Photo Essays

My Invisible Drawings at Davos

Future.Art.Davos
Michelle Vaughan, from ‘Davos Drawings’ (2015), (all drawings by the author for Hyperallergic)

There are many misconceptions about the World Economic Forum in Davos, but the biggest one seems to be this: Davos is a networking conference for the superrich. Although I have witnessed some elaborate parties, and the champagne is always free, darling, the WEF is more than just complimentary drinks in the Alps. Yes, it’s an international gathering of world leaders, central bankers, CEOs, and finance ministers who may be doing deals behind closed doors. But it also includes academics, scientists, aid workers, doctors, and creatives — many of whom are not superrich, but are super-smart.

The conference attracts many different people, but I am one of its most unassuming attendees. I haven’t discovered a cure for cancer. I’m not a leading expert on brain activity and I don’t design robots for Mars. I have been given an invitation because I am married to someone who has received a complimentary “media leader” white badge.

When meeting strangers it is customary for attendees to divert their eyes down to my badge. WHO ARE YOU? My badge makes it impossible for them to know, as it only states my name and nothing else. I have no affiliation to a company, country, or university, and so for some I am insignificant. Invisible. But I have used this to my advantage. I’m an artist who deals with topics such as history, politics, and power, and I try to understand the dynamics of how things fit together. I’m there observing, analyzing, questioning, and talking to people who actually run this shit-show of a planet.

This year I decided to make drawings from an invisible person’s point of view. I’m not a sketch artist, nor am I a cartoonist. But I thought I’d try to capture in pencil the people I experience. I shot photos on my iPhone and then blew them up on my iPad. Then, back at the hotel, I sketched what I captured. Some are from talks, others are from parties. One night my husband and I ducked into a Women Leaders drinks reception and Christine Lagarde was casually socializing and posing for fan photos. Another evening we attended a George Soros dinner in which Natalie Jaresko (the finance minister of Ukraine) stood up from her meal to speak about the crisis there. I cannot imagine being finance minister of Ukraine right now.

Davos is a complex bag. I don’t think it can be described simply, but I have tried to simplify and isolate my subjects. Let them stand in some white space and breathe. The WEF is an overwhelming frenzy of information exchange, connections, schmoozing, excess, and pretending to be present. None of us can be, really, as there are far too many distractions. But it’s something, in its finer moments and in its failures. I’m always quite honored to attend, observe, and be “invisible.”

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