I love super heroes. I always have. Comic books in bed, early Saturday morning cartoons, I can remember my parents worrying if this was bad for me. My mother was a librarian and of a generation that still saw comic culture as deviant or at least dangerously dumb downed.When Abner Preis first mentioned his super hero project, I was very excited. If art has become a vocational activity, this has much to do with a sense of struggling to save the world. It is a very naïve classification, but this is something I would attribute to most of the artists I admire. In their own humble way they are trying to save the world for a few seconds here and there.
The project kicked off when a friend of Abner’s that teaches a class of kids who for mental and physical reasons qualify as handicapped, asked if Abner was interested in doing a project with the class. Abner showed him some videos we had created for Levi’s and the teacher was inspired by the standards it set for ‘bad.’ This led him to tell Abner about a similar video project his students were making. ‘Maybe it will have a super hero in it.’
I can remember Abner telling me about his visit to this school, which resulted many months later in the first Sick Productions music video. He was amazed, not only about all the drugs being fed to the kids, but at how they discussed what pills they were taking and why. This was nearly a year ago while we were in Berlin setting up the Urban Love Tour for the Wallbreakers Festival. As he got to work on the Superheroes project, I was forced to remember that the idea of Superheroes is essentially an American one, which blossomed in the aftermath of the Great Depression. Depression. Drugs. Joy. Heroes.
In Den Haag this week, the super heroes project went public. Costumes were provided and for a couple of minutes any passerby could fly (thanks to a well designed portable green screen tent), fight or ask a stranger if they were all right. While unassuming participants explored their momentary powers, their images were projected onto nearby walls. A real film in real time with no plot and one very basic point, which Preis puts forward as the formula for the project:
“I = S / S = I // = S = Superheroes are in our imagination. If you have an imagination, you are a Superhero.”
With the notable exception of Superman, America’s lowbrow response to Nietzche, most Superheroes wear masks to protect their identity. As the world teeters around what could become the next great depression, The Watchmen are being legislated as vigilantes or dangerous fanatics as laws referring to a very vague ‘ideal society’ are put into place as the Burqa and Niqab are banned in various European countries.
I asked Preis what he thought about this and he didn’t get into the political states, instead speaking about his own practice.
“I’ve been working with masks for several years now on a continuous basis. I’m been learning a bit more about historic notions of masks, but not too much, because in the end it is just a way to make people look at me curiously, allowing me to surprise them, scare them, make them laugh or love me when in the end, it isn’t really me at all. I know the power of masks first hand. I also know a bit about the power of letting others put on a mask. The minute you are able to get a mask on somebody else, you’ve entered their world even if just for a small moment. It is a big step in trust.
Can a Superhero save trust? Who knows.
One thing is sure, we could use more of them and at least for a few days in Den Haag there’s going to be a Justice League convention with a whole lot of heroes you never knew were in you.