Today MTV unveiled a unique street art display in downtown New York City to celebrate the debut of its new fantasy drama The Shannara Chronicles!
The eye-popping, rustically decaying display stands among the pedestrians of the city, waiting to be taken in and engaged with. Like the show it stands to promote, the display is a blend of fantasy and realism, acting as a subtle homage to the infamous New York City Christmas tree lots.
Hypable was lucky enough to talk with renowned 3D-sculpture artist Kevin O’Callaghan, who designed the piece, as well as the Senior VP of Creative at MTV Joe Ortiz to discuss how they put the street art together and where the inspiration came from.
Can you start off by telling us a little bit about how the project came to be? When MTV came to you and what were they looking to do?
Well I guess it started about 20 something years ago when I first started working with the creative team at MTV. I worked on a lot of iconic events with them in the past — The VMAs, The Movie Awards — I actually designed the Movie Award itself. But they approached me because of one event that we did many years ago called Moonlighting, but we took the MTV Moon Man and we kind of reinvented the Moon Man. And it was a major event with all of these sculptural pieces and somebody had seen that and they just kind of connected that with, you know, what we’re doing now.
The call came from Jim Debarious, somebody that I’ve worked with many many times on a lot of incredible projects and he really was the catalyst in this whole thing. He really understood what it should look like, he understood the direction of it, he’s been wonderful with this whole thing. I can’t thank him enough. […] The collaboration with him is something that I’ve always really, really looked forward to.
[So] they thought that I would be a good person, the right person, to get involved with this. They called me up and said come on in, we want to do a stunt. We want to do something to promote Shannara, which I had no idea what Shannara was quite honestly. Then of course I went and I read the books and got totally into it. Really, really into it. Amazing, amazing collection of books. And we came up with this pitch. We came up with several ideas, in fact. And the funny thing was that this idea was the first idea I thought of. I actually thought of it in the cab leaving the initial meeting, which was last summer, so it’s funny how sometimes your first idea is your best idea.
What did you use to personally connect to Shannara and infuse it with your own style?
Well the big connection that I saw was that so much of my work has involved the reuse of items. The reuse of things. I’ve done some very big exhibitions where we’ve taken everything from old Ugo automobiles and gave them a new life other than the one they were intended to have. And over the years it’s just kind of been my style, which is reuse. And in Shannara, they use the objects from our time. They actually take old artifacts from our period and they reuse them. They use them for storage, they use them for different things, so it kind of makes sense. But, I mean, I really thought it was a perfect marriage of what I’ve been about for 35 years and what Shannara is about.
We understand that you’re playing off the magical “Ellcrys Tree” element, but can you tell us a little bit about some of the post-apocalyptic artifacts and why you wanted to include them?
We kind of focused on using New York City artifacts, things that you’d see on the street in the city. Since the promo was going to be in Manhattan, it was more fun to do objects that would almost feel like they had always been there. You know they’ve just been sitting on that corner or they’ve been sitting in the street for all of these years. And what made this an amazing thing to work on is, you know, it’s not as easy as you think taking an object and making it look like it’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years old. Because there’s this fine line between… The reality is that something that’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years old might not even exist anymore. It would disappear. It would become part of the earth. So you take a little artistic license where the object is still there, but you have to imagine what nature would do to it. What the earth would to it.
So I think what we did was, which made this really a fun project, is we had to really think about what a vine would do over hundreds and hundreds of years. What a tree would do growing up through something, you know? What moss would do, what mushrooms would do… And make something that’s aesthetically gorgeous, beautiful. Because nature is beautiful, and these objects are beautiful objects, so the combination of the two should be nothing less than amazing and fantastic. That was the challenge we had. Because there were moments where we were doing this, as you sit back and you say, well you know what this could be? More beautiful. So we pushed it. We discovered new types of natural elements that we incorporated into it. A different type of moss, a different kind of plants, and we combined everything.
