Turns out that good looking guy who plays a good looking guy on TV has plenty more on his mind than his next imaginary role, or the smoking hot scene partner he's about to neck with. It's true; the man behind Vinny Chase is much more than a pretty face and a charming demeanor. Adrian Grenier is an activist, a problem solver, and a new age leader with real ideas on how we all can change the world.
Moments before the debut party of their new pop-up gallery and shop (mid-day hours through May 26th), Adrian and film producer Peter Glatzer walked me around the gorgeous downtown LA loft and gave me an inside look at what they're all about, and the ways they are supporting sustainable and conscious living through art, music, photography, film, and all around cool shit. Peter and Adrian had already created an eco-centric TV show together, and SHFT was a natural extension of some of that work.
So what is "SHFT" exactly? Technically, it's a "new media platform, offering original video series, curated shopping, and a host of resources that speak to a modern, inspirational, eco-conscious lifestyle." However, as evidenced by my conversation with Adrian and Peter below, SHFT is so much more than that. Be sure to scroll through the pictures above (care of the awesome www.jasontusman.com); they are far more illustrative than my words. Not to mention a big Acai cheers to the folks at SHFT for taking the time.
NK - Hi guys. Let's start with the basics. What is SHFT?
AG - SHFT.com is a website that started basically as a platform for Peter and I to share our appreciation for the environment. It was initially a place for us to gather all this great environment based media and information, and it's become a community.
PG - Adrian and I had been marinating this idea - a sustainable, sexy design-forward media platform - for a couple of years. After we did our TV show and focused on it, we were lucky to get a couple of meaningful sponsors with Stonyfield Farm, of organic yogurt fame and more recently Marvell - a company that makes computer chips that are much more energy efficient. We feel that the idea of "environmentalism" as a separate category, as it's own thing, is anathema. It should be folded into the fabric of our lives. It's just the way we need to live today. We wanted to create and aggregate content that spoke to a more modern inspired way to live because it's the way we need to move forward.
AG - We also wanted to raise the standard of sustainability. We felt it has been so rushed into the mainstream that there was never really a chance to curate it. There is a lot of mediocre, ugly sustainably made stuff out there. There was nowhere to go for just the cool stuff, just the stuff that turned us on. Now there's a burgeoning sustainable design market and Peter and I have a very youthful excitement about it.
NK - And what is the cool stuff? What is the stuff that turns you on?
PG - In a way, we try to use shft.com to nudge these sustainable ideas into pop culture. What we're finding is that the culture, artists are dealing with these issues. There are almost fifty artists represented here tonight; none of them were commissioned to work in this specific subject area. People are concerned with these issues; artists are dealing with this subject.
NK - It's certainly one of the first platforms that really combines new media and environmentalism.
AG - SHFT happens. We want to emphasize a subtlety, nudge is a good word. For too long environmentalism has been co-opted by extremists who do nothing but scare everybody and unrealistically try to force their agenda on everybody as opposed to really creating a viable, accessible series of options. For us it's exciting because all of these products are things that we enjoy and improve the quality of our lives, and we are hoping to define a new direction in how we consume. It's time to think about how we can sustainably exploit our surroundings.
NK - Tell me about your experiences with all these cool LA artists.
AG - Let's walk around.
They walk me to the trilogy of pieces by Balazs Gardi that are all concerned with the impending dangers of the scarcity of water.
PG - This trilogy is so strong, it's so broad yet so simple. SHFT is about a lot of things. It's about food, community, art, etc. I think we cover a lot of ground but we fell into the art category very naturally and didn't necessarily think we would. A lot of the artists really respond to the theme of sustainability. With how broad the "environmental effort" is, Adrian and I have found that the simplicity and directness of the message when it's carried thought art really resonates.
AG - I think it's about communicating in a very intuitive way. A lot of times these top down lessons we get don't translate. We are in this time, this place of education for all of us, we're learning, we're growing up, we're going to the next level, the next grade, and we're learning how we really want to interact and participate with the world. One of the cleanest ways to communicate this message is visually, and I think people really get it. We're not trying to dictate behavior. I can't tell you how many interviews I've done where they ask "give me a list of things I should do to be more environmentally conscience." I don't know. (laughs).
NK - On the topic of water, I heard Shepard Fairey got involved by designing an eco-friendly water bottle. How did that happen?
AG - He's a friend primarily. That's sort of what this is about - there's a community of people we've gotten to know over the years living in LA and we recognize that we all share a common concern and appreciation for these issues. We realized there is a big community of people who care and want to participate. We are giving an opportunity to harness all of that and put it in one place - the platform we created with shft.com
PG - Adrian and I did a TV show called Alter Eco...
NK - Next on my list, thanks for the transition.
PG - We'd always wanted to do something in addition to the show, but through doing it, we became friends with the people involved and it grew and grew. Community is a big part of whatever SHFT is, whatever this movement is. This is the generation that can make the big cultural shift toward sustainability. We have the technology, and the information, and we have no choice but to make it now.
