Steve Lambert has made a name for himself by producing provocative pieces informed by his personal values of dedication, study, poverty, and service to others. He has collaborated with groups from the Yes Men to the Graffiti Research Lab and Greenpeace. His interactive latest work, Capitalism Works For Me! True/False, is scheduled to appear in New York City's Times Square through October 9th. Below is a bit more about what inspired his project.
Starting a conversation about Capitalism is like walking up to a stranger and asking, “Can I talk to you about Jesus?”
The word “capitalism” is a red flag. And for good reason—pretty soon either some dude is talking your ear off about “The System” or aggressively confronting you about taxes. Ugh.
At the same time, capitalism is discussed every day using euphemisms like “jobs,” “job creation,” “the business climate,” and discussing whatever “crisis” is deemed relevant; a housing crisis, financial crisis, social security crisis, tax crisis, or fill- in-the blank crisis. But the whole is rarely a topic of frank discussion—much less alternatives or meaningful reform.
As a culture, we need the vision and boldness it takes to discuss the problem itself. The idea that “there is no alternative” to the way our world works takes away our ability to dream. As citizens we need the courage to begin these discussions on order to move on to new and better visions for the future.
But what to do? Start a conversation about capitalism and friends edge away slowly, and strangers even faster.
This is what art is for. This is what art does well. It creates a space where new ideas and perspectives can be explored. A space unlike any other.
Throughout my artistic career I’ve challenged myself to take on difficult subject matter in ways that are engaging and fun. I’ve found humor and popular culture can open doors to difficult but worthwhile subjects and enable us to envision and move toward new, utopian futures.
The sign started in Cleveland and toured the US leading up to and beyond the 2012 presidential election. People who vote are given the opportunity to have their portrait taken and give a short statement about why they voted the way they did. There will be a book, website, and videos that document people’s interactions and thoughts.
I’m excited that this piece takes on what for most Americans is a taboo, or even nonexistent subject: whether global, hegemonic capitalism actually works for most people. But whew, talking about that is boring! And telling people what to think is worse! This sign gets passers by to participate in deceptively simple vote (True/ False) which only pretends to offer resolution. Every aspect of the interaction draws them in to more complex questions and conversations, leading to new thoughts and ideas about a better world!
For 50 years it has been unacceptable, politically, in the United States to ask what is basically a straightforward question. We have a particular economic system, it’s called capitalism. We have every right as a society to ask of that system, is it working? Is it working for us? Do the benefits and the costs balance themselves out in a way that says, do we want to keep this system? Or that says, we want to change this system? Or that says, we ought to look at an alternative system. We’ve been afraid to ask that question. We’ve been afraid to have public debates—that’s the legacy of the cold war. We can’t afford anymore to not do that. We have to raise the question.
Learn more about Steve's work here.