“I’m really into an idea, and I can translate that idea with any medium.”
Some people have split personalities. Jeffrey Songco has 23. As the mastermind behind the Society of 23, a fictional secret brotherhood, he turned a fascination with organizations like Yale’s Skull and Bones into a five-year-long, multifaceted art project about the social construction of personal identity.
“I’m really into an idea, and I can translate that idea with any medium,” says Jeffrey of his concept-driven, interdisciplinary approach, which is right at home in SFAI’s New Genres department. With a background in musical theater and dance, Jeffrey’s work is grounded in performance—he embodies each society brother in scenarios like hazing rituals and attending a party—but his practice also includes installation, sculpture, drawing, photography, video, web design, writing, curation, and unapologetic provocation.
“A lot of my work deals with humor and poking fun and mocking the establishment,” explains Jeffrey. In early 2011, he organized two group shows in SFAI’s galleries: The Society of 23 Prize and The Society of 23 Biennial, modeled after prestigious art-world events like the Turner Prize and Whitney Biennial, and promising artists “a sudden burst of public fame and projected career longevity.” For the MFA Graduate Exhibition, he shifted his interest in group dynamics toward hate groups like the KKK and Westboro Baptist Church, but still delivered work with a wink. People protested the exhibition with signs reading “God Hates Art” and “Artists Ruin Nations”; a wall piece declaring “Nice Body, Bro” was made of glitter-encrusted communion wafers; and a rainbow-striped hooded outfit bore the title “GayGayGay.”
As for the group dynamics of SFAI, “The community is amazing,” says Jeffrey. “If I just wanted to make my art, I could have stayed in my own studio back on the east coast and made my artwork in isolation. But coming to school, I was engaged with critical texts, and got to hear professors and my peers engage that text with me. Outside of school, when you go out to the gallery system, everyone went to our school, everyone is my classmate. It’s a really nice feeling.”
Visit Jeffrey’s website: http://www.songco.org
Read about Jeffrey’s art school experience on the Art 21 blog