Truth feller: Honest artist tries to bridge cultural gaps

The Brooklyn Paper
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The truth is up there.

A new art installation at MetroTech creates a moment of truth every 45 feet. The exhibit, “The Truth Is I See You” features comic book-style word balloons and thought bubbles hanging from light poles around the plaza, each presenting a different “truth” for passers-by to consider. The word balloons, on display until June of 2016, feature phrases like “The truth is I know you,” and “The truth is I love you,” printed in English on one side, and in one of Brooklyn’s 22 most-spoken foreign languages on the other.

The Brooklyn artist behind the project hopes it will lead people to learn about each other’s cultures.

“It’s a great opportunity to learn more about other people’s perspectives and truths,” said Hank Willis Thomas. “It’s a chance to think differently about how you navigate the world around you and understand that multiple truths exist on the same plane.”

A placard under each balloon offers a phonetic transcription, so English speakers can attempt the foreign-language phrase. Thomas hopes the language-spanning truth bubbles inspire people to learn more phrases from other languages.

The truthiness experiment resonates with some MetroTech patrons, especially those who can read both sides of the word balloons. A Polish-born Flatbush resident sitting beneath the English and Polish balloon “The truth is I balance you,” said the artist’s attempt to reach across cultures resonated with him.

“It makes sense,” said Lukasz Grygiel. “I wasn’t born here so I can relate to that.”

Another plaza visitor picked up on the installation’s message from the start, and offered his own thought-provoking truth.

“I figured it was an artist trying to prove a point about culture,” said Michael Lambert. “My message would be that the truth is gray.”

Not everyone in the plaza knew what to make of the bubbles, however.

“I was just trying to figure out what this was about when I sat down,” Charlotte McSweeney said. “I really have no idea,”

The installation also has three other components: two large benches in the shape of word balloons; a “sign tree” with a collection of truth bubbles, and a video recording project called the “Truth Booth.” The inflatable booth (also in shape of a word bubble), invites truth-tellers to step inside and record their own “The truth is…” statement. The booth, part of a multi-year project called “In Search Of The Truth,” has traveled across the United States and to Afghanistan, Ireland, and South Africa, recording more than 5,000 truths along the way. It will stop for only a moment of truth in Brooklyn, however, with appearances on MetroTech Commons on Aug. 4 and Oct. 15, and at Atlantic Terminal Plaza on Sept. 26.

“The Truth is I See You” at MetroTech (MetroTech Center 1, between Jay Street and Flatbush Avenue in Downtown) on display until June 2016. The Truth Booth []. Aug. 4 and Oct. 15 at MetroTech Commons, and Sept. 26 at Atlantic Terminal Plaza, noon–8 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Eric Faynberg at (718) 260–2508 or by e-mail at Follow him on Twitter @ericfaynberg.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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