In Search of the Truth with Jim Ricks

DUBLIN, IE — While in Miami, I was lucky enough to experience the famous “Truth Booth.” The giant inflatable white speech bubble with the word “Truth” printed on the side has been spotted throughout several cities worldwide. The bubble is actually a mobile video booth which individuals are welcomed to enter and record their truth. In a long-term project by Cause Collective artists Jim Ricks, Hank Willis Thomas, and Ryan Alexiev, the team travels the world In Search of the Truth. The discovery so far? There is no one absolute truth.  I got in touch with co-founder Jim,  a California native who became an artist in Ireland, to uncover the truth about this project.

What inspired this search for truth?

This project is interesting in that it is in a constant state of evolution. Its origins were in an earlier sculptural piece which stated, “the truth is I am you” on two large speech bubbles — one in Hebrew, the other in Arabic. Another sculptural iteration of this developed into a larger exploration of language and culture at UCSF in 2008. But it was the challenges in translating the word ‘truth’ into over 20 languages that prompted In Search of the Truth. It was clear that we were touching on something much bigger than what we had originally thought and, importantly, that we needed to develop a way for the public to tell us what the truth was.

truth booth 1

The classic debate: Is truth universal or relative? 
This is interesting because as soon as we began making the video recordings it was clear this was at the heart of the project. It is relative and contextual simply because we all have different experiences and perceptions based on our life, our surroundings, our opportunities. After touring it in Ireland, I was impressed at the differences even on this little island. For example, the truth means something very differently at the Ploughing Championship than in Belfast where it  resonates with the years of conflict and now the peace process. It is also very much universal, as I think the most powerful truths we’ve received are simply the most unfiltered…the most heartfelt. These range in content widely from the near heartbreaking to the absurd. There is a certain intangible “something,”  that connects us, that is apparent in many of the videos, that for me is the universal truth. So, the simple answer is it is both.

From your world tour so far, which city has had the most interesting reaction to the Truth Booth?

For me, it has been Kabul and Capetown. The histories of both these places are very different, but also very complex. What people talked about was hugely educational and enriching. And for that reason I think politically significant and interesting.

What was the critical reception like from the Miami Art Basel crowd?

The popular and critical response was fantastic. It’s a very photogenic piece and, as it is interactive as well, we received a lot of attention. We had queues of people for a week straight and overall huge interest in the project. It was a great opportunity to show off what we’ve done so far to the art world and Miami.

truth booth

Out of all the footage you’ve obtained so far, is there a common truth among most participants?
By far the most common truth we receive is: “The truth is subjective. There is no one truth.” And that’s not saying it’s the best truth.

What types of revelations are people sharing?

Break-ups, silly things, day-to-day concerns, poverty, racism, artistic responses, topless ones, confessions, and just off the cuff in the moment responses. We were actually very impressed at how brave people were. I think we expected a linguistic and philosophical orientation, but instead we got the deeply personal, the confessional, the powerfully moving, and the surreal. Maybe we underestimated people.

With so much social media today, our lives are like open books. Do you think we have become more truthful or just the opposite?

That’s a great question, but I feel like almost impossible to answer. I think there are probably two sides to this. On one hand photography, video, broadcasting is accessible to anyone in the world with a phone and the internet. People, young people especially, are so accustom to being documented now. So they are comfortable in front of the lens or sharing everything but they also have practiced camera friendly poses, answers, and more self-awareness.

How long do you anticipate this project to last?

This is part of this evolution I mentioned. We each have different opinions, but really it comes down to practical matters like opportunities and budgets. Personally, I’d love to see us complete the world tour and disseminate it in the next 2-3 years.

How do you hope this search for truth will impact the world?

Ultimately, this is a complex portrait of humanity. Anthropological and humanist at the same time. It is a great way to move beyond boundaries and borders, these simple manufactured truths we hear and believe everyday. The project is at its strongest when it is giving voice to people who would not otherwise be heard. If we can help break down preconceptions and stereotypes then we are succeeding.

(L-R) Hank Willis Thomas, Jim Ricks, and Ryan Alexiev
(L-R) Hank Willis Thomas, Jim Ricks, and Ryan Alexiev

The truth is…this project is awesome. Learn more about the In Search for Truth project by visiting its website.

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