GPA6.9 on photographing life’s absurdities
“Overachievers in art and life just push and push on a shitty idea hoping it will eventually make 1% of sense or until they’ve made enough pieces to fill out a nine grid on social media.”
GPA6.9 is a pop culture brand established by Jae Who and John Spinnenweber. The brand’s artistic approach is focused in photography but utilizes other mixed mediums to articulate its provocative messages.
The common theme in the first series is an absurdist perspective on society’s vices.
The work opens up a dialogue about how contemporary life is filled with oxymorons. It pokes fun at modern society’s materialistic tendencies and how seriously people take themselves. This is brought to life in the humorous way the images are conceptually constructed, contrasted with a retro high-end fashion photography style. Exemplified by pieces such as the pouring of Chanel №5 perfume into a whiskey tumbler, or the smoking of a french fry like a Marlboro cigarette, each image may be interpreted differently based on the viewer’s perspective of the current world.
I loved your #Legend interview on how the name “GPA6.9” pokes fun at overachievers who are “doing things for all the wrong reasons.” What might the *right* reasons be — in other words, if one is to overachieve, what are worthier causes for its pursuit?
Overachievers in art and life just push and push on a shitty idea hoping it will eventually make 1% of sense or until they’ve made enough pieces to fill out a nine grid on social media. They are way too focused on obtaining “art fame” via flexing their mediocre artistic skills and they give up on their artistic pursuit the moment after they’ve made three of something. But they’ve just got it all wrong. It’s really all about making things that are selfless. I have seen artists and art directors over and over again create things that are all about themselves and guess what, no one cares. Sure it’s okay to sprinkle in a bit of “you” but the art’s main subject or muse shouldn’t be you if you want to create something that is lasting, that resonates with everyone.
It’s really all about making things that are selfless.
When you dive into a new passion project, take the time to feel it out and get experimental. Try the things that you normally would never get permission to do. Ask yourself these questions: Is this going to resonate with everyone? Is this going to make people laugh or smile or look at something in a new way? Is this a fresh take? Is it weird enough? Is the work making people feel a little bit uncomfortable? If not why the f*ck are you doing it? Of course, you have to find some pleasure in making it too.
For example, I love building miniature things and John loves hoarding random tchotchkes, so we incorporate that into our artwork. But you shouldn’t just be creating something if your objective is to add a new piece to your portfolio or to impress the world with your mad skills. The world can really feel it when you are forcing something, especially when it comes to conceptual art or a brand’s tone.
Tell me about the colorway of your brand aesthetic. What do you want it to evoke? What does it mean to you?
The colors are loud, just like the concepts. John Spinnenweber and I didn’t want the art to whisper soft spoken opinions about strong topics. We want to make people feel uncomfortable. And the bold colorway does that. The colors are purposefully a bit off. They are skewed toward a vintage advertising aesthetic, which enhances the contrast between the traditional depiction of fake perfection and realistic modern topics.
We chose three colors because we wanted to establish a strong brand identity early on so that whenever you see those colors you know before you even have a chance to read the logo that it’s a GPA6.9 print.
That being said, after creating approximately 80 different conceptual prints against our red, yellow and blue we decided, in some unique circumstances, to bring in a new color for a limited time if it enhanced the concept. For example John and I used a green seamless on our GPA 4.20 image of the biblical blunts because it not so subtly hinted at the weed holiday we were referencing.
So you both work in advertising, which means you’re probably constantly working under others’ creative pressures. How do you stay focused on your own art? How do you manage burnout?
Just for the record, John and I love all of our advertising clients and the crazy campaigns that we get to create for them. But yes, GPA6.9 is the number one way we manage burnout. Unfortunately in advertising you get a lot of NOs. From the clients, from your account team, and from your Creative Directors. And that’s fine. That helps make you think harder, faster and smarter. But so many stupidly funny ideas fall through the cracks because the industry is just way too scared right now to say anything at all about any topic. So having a brand like GPA6.9, where anything we come up with is a YES is really freeing. John and I can decide if we want to dive harder into the artistry and details on a piece like the “Last Supper” or if we want to focus on hitting you over the head with a simple metaphor like “Fate.”
But so many stupidly funny ideas fall through the cracks because the industry is just way too scared right now to say anything at all about any topic.
What’s the most unexpected way somebody has interpreted or engaged with your art?
Well someone stole a ski mask and a dildo from one of our group expos. I still get pissed thinking about that.
What’s the most bizarre place you’ve found a ‘69’ in the wild?
We have definitely found some weird ones, like John’s ID is riddled with 69s . But we still think there are some good ones hiding out there in the wild, like finding a 69 tattoo on a butt cheek or winning the lottery with a 69. Oh yeah, and there was that one time when someone DM’d us an image of two people performing a 69, that was pretty bizarre.
What are some of the challenges of creative collaboration? What are some of the joys?
Sometimes we sit on a nugget of an idea for a day or two and then one of us will pick it up, dust it off, and sprinkle some 69 magic on it.
