This summer Jody and I had the privilege of visiting Dustin Yellin’s studio space. Yellin is the founder of Pioneer Works - a welcoming, multidisciplinary haven for the arts and sciences. We have fallen in love with the somewhat utopian world that is Pioneer Works - interactive exhibits, impromptu barbecues, and eye-opening, controversial lectures - but we knew little about Yellin’s own artistic endeavors.

Jody and I have explored the globe through the lens of art, but it is rare that we stumble upon works that leave us speechless. We were awed by each aspect of the studio - the construction process, the finished pieces, found objects decorating the towering walls, and the wonderful energy of each of the artists focused on their parts of the process. When you watch one of these works in the making you get the feeling that you are witnessing something extraordinary and otherworldly.

Yellin has described his works as frozen movies - layers of glass, each with two dimensional collages of detailed scenes, are aligned to create what appears to be a 3D fantasy world frozen in time. The works feel completely well rounded in breadth and depth. From afar the the figures form an aesthetically striking mosaic pattern. Upon closer look are detailed scenes that present themselves like frozen frames of stop-action film. Cut outs of newspapers and National Geographic magazines and figures such as human bodies with bear heads are structurally complex in their arrangement to communicate stories.

These fantastical creations are dioramas of Yellin’s complete vision in which he demonstrates his understanding of people and the world as a larger system beyond the small loop that most of us operate within. In our own scaled up, amorphous physical world, Pioneer Works is one of these slabs of glass - a cross section.

Yellin has said: “This is another version—a living version—of that, but it feels like it’s all the same. It’s just like you’re working in layers you’re seeing through, whether it’s layers of glass or layers of people, and eventually all those layers are in harmony and in unison to sort of make something like this possible.”

At the end of our visit we expressed our awe and excitement to Dustin about his work - his reply was focused on spreading the word about Pioneer Works and helping to widen it’s reach and impact. What separates Yellen from many other iconic creative leaders in our history is the outward focus of his mission. Rather than feeling indulgent, his art feels like an important gift.

Culture - the collective manifestations of engineering, science, music, film, storytelling - is what determines the subtle but impactful impression of a society and it’s lasting influence. Culture is the reason we obsessively romanticize Paris, fantasize about LA, and yearn to step foot on New York City sidewalks. 

It is also the force that brings people together to reframe opposing ideas about social conflict and help us problem solve at a large scale. If people can be brought together to focus on something that excites them - that is bigger than themselves - then people who think differently are suddenly thinking together. Pioneer Works accomplishes the difficult task of instilling in its visitors the hope that we are capable of rethinking our relationship as a species and as a system, and that the large social and environmental issues we face can be addressed together.

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