Voyeur Designs

Blurring the lines between design and art, Voyeur Designs has transformed empty storefronts of retail environments into focal points for the spaces they inhabit. When the duo co-founders Gina Somebody and Lucas Young first begin their installations, eyes slowly start to gather around the windows to peer in on the exponentially growing spectacle that Voyeur Designs is creating. By the end of the installation, the Atlanta-based collaborative has drawn in crowds to marvel at their artistic feat and images of their work have been splashed across all social media accounts. BANG! wanted to know more about the duo behind it all, and luckily for us they answered some questions for this week's Q&A.

BANG! What spurred the creation of Voyeur Designs?

Voyeur Designs We really wanted to make something out of VHS tapes. We started seeing them everywhere and thought, "There has to be something we can do with these!" So we started taking some apart. Violently, at first, but quickly realized the strong-armed craftsmanship of 1980s electronics. And that broken plastic is really sharp. So we calmed down, grabbed some band-aids and tried a careful approach. There were so many pieces inside! The amount of time and detail that went into these obsolete hunks of plastic was really interesting to us and we wanted to visually tell that story. So we started playing around with different ideas and submitted a concept to build an installation on-site. We were selected to do a piece in Midtown's Viewpoint building for Urban Fronts Atlanta; a pop-up style show by AIA Atlanta which used vacant storefronts along Peachtree as temporary gallery space. What we thought was going to be a 10' x 10' window, wound up being on the corner with two 10' x 30' windows! So we had to get A LOT more tapes and completely rethink our design. We ended up with 375 tapes--all taken apart; all the cogs, springs and tiny plastic pieces removed and separated in bins; and miles of film removed from the cogs.


As we began to install, a couple people looked in. But as the piece started to take shape, more and more people started pressing their faces to the glass. Some were even taking pictures! Then a friend sent us an Instagram one of his friends had posted of our piece. This is when we realized how much attention our sculpture could potentially bring. And not just for us, but also for the Viewpoint building. Again, we thought, "There has to be something we can do with this!" We did some research into developments like Viewpoint, and realized that installation art could be a valuable branding tool for these kinds of properties. We just needed to figure out who made those decisions and within what companies. Then we ran into our friend, Chris Schwartz, who's very active in the Atlanta startup community. He mentioned a class being taught at Georgia Tech called Startup Weekend Next which focused on customer development for new businesses. When we signed up we didn't realize that the class was primarily for technology startups, so we were a little overwhelmed. But we eventually got our bearings and got to work. We met some incredible people and gained an excellent friend and mentor, Ed Rieker, who taught the class. Startup Weekend Next was exactly the ass-kicking we needed. It led us to our first client--Ward Williams, Sr. Property Manager at Regency Centers. We're very excited to be working with him on two big projects coming up in October.

BANG! You mentioned that the size of your space was changed at the Viewpoint building. What are some other unforeseen challenges you have run into while developing an installation?

Voyeur Designs We learned a lot from our first project! For the spring window at Kaboodle, we suspended 5,000 paper circles from fishing line. Going in, we thought we had everything planned out perfectly. Then the electric staple gun didn't work; the glue didn't dry; and it was impossible to keep all the string from tangling. So we stapled everything by hand; switched glue sticks; and used clothes pins to keep everything straight. We stayed there all night trying to make up the time, and could barely move the next day. But we got it done. Which gave us our mantra, "Just keep swimming...Just keep swimming..."

BANG! As artists, what was it like taking a class geared towards technology startups? How has that influenced your business strategy?

Voyeur Designs It was really difficult at first. Going in to the class, we did have a business plan. And we thought that plan was really good. But after the first session, we realized we were in over our heads. As we began to dig in, we found it difficult to change our perspective. We had been thinking about Voyeur Designs as this super awesome way to create super awesome art, and we would magically be able to support ourselves because what we were doing was so super awesome. Now we have a PRODUCT that we provide to different CUSTOMER SEGMENTS with different VALUE PROPOSITIONS in different MARKETS. And our goal is to find a MINIMUM VIABLE PRODUCT with the strongest possible PRODUCT/MARKET FIT. "I'm sorry?!?" It took us a while, but we eventually did our first business model canvas. Pretty poorly, but we did it. And every week we stood up and shared our findings with the class.

And every week they shot holes in everything we thought we had figured out. And every week we left feeling overwhelmed and out of our league. But we stuck with it, and came out a much stronger team with a clear objective and defined strategy. Not to mention the amazing contacts we never would have made had we not pushed ourselves past our comfort zone.

