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12min of reading

From the Wet issue

An enlightening conversation between the legendary curator and cofounder of Colette and founder of Just an Idea, Sarah Andelman, and Sam & Tury,
the artist duo behind the experimental collective, FriendsWithYou.

“Magic, Luck, and Friendship”: this is the rather refreshing credo that sums up the one-of-a kind collaborative and artistic project of the tandem formed by Samuel Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III – Sam & Tury. Since 2002, the Los Angeles-based collective has been developing a holistic, multifaceted artistic practice at the crossroads of contemporary art and popular culture, bringing together sculpture, painting, immersive installation, animation and VR. Through a colourful, striking visual language, characters with a post-pop sensibility, and new kinds of amulets, FriendsWithYou have invented “Ocean”, a new sacrament founded on the values of kindness, empathy and harmony. A neo-naturalist mythology which promotes connecting with others and restores to art its sacred dimension. Exhibition has invited Sarah Andelman, the legendary curator and cofounder of the trailblazing concept store Colette in Paris, to enter into the innovative artistic universe of FriendsWithYou. The resulting conversation is one that brings together myths and symbols, Duchamp and Murakami.

“Magic, Luck, and Friendship”

FriendsWithYou Adventus, 2022 Plastiline clay in plexi frame 84 × 72 in

Sarah Andelman Tell me about “Ocean”, this conceptual art project you have in the works.

FriendsWithYou We're exploring the idea of renaming the Earth “Ocean”. The goal is to highlight our interconnectedness as inhabitants of the same planet.

S.A. That's fascinating. What inspired this concept?

F.W.Y. Traditional religious texts often portray humanity's origins as separate, but we believe everything is connected - humans, nature, all of it. We want our art to convey this vision of unity.

S.A. How do you plan to bring the concept to life visually?

F.W.Y. We'll be creating an installation that immerses viewers in the fluid interconnectivity of life on this world. Through mixed media and sculptural elements, it will promote viewing Earth as a unified whole rather than separate parts.

S.A. Tell us more about the origin story of FriendsWithYou.

F.W.Y. Tury and I founded the project because we felt there was a lack of spirituality in the art world and in society overall. People were so focused on materialism and celebrity culture. We wanted to create artwork that was simply good for humans on a deeper level. I believe our work promotes an all-encompassing acceptance - of both light and dark within each person, and of our profound interconnectedness with nature. There's a strong emphasis on living fully in the present moment and appreciating life's simple beauty, which I think is why our message resonates so widely.

FriendsWithYou “Machina de Deus”, 2022 Plastiline clay in plexi frame, 6 × 8 ft.

S.A. What inspired that initial spiritual focus in your work?

F.W.Y. We saw how disconnected people had become. Art has the power to help remind us that we're all interconnected - with each other and with nature. Our early plush toys and installations aimed to infuse that sense of magic and wonder back into everyday experiences.

S.A. It sounds like you've stayed true to that original vision over the two decades since.

F.W.Y. Definitely. Every piece, from installations to our latest works, aims to uplift and benefit whoever interacts with it. The journey has been incredible. We couldn't have planned it, but it's been the best one.

S.A. You two met through the dance scene in Miami, right? It sounds like you found like-minded creative spirits who shared your vision.

F.W.Y. Exactly. We bonded over a shared love of art, music and community. Those early days of making amulets and experiential installations were so joyful. It just felt natural to create together.

S.A. It's amazing you had your first museum show so quickly after meeting. Was that a breakthrough moment?

F.W.Y. It really was. Getting to debut our interactive work at MOCA validated that we were onto something new. We wanted to make art that was deeply engaging and could impact people physically, not just visually. That show helped propel us to keep exploring experiential concepts.

S.A. Your exploration of inflatables as an artistic medium is genius. Can you tell us more about how that material opened up new possibilities for your
large-scale installations?

F.W.Y. We started out building with heavier materials like fiberglass, which was physically taxing work. Inflatables allowed us to imagine even grandiose concepts like Rainbow City that we could transport and assemble with relative ease. No longer constrained by weight or fabrication complexity, our ideas could swell to epic proportions yet still retain an almost ephemeral quality. It truly revolutionized how we designed interactive experiences and furthered our goal of creating all-encompassing imaginative worlds. The lessons from that transition have stayed influential in our ongoing formal and conceptual experimentation.

S.A. What about your process for developing symbolic characters like Little Cloud? There seems to be tremendous
care taken in crafting them.

F.W.Y. We pour immense thought into characters intended as beacons of hope, community and joy. With Little Cloud, we wanted a symbol of peace recognizable across cultures, so we focused its design archetypally yet open to personal interpretation.

That's an insightful point about how popular characters are often just seen as “cute” rather than vehicles for deeper messages.

FriendsWithYou “Dream Bobby Dream”, 2020 Plastiline clay in plexi frame, 6 × 8 ft.

S.A. That's an insightful point about how popular characters are often just seen as “cute” rather than vehicles for deeper messages.

F.W.Y. So much untapped potential exists in crafting mythology and symbolism imbued with purpose. With “Ocean”, we want to push boundaries - to prove theology and art don't need rigid confines of any kind. If a concept promotes empathy, community and fellowship of our world, its outward form is irrelevant. That sense of freedom is vital. And as technology draws us inward, we need reminders like animism of our profound connection to nature and each other.

S.A. It reminds me of when I was visiting Fontainebleau forest near Paris. Our friend mentioned we were under the water level and that’s why the floor was just sand. It is so strange to imagine those ancient trees emerging from what was once the sea floor.

