Artist 5iveFingaz on Life, Business and Community Post-Pandemic | the Robert Benson Interview Series
This interview's conversation is with 5iveFingaz. 5iveFingaz is an artist based out of Norwalk, Connecticut. When asked what artists influenced him the most, the answers make good sense; Dali, Kahlo, Basquiat, Picasso, Warhol, Harding, adding that he is "attracted to each of their eccentric personalities more than their actual art." 5iveFingaz is all about his art, the individuals who view it, and the positive effects that can have. What is clear is 5iveFingaz' unrelenting exploration of his mind in search for simplification of truth and meaningfulness that is universal to all humans.
Thank you for joining us - let's head into the Dialogue.
Robert Benson: What technology do you expect to impact the most in the coming years? And when I say that, I mean, post-pandemic - this current pandemic that we're in, whatever we're leaving, whatever - even if the virus sticks around for a decade, at some point in the next year or two, we're going to return to a new normal. And so I'm just curious-
5iveFingaz: A new normal, yeah. (Overlapping)
RB: -About, yeah. (Overlapping) What kind of technology you think might be most impactful, positive or negative?
5F: I don't know. Being an artist and just quarantining - it's funny because you were left to your own devices, almost. Because it was almost a sudden shutdown. People saw it coming - I saw it coming, people thought I was nuts. Like I was stocking up on food and my girlfriend at the time, she was just like, "You alright? Like, this is crazy..." And this was like in January, and I'm like, "No, it's fine. I'm just buying extra masks." I'm like, "You never know." I was like, I was watching the news closely.
So I just think, through the new normal, I feel like people have gotten more tech savvy in general and having to pivot with their businesses. I have an online store and lucky for me it's been doing well, has been doing well. But I think it's just reinventing yourself as far as getting to learn technology, and I feel like, in the early onset when you had Zoom calls, people were still trying to figure out how to do Zoom. And now you have people that are pros at Zoom and Google Meetup. And it's just finding ways of connecting without seeing each other. And I think that's a big - one of the biggest changes.
And then out of that, I just think apps - developing apps - finding ways of staying connected - new ways of staying connected - social media platforms, I think is big. And as far as technology, I just see it like... fitness, like Peloton. I feel you know, it's finding new ways. Of staying- yeah. Yeah. (Laughing) There you go! Like Peloton and finding new ways of staying healthy and new regimens, and health and wellness. Even creativity - I feel like I've seen posts by people that are building furniture and making clothes and making trinkets and making jewelry that I never knew - I knew them professionally, but I never knew they did that on that side. They were just always either into finance, or into their careers, where now I'm starting to see a more holistic approach where they're like selling chairs that they made and it's funny because you're combining the organic world of making, hands-on stuff and working with your hands.
I feel like Etsy, like Etsy came to play in real life, like everyone became a filmmaker. On my store, I sell a couple of tie-dye stuff, that has been selling like hotcakes, but then at the same time, parents at home have been making a lot of tie-dye stuff with their kids. So a lot of that stuff isn't available or it's like a shortage because everyone is just online, learning, too. Like college and going back and just getting recertified and something else has changed your career path into something else.
And businesses are having to adapt in general, because - I was toying with the idea of having a brick and mortar, where people can get some of my stuff and just come do art. And that was maybe six months before the pandemic. And then lucky for me, I was just sitting back and looking for spaces. And then I took a pause and I was like, "I'm going to give it a year." Luckily, I did. Because, you know, who knows where I would be, you know? I think it's just - I think a major shift is just adapting to all the new stuff that's offered out there.
And I think it's just this, like even seeing the whole - the SNL footage or the shows, when they did it on Zoom, and like that is - it's just been a strange time where it's, like, dystopian, but it's not.
RB: Yeah, that's interesting. How do you - just a quick follow-up - with creativity. You know, for me I really thrive on going to different places, seeing different people, moving, experiencing different environments. This year has been horrendous for my creativity personally, because I've walked the same 15 blocks around my place all year. I can't stand any more of it. And I'm in the house - I'm lucky to have a house - but-
5F: Yeah. (Nodding)
RB: -the same four walls, the monotony is really getting to me. How do you handle your creativity in something like this?
