Franck de Las Mercedes’ Priority Boxes

03May10

At last summer’s Pitchfork Music Festival, I added my name to a mailing list that promised I would receive a “work of art” within six weeks. About one month later, a beautifully painted box showed up on my doorstep with a large sticker stuck to its outside that read “FRAGILE: Contains Peace.”

It turns out this was the work of Franck de Las Mercedes in his Priority Box project. According to Las Mercedes’ website,

The ‘Priority Boxes’ project is a public art series that seeks to provoke thought, to make people reconsider their ability to influence change, communicate through art and make art accessible to people from all walks of life.

Each box is the canvas for a unique abstract painting and is dedicated with a “Fragile:” message. The project which started as an initiative to promote peace quickly evolved in to art movement with boxes containing a wide spectrum of emotions and abstract attributes such as Freedom, Love and Justice.

One of Franck's Priority Boxes (from his website, as linked above)

Seeing that Las Mercedes seems to have some of the same beliefs of Gandhi and King (peace, love, inciting change), I called him up and had a personal interview with him about his Priority Box Project.

Kristin: On your website, you mention that the goal of the Priority Box project is to encourage people to reconsider their ability to influence change. What type of change is it that you would like to see?

Franck de Las Mercedes: Any type of change. And it’s not necessarily the type of change that I want to see, but rather for people to question what type of change do we want to see; what kind of change can I make; what kind of change can I make for myself, for someone else, for my community; what kind of influence can we create in the world?

And I think one of the biggest kinds of things that it questions when it comes to peace, which is how the Priority Box project starts, is that usually we tend to hear about peace summits, presidents talking about peace, leaders, etc. And what it kind of states is that we do not have to wait for any of that in order for any of use to become peacemakers in our everyday life.

K: Would you say that part of the motivation behind starting this is because you were witnessing a lack of peacefulness?

FLM: At the time, 2006 … the Iraq War was in the headlines, it was all we were talking about. So coming from a war torn country, that had an impact on me. So living post-war, what that does to you, and me experiencing it as a child, that kind of of stays with you. So it’s kind of like you always notice conflict, from inner conflict to conflict around you. …

There is definitely a need for peace, and it was an experiment. I wanted to see how people felt about it, and discovered that many people want peace. It doesn’t matter what walk of life you come from, we all want love, we all want peace.

K: The main emotion that started this project was peace, but now you have all these various words on your boxes like “hope,” “love” and happiness… so do you think all these other feelings are a result of peace? Do you think that they’re impossible without peace?

FLM: Absolutely. I mean I think that peace is something that we should strive for, you know, that we should definitely work for. I think that what’s interesting about this question is that people change, or rather interact with, what the gift would be inside these boxes. It became more about the interaction with people and with the art. They began to request these other things. I started out with peace, and I kind of wanted it to remain that. But then people started to say, well, can you send health? Or prosperity for my community?

And you know these symbols … not only make people question, but it also brings people closer to art and it brings art closer to people. And it also makes it special to them.

K: How do you feel about the way our society these days tends to center around violence?

FLM: I think it’s incredible the level of violence and animosity that we’ve escalated to. I think you can’t turn on the news without hearing about some time of conflict, even in schools.

I was watching the news even just the morning, and it was about Internet bullying. It kind of amazing to me that you can be sitting on your computer all alone, and still have the potential to be a victim that is violated in a certain way, in some form. And that says a lot, that says a lot about … our potential to be a community working together, being together, you know?

So, I think this was the perfect vehicle to sort of make people see that. … And everything that these boxes contain kind of question the value of what they represent. So if I send you “Hope,” or if I send you “Humanity” for the future, it’s kind of playing with words, with the work of art saying: the future is in your hands, how much do you value it? What does it mean to you? So it becomes more about the abstract values of war, not necessarily the box itself as a work of art, but a symbol of what future peace, community and love will mean to you

K: Whether or not this was your original intention, would you say that this has all sort of turned into a protest of some sort?

FLM: I wouldn’t say protest. In fact, I do not like the word protest. It’s a great question actually, because people tend to think I am an actor of something specific, or protesting something specific, and it’s not that at all, it’s rather activating people through art. I think that one of the things that art has lost is that sense of like, being in touch with people, you know? Many [artists] perhaps become these exquisite beings that are like, untouchable; you see there work, you hear about them from time to time, and that’s the way art started.

But that is not the way art started. Art is about making contact with people. And this brings art closer to people, and also makes them react in a way that is positive, but in a way that they want to react.

So am I protesting against war? No, I am promoting peace. I am advocating for peace, which is a lot more different. But if my box gets to you, and that makes you an activist, then go protest for war. Then I’ve done something that has been the purpose to active, to inspire something to do something on their own and taking initiative. And like I said, not waiting for those leaders, not waiting for that summit that comes once a year, not waiting for all these things that we wait for in order to take an initiative for peace.

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