more I fight it, they're like, 'That's great commitment!'"
The breaking point came when one of the audience members assaulted the building manager, in a misguided attempted to defend Storm's artistic honor, which he claimed resulted in the arrival of the LAPD. Their presence precipitated the return of the building's owner.
Storm claimed, "[The owner] starts in, right in my face: 'You know I've had trouble with the law. I don't call the cops when there's a problem. I have my own cops,' He points to his 40-year-old gang. 'You're not going to like how they handle stuff.' He's fully yelling, which prompts the cops to come downstairs. They escort him out. One of the cops comes back to talk to me: 'You know this guy has recently had trouble with the law. I strongly recommend you don't stay here tonight.' We packed up that night. "
While the relocation was a result of self-preservation, the inspiration behind "Modern Millennial" itself is more heartfelt. Storm cites his break-up with a girl named Shelly as the reason he created this performance piece. After seven months into their relationship, the artist was unable to make the commitment to live with her, claiming she couldn't understand what he went through as a child.
Moses Storm in front of a white light display in the original "Modern Millennial" exhibit
Storm said his family participated in a zealous non-denominational religious sect known as the Way, led by his great uncle Michael Woroniecki. His clan would travel from town to town, preaching against myriad sins at state fairs and music festivals. The group gained national attention in 2001 when one of its members, Andrea Yates, suffered a nervous break and murdered her five children. According to the Way's doctrine, children are innocent and she allegedly wanted to send them to heaven before they could learn sin. Moses too was scarred by his time with the cult.
"Everything that I do is influenced by that," Storm said. "You see a different perspective, and you're forced to grow up very quick. Much like you see child actors. You don't have a full childhood. At two years old I would go up to people and tell them they are going to hell."
Storm claims that opening up his life to a multitude of strangers was an attempt at reprogramming his psyche after his break-up. "I never lived with a girl," he said. "I enjoy my personal space. This is immersion therapy."
He's facing a fear in the hopes of improving a future relationship. Maybe the Millennials aren't as narcissistic as Jean Twenge claims.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece said that the artist launched his boat project Nov. 9, but it turned out damage to the ship postponed the project.
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