Marc Horowitz walked into Vieta Coffee, a little cafe just a stone’s throw away from the Graduate Fine Arts Building on the corner of 30th and Flower streets. It’s the place where he spends most of his time these days.
Horowitz, 34, greeted the barista by name and they discussed the Back to the Future trilogy, which the first-year MFA student in the Roski School of Fine Arts had recently recommended to his coffee buddy.
But beginning this week, the roles were reversed. The shaggy-haired Horowitz is now on the receiving end of all such advice as he embarks on a month-long quest called “The Advice of Strangers.”
Every day for the month of November, Horowitz will post his decisions — both meaningful and mundane — on the Internet and allow people to vote on what they’d like to see him do.
It certainly isn’t your traditional art project — there’s no paint, no sculpture and no sketchbook. Although he considers his work social practice or media art, he is hesitant to label himself an artist.
“Sometimes I say I’m an artist. Sometimes I say I’m a comedian. Sometimes I say I’m an entertainer. Sometimes I say I’m a businessman or sometimes I say I’m just a dude,” Horowitz said. “I have many answers.”
A cameraman will document the winning decisions and post clips of Horowitz’s experiences at www.theadviceofstrangers.com so that voters can see the outcome of their input.
For each decision, Horowitz creates several potential multiple-choice options but also encourages users to make suggestions. He says he will ignore posts from so-called Internet “trolls” who make lewd and offensive comments on these sites to get a rise out of other users.
But that doesn’t mean he isn’t willing to venture outside of his comfort zone during this experience, which he compares to snowboarding.
“You do a jump or you might do a grab and land it and just keep going,” Horowitz said. “But if there’s a camera on you, you’re going to want to go big. You’re going to want to show everybody that you can do the best thing you can do. I have all these people potentially that are investing themselves in helping me or not helping me so I want to ask them pretty big issues that I’ve been wondering for a long time and just clear my closet — just clear everything out and be like, ‘Here’s what I want to deal with, what do you think?’”
So far, decisions he has left in the hands of his anonymous Internet followers are the possible discussion topics to address during an appointment with his shrink and what he should do with his facial hair.
He recently posted a “big question” in which he asked users if he should: a) find his best friend from grade school; b) visit his father’s grave; c) write, produce, direct and cast a play or d) meet as many of his Facebook friends as possible.
But the project is not Horowitz’s first social experiment of this kind. Many of his past efforts involved what he calls “meaningful interactions with complete strangers around an absurd principle.”
When he worked as an assistant on a Crate & Barrel catalogue photo shoot in 2005, he put his name and cell phone number on a dry erase board in one of the spreads. He received an estimated 30,000 calls in the span of a few months, less than 50 of which he said were prank calls.
He later bought an RV and drove across the country to meet with about 150 of these strangers for dinner dates.
Projects like this have led fellow first-year MFA student Chris Coy to call Horowitz “the fun uncle that you want to hang out with.”
“I get enjoyment out of Marc’s putting himself out there, which is why I think his projects tend to be more popular — because people are wanting to have some kind of experience but are too trepidacious themselves to go out and do it fully,” Coy said. “They need somebody to model that behavior. Here’s a guy who’s willing to go out and do that.”
In 2008, Horowitz traced his signature on a map of the United States and made stops in various towns to make “improvements.” In Nampa, Idaho he established an anonymous semi-nudist colony. In Craig, Colo. he helped residents literally bury their problems by digging a hole in the ground and filling it with all of their baggage.
Unlike some of his family members, Horowitz’s mother, Karen Meyer, has always supported the less-than-traditional life path her son has decided to take. He graduated with a degree in business, marketing and microeconomics from Indiana University but quickly abandoned that to pursue his desires to interact with the community, engage in a variety of social situations and explore less passive modes of social networking.
“Growing up, he always wanted to have friends over,” Meyer said. “He was very loquacious and would get into trouble at school for talking too much in the classroom. He was very outgoing. I think he put himself out there and made friends and all these other things, so I can see why he’s doing this now.”
As Horowitz sipped his iced coffee and smoked an American Spirit cigarette, he discussed plans for someday launching a new social networking site based at least partly on his experiment.
“[Facebook and Twitter] have made it easier to connect with people at great distances, but it is limiting because they make us less capable of connecting with people that are close by,” he said. “That to me is the No. 1 thing of the project. No one’s really present anymore, I want to change the rules of engagement.”