Roman Grandinetti In Conversation

It’s understood by now that digital technology, for all the distance and disconnect it can create, has generally done just the opposite: bridging societal gaps, reviving and revitalizing analog technology, and—ultimately—fostering a broad worldwide connectedness. Creative agency CNNCTD, and their project CNNCTD+100, might be one of the best contemporary examples of that kind of experience. Together with his partner, Bibi Cornejo-Borthwick, Roman Grandinetti created a list of one hundred New York polymaths and geniuses—among them Cindy Sherman, Yoko Ono, Spike Lee, Santigold, Pharrell Williams, and Paz de la Huerta—and requested they record audio tidbits of their thoughts and their lives on Playbuttons.

When the piece debuted at the New Museum in May 2012, visitors—headphones on and plugged in—could listen to poignant anecdotes, songs, and recipes from the aforementioned superstars. CNNCTD seeks to to connect the included artists in ways that are both unexpected but necessary—it’s important to remember, for example, that Yoko Ono and Paz de la Huerta move within equally inspirational spheres. All art influences all art, an idea that gets the rest of us inspired, too.

Additional Playbuttons found a home in strategically placed Sound Graffiti stations, such as Jason Woodside’s, which accompanies one of his murals. New life was breathed into the project at SCOPE Miami during Art Basel, where a few tablets replaced the one hundred Playbuttons, enabling the project to become more portable. Grandinetti and Borthwick have plans to expand CNNCTD+100 to other cities, Tokyo and Paris among them. We talked to Grandinetti about CNNCTD’s origins, its reception at Basel, and its future.

Monica Uszerowicz: Can you tell me about the background of CNNCTD+? We’ve heard much about it in the context of CNNCTD+100, your project, but I understand it’s a creative agency. When and how did you put it together?

Roman Grandinetti: CNNCTD started few years back as a free lifestyle magazine. When I was working at Universal Music Group, I was able to curate talent such as 50 Cent, Swizz Beatz, Pharoahe Monch, and Mark Ronson, and have them be the faces for the cover. But as I grew, my ideas and visions for what I wanted to do also expanded. The magazine trained me to be creative and taught me how to produce interesting content. That’s where my heart was and therefore that’s how CNNCTD Creative Agency was formed. CNNCTD+100 is an extension of the agency, an exhibition that connects multiple creative disciplines in art, fashion, film, and music. With my music and art background, I wanted to create a platform where talent can express themselves in both forms through one platform. The first exhibition in May 2012 at the New Museum was organically created when I was introduced to a company called Playbutton by my girlfriend, Bibi Cornejo Borthwick’s, father, photographer Mark Borthwick. That’s when I came up with the idea for CNNCTD+100 and Sound Graffiti.

Monica: The CNNCTD+100/Sound Graffiti project is very hands-on and some of it was totally site-specific, on the street. Was this your way of using technology to create something that is actually more hands-on? Usually, technology moves us toward a screen or a button, but the buttons of CNNCTD+100 are actually real-life, in-your-face objects.

Roman: Yeah, everything I do is hands-on. I want to get people out of their seats and onto the street to experience something. The idea is a great interpretation of me—I’m a huge fan of graffiti and music and as every other graffiti lover feels, there are times when you want to know more about the writer or artist. So that was the first thought. Then I wanted to place the artists on the street and give them a chance to express themselves. So I created an app that is still in its infancy. It allows me to place digital objects on the street and take people away from their computers to find content. I did a campaign with Bob Dylan and we made some noise on the streets in 2013. We are looking to keep users really busy.

Monica: When T Magazine wrote about you guys, Bibi said that New Yorkers tend to be competitive and that CNNCTD+ is a way of being collaborative and literally more connected. Why is it important to reach out in this way?

Roman: That’s how CNNCTD started. When we had the magazine, we would give pages away to friends and let them do what they felt was real. We both enjoy the feeling of a team. Things always change and people grow up. But sometimes, growing up, they forget who their friends are, sometimes get jealous or insecure. We are going to continue to build our team and have fun. CNNCTD’s motto is “Creating The Opportunity.” We are a hungry group of individuals that doesn’t take no for an answer and make due with whatever is thrown at us. We know what we want and we are going to make it happen.

Monica: For CNNCTD+100, you pulled together so many types of artists, from all different spheres, and fostered a huge, awesome connection between them. How can the connections you helped make between all these geniuses help inspire the rest of us to be creative?

Roman: You need to take the show in as a whole. I took a bit from my father. We always compared clubs I work in to clubs he used to go to. He would always ask me what records I played the night before or suggest that I should throw this in or that in. I would explain to him how clubs now and very few venues allow you to be that creative. But he would always tell me how it was back in the day. Clubs were filled with all types of people—rich, poor, artists, actors, want-to-be actors, models, and emerging and established designers. That mix is what made up New York. So taking that and the way my generation grew up with access to almost anything on the internet, I wanted to pull from all everywhere. I had a lot of help curating the show, but we all agree that art influences fashion, fashion influences music, travel influences food—that is what inspires me. What drives me are connecting all these people from all over that we highly respect and putting them all next to each other to let our audience see how we think things are CNNCTD.

Monica: CNNCTD+100 came to Miami for the Scope fair during Basel. Can you tell me about moving the project to a new city, partnering with WeSC, the whole process?

Roman: I worked for Scope when I was a bit younger, and had the opportunity to travel and work with the fair in London, Miami, and New York. While working I would always spit out my ideas and chat with Alexis Hubshman, who is the owner of Scope and someone I respect very much. He believed in the show and gave us amazing placement in the fair. Once we knew we were going to Miami we needed to put the puzzle together. WeSC was one of our first choices to collaborate with. The brand represents way more then just headphones. They support our culture, lifestyle and so much more. Once we all got a chance to sit down, the ideas and collaborations just started coming out. We are producing a mural together, going to hit the west coast together in January, and once we get back I have a remix album in the works that will be hitting the streets in 2013 as well.

Monica: As part of that last question: why the use of Nexus Tablets instead of push buttons for the Scope show? Was that just to conserve space?

Roman: No way; we are going for as much space as we can get! We used 100 Nexus 7 tablets at Scope. Our total space was 650 square feet in Miami. Teaming up with Nexus 7 has made the show more accessible and is allowing us to evolve in each city we go to. We created a CNNCTD+100 App, which now makes each tablet a listening station where you can listen to each artist and learn a bit about them. But we will be updating it as we go—we have some interesting things in the works.

Moncia: Tell me about how you’re planning to expand CNNCTD+ to other cities.

Roman: We are going to CES with WeSC early January and are looking to hit L.A. soon after. In February, things get interesting in Europe for fashion week, so we are throwing some ideas around for that. March is New York Art Week, so we are looking forward to showcasing the show in a new way in our hometown. Then we are looking to hit Japan. 2013 is going to be a fun year.

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