When L.A.-based artist Jana Cruder is observing her subjects while they send and receive text messages on their smartphones, she's most interested in seeing their spines. That's why, for the purposes of her art installation The Way of the Modern Man, Cruder encourages her subjects to remove as much of their clothing as they're comfortable removing.
"The nudity works in three ways," she explains. "One, it levels the playing field. No one's judging them on what they're wearing, they can just look at the body and the device. Second, I do want to see what's happening with their bodies; it's almost an anthropological study. I wanted it to feel like the Natural History Museum.
"[Finally], those who didn't undress fully didn't go as deep with me," she says, referring to the personal questions she asks as their conversation is projected on a screen for viewers to see.
A commercial portrait photographer by day, Cruder debuted The Way of the Modern Man at L.A. Art Show in early 2016. Subjects spent 30 minutes at a time in a sort of isolation booth with two-way mirrors for windows — viewers can see in, but the subjects can't see out — as Cruder asked a series of increasingly personal questions. She got the idea when she was in Hong Kong on a fashion shoot and was approached by a tech company that wanted her to create imagery around the ways that smartphone technology is changing what it means to be human. She accepted the assignment, and then some.
"I started my observations when I was in Hong Kong," she says. "I started looking around and it was like nobody was looking up. I really had a moment. It’s the first time in human evolution and history that we’re no longer looking ahead of ourselves, we’re looking down."
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The installation was a sensation at L.A. Art Show, and Cruder has since been asked to re-create the experiment at Pop Austin; she hopes to eventually bring it to New York and Hong Kong. In the meantime, she'll present a pared-down iteration of The Way of the Modern Man at L.A. Weekly's forthcoming Artopia art event at Union Station on Sat., Aug. 26. Since it's a one-day event, Cruder won't have the time or manpower to construct an elaborate isolation booth, but three subjects will spend 30 minutes each up on a platform texting in various states of undress as Cruder and audiences observe their body language. (She has one participant lined up and is looking for two more — interested parties can contact her via Instagram: @janacruder.)
In a follow-up email explaining the project's purpose, she wrote, "I think that since tech is such a huge part of our reality, and it is here to stay, I want it to be received in a way that looks observationally, takes human needs and mental health into consideration, and people bring more awareness around their use and relationship to it and ask what is the real potential of these two realities merging, how is it drawing us now, and how are we using this in a way that can deeply, positively impact humanity in an aspiring, uplifting and intimate way."
Artopia, Union Station, 800 N. Alameda St., downtown; Sat., Aug. 26, 8-11 p.m.; tickets are only $15 till 10 p.m. on Sat., Aug. 19. artopia.laweekly.com.