One of my favorite things is the newsstand. The New York City newsstand. Because we kind of did a little bit of an old school newsstand, which still exists in parts of Manhattan, in parts of the city. The older newsstands were aesthetically a little more interesting, so we wanted that interesting shape. And then we decided, we took a little artistic license and we left the things in the newsstand.
The reality is, years and years from now, the things on the newsstand would probably disintegrate into the air — maybe not — I mean, who knows? Who knows what survives, as far as materials, from our world? Plastic bottles — we hear it all of the time, you know? Glass only lasts 500 years — you hear all of these things, right? So if the plastic bottle is in the newsstand — so is this. It’s a nice statement unto itself. But it’s covered with moss, and it’s covered with all kinds of natural patinas. And when you look at the newsstand, all of the things are there, but they’re covered with this wonderful natural patina. So the shapes are there.
I think people are going to walk up to it and they’re going to go, “Look at that. Look, there’s a bottle. Look at that, there’s a lotto card.” Things like that. So even though they’re not really in your face and identifiable, we all relate to those shapes and I think that people are going to have fun. It’s going to be a little bit of a game to look at this and discover. And that’s what we’re trying to do! I didn’t want to do anything that was a quick read. I wanted to things things where people would look at it, and once again discover something new every time they looked at it. And I think if you went back to this newsstand, four times you’d see something different each time. Which excites me.
We also did a motorcycle. We did a Harley-Davidson. And I chose to do a Harley-Davidson because the shape of it is so beautiful. Picture a Harley-Davidson that is all monochromatic because it’s covered with nature. This monochromatic rust is in there to ground the whole thing. It’s actually — I think it’s more beautiful than a chromed Harley-Davidson. And everybody that has seen it in person has said to me, “God if I saw that driving down the street I’d be blown away.” So it’s funny how, by going back to nature, something becomes even more beautiful. Because really, nature is more beautiful than anything we can make.
It’s well documented that you have a strong connection to the School of Visual Arts. Since MTV is geared toward a younger audience, do you ask your students for input or feedback when you’re working on these types of projects?
That’s actually a great question. Nobody’s ever asked me that before. First of all I’ve been with the School of Visual Arts for 30 years. I just celebrated my 30th year there. I’m the chairman of the 3D-Design Department. And of course! I mean, the way I’ve always taught my classes is kind of a real world type of an education. Where I go in and I talk to them about the pluses and minuses, the things that go good and the things that go wrong in the real world. And I always like to get them involved. I always like to mention to them what I’m doing, tell them what the project is about, and it really gets them excited. It’s kind of what the School of Visual Arts is about in general. Because what makes the School of Visual Arts different is that all of the professors work in their chosen fields. So they’re not just professors, they’re people that are out there and they’re going from projects and meetings to the classroom sometimes in the same day. So you know, you walk into a classroom sometimes and you were just at a terrible meeting or you were just at a great meeting with a client. And it’s always great to share that with the students and let them have a taste of what the real world is about.
You’ve partnered with MTV before, and many different networks in fact, but what is it about working with this network in particular that you enjoy so much?
Well, you know, I’ve been working with MTV since the ’80s and really it’s never changed. They’re always edgy, they always think out of the box, they have a good time doing what they do. It’s always fun. They give the people that they get involved artistic license to do what they’re about, what their thing is. And they make good work. It’s just a great, great network. I ran to the meeting when they called me. I was so, so excited to always get involved with them. They’re a whole different breed.
And what are you hoping people take away after seeing the display in New York this weekend?
Well, first of all I want them to walk away going, “Wow!” I mean, the wow factor is always big in what I do. But I think I really want them to walk away thinking to themselves, “Look at the effort that MTV has gone to promote this show. So based on the effort of what this promotion is, this must be some show. This must be something that they’re really pushing to the highest of levels, the highest of craft.” And it really is! When you look at the promo for Shannara, and I’ve seen several promos for the show, it is just amazing. The craft, the quality, the filming… After seeing the promo, it put me in the position of having to do the very best work I can do. And I think that’s what we did. So I’m hoping that people walk away seeing what we did and it’s a direct reflection of the quality and craft that MTV has put into The Shannara Chronicles.