5F: Yeah. I mean, luckily for me I was kind of a recluse introvert. So I kind of adapted well. But I did - I was like sort of like you. You know, when I traveled a lot - like I was traveling a lot more, obviously, I haven't really been anywhere too far - but I get a lot of ideas from traveling. And I feel like that helps out a lot of people as far as mentally just escaping, when you get away from everyday life. I do get a lot of ideas, even from taking a train over and hearing people speak. Just walking through the city, New York City, or like Chicago - I haven't been to Chicago in six months, seven- no, actually since the pandemic started, so almost a year - and I would just, Travel around the city and just - not eavesdrop - but just stuff that fell in my lap.
Like someone's sitting next to me and you hear them talking. And I always had my notepad and I'm like, "Oh, that'll make a cool phrase," and rephrase the words. Or like, "That's a cool painting," take pictures. So it's a matter of... I call it global versus local. You know, on a global scale, because everyone's in front of the computers more. So like now I've brought a lot of people out of my followers to my world, whereas opposed like I would go out to their countries and spread Love More Than Ever out there. And you know, spread love, wherever I can, but because of a global reach within social media, you could just bring your local town to them, and like - I've been lucky enough where a lot of people donated walls during this time. So I can paint murals and stay away from people, where I'm secluded and still painting. And I can show the pictures to the world and just be like, "This is my hometown. And we're doing this and we're doing that." Where people are like, "That's so cool! We can't wait to get you out here to do that here."
But, to stay very creative, it's just been scouring the web, pretty much, and scouring the web and having Zoom calls with other artists and still so maintaining that. And it's been harder, but it's also been a mental break.
RB: Mhm. Mhm.
5F: Like I'm taking a mental health kind of break. And not to say I'm not a big "New year new me," but like I waited to that mark to start releasing a lot of new stuff, a lot of new apparel, a lot of new shirts that I've been working on. Because I felt like the first half was checking in on people that follow me and make sure that they're okay. A lot of parents reach out to me and ask me if I could do Zoom calls with the kids or with their classrooms.
RB: Oh, wow.
5F: So I do a lot of Zoom calls with classrooms. And even talking with the kids in the classroom and brainstorming with some of their kids in the classrooms, that kind of seeing perspective - different perspectives - always invigorates me. So just seeing kids of all ages and just shouting out ideas and talking to them, so...
Back to the technology, you know, without Zoom, I couldn't imagine this. Like in the nineties-
RB: You're right.
5F: -this happening in the nineties would be, I don't know how we would deal. Yeah. We're lucky and privileged enough to have the internet where it is, as far as - compared to the dated computers that we had back in the nineties.
RB: And it really exacerbates, 'cause not everybody does have the access to the internet and that really makes this way more profound. Some folks are stuck in those nineties you're talking about, and we - I think we have to figure that out. We can't, that's not acceptable.
5F: Yeah, exactly.
RB: We're, as a society, we're going to have to work through that. With regard to social behaviors. You know, something as simple as the handshake, that typically goes along with our culture, do you think behaviors - social behaviors - will change post-pandemic?
5F: I think - and unfortunately the way it is - I think it's going to be the same people that are anti-mask and mask people will see it differently. Like I probably... I was never a germaphobe. I think I was talking to my parents about this the other day. I was never a big germaphobe. I would always make sure I wash my hands, sanitizer every once in a while. But as far as I find myself more conscious when I do have to make a store run, and the elevator or - all of a sudden there's that anxiety when you're just like, I don't want to touch that. And I don't want to touch the hand rails. And for me, I would have friends, when we're in New York City, being like, "Don't touch the hand rails, they're gross." And I'd be like, "Whatever." You touch them and you're like - you're fine. You need some sort of bacteria in your body to make your immune system stronger.
But I feel like the social norms of handshaking and just greeting people is going to be interesting because at the beginning of this, I would forget, and you would just go right in with your hand and then you're like, "Whoa..." (Laughing) and then you do the fist bump or the elbow bump.
