Ivan Cash on human-centric projects: I am utterly fascinated by people and reality and human stories

Advertising, People

Ivan Cash is an interactive artist & filmmaker who runs a San Francisco-based creative studio and consultancy specialized in human-centric projects, both art and commercial. Cash is the founder of Snail Mail My Email project, that turned emails in handwritten letters, and he was also recognized with an Art Directors Club Young Gun

According to ADC’s description, Ivan is a  new media artist and designer that creates socially-engaged projects and believes in creativity’s power to help make the world more personal and human. He developed his career in advertising while living in Cape Town, New York, San Francisco, and Amsterdam.

Ivan shared with AdHugger some of his ideas on creativity, projects focusing on humans and advertising in the following interview.

Ivan Cash. Source: ADC Young Guns
Ivan Cash. Source: ADC Young Guns

AdHugger: Why do you prefer human-centric projects?

Ivan Cash: I am utterly fascinated by people and reality and human stories of life, love, loss, gain, pain, & pleasure. I am naturally drawn to the ordinarily universal elements that connect us all. We are social beings and therefore human connection is the most important thing in the world and so my work often deals with this. Think about your day today. Your childhood. The last time you got really angry. Or really sad. Or euphorically happy. I bet all of these experiences in some way involved other people. And so any art or creative project that can point to this or facilitate or invent new ways of human interaction is interesting to me. And so this is what I strive for in my work.

AdH: Creativity can make the world a better place – true or false? Why? 

I.C.: Neither true nor false. I believe creativity can make the world a better place, however it can also make the world a worse place. For instance, 9/11 was an incredibly creative act of terrorism. Fortunately, I think the good outweighs the bad and it generally feels good to do good. Creativity is just thinking about something in a new or different way and then doing it and so my intention, both in my work and in my role as an educator, is to inspire positive acts of change by helping people think critically.

I want to help create a world that feels more inclusive, intimate, connected. I was lonely as a kid, I didn’t have many close friends, and I remember feeling really inspired by artists like Banksy who broke rules and spoke what was true for him and somehow his work made me feel less alone and like there were other people out there who felt things as intensely as me. So in a way, my art is just hoping to inspire people, or help them feel less alone, more connected. And I think that makes the world a better place.

Ivan Cash. Source: Cashstudios.co
Ivan Cash. Source: Cashstudios.co

AdH: You dared people all over the world to write letters instead of emails and they answered. What did you expect from Snail Mail My Email? Were the reactions beyond your expectations? What’s the plan for this year’s November edition?

I.C.: I had no expectations from Snail Mail My Email at the beginning. It was just me turning other people’s emails into handwritten letters. Then the wave came, lots of press and 1,000 email letter requests in one day! I had to temporarily shut the project down, and had no idea how to proceed. Luckily, the internet answered and 234 volunteers to be exact helped write over 10,000 letters over a 30 day span.

Letters were sent to 70 countries on all continents and the volunteers paid for all of the postage. It’s surreal to think back on how this happened. I was grieving from a bad breakup at the time and somehow I believe the energy and sensitivity I received from that allowed me to help infuse the project to take on a life of its own. Anyway, it’s now a book which is pretty cool (available on Amazon.com).

The project continues for one week in November every year where the volunteers come back together and hand write and mail anyone’s email request. It’s a pretty amazing (free) service, all in the name of art. And the feedback from volunteers has been incredible. They truly love writing strangers’ letters. Quite bizarre but also quite cool. You can stay in touch through Facebook.

AdH: What kind of projects do you like to work on?

I.C.: My work is constantly evolving and shifting shape and form and genre and I prefer it this way. I have a difficult time with the question, “What do you do?” because it assumes someone has this thing that they do over and over again that defines them. When in fact people are multi-faceted and constantly changing all the time. Sorry, tangent….

Recently I’ve been getting really into film. Specifically documentaries, particularly those that cut across mediums and genres. Sherman’s March by Ross McElee, The Up Series, Everybody Street, the Before Sunrise series by Richard Linklater. So my work has gone more in this direction. I’ve been enjoying how powerful film as a medium is to both capture and share a story. It’s like a drug. You can really hit people’s emotions if you do it right. So my ongoing video series “Last Photo” has been fun to work on. I ask strangers in different cities to share the last photo on their phone and a backstory. I love making a statement about technology and connection in this way.  I’ll be continuing this project in Miami next week!

Last Photo – New York from Ivan Cash on Vimeo.

AdH: What do you think advertising today needs the most? How do you think it will evolve in the next period?

I.C.: I think advertising today needs to have radical honesty and to treat people with respect. I think the term “consumer” is insulting, boiling people down to nothing more than buying machines. The old gimmicks aren’t working, people are getting smarter. Whereas if you can just make work that’s cool and artful and inspiring in and of itself. Or work that is just honest, I think that’s the winning formula. This Pringles banner (all the way back from 2009!!!) is a perfect example. Fortunately, social media and increased transparency—whether a brand wants it or not—is organically leading to work that is real and genuine.

Ivan Cash
Ivan Cash