The camera watches from across the intersection as artist John Morse affixes a sign to a telephone pole with two clicks of a staple gun. It's one of those so-called "bandit signs," the flimsy rectangles made of corrugated plastic typically found littering intersections and hawking weight-loss solutions, cash for your gold and other such temptations. Morse's sign, however, contains a very different kind of message: "MEET LOCAL SINGLES!!/EASY: STAND NEAR OTHERS,/HANG UP YOUR CELL PHONE."
The artist's guerilla street sign project "Roadside Haiku" last summer covered the city with 500 signs bearing 10 different poems. Morse's 5-7-5-syllable witticisms quickly had Atlantans talking, and soon so was the rest of the world, thanks to Blake Williams' two-and-a-half-minute online video about the project. Williams' production company Proper Medium has recently found a niche for its particular brand of observational storytelling in capturing Atlanta's public arts scene through Flux Film, a collaboration with local arts nonprofit Flux Projects.
Cars idle at intersections, their brake lights casting a soft red glow in the dark street as Morse shoves another of his signs into the ground with a half chuckle. The patience with which the camera observes Morse allows his story to unfold without interference. Tight shots inside a compact car crammed full of signs, and of Morse's alert profile, damp with perspiration, reveal the breadth and physicality of the project.
"The fact is, people read these signs, and that's what I want, I want people to read my poetry," says Morse.
In the age of Facebook and Twitter, where even high school kids promote their own personalities every day, Proper Medium presents an engaging model for authentic grassroots marketing.
Proper Medium is Williams (president and founder), Daniel Clay (sound recordist and social strategist) and Chloe Ralston (editor). An Atlanta native, Williams attended Boston's Berklee College of Music for music synthesis. He returned to Atlanta in 2002 to teach video at the Atlanta College of Art. Three years later, Williams left his ACA gig, and in 2008 officially established Proper Medium to profile people, organizations and businesses through online films.
Flux Film was born out of Proper Medium's documentary project for 2009's Le Flash, a one-night, light-based public art event in Castleberry Hill. Initially intending to capture the event's highlights with a few short clips, Williams and his crew ended up with the ethereal and captivating full-length documentary May the Light Affect, which presented a startling vision of Atlanta's artistic talent on display that evening.
Williams proposed a 12-film series of documentary shorts to Flux Projects centered on the nonprofit's grantees. Counting Morse, Flux Films has completed six works to date, including spots on video artists Whitney and Micah Stansell; installation artist Douglas Weathersby; Greensboro, N.C.'s Elsewhere Collaborative; public art event FLUX 2010; and sound-based installation artist Amber Boardman. Up next is a piece on experientialist Lee Walton, and a yet-to-be-revealed subject nominated by the public.
"When you're doing temporary projects, they have to actually live in the real world, but ultimately not that many people can experience them," says Flux Projects founder Louis Corrigan. "[The films] can build a record and a memory of what's happened."
While the individual profiles each tell a specific story in terms of its subject, together they create a larger narrative about an organization as a whole, in this case Flux Projects. It's what Proper Medium calls "narrative building," and it capitalizes on our obsession with social media.
"Our lives are very cinematic and we never notice that," says Williams. "Often we just ignore [our experiences] because our minds aren't in the moment enough."
Proper Medium channels the cinema of everyday life. Williams wants viewers to be "totally focused on what's happening. All of your preconceptions that would exist if you were seeing [something] firsthand are gone because you're watching a movie now. You don't have to judge it."
Williams composes emotive, often dreamy original scores on his computer for practically every film. The music helps pull viewers through the videos' mundane, albeit entrancing moments.
"When you watch a film, emotions coarse through your body and feel very real because storytelling is this deep human thing," says Williams. "It's nice to be able to help people utilize that as a tool."
Flux Film 001, as Morse's "Roadside Haiku" video profile is called, had an immediate impact that no one anticipated. News organizations around the country, and then around the world, latched onto the project. The film led to write-ups on Morse's work in newspapers as far off as the U.K.'s the Guardian and the Times of India, and interviews with the artist on South African Public Radio, among other stations.
"This is the first piece of art that I've done that anyone on the other side of the globe wrote about," says Morse. "You work hard for 30 years and then become an overnight success," he laughs.
"The Guardian piece is basically the film as text," says Clay. "At first I was like, 'What the ... ?' But then I thought, 'That's great.'"
"Yeah, it's the whole purpose, trying to get exposure for the artists and Flux," adds Williams. "To me, that said we have something that can be really powerful if it's used correctly."