So I think, I think a lot of people are going to be more aware. And carry around, obviously, hand sanitizer or washing your hands more. I know my circle will be, because I think we've been very cautious with this. I'm going to be very cautious of it and I just think it'll be interesting to see. It'll be very interesting to see how it plays out, because I don't know - I was just telling my dad - that I don't know how long it would be before, we'd go back to normal. Because I think that becomes a pattern and it becomes habitual. Where a handshake-
RB: Do you think there is a return to normal as previously understood or do you think, you know, it's different?
5F: I think it's, I think it's different. And I think the new normal will become just a normal. Where it's like... because you have kids that know masks now. And then the time before, they don't really remember because a year has gone by. The younger kids - obviously the newborns that were born last year don't know anything yet - but this is their normal, like this is what their normal is now. And it'll definitely be interesting to see, but I don't see it going back a hundred percent, to how it was before. I feel like subconsciously that'd be in everyone's mind, because it can happen again. It can happen worse.
So I think even business models will have to plan for having that into a clause, of some sort of escape clause in case, what if... I think restaurants have to rethink a lot because they've been hit hard. A lot of different businesses and different types would have to be like, "What if a pandemic hits? Can I support myself?" or, insurance companies might have to have a pandemic clause into their something. I think it goes down the rabbit hole, just like a domino effect of what change has to be in case a pandemic hits.
RB: Yeah, it makes me think about that. You used to go to a bar and there might be peanuts in a bowl, you know, just sitting there. I can't imagine ever eating one of those peanuts again, I don't, regardless.
5F: Yeah. (Laughing)
I had an ex-girlfriend whose dad was a wonderful, outgoing, social person and he'd make something and you'd be standing there and he would just say, "This is delicious!" And he would jam it in my face. And you're like, (Mimes recoiling)
5F: Yeah! (Laughing)
RB: And I never liked that. I didn't, way before the pandemic, I didn't like that. You know, I can't imagine any of that now. I just wonder how people - and we need to relate to each other and we do need to understand, I don't think there's ever been a time in my life where we needed to understand each other better more.
5F: Right, Yeah. and I think, again, it goes back to, where you come to that moment with someone even now, and you're like, "I don't know how have you been living..." like there's that awkward moment where it's like, are you taking hugs? I don't know if - are we hugging now? I haven't been hugging. It's almost you have to carry a card or something where it's like, "I don't want to..." (Gestures outwardly)
And the funny thing is that we got married, I got married during the pandemic, back in September.
RB: Well, congratulations!
5F: Thank you. And it was the most anxiety inducing thing because we, now, we were like, "What do we do? Are we still having it? Are we not having it?" Now we included a Zoom link, and it was like the weirdest thing, for people. Because we have - both of us have - family in California that decided they couldn't come, for obvious reasons. And then we kept it small. The cocktail hour, everything was individually wrapped, and it was just like, let's just do it, let's just keep the people to, like, under 70, and keep them spaced and have the tables spaced. So even then, we're like "Wear a mask, be conscious of other people, keep your distance. If you don't feel comfortable, just stay for the ceremony and leave." And I feel it's gonna go that route.
Even seeing those pictures of people attempting to have concerts where it's like they're in their own boxes - like for New Year's Eve, which was the saddest thing to watch, was like - people were in the individual boxes, and, like, I cringe. But at the same time I'm thankful, because you kind of don't want that to become the new norm, because it's so sad. You miss interaction, you miss the hugging, you miss the crowd going nuts. And then it's funny 'cause you watch older movies and you see that. And you're like, "Remember that time? Remember those times when we used to party and, you know, go to concerts?"
I feel like everyone has a different breaking point where it's some people are - have been - done with it. And I see it -in my friends and they're like, "Are you going to come to - we're going to do like a little art gallery party, socially distanced and everything." And I'm just like, "I don't think so." And then you judge it by that person's behavior or by their posts. If they've been posting, “I don't like wearing masks, give up the mask," and you know, see them pictured eating at restaurants multiple times and no mask around. And then you're just like, "I seen what you've been posting. Like, I don't feel safe."