[A] good example would be “Rocket Ship.” John loves LEGOs and since he’s a hoarder, obviously he has giant boxes of LEGO bricks laying around. One day he was just like, “I want to build a penis out of LEGOs.” He thought it was a hilarious idea and I thought it was f*cking stupid. Obviously with no real idea to it, the thought kinda drifted to the back of our minds.
But then a few days later I started thinking about it. Although it was stupid, there was something kinda funny to it. Imagine going into the store and seeing a box of LEGOs you could purchase on the shelf that was shaped like a dildo. And technically there are extra bricks in the box so it could be enhanced to whatever size you wanted.
John and I kinda played hot potato with the idea for another day and he said that it should be made out of all yellow blocks because then it would be gender neutral and in the classic LEGO colors. I thought it would be funny if the box set read Rocket Ship on the front and then the rest of the label pretty much wrote itself.
The real joy was not only in the collaboration of the print but the overwhelming reaction we got on social media when we posted it. To this day Rocket Ship is one of our most shared images. Fun fact, one of the followers who shared the image actually works at LEGO HQ. We quickly replied to him asking him not to sue and his response was “of course not.”
As for a challenge about working with John […] we are both perfectionists and our humor is different. Oh yeah, and creative disagreements can turn into shouting matches. Imagine shouting back and forth passionately about which way a dildo should be fastened to a construction hard hat or describing the correct, most natural way a hand should apply lipstick to toast. But I’d rather work with someone who challenges my perspective in order to elevate the work naturally, than […] work alone and make mediocre work. I am very fortunate to be able to work with someone who’s equally as passionate about GPA6.9 as I am.
Do you have anything personal you’d like to share with the community?
I’ve got three.
First, John and I originally never wanted to have our art and the GPA6.9 brand follow a calendar. The world doesn’t need any more topical commentary about international burger day or cyber monday, but rather important current events. For example, our most recent post “Blind Date” focuses on the issues surrounding love and romance after the COVID-19 pandemic. Not all of our new work will focus on current events but we definitely want to be a part of the right conversations this year — only if we are adding an interesting visual opinion. And it seems like 2020 has plenty of crazy events to continue inspiring our voice.
Not all of our new work will focus on current events but we definitely want to be a part of the right conversations this year — only if we are adding an interesting visual opinion.
Second, being an Asian woman, an art director in advertising and an artist in the United States at the current moment in time is very tough but all of that offers me a very unique perspective on all the things I see happening to this country. My perspective mixed with John’s gives our work an interesting cultural flavor. And I hope that we can work on bringing in more visuals that resonate with not only Americans but also Hong Kong citizens.
Lastly, I’d love to hold an art show in Hong Kong someday in Wan Chai to give back to the community that raised me. Unfortunately Hong Kong never had the strongest art scene and only recently [has] it started to pop up in locations like Wan Chai. If you are ever in Wan Chai, stop by my friend Ernest’s gallery, The Stallery.
What was the first thing you were ever full-on, fired-up, passionate about?
My first passion project would have been attempting to turn my bedroom back home into an Avril Lavigne music video set. Mad cringe. I basically printed random MySpace level posters and plastered them over all four walls. I also drew anarchy signs everywhere. Why? Because #SK8ERBOI.
But for real, other than being an aspiring Avril set designer, I’d say GPA 6.9 is the very first side project that I am full-on 110% dedicated to. I’ve spent more than a year on it so far. I have really spent time thinking through everything from the launch logistics, to building out the brand guidelines, and then evolving it from illustration to photography with John as a new creative partner. We’ve implemented our tone on social. We’ve been fortunate enough to get written up a few times online. Then we were invited to be a part of French Fries Group Expo. And then we got chosen by a New York Times art curator for a traveling showcase for charity. So over all, the speed [at] which this project has taken off gets us super fired-up every day. Never knowing exactly what opportunity might pop up next. I had a vision of what the GPA 6.9 brand could become and it’s really satisfying to see it all come to life bigger, better and quicker than we had ever imagined. Next step: world domination.
Okay, weird question, but I feel like the silliness of 6.9 has to be addressed one last time. Can you remember the first time you learned about ‘69’?
I was working at this fast fashion company as a sales associate when I was younger. And at one time of the year [they’d] released a line of ‘I Heart blank year’ t-shirts. And they had all types of numbers like I heart 67,68, 70 etc. I noticed that for some reason “I Heart 69” was always sold out. And I was so curious, why the f*ck wasn’t anyone buying 68 or 70. So I pulled out my phone and Googled “what is 69”, which led me directly to a Pornhub link. And that is how I learned about the magic number “69.”
BOBBLEHAUS is a fashion and editorial community by and for global youth tastemakers of Asian heritage through art, music, entertainment, and culture.
At BOBBLEHAUS, we strive to publish a mixture of casual and serious stories that uplift global youth perspectives on issues and cultural moments important to them. We believe that writing is a crucial process of learning, engaging, loving, and challenging; in this, we challenge both our contributors and readers to develop or even change their minds, rather than push absolute perspectives.