F.W.Y. It highlights so well why water holds such profound symbolic meaning. Even distant memories of being near the sea can feel deeply stirring. As artists seeking to reconnect people with nature, we often reflect on how to foster appreciation for water's life-giving qualities, especially for those far from the coast.

S.A. The parade in Shibuya seemed like an incredible experience. What was it like seeing the reaction from onlookers encountering your art in that setting?

F.W.Y. Seeing people unexpectedly swept up in the celebration we'd crafted, as if under a "love spell" - it was incredibly rewarding. Moments like that remind us of art's power to spread positive feelings and connection, even to those who aren't necessarily seeking it. Creating works that plant seeds of togetherness through experiences of wonder and spontaneity is truly what inspires us.

FriendsWithYou (above) "Buttercup bb" Resin, acrylic paint 36 x 6.5 × 48 inches

FriendsWithYou (right) "Frog God and the Flaming Sword of Truth", 2023 Bronze, acrylic paint 48" H x 38" W (wingspan) × 40" D (w/ sword)

S.A. That's so interesting. When was the first time you visited Japan, and how did it influence FriendsWithYou's early direction?

F.W.Y. My first trip was in 2001, pretty early on in our collaboration. Just seeing all those unique plush charms people wore really sparked my imagination. I immediately thought our art could take a similar approach. When I got back, we matured the idea of crafting comforting amulets with spiritual meanings. We dove in and those toys became some of our first major pieces. It was so formative to experience Japanese culture blending art and design then.

S.A. Is sustainability a focus and how do you support environmental causes through FriendsWithYou?

F.W.Y. Anytime we have significant funds come in, we try to help organizations working for humanity and the planet - protecting animals, ecosystems, the environment. Though cultural engineering through art holds its own power to shift mindsets on a societal scale. Both approaches are needed to nurture the world. We feel artists have a role shaping the belief stories that will drive real change.

S.A. It's clear FriendsWithYou's reach continues to expand exponentially. What upcoming projects are you most excited about?

F.W.Y. We'll have a piece featured at Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas next year. And in 2025, they'll be presenting a larger-scale FriendsWithYou installation - it's amazing to see such well-regarded institutions resonating with our vision. We’re also very pleased that conceptual plans are underway for an immersive ride at PARCO Museum in Japan.

FriendsWithYou “Spirit in the Horn”, 2023 Oil on canvas 28 × 24 inches

S.A. How do you hope audiences might interact with and be transformed by those experiences?

F.W.Y. Our goal is always fostering community, wonder, and care for our planet. I'm excited to see how site-specific works for those museums might cultivate empathy and connection.

S.A. Please tell us more about using animation to spread your spirit of "Magic, Luck and Friendship" to even broader circles worldwide.

F.W.Y. While exhibitions are key, through shows like our upcoming Happy World series, we hope to touch more lives globally. Connecting with all ages through whimsical stories and characters is so important to our mission of cultural engineering.

S.A. It's clear you draw from a truly rich trove of inspirations across mediums. Could you expand a bit more on some key artistic influences?

F.W.Y. Conceptual artists like Chris Burden, Duchamp and Beuys really paved the way for blending fine art with other frameworks. Their socio-political experiments merging life and art were hugely formative. And of course, Japanese masters like Murakami who so skillfully fuse high and low culture are truly seminal. In terms of spiritual influences, I'm deeply drawn to ritual dynamics across religions and indigenous cultures. Figures like Jodorowsky who bridged mysticism and mass media also light the path.

S.A. What drives FriendsWithYou's commitment to diverse platforms?

F.W.Y. At their best, artists can be a driving force for positive change in society. We want to build community through whatever means inspire connection - whether exhibitions, performances, animation or more. The boundaries between forms hold less meaning when the goal is spreading empathy on a global scale. It's why pioneers like Miyazaki and Tezuka, capable of profoundly moving both art connoisseurs and the public alike, are so important to us.

FriendsWithYou “Embrace”, 2023. Oil on canvas, 48 × 63 inches

S.A. That's a really interesting perspective on modern art's relationship to everyday spaces. FriendsWithYou clearly aims to bridge that gap.

F.W.Y. From the beginning we asked how art could truly inhabit people's lives rather than just museum walls. Why not make totems like plush toys that carry symbolic meaning wherever one may be?

S.A. You explore so many boundary-pushing ideas. What is your connection with fashion?

F.W.Y. While fashion isn't our main focus, the potential for symbolism interested us. We wanted to create totems people could wear as a quiet signal of empathy and compassion. Something simple yet profound, like an amulet showing "I believe in helping others". Harnessing fashion's language to spread philosophical concepts in a grassroots way felt aligned with our mission.

S.A. Given this is “The Wet Issue”, how do you feel FriendsWithYou's work speaks to water as an inspiration?

F.W.Y. That's such a fitting theme, as the element of water lies at the heart of so much of what we do. With “Ocean” being a long-term exploration of our interconnected relationships with that primordial force, it's been creatively galvanizing to consider new ways of incorporating fluidity and flow into our installations. Ideas like dipping cranes and lazy rivers are just the beginning - as we continue cultivating myths and symbols around this life-giving substance so central to our shared existence, I hope audiences feel the magic of contemplating our own watery essences.

FriendsWithYou “The Illumination”, 2023 Urethane foam with polyprime & acrylic paint 62-3/4 × 72-3/8 x 6 inches

FriendsWithYou La Pieta, 2023 Plastiline clay in plexiglass frame 84" H x 72" W × 3 3/4" D



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