RB: It's really funny where you talked about somebody wearing a sign, "Hugs are okay," post-pandemic. Because I think it will be that moment where shaking hands - I used to shake somebody's hand and you'd always get that, that one person with the sweaty palm. And it would be like, "Eugh..."
5F: Yeah. (Laughing)
RB: And now I'm thinking you're going to put your hand out, someone's going to put their hand out and then a person's gonna say, "Here's the elbow,” and you're going to have to be okay with that. We're going to have to accept the fact that, you're going to go into hug somebody and they're going to be like, "No, no, no..." and I - it's going to be weird, I think for certain.
So on the last question, what market is impacted the most? I guess the question there really is an economic one, kind of a business one - you talked about being interested in a brick and mortar. I'd actually know quite a few people who did build out studios right before this. I followed it like you, I think I first read about it at the end of December or first part of January. I also did buy masks. I did take some steps to make sure - I've got two little kids, so I wanted to make sure we were good. But how do you reinvest, and do you invest differently, or do you open a business or - what do you think... retail is pretty shot outside of Amazon and online ordering. So what is your take on all of that?
5F: It's tough to call because friends that - there's this kid from the Bronx that owns a store, a retail store. And obviously they all, it all went to shit. It went from a hundred percent, a hundred to zero, and what he did was he reinvented himself. He became more of a online hub, and I thought - obviously not everyone can pull it off - but he had a good following in the Bronx. And then, people share it and then people are like, support local businesses. And I myself have been trying to do that more this season where I'm like local - and when I say local, again, sometimes it's global cause it's through my online community. So it could be someone from California. It could be some, you know, where I'm like, "I'm going to buy a hoodie from them because I want to support their business," and I think it becomes a more, not GoFundMe, but I think we have to develop the community. I know previous, there are competitors, where I think now it's more coming together to fight to live. Where it's like, "Hey, if you like this, go check out this artist," and stuff. Because he has this going on, and it's like sharing communities, where I think it's more like crowdsourcing and crowdfunding where businesses themselves have to come together to uplift each other.
Even like - I like what Barstool is doing, that guy Dave, where he developed a fund. And I tried to do the same thing, where I have a community fund, where proceeds of the t-shirts and hoodies that are being bought from me, I'm trying to give back to the community in whatever way I can. A school needed some podcast equipment because they want to start a podcast where I donated money for them to start podcasts. And I think it's just a matter of coming together, but separately, you know? Where it's like, "Let's protect the little guys. Let's protect the little people," and it's hard not to buy from Amazon sometimes. Because I have shipments for my dog food and stuff like that, where it has to come in. I have a Pantry there that just delivers food.
But again, not everyone has access to that. Not everyone has, you know? Those people sometimes you never think about, and if they're not reaching out to me, it's hard for me to help them. But I think it's just as a community just coming together. At the early stages, it was beautiful to see the people coming together in my community, as well as other communities of helping each other out. Donating food or donating help or mental health, mental wellness, where I seen - I've seen a couple, but what comes to mind is this new way of getting mental health services online, or there's an app where you talk to somebody live. And I thought that was clever, where, especially at this day and time, where you can have a mental therapist or have someone there for you and you book a session and it's on your phone. That's amazing to me, because I didn't see that coming. Now everything's becoming subscription services or conscious about the pandemic or conscious about germs, so I just think it's good and bad, it's got a good and bad thing.
RB: So with tech - actually, that's interesting. From a technology standpoint, you really focused on people changing the way they address technology. So you were saying, hey, I see people using Zoom, using video communication, that never did it before, using their apps like you're talking about now, in a different way. And it really wasn't so much that the technology changed. It was that the people adapted to the technology.
5F: Exactly, yeah.
RB: And then in the market, it's the same answer, right? You're saying. You know, I have to reach out to the community, but in this case, the community could be followers. And it could be - you know, some people are in California, some people are a different country, but the followers become a group. And and I think you're right, I think that makes a ton of sense. We were already in a gig economy, but I think we're ten times past that at this point. And that's really becomes - we've really moved more toward it.
