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TALKING ABOUT SUPERHEROES WITH BRIAN BURKHARDT & TANIT SAKAKINI

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By MATTHEW NASH


On August 11th, a group of artists gathered at the Design Center in Boston for an over-the-top photo shoot. The Superheroes Project, created by Brian Burkhardt and Tanit Sakakini, gathered 18 artists to dress as superheroes in order to create an iconic image that will be used in an advertising campaign to promote the arts of New England. I was included in the group of artists, and after the shoot I had several email conversations and phone chats with Burkhardt and Sakakini about the intention and the meaning of the project.

MN: What is the origin of the superhero project?

BB: I was in a show in N-w Y--k (don't want to name any cities) with some really big contemporary artists last year, and as we were on the way to an after-opening dinner party and someone asked me where I am from. I answered "Boston," and after a moment of silence someone had the audacity to say "Where is that?" I told them that it was a small island off of Africa, and basically that I was sick and tired of people having this preconceived idea that in order to be a successful fine artist you have live in one of the four or five places. Being that I was born and lived most of my life in N-w Y--k (not to mention any cities) I was amazed that you can move there from the back-woods of Alabama and all of a sudden you are identified as an artist from that city. For me The Superheroes Project is letting people know that there is more than one Gotham City. As artists, we are striving to be recognized internationally and this photo has gathered just a few of the many driven, successful fine artists that have chosen to live in Boston. All the superheroes in this photo are willing to come together, stand up and challenge this naïve mindset many people are brainwashed to believe.

MN: Which artists did you choose to be in the shoot? What was the criteria for choosing artists?

BB: First of all, this is only a small representation of artists that wanted to be in the shot, and that we wanted for the shot. We were faced with the practical problem of size and compostition for the shot, so with that being said we had to limit the group to 20 or so. The artists from this project represent a driven group of individuals, working in various media, some with gallery representation, others not, who have all shown an interest in working together as a team to make this happen. We have other ideas in mind and would love it if other artist would let us know if they want to be involved. In fact, anyone who is going to be heading to Art Basel Miami Beach this December, and wants to be involved, Tanit is organizing some staged "superhero rescues" that are going to be happening.

MN: What do you say to people who think that by choosing these 18 artists, you are trying to make the Boston art scene all about this small group of people? Do you feel that only having this group is limiting? What do you say to an artist who was not included in this photo shoot?

BB: If Boston was about 18 artists we would be in big trouble. Unfortunately, whenever you take on a project there are choices that have to be made, some of which people get excited and others pissed. The Superheroes Project is not this exclusive, members-only organization. We are just trying to get the ball rolling, get people excited and hopefully find other driven, energetic artists -- and musicians, designers etcetera -- that want to get involved, be part of a team, leave all attitudes at the door and kick some ass.

MN: As an artist who played a superhero for the shoot, I know that whole day was fun, elaborate, and exciting. Can you talk about your perspectives on the photo shoot, what you thought worked or didn't? Tanit, since you were the photographer, what was it like to be in front of and behind the camera?

TS: I’ve always been more interested in the performance behind a photo shoot than in the end result: the photograph itself. That’s sometimes tricky because it’s easy to get carried away with the excitement of making a shot, and then you look at the shot later and it could possibly suck because you weren’t paying attention to important details. But with the Superheroes shoot, we had a great team of people working behind the scenes to make sure everything was going smoothly, and allow me to focus more on bringing together 18 people. There was an amazing crowd and energy happening right behind the camera. About thirty people in the room watching the shoot, a TV crew, video crews, photo journalists and…my parents. Sometimes, with that many people, I have to fight back the feeling of needing the shoot to feel like it’s entertainment, a fast paced, movie-style photo shoot. In fact, working with a group that large is a bit exacting and not always exciting to watch. You have to really take your time. But I honestly feel we came out with some great images – there were so many possible shots that could have worked, which is unusual for a big group shot – and, most importantly for me, we made something that was about more than just a good-looking picture. Next time though, I need a better strategy for both taking the picture and being in it – I think my modeling career suffered a bit.

MN: Now that the image has been made, what else do you have planned?

TS: In the very near future, we’ll be launching the Superheroes website. This will coincide with Boston Magazine running an 8 page spread of images from the shoot – the biggest fine-art dedicated feature the magazine has run so far. And on October 23rd we’ll have the “Grand Unveiling Party” at The Mills Gallery, where we’ll unveil the big group shot.

Then in December a group of artists will be headed to Miami Basel to stage spontaneous Superhero rescues and other slightly unorthodox forms of marketing the project. We’re forming a core performance group and welcome new blood – just email me if you’re interested.

MN: Are there going to be more Superheroes Projects, with other artists? Will you do this again in other cities?

TS: We definitely plan to keep this marketing campaign going. It may not always look like The Superheroes Project, but if we have our way, there’ll continue to be projects – some larger, some smaller, some humorous, some less so – that involve other artists and continue to promote the idea that serious art is happening in unexpected places.

We’re already beginning to extend Superhero’s breadth by inviting artists from other cities to participate in the rescues at Basel. I think a project like this could evolve very organically to other cities; by it’s very nature it’s about something broader than any one location.

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The Superheroes Project featured 18 artists from many different backgrounds: Brian Burkhardt (Professor X), Tanit Sakakini (Firebird), Jane D. Marsching (Rogue), Ria Brodell (The Flash), Sheila Gallagher (Cat Woman), Rachel Perry Welty (The Invisible Woman) , Andrew Mowbray (The Green Lantern), Cristi Rinklin (Elasti-girl), Nick Rodrigues (Thor), Samantha Fields (Supergirl),Evelyn Rydz (She-Hulk), Pixnit (Batgirl), Laurel Sparks (Batman), Hannah Barrett (Robin), Jeff Warmouth (Zorro), Deb Todd Wheeler (The Dazzler), Joe Wardwell (Captain America) and Matthew Nash (Aquaman).


The Superheroes Project
The Boston Center for the Arts Mills Gallery

BIG RED ON-THE-TOWN: THE SUPERHERO PROJECT: PART ONE by BIG RED in issue #67
BIG RED ON-THE-TOWN: THE SUPERHERO PROJECT: PART TWO by BIG RED in issue #67

"The Superheroes Project" will be unveiled to the world on October 23rd, 2007 at the Mills Gallery.

All images are courtesy of the artists.


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About Author

Matthew Nash is the founder of Big Red & Shiny. He is Associate Professor of Photography and New Media at the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University and was the 2011-12 Chair of the University Faculty Assembly. Nash is half of the artist collaborative Harvey Loves Harvey, who are currently represented by Gallery Kayafas in Boston and have exhibited in numerous venues since 1992.

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