When Mondo announced Sonny Day's Mind Intern showcase, it was a given that the show itself would be weird. Sonny is, after all, one half of the delightfully strange Australian duo known as We Buy Your Kids (his lovely wife, Biddy, makes up the other half), and virtually everything the pair's done has been offbeat and unusual. But even for someone like Sonny Day, the Mind Intern showcase sounded bizarre. Here's how Mondo described the show in a press release:
The exhibit centers around the idea of anxiety, and what would happen if it were possible to delegate all the stress and worry in your life to an intern so you could get on with more important things. For this show, Sonny's mind is the gallery and the works presented will illustrate what a Mind Intern has to deal with on a daily basis.
For two days prior to the official reception (Tuesday July 21st & Wednesday July 22nd), the public is invited to visit the gallery from 2pm - 7pm to have Sonny draw their portrait & capture their Mind Intern, like a sketch artist. Additionally, visitors are encouraged to draw Mind Interns of their own (we'll provide the supplies!) to be displayed alongside Sonny's main body of work. Mind Interns drawn by Sonny on the first two days of the exhibit will be available for purchase for $25 at the reception on Thursday, July 23rd.
So...the idea was for people to show up to the show a few days in advance, get a portrait sketched (not of themselves, but of their "mind intern"), and then those portraits would be displayed as part of an actual showcase? And the showcase would also include other, non-sketch pieces from Sonny, in addition to self (mind intern) portraits from visitors? The more one considered the logistics, the more questions were raised.
A few days prior to the show's July 21st opening, Mondo released a video promo that was...well, take a look:
So, yeah, the clip didn't offer much in the way of clarification, but come on: how could anyone watch that and not be intrigued? It was exciting to see Mondo using their gallery space for something so aggressively weird, and doubly exciting because I couldn't quite wrap my head around how Mind Intern was going to function.
Last Wednesday, I drove down to the Mondo Gallery to get Mind Intern'd. Here's what happened.
Inside, the Mondo Gallery's walls were bare. A line had formed before I arrived, so I added my name to Sonny's to-do list and settled in for the wait. Across the main space, Sonny was sitting at a table, quietly talking to a visitor and sketching on an 8x10 sheet of paper. Behind him, the show's logo had been rendered on one of the Gallery's movable walls in string and nails (you can get a better look at it in the header photo up top). The room had the laser-focused, hushed tone of a library.
Eventually, my name was called and I sat down across from Sonny. First thing you notice is, dude's got a presence: calm, gentle, warm, intense.
He began: "What's your greatest source of anxiety? What is stressing you out?"
I explained. As soon as I started talking, Sonny touched pencil to paper and began sketching. A face began to take shape along the right-hand side of the page. As the conversation volleyed back and forth, other elements joined the face: a multi-tiered bridge extending across the page. A small figure on one end, dangling at the edge of a precipice. Below: an island. Above: the world, floating at eye level with the disembodied face (the avatar of my anxiety). When he was finished, it looked like this:
Sonny signed the illustration, titled it ("Scott") along the bottom, shook my hand, and that was that. Before I stood to leave, I pointed at the Mind Intern logo on the wall behind him, the one that'd been assembled with string and nails.
"That's cool," I said.
"Yeah," Sonny replied. "See how it's slowly unraveling? The idea is that the gallery will be my mind, and that - by the time the show wraps - this will have completely unraveled."
It's hard to describe what happened during that 15 minutes. It felt like therapy in that it was highly personal, incredibly frank. It felt like a late-night conversation with a friend, in that Sonny's presence was reassuring, warm, and inviting. It felt surreal, in that I was having this conversation in the center of a nearly-silent art gallery I've spent countless hours standing inside of, and because I could sense the growing line of strangers milling around behind me. It felt a little like a confessional, in that I was immediately comfortable verbalizing serious fears and doubts to an almost-complete stranger (Sonny and I have spoken on several occasions, but "passing internet acquaintances" is about as deep as our relationship goes), and because I felt a sense of relief after doing so. I walked out of the Gallery feeling electrified by what'd just happened. It was sort of amazing.
The following evening, I came back to see how the show's final form. I discovered the Gallery had been divided into two main areas. On one side, the walls featured original art - sketches, posters, paintings, and the like.
And on the other side of a dividing wall: all of the sketches Sonny had completed in the days leading up to the showcase. These were interspersed with original sketches completed by some of the visitors who'd visited during that time (among them: a great Mike Mitchell [mind intern] self-portrait that was just an extended middle-finger reclining in a lawn chair).
It was a little overwhelming, seeing this parade of secret fears and crushing anxieties collected onto the walls. In the middle of one row, I find mine.
I caught up with Sonny briefly during the opening on Thursday night, and asked him if he was happy with how the show turned out.
"Oh, definitely," he said. "It went great. We had way more people show up than expected."
"I heard you had to cap the line last night."
"Yeah, we did." He looked surprised by this development.
I asked, "What was it like, talking to all these people and hearing about their greatest fears and anxieties? How dark did that get?"
"It got pretty dark," he said. "I mean some of these conversations...they got really personal."
"Enough so that you were caught off-guard by what people told you?"
"Oh, yes," he said, nodding. "It was intense."
And, really, that's the best way to describe what Mind Intern was: intense.
This was, without question, the best Mondo Gallery showcase in a very long time, and certainly its most personal. Mondo's tastes have never leaned towards the safe or the vanilla, but this was something else, a bold gamble that might very well not have paid off if things didn't transpire exactly as they expected them to. What if people weren't feeling adventurous, and opted not to show up to have their Mind Interns sketched? What if people hadn't been forthcoming with their innermost anxieties, and Sonny hadn't been given anything interesting to work with ("interesting" is subjective here, but you know what I mean)? What if there hadn't been enough variety to the sketches? What if Sonny had been overwhelmed? What if two straight days of dark confessionals from strangers had, indeed, caused his mind to unravel a little bit? None of that occurred, obviously, but you have to admire the balls that went into planning this show, executing it, and giving it its space.
Bravo to all involved. This one was truly something special.