Which to me really begs the question, why doesn't Jeff Bezos give everybody better broadband access in areas and neighborhoods that don't have it, you know, in poorer class areas. In a way, that's a good investment because they're going to use those tools anyway. I remember seeing the the two girls in the Taco Bell parking lot, trying to steal Wi-Fi for school so they could go to their class, and it's heartbreaking. We should be able to fix that. We should be able to deal with it. But it's an interesting take on what community is.
So what relationship do you think - is there a relationship between a physical neighborhood and the way you relate to that community? Because it seems like you're still connected to those, and a virtual community, a digital community, that can transcend distance.
5F: Yeah. I think for me it's one and the same. Like I try to treat it the same. When I'm talking about a physical local community and I post something, I say, "my hometown of Norwalk," or something. And I try to separate both by being descript on it, when I say global - when I'm talking to everyone on my followers list or whoever follows me, that's my online presence, my digital community. But I think the message itself is the same within both, it's always been the same, wherever you are.
And to bring back to my Love More Than Ever movement, wherever you are, whatever language you speak, there is love, everyone loves something. And it's funny, cause I've gotten into talks with hard right conservatives and left conservatives and at the end of the conversation, there's always mutual respect. Where it's like, at the end of the day, we all love something, someone, in the community. Or, everyone has a family, or if you don't have a family have friends or you have an animal or pets or something that you love. And I bring it down to the lowest common denominator, which is that. Which is: we're all human. We're all human and we're all, A) going through this together - without sounding cliché - but we're all adapting to different things.
The older generation that maybe wasn't so tech savvy, I've seen numbers of older people, even within my family, that have gotten tech savvy and know how to Zoom or how to - how to reach out. And you're getting text messages from all the relatives that you didn't know they could text. And it's funny because that's their way of staying connected. Even in the Zoom, when I got married, had older generation folks from, down South, from California, that chimed into the wedding and they wanted to see it, and it's unprecedented and it's been that way since last March, where, when everything started shutting down. And it's like you almost hit a hard reset, and it's like, we got to get over this. We, as people in general - there might be some laggers and some people that are not on board with it because they thought it was going to be over in a few weeks or a few months.
But then as time goes on, I feel like it's our responsibility to reach back and be like, all right, come on, let's teach them how to do this on technology or on computers. Let's teach the older generation. I feel, because of that, we're moving forward, and that's becoming a separate community within another community, where it's just we're all helping each other out and coming together. I've seen it both ways, where - because this past summer has been, obviously, with the Black Lives Matter protests and everything, and I held a couple of rallies. You really get to see people's point of views and it says a lot, when people can post something behind the keyboard.
And you're like, wow, I didn't know you thought that way... I mean, you're still my friend and we, at the end of the day, we'll have a long in-depth conversation - yell, whatever. But you come to a realization that after all the words said, and after everything, we've known each other the 10 years that we're good friends and it does it matter? We're human, let's just get through this. Let's just get through whatever it is. And I feel a strong sense of community comes from that, and it's phenomenal. And there's been the weird part of the communities too. (Laughing)
RB: Do you feel like your Love More Than Ever, Peace Couldn't Have Been - I feel like you almost, you were ahead of the game, actually, and now this pandemic rolls in and that mantra is even more important, more present and more needed. Do you have another one this you're ready to launch to help people adapt or help people listen to each other more? I think in a lot of respects, I've seen a lot of what you're talking about, but I've also seen the other examples, where people aren't listening to each other and they're going either further apart, which I think is problematic.
5F: Yeah. Yes, and that's what I was talking about, there's other sense of - because even through that, like when I got involved in you know, having a protest and rallies, and you know, I've never.. I saw two worlds, where I would post something that was - you know, after George Floyd. I never posted anything anti-police cause I'm not anti-police - because I have family members that are police officers - but as a matter of always taking a step back and just looking as a community, as humans, and being like, let's see it, not through a political lens, let's see it from a human lens. Was that right? Put politics aside, put George Floyd's past aside and be like, as a human being, was that right? Did he have to die? Did he have to be murdered?
