Mete Erdogan, On Eavesdropping
Mete Erdogan, is an Australian designer and art director, based here in New York City who knows a thing or two about listening in. His popular Instagram project, Eavesdropper, beautifully illustrates the innocent and not so innocent comments we share amongst the company we keep. In the nature of the project, Mete and I met at Sweat Shop NY, a cozy Australian style cafe in Williamsburg, when I eavesdropped into a conversation he was having, something about "typography" and "design'. Speaking with him got me thinking about the nature of what we say, and the art of listening. Mete mentions in our conversation, "... that if you read into them and look into what they actually want, then you're looking deeper into what they want out of life, whether it's just someone to love, or their next meal. You realize that we're all kind of the same."
I was always drawing as a kid, and I remember one competition [in the first grade] where we had to design these Christmas stockings, and they said, draw whatever you want, I'll give you a prize for the best one. My mom took me to the art store and said, buy whatever you want, and so I found this entire pile of glitter pens and I just went to town with this stocking. I ended up winning that and ever since then I kept on trying to pursue that feeling of solving a creative problem, but through school I never considered design or art as a career.
My mom and dad sent me to a good private school, and I couldn't disappoint them. I thought I should do something 'useful', and eventually when it came time to decide what I was to study at University, I chose journalism, because I was kind of a good writer (I was told). I did a year of that and narrowly past and was just completely miserable.
After that, I went to Europe with my friends during the Summer, and sort of discovered what and how design actually plays a role in the world. When I came back to Melbourne, there was this exhibition called, 'the Art of Pixar', and I realized,
"Damn, you can actually make a living out of drawing characters and story boarding and making movie titles."
And then that day, I told my Dad that I was going to drop out of journalism and go into design, and he said,
"Ya, I don't know why you didn't do it before."
First year of design I was terrible, and again narrowly past, but by the second and third year I was definitely picking it up a lot more, and towards the end you realize what your discipline is. Illustration was what I was falling into, so that's kind of what I left university wanting to do.
Once I came here I started doing Typography. I would maybe show ten illustration pieces and maybe two quick little type pieces [at interviews] and the people would go, "Do more of this type stuff you're much better at that," so that's why I started Eavesdropper, it was to practice type stuff and I was only going to do it for a month.
I posted it all on Instagram and Facebook, because I'm generally more disciplined if I tell people I'm going to do it. I think my fear of not delivering something is greater than my fear of not making it.
At the end of it, someone from Buzzfeed found the project and wrote this article about it, and in one night it went from like nineteen or twenty friends following it to about twenty thousand. So, I decided to make it happen for a year, and all this publicity came in during that year. I was counting down the 365 days for the project and about half way through, someone from Barnes and Noble called.
I thought, "Nah, bullshit," and I checked it out, and it made sense. We ended up getting coffee and not more than five months, we had a book. It was very quick. It's been really fun.
When I first came, I was here for a three-month backpacking trip. I had just graduated and in the back of my mind I wanted to see if I could live in any of the cities I had visited. New York, life style wise was the most viable for me. There's a very big community of designers here and especially those Australians that come here for the same thing, so you feel like there's a little bit more of a base.
I decided to come to New York, because I wanted to see what I could do creatively and I figured I really had nothing to lose.
I think I received something about 35 job interviews after I sent out about 150 postcards. Of those 150 I wrote, about 5 of those people wrote back, which is 5 more than I thought I would get, and from there each one of them said, '... look we don't have a position open for you, but we do have someone who might,' and it just kept on going until Saatchi and Saatchi picked me up for a summer intern program. They decided to keep me on board and sponsored my subsequent visa, and I was there for two years. I learnt a lot and experienced so much about advertising.
As of September last year I left the company and that gave me the opportunity to regroup and go back to Australia - have mom's cooking and apply for the O1, the artist visa.
Just being in the city and working at an agency at that level, it takes a massive toll on your body, if you let it, you pull all-nighters and you eat a bunch of the free food that they give you, which is usually pizza and a lot of alcohol. You realize that your body can't operate on that. I just got super sick towards the end of last year. Going back to Australia, with my mom and dad, it was almost like a rehab thing for me, you know? I get to sleep in every day, and you get to be in nature, because mom and dad's place is outside of the city, it's a really relaxing place. [There was ] an emphasis on eating well again and exercising, and when you come back here, you realize that your body and your mind are the most valuable assets that you can ever have.
When you work at the agency, you're body becomes secondary, because you're trying to get a job done, and you're on salary, but when you're a freelancer, you're your only employee so you have to treat that employee well, so that's one big life lesson ... the other is just, don't waste your time doing things that doesn't make you happy. As easy as it is to say that, do what makes you happy, I don't know how I could've gotten here without doing those jobs [either], so I don't know ... the lesson from that is the harder you work, the luckier you get, I guess.
Main themes [on Eavesdropper] I think, are relationship stuff, then a lot of it gets sexual in a satirical way, and a lot about it is about food, and usually it's those main three things that people will talk about - food, sex, and love.
You know, like, "I finally figured out what women want, it's grilled cheese, they want grilled cheese."
And it goes into things like, "You can't just survive on gelato and Desperate House Wives".
Eavesdropper has been really good about bringing that to light, in hopefully a beautiful way. We all just want really basic things and there's just so much beauty in that. I think a lot of that stuff is taken for granted. A lot of those off-hand jokes or those comments are very innocent, but if you read into them and then you look into what these people actually want out of life. You realize that we're all kind of the same. It just keeps coming up in different way.
I think, you know, its that it's really easy to relate to people if you just listen to them.
When I came up with Eavesdropper, it didn't feel like an amazing idea, it just sort of came to me because I needed content for this project. I found that sometimes the less thought you put into a project like this, the better, it actually is. It really affected my process.
I've been finding that the less I put into the making of the actual art work, the more people respond to it. You know, when you've been developing something, there's this separation between the original innocent idea and the output. I think people like you telling your truth and doing it in a very vulnerable way. Maybe that's the takeaway, that vulnerability is probably the most engaging thing you can give as an artist.
Is there a favorite one?
I think the first one I did, because that's the most in the vulnerability and in the innocence of the project.
"You can't just eat octopus from a fucking buffet in NY",
It's hilarious. I went to lunch with this friend of mine from New Jersey that I used to work with, and I went to this supermarket with these trays of food and you can just pay by weight. I was pretty new in New York and I didn't know that the sea food can be questionable if set out for a while. The sea food in Australia is pretty good, and so I just assumed its fine here and I was just dishing out this baby octopus and I looked and my friend was so annoyed, and he just yelled, "You can't just eat octopus from a fucking buffet in New York!" ... and I love it because it is funny, but it does show, in the weirdest way, genuine care for me, that people were looking out for me at the time.
It set the tone for everything I did for the rest of the time. I hope to maintain this vain in everything I do for the Eavesdropper project.