In the early morning on March 3 only hours after announcing his “One Wish to Change the World” as the 2011 TED Prize Winner, French street artist who refers to himself as JR, and whose real name only adds to the mysterious narrative that surrounds his art, stands in the center of a media mob. While the general public is certainly curious about his true identity, their curiosity is quickly silenced by JR’s body of ephemeral large- scale photographs pasted throughout small villages and cities around the world. The artist shifts his weight between his one off Nike high tops, and remains composed and perhaps wide eyed (or so this reporter can surmise) as he was cloaked by his signature dark wired sunglasses and woven fedora. Reporters inside Phantom Galleries LA in Long Beach were anxious to record his voice and film his visage, which he tried to keep anonymous during his years on the street.
For his “One Wish to Change the World” JR requested a call for action for people across the world to participate in spreading the narrative of the human condition, through the use of black and white portraits to be pasted outdoors. He called for “people everywhere to stand up for what they care about by participating in a global art project, so together we can turn the world the INSIDE OUT.” JR expresses that the name of the project “inside out” is a summation of his desire for people to “say what they have inside and put it out.” This year-long global art project requires that participants upload digital images of subjects and send them to JR through the Inside Out website, which will then be transformed into a 90 cm x 135 cm black and white poster of their portrait ready to be pasted outdoors. Even as JR discussed the project he stood in front of a large-scale photo booth with wood paneled siding with the phrase “Inside Out” stamped in block letters. The machine spits out large paper portraits of the reporters who photographed themselves inside and made us all realize that the power of expression is key. JR’s success in his portraiture is not only his ability to make the locals a part of their landscape on a massive scale, but also his ability to capture an expressive face that is intriguing and beckons explanation. Now that has showed the world how to create captivating images, he is becoming the middleman, the one printing the images and sending them around the world for display.
The popularity of JR’s work across the world has not only sparked interest in his practice, but also raised curiosity about TED’s support of the arts. TED an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, Design began in 1984 and has since diversified its reach to music, performance, sciences, business, global issues, and of course the arts. TED Prize director Amy Novogratz explains that JR “embodies the spirit of the TED community: innovation, creativity, social conscience, leadership, and vision. His work is about unlocking the power of possibility, revealing our true selves to those who live around us and then sharing those stories far and wide. JR moved everyone at TED and we are thrilled to announce him as the TED winner. We are even more excited now as his wish gets underway.” JR follows in a line of esteemed artists to be awarded the TED Prize including Bono, Ed Burtynsky, Jehane Noujaim, and Dave Eggers.
JR expresses gratitude for TED for allowing him to continue his art as he explains, “what I love [about the] prize is you don’t always think about art when you change the world, you don’t always think about culture, but I’m a strong believer in that. I’m glad that TED saw that much power and possibility in art and they gave me that prize and make it happen on the streets.”
With JR Winning the TED Prize of 2011 it is become quite clear that TED supports the ideas that art can change the world. TED has put the power of art into the hands of people everywhere, and aims to reach all walks of life regardless of their art experience, but seeks those who a desire express to tell their story.