Art Basel Miami Beach

FriendsWithYou Want You to Meet Starchild, Sent Here on a Mission To Unify the Planet

Arturo Sandoval III (left) and Samuel Borkson, both currently based in Los Angeles, formed FriendsWithYou in South Florida two decades ago.
Arturo Sandoval III (left) and Samuel Borkson, both currently based in Los Angeles, formed FriendsWithYou in South Florida two decades ago. Photo by Ira Chernova
In a world lacking harmony among inhabitants keen on wasting a dwindling supply of natural resources, what if we could start over fresh, united in love for each other, the land, and the water all around us?

FriendsWithYou has spread messages of radical kindness, positivity, and a neo-naturalistic love of Earth for the last two decades through its creations. The latest is Starchild, a 50-foot-tall public sculpture debuting during Miami Art Week 2022 that serves as an intergalactic emissary ushering its viewers into a whole new way of seeing the world.

Arturo Sandoval III and Samuel Borkson, the pair behind FriendsWithYou, will debut Starchild on Monday, November 28 at 4 p.m. at Henry Liebman Square in Miami Beach, located at the corner of West 41st Street and Pine Tree Drive.

Sandoval says the bright orange sculpture resembles a "falling star or comet imbued with humanoid features." Legend has it Starchild was sent here to help unify our world, which FriendsWithYou has renamed Ocean in its mythology surrounding the work.

"This voracious sun that travels through the cosmos saw this beautiful, purple planet called Ocean. Starchild is the emissary that the sun sent to this planet. This is our new creation myth," Borkson says of the long-form, conceptual project the pair has been building over the last couple of years.

"We're renaming the Earth to unify the planet. We find it really strange that we're still all these different countries, and people are led by governments that are basically fake things, almost like corporations at this point. There's a larger group of people who want to be collaborative, to reach as far as we can, and make something powerful. Starchild is the perfect way to launch this concept," Borkson says.

According to Sandoval, FriendsWithYou's latest creation continues the pair's penchant for incorporating naturalistic concepts into their works, evidence of reverence for the natural world he and Borkson developed while growing up in South Florida.
click to enlarge
FriendsWithYou's Starchild
Photo courtesy of FriendsWithYou
"This idea of the planet Ocean is very neo-naturalistic, viewing nature as something to be equal with, not something that exists in service of humans," he says. "The myths we are trying to create in these new works are about a unity of all entities."

In addition to unveiling Starchild, FriendsWithYou will debut more new work at Art Basel 2022 in collaboration with Tokyo-based gallery Nanzuka and Gavlak, a contemporary fine art gallery with locations in Los Angeles and Palm Beach.

"With Gavlak, we'll be showing Atlantis, a depiction of the moment when Starchild reaches the planet Ocean," Borkson says. "That image was generated with AI. We reworked it, added our own reassessment of it, and rendered it by hand in plasticine."

Never confining themselves to one medium, FriendsWithYou's inventive methods and iconic imagery have popped up at Coachella as J Balvin's 2019 set design, at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade as the Little Cloud balloon, and most recently as an animated children's show for Netflix. Borkson and Sandoval are program creators of True and the Rainbow Kingdom, executive produced by Pharrell Williams. The pair say two more shows, including one for HBO, are in the works.

"When we created FriendsWithYou in Miami, we saw a lot of people becoming more and more isolated as we became entrenched in this digital world," Borkson says. "Being friends with yourself and believing that the universe is friends with you was a good, open-source spirituality tool for ourselves, our community, and art itself. It kept evolving from inside the art world to the mass world, where now we're reaching eight billion people with messages of compassion for each other and our planet on our Netflix show."

Some of FriendsWithYou's earliest works include "Rainbow Valley," a playground installed at the Aventura Mall in 2006, and 2005's "Cloud City" exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, in which both Sandoval and Borkson dressed up in character and invited guests to play with them on slides and with giant, rolling toys. In the mid-2000s, FriendsWithYou made a splash in the Miami art scene with a distinctive invitation for viewers to play, be creative, and allow themselves to feel that most pure, concentrated joy that often evades adults.
click to enlarge
FriendsWithYou's Valley of the Gods, plasticine clay in Plexiglas frame
Photo courtesy of FriendsWithYou
"Even though it's been 22 years, we're still trying to create those moments of symbolic meaning that we can share in public settings. We don't want to make art that is in service to the art market and just lives on people's walls; we want to make it accessible to people," Sandoval explains.

As the years have passed and climate disaster appears ever more imminent, Sandoval and Borkson have remained committed to using their platform as artists in service of the planet and those who inhabit it. Starchild and the larger body of work surrounding it aim to create new narratives that hopefully lead to action.

"We think there has to be a core reframing of how we're relating to the planet and to ourselves, how we treat the natural resources," Sandoval says. "One of the simplest ways to do that is through ethics, which is most effectively communicated through myths and stories."

"We feel like culture and society have been built by one type of people with a narrow view of what we are," Borkson says. "The more we tell these stories and see each other, the closer we get to world peace. The global 'scape is becoming very fascist and dictatorial, and that's mostly because of fear. We only fear the other if we can't see or perceive them. This mission of love and care goes into everything we make from tiny, plush toys to this large, mega-steel sculpture Starchild, who's really the first great messenger of this mission of togetherness and love for all things. It's a new dawn for humanity to become the best humanity that's ever been."

Sandoval and Borkson are no strangers to Miami Art Week. In 2006, FriendsWithYou presented "Skywalkers," a procession of 18 blimps that involved a high-school marching band and more than 300 volunteers. In 2021, the duo premiered "fRiENDSiES 0001" at Soho Beach House, a sculpture and interactive AR companion accessible by QR code. Borkson says showing work in his and Sandoval's native habitat of South Florida feels extra special, as its natural beauty has influenced and motivated FriendsWithYou since its inception two decades ago.

"We're South Florida kids. The ocean's always been the god to us. So, what better way to present Starchild than right in front of the ocean in our hometown where all our family and friends can come see it?" Borkson says. "Florida gave us the special ingredients to think how we think. That natural communion you experience from the lizard in your house to swimming in the ocean — you live and breathe nature in Florida, and that's magic."

FriendsWithYou's Starchild. 4 p.m. Monday, November 28 at Henry Liebman Square, West 41st Street and Pine Tree Drive, Miami Beach; friendswithyou.com. Admission is free.
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Tyler Francischine is a writer, event planner, and audiophile with dual passions for creating community engagement and telling stories that sing in a reader’s mind. Her work has been featured in American Way, Melted Magazine, and the Huffington Post.

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