BANG! It sounds like Ed Rieker was pretty influential for you guys. Do you still keep in touch?

Voyeur Designs Ed has helped us in more ways than he knows. He has proven to be an invaluable mentor and friend, and is one of the most interesting people we've met. And busiest! He's a mayor, local startup luminary, arts advocate, teacher, husband, father, mentor...and that's just what we know. But yes, somehow how he works in the time to regularly check in and have lunch with us.

BANG! What goes on in the initial meeting with a client? How do you balance their marketing needs with your artistic style?

Voyeur Designs It's very important that we provide a real value to our client and maintain artistic integrity.

We make art, not advertisements. And we're lucky to have clients that understand and encourage that. Our clients know the art speaks for itself, and while we could make 3D versions of a "for lease" sign, they know there's more value in keeping it high-brow.

Initially, we get a feel for the size and scope of the space, then start sketching and pulling images that inspire us. We then come up with a few ideas to take back to the client. After presenting those and getting their feedback, we plug everything into Vectorworks and further develop two or three into estimates. Then it's the client's choice. This collaboration allows us to work with the client in developing a tailored installation that fits their aesthetic, but also gives us the freedom to incorporate our style and process.

BANG! What kind of creative process goes on between the two of you? How does the development play out?


Voyeur Designs It really changes with each piece. We have a fairly clear-cut process when it comes to how we deal with a client, but the creative side can be inspired by a variety of things. For the sculpture at C4 Atlanta's Fuse Arts Center, we had thousands of wooden slats and an enormous area to cover. We tried everything. We drilled holes and tied them together so they warped. We soaked them in the tub to twist them even more. We glued, taped, tied and drilled together all sorts of designs and eventually came up with a strong concept that we further developed on-site. For one of our up-coming projects we're using string. We've been wanting to do a large-scale 3D string drawing and were recently given access to what we think is the perfect space. So, again, we sat down and played with the material. Now we have 25,000 feet of fluorescent mason line which we plan to string across 300 sq ft of space and light under black lights. There were creative, functional and external factors that influenced our decisions and will continue to do so throughout the process. For example, there are parking spaces along the front of the location and an awning that goes across the building's facade--so there's a relatively small amount of storefront you can see if you're any distance away. We knew it needed to draw enough attention from afar that people would feel compelled to walk over. So we decided to use fluorescent mason line and black lights to make the whole thing glow. Or at least we hope so. Stay tuned to see if we succeed.


BANG! Why is Voyeur Designs focused on empty storefronts within retail developments? What is it about these locations that attract the two of you?

Voyeur Designs We both grew up in very small, rural areas where public art doesn't exist. We find it very inspiring and always wanted to do work in high-traffic areas. Typically, public art is funded by grants from various nonprofits and placed in spaces owned by the public sector. But what's more public than empty storefronts that thousands of people pass every day? And if an installation done for the private sector can benefit the public, while providing a value for the developer-- then why not? We love it when a piece of art is displayed in a commercial location. There is no build-up to it; no surrounding pieces to suggest any theme; no background information about the artist; and no description. It's like a rogue onion ring buried in your french fries. "Not sure how you got there--but hell yeah!" We also like that it's temporary. A piece of art's relevance to society is always temporary, regardless of its structure. We find it very inspiring to create something temporary and public that helps local business and provides passersby an unexpected opportunity to experience art.

BANG! Where does Voyeur Designs see itself in the future?

Voyeur Designs Through this whole process we've discovered a very hard line that seems to exist between the worlds of business and art. A lot of artists hate the idea of art as a product, and perceive the commercial world as incapable of appreciating their work. But, for us, this has not been the case. We have been very well received and even surprised by the artistic freedom our clients have given us--sometimes before they even knew us. Ward Williams is a great example--he has been encouraging, understanding and generous. Tons of opportunities exist in the business world for artists to do their work without compromise. We've learned a lot from Jessica and Joe at C4 Atlanta and greatly appreciate their effort to bridge the gap between art and business. We would eventually like to collaborate with other artists to do large-scale installations for all sorts of businesses. There's already a lot of retail space with more being built everywhere. If we continue to grow like we have, we're going to need help!

For inquiries, some good old fashioned gawking or a bit of familiarization, visit Voyeur Design's wonderful website here.

-Miles Jenson