And that goes with everyone. And I got I got into things where people were like, "That comment is not so much Love More Than Ever," and I've gotten called out a couple of times, 'cause I've made comments like that. And I'm like I'm not saying this black person is more important than you or this white person is more than you. I said, if an Italian person or a Greek person or an Irish person was murdered in that way - and I've stood up for people that way too, because there are murders like that also, where if it was a Greek Lives Matter rally, I'll be right there, fighting for them, because there's different ethnicities and different things. White Lives Matter, it's a different thing altogether. Because - there's different, you know, Greeks, Irish, Scottish, like I will fight for anybody, that's been injust.
So it's definitely gotten heightened in the last couple of months and I feel like there are tensions boiling, where - even after the Capital thing last week. I always - people, a lot of people, come to me on social media and they ask me what I think, or, they ask me, they tell me, "We need Love More Than Ever now. What are you going to do now?" And it's like, "Right." But sometimes I also preach where it's like - when I'm talking to people, kids - I say, it's okay to feel sad and it's okay to feel mad. Everyone has emotions. You're not a robot. Just because I say "Love More Than Ever," I try to stress that I get in bad moods. It doesn't mean that love's not there. (Laughing) It's just, I get in bad moods. Let me handle myself. So it's a case by case basis, and-
RB: I think the power of it, though - if you don't mind me jumping in-
RB: I found your Love More than Ever on the street in Chicago one time and followed you on Instagram right away. And I think about it all the time. And the issue is when I disagree with somebody or I find myself very opposed to them, I think what I like about it is it brings us all back to commonality, which is what you said. And from that common position, now move forward and try to understand a different perspective. And we may not agree as to what needs to be done next or certain issues or whatever. But if we did come from a commonality, we would be in a much better place as a culture, as a society, as the Republic here in the US, whatever. I think that's a profound message that we don't hear enough of, and I know you're trying, I'd like to see news media, throw it out there too.
5F: Yeah. And it's also a matter of seeing it from perspectives, like I was raised - I'm more independent. I like to see both sides, I like to hear the full story. I don't react just by emotions. I want to hear facts. I've gotten into arguments with both sides, because I'm like, what are the facts? Did they actually say that? Or is that what the media's telling you? You have to research. It's all about reacting to the news yourself and then keeping calm and then taking it all in and then doing your research. It's all about getting back to center. Like right when that was happening, my first thought was - last week - was, "Where are the 'effin cops?" I've been to the Capitol numerous times where I thought I was gonna get shot for stepping too close to a statue. That's my first thought. And then I'm like what's going on? And then again, angry. And then you work through that. And then by day three afterwards, I was like, I have to reset. And I have to keep moving forward with Love More Than Ever, because that's what it comes down to, that's what it's all about.
As humans, we just have to remain calm, it just has to be calm and get to the point. But there is always room for overreaction. Our initial reactions and being like, "What? What? What?" And then you have to always - I try to train myself to get back to center and look at it from a different point of view and try to see all points of view. When people would try to call that out, I love it because I'm like, listen, if you go on my website, it tells you right there that I'm going to fight - that we're going to fight -against injustices against everyone. It doesn't matter what it is. If it's an injustice, if it's a true injustice, we're going to fight for it.
So I think the message is always there. I have another one, just more through talks, with kids, with children. So it's more about giving yourself love, so it's Give Yourself Love. And it goes back to, having a lot of conversations over Zoom, through Zoom, and kids of all ages asking me questions about, "What if you can't love yourself?" You know, they love other people more, or... It was more of a sense of coming back to that, giving yourself love, because without that, there is no Love More Than Ever. You have to love yourself, you have to be in a place, so...
RB: I always wonder - I think that's a great message - I always wonder if people really understand what it means to love yourself. I think that's a tough concept.
5F: That's a tough one, yeah.
RB: And give yourself a little space, give yourself a break. Just try to do better. And I think that's a tough one. I can't thank you enough for this chat. It's been fantastic and I was super excited about it. And I can't thank you enough.
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