AG - We also want to bring another layer of appreciation for consumption. We consume because it's supposed to increase our quality of life, we buy things because we want to improve our lives. But if you just blindly consume things without meaning, you're missing out on a really important aspect of why we consume. There's a layer of connectivity. It's consuming better, consuming with a narrative that you can share.
PG - If you watch what you eat, if you try to decrease the amount of your own waste, if you bring that consciousness to any aspect of your life, whether it's consuming or eating, you will feel better about it. It's contagious.
AG - Ghandi said something like, "A shared ice cream cone tastes better than two separate ice cream cones consumed alone?" Or did I just coin that?
PG - I think maybe Adrian Grenier said that.
NK - I'll fact check that (I tried). Let's keep walking around.
PG - One of the things about the video and the art we're displaying (and on our site) is they all share a connection to nature. If they achieve that, they meet our criteria. We love work that expresses a relationship with the planet. This multimedia approach gives us the ability to not just have somebody telling us what to do in a little video. We can have a music video, a photograph, and a piece of art. We are also launching an original series called "Lighten Up," which we co-produced with Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm.
NK - I read about that. It's about the bands, including The Dave Mathews Band, Edward Sharpe and Adrian's band (The Honey Brothers). And the series is about the way that these bands can lessen their carbon footprint.
AG - While touring. While rocking.
NK - Rocking light but rocking just as hard.
AG - (grabs a pole) This is a reclaimed pole from Crazy Girls, a lot of the dancers will come by tonight, they're all supporters of the movement. (laughs)
NK - Finally, the real reason we're here.
PG - (laughs) let's look at a couple of the other art pieces. Some of the things that we love about these pieces, like this bicycle (he points to the Derringer Bike), it either runs as a regular bike or it can kick into a motorized bike. It gets up to 400 miles a gallon.
NK - And this is available for purchase on the website?
AG - Yes, and you can try to keep up with the motor with your legs but it's not easy.
PG - The narrative to this is in its design. These beautiful lamps (points above) are made of recycled cardboard. Again the narrative is right there in the design, that's a great example of marrying good design with sustainable production.
NK - What do you tell a young artist or designer (or anyone really) who wants to get involved with this?
PG - We're incredibly inclusive with talent. There are these kids right now that are making a little web series for us in Brooklyn, it's about Brooklyn being sustainable as a community, we're about to start production on another one about people with their little patches of nature - gardens in New York City. We hope to get a sponsor to do a series on innovation and technology and the game-changers who are about to really re-shape the next wave of energy and infrastructure.
NK - All these series, all this stuff, is available on the site?
AG/PG - Yep.
NK - That's a big idea, creating a community of artists and creative people that all share an interest in the same single minded cause. Adrian, what in your career, and what in you has lead to this?
AG - It's been something that I have always struggled with in my life to one degree or another, sometimes more obsessively or neurotically than others. I've personally made big sweeping shifts from totally crazy and neurotic to almost apathetic. So I found this outlet, with Peter to somehow constructively express my frustrations and my appreciation for things that really bring meaning to my life. It started with Alter Eco, we put that show together and it's based on subtle, not heavy-handed ideas. Forget all the issues with the world at large, forget the issues that drive us crazy and debilitate us daily, let's start with the simple relationships that we have within ourselves, our communities and our homes, and let's focus on how wonderful that can be so that when you contribute, you think globally but you act locally. Let's make that exciting again, let's make helping the world an exciting action not an overwhelming task.
NK - Do you have pieces like this in your house?
AG - I have great sustainable furniture, especially in my place in Brooklyn. I made a point to make it as eco-friendly as possible.
PG - People aren't always aware of the different ways they can use sustainable things in their lives. For example, antiques and vintage clothing - both sustainable things, and when you realize that, you open a ton of more options in terms of how you can practically apply it to your life. One of the things that Adrian and I realized early on was that people need to know what their options are, and if given the right choices they will make the right choices. We try to present a lot of creative options for this way of life in not such a clinical way.
NK - So you're bringing "sexy back" to the environmental / sustainable living thing.
AG - (laughs). Yea. Hope so.
PG - Absolutely. Adrian and I always connected on this. I [...] drove a hybrid and recycled, but I was constantly thinking, what else? And I figured there were a lot of people that were wondering the same thing. A good friend introduced Adrian and I and that's how these things happen. It's been great.
NK - Adrian, talk to me for a second about what seems to be an unconventional trajectory in your career. You just had a documentary at Sundance; what's next for you? How do you see your career shaping? You're wearing a lot of hats - filmmaker, activist, actor.
AG - I don't think that I will quit any one pursuit, I enjoy it all. It's more about what I enjoy, what brings me pleasure on a daily basis. I wake up and say, "What can I do today? I'll play some music with some friends, I'll cook a local organic dinner with Peter for our friends, I'll make a film about something I find interesting. It's really about continuing my pursuit of information and ideas and trying to organize them in my mind and share them in some way.
