Art at Viacom Workshop: Behind the Blades of Tahiti Pehrson’s Artistic Process

I remember arriving for orientation on my first day at Viacom back in February. I was thrilled to know I’d be working at the company responsible for some of the most iconic moments in entertainment history, a company with brands that defined my adolescence. Walking through the lobby of 1515 Broadway amidst a hypnotic waterfall of yarn was an otherworldly experience. It made me realize that Viacom would become my home.

Art at Viacom’s artist-in-residence at the time, instillation guru HOTTEA, was responsible for the tinted tendrils. Art at Viacom regularly partners with distinct, often emerging artists by giving them an unconventional canvass—Viacom headquarters. The results are enthralling installations, as vibrant and creative as the company spirit.

In April, I’d witness the building’s evolution from kaleidoscopic yarn factory to a pop-art-deco landscape, courtesy of Australian artist duo, Dabs Myla. In September, I entered the paper galaxy of Tahiti Pehrson.

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A cycle of light and life, created by Tahiti Pehrson for Viacom Headquarters. Photos courtesy of Art at Viacom.

Pehrson’s exhibit, The Journey of Light, is influenced by the cycle of life. The morning sunlight catches the fibers of his 100 percent cotton rag paper mandalas, casting a mellifluous glow across the building. Throughout the day, Pehrson’s patterns reflect the shifting afternoon and evening shadows, creating a subdued decoupage for employees to observe as they descend the stairway on their way home. The next day, the cycle begins again.

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The view from the 45th street exit at Viacom Headquarters. Photo courtesy of Art at Viacom.

When the exhibit debuted last month, Viacom executive vice president of Marketing and Strategy Ross Martin shared his adoration for Pehrson’s work as he addressed the crowd of reporters and employees.

“Imagine the precision, the focus, the energy and commitment that he had to make to do what we’re all experiencing tonight,” said Martin. “It’s unbelievable.”

The next day, I got a glimpse at this unbelievable process, when I attended Pehrson’s afternoon paper-cutting workshop along with 30 coworkers.

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Each work space was prepped with an orange, rubber grid, a Helix 360 degree protractor, a Dasco Pro Giant-Circle beam compass, a number 11 X-Acto blade, and a square of 100 percent Legion paper – in other words, serious art tools.

I was nervous with anticipation, as if it were my first day of art school. I imagined my fellow employees felt the same. We gazed warily at the assembly of tools and chatted, while waiting for Pehrson to begin his lesson.

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Pehrson explained how to execute what is, essentially, a simple task—tracing circles using a compass and protractor. It was strange to think that these implements I hadn’t touched since high school geometry could be used for such an artistic purpose.

We’d place the paper on top of the orange grid, which would serve as a mat. Using the protractor, we’d mark a spot on the paper to trace a circle using the compass. Repeating the process would result in overlapping circles, and when we were satisfied with our geometric designs, we’d use the X-Acto knife to carve out the spaces in between each circle.

I’ll admit that out of the 30 employees attending the seminar, I seemed to be the only one who misunderstood Pehrson’s instructions. At first, I used the pencil to fill in the holes on the inside of the compass, instead of tracing circles around it. In true Viacommunity spirit, my coworkers rallied around my misshapen snowflake, offering encouragement and advice.

Pehrson gave me a second piece of paper, which I subsequently bungled. The compass and protractor felt heavy and foreign in my hands, and I fumbled while trying to hold them steady as I traced each circle. I gave up on tracing and went back to doodling and observing my coworkers, all of whom seemed to be picking up Pehrson’s technique flawlessly.

Pehrson walked around the room periodically, answering questions and giving tips. In between instructing employees on their geometric patterns, he created one of his own.

Read more about Pehrson’s artistic inspirations, and how he developed his distinct style in this interview.

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