NK - What is it you like about the documentary format?
AG - You can constantly discover. As a society, for us to assume that we have figured it all out, that capitalism is the only way to go, is crazy. It's still an unproven and untested system, and not to mention how capitalism has co-opted democracy, but that's another story. I've been sort of disillusioned with fictional films, because I am so behind the scenes. A lot of people understand the devices that make a film; it's hard to suspend the disbelief these days unless it's really sensational, over the top, or 3D. And I think that's why people are turning to reality shows; they're looking for something real. They're starved for reality. Documentaries are reality with a narrative, a shape, and an educational element. They can teach you something about the world.
NK - Tell me about that Skateboard.
AG (picks it up) - We can all indulge in the irony of things, and that makes people uncomfortable. (sentance excised) - Take eating a certain fish, for example. One month, it's you can't eat a certain fish, the next month that same fish is the only safe fish. It sometimes becomes overwhelming because you never know what the right answer is. One of the things that we are trying to do is appreciate that there is no one right answer and appreciate the ironies. There are contradictions everywhere but if you put your effort towards trying to figure it out, that's the most important thing. So this skateboard, it's so ironic because it's made out of a piece of wood and yet it's a beautiful image of a tree. It's about learning to appreciate the planet. I certainly don't know the answers, I don't know that if we cut down the trees we're all gonna die, who knows? But I appreciate trees and not because I'm a fucking tree hugger, but because I think trees are pretty cool. If you've ever walked through the forest, it's a nice experience. The idea of always layering in a subtle appreciation is important to us.
NK - That seems to be the common thread between all these pieces and works of art. An appreciation for where we come from.
PG - It runs the gamut. There are so many different narratives; some pieces are down right violent in their depiction of how we are treating the earth. Some just celebrate nature. There is no one prism to look at this issue through. You have to be conscience of everything you do; the idea that environmentalism is a singular endeavor is incorrect. It's a way of life.
AG - It's also an aesthetic empathy. Native Americans would take the time to appreciate the animals they ate, these days you just go to the store and buy whatever it is, even if you don't know where it came from and we just throw it in our mouths, usually too much of it. If we can start to bring back a little bit of empathy for what we consume, that would be a step in the right direction.
NK - Empathy and consciousness as shown through art and cool shit.
AG - (to PG) Why didn't you think of that? I like this piece. (walks me over to the shopping cart chair). It's about being overwhelmed by the environmental disaster that seems to be looming. I used to get overwhelmed by the amount of plastic bags at the supermarket, I used to be at the check in counter and to hear the plastic bags made me so nervous. These swelling landfills, there are so many monsters growing. And then you look at this and it takes a bit of the edge off (points to the shopping cart chair). It's also really cool looking.
PG - And cool is cool. A lot of this stuff is so cool within itself, and then you see what the message is and it's got this extra area of interest. And people have been responding so well to these pieces. (We go to look at some more pieces). This is one of our stronger pieces by Jay Mark Johnson (see photo), a local LA artist, and it isn't even done with a camera, it's done with something more akin to a scan. Somehow he captures the object that's moving, what a beautiful piece. And this piece is so simple yet so important to our collection. It's really just bark on paper (see photo) but it achieves such depth and extraordinary meaning.
NK - Are they all for sale?
PG - Some are not. For example, the water trilogy, that artist (Balazs) will never sell them. He views them as an important part of his crusade. It's too bad because everybody loves them, but it's precisely that added meaning that we embrace in our artists and the work we support.
AG - In thinking more about water, water is interesting because it's the only substance on the planet that exists in three states without external forces acting on it. Gas, liquid, and solid. The property of water can translate on so many levels.
PG - Water is an alarming issue. Almost on the level of Carbon Dioxide. We are really in a bad place even in this area. We should be talking about water in the same terms that we talk about taxing carbon, treating these elements as a commodity so that they are not wasted and abused. We're working with water.org, Charity Water, so many great organizations and people.
AG - I'm big into Oceana. Surfers should be up in arms, anybody who has enjoyed the beach; they should all be making a scene. Water is a big issue, especially with the oil spills exacerbating the situation so terribly.
NK - If there's a goal for SHFT whether it be incrementally over the next couple of years or bigger picture?
AG - There's not really a hard goal. To us, it's about permeating throughout our culture in subtle ways, almost unperceivable ways. Perhaps in the future we can take a look back and say, we all helped define our culture. When people go about their daily lives, consuming as they regularly do, there should be a little bit of consciousness that informs how they make decisions. That's what we want to do. We want to be the little light bulb in the back of your head that says "hey, don't forget about the shift".
PG - We would like to be the one stop shop, the hub for the idea of sustainability in our culture. Our approach was originally through film and TV but it's grown from there, our only hope is that it continues to grow with this level of enthusiasm and support.