Eight creatives from around the world tell us what made their city tick in 2018
Here at It’s Nice That, we’re dedicated to keeping our approach to creativity resolutely global. As societies at large start to feel increasingly unstable, uncertain, and atomised, it is more important than ever to consider how to foster a sense of likemindedness across the creative industries, remembering that borders don’t have to exist in the way we’re told they do.
As part of our ongoing Review of the Year, we reached out to creatives from eight cities across the world. We wanted to know what made 2018 in their neck of the woods a year to remember.
Join us as we zip from Los Angeles to Lagos, from Athens to Shanghai and beyond.
Photographer Marco Arguello on why Athens doesn’t need to be the new Berlin
Ever since I moved to Athens 18 months ago, I’ve heard the same question. “Why the hell are you here? The question is a fair one given the paralysing financial situation, immigration woes, and woes and various other political hot potatoes which continue to face Greece in 2018.
So why am I here? Besides all of the obvious reasons for living in the Med, Athens is in the process of reinventing itself and it’s an exciting time to be a creative in this city.
What I’ve found is that the scene here is curious, inclusive, and unpretentious. I’ve discovered so many artists from various disciplines creating some very special work not only recognised in Greece, but internationally as well.
Some notable examples of Athenians really hitting their stride in 2018 are NYC/Athens based design duo Objects of Common Interest and its collaborations with Sonos, Instagram, and the City of New York. Me Then, an independent men’s fashion label taking inspiration from the gritty Athenian topography, Kostis Fokas, a photographer exploring themes of sexuality through the human body, and ATH Kids, a rap collective telling stories of growing up in the streets of Athens.
Athens is not “the new Berlin” or whatever other comparison various hype machines have spat out. Athens is, well, Athens – a tabula rasa. At least for me it is, and I’m grateful to be playing a small role in this creative community.
Illustrator Tiago Galo on what keeps Lisbon bursting with energy
In the last few years, the wider world has seen Lisbon emerge from the ashes of the 2008 global financial crisis. Here in our country’s capital, it specifically affected the young adult population, opening itself up to a new generation of creative people thriving in hubs of studios and design shops, event spaces hosting live music, fashion shows and art exhibitions. They’re attracted by Lisbon’s blend of old and new, and by the energy that comes from the ongoing urban regeneration, especially in old and industrial sites that are opening themselves up to the creative industries.
Spaces like LX Factory, Hub da Mouraria, Lisbon Second Home and the currently under-construction Hub Creativo do Beato are good examples of how this creative revolution feeds into the city’s emerging tech scene. We’ve seen big brands like Google, Amazon and Mercedes Benz announce their arrival in town, which both boosts the economy and brings in people from around the world, bursting with new ideas and energy.
On the art scene, this year also saw new artistic neighbourhoods like Santos, Principe Real and Marvila establish themselves as hot spots for design studios and art galleries. The new MAAT Museum (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology) by the Tagus river saw its campus completion this year and is quickly becoming a hub for art exhibitions of renown and emerging world artists.
In a way, Lisbon is being seen by many in the way Berlin was by outsiders in the 90s. Personally, I think we’re already getting somewhere for ourselves – we don’t need to be compared to other cities in other countries.
Set designer Adi Goodrich on slowly falling in love with Los Angeles
My love for Los Angeles didn’t arrive at first sight. Quite the opposite, actually. Instead of arriving as an immediately enamoured and wide-eyed 22-year-old, I was heartbroken to have left the love of my life – Chicago.
I didn’t understand LA at first and felt very much out of my comfort zone. I found myself being asked if I was from another country because of my thick Chicago accent and the awkward way I dressed. A decade on, the love has grown, oh so slowly.
Instead of loving LA just for its obvious great looks and famous ways, in 2018 I’ve been thankful for the multi-hued cuisine, the friendships I’ve formed here, the opportunities it’s afforded me in my career, and the wonderful hidden neighbourhoods that provide a canvas for weird adventures on days off.
Me and my closest friends proudly announce that “we’re East-siders”. This factual admission makes this sprawling city into quite a small town. When you decide to leave your home and walk the beautiful streets it’s likely you’ll see someone you’ve worked with, someone you want to collaborate with or someone who seems so familiar that you have to ask them “Don’t I know you?” and quickly feel embarrassed that they are in fact on TV. This is a funny place to live, but I have an abundance of talented friends, creative endeavours and adventures in this city that I think I’ll admit, I like it.
Photographer Yuan Xiaopeng on why creative independence matters in contemporary Shanghai
Young people in Shanghai often complain about traffic, the rate of inflation and the restriction the city puts on creative practices. However, on the bright side, it is a city that gives us all a lot of motivation. I’d like to paint a vivid picture from my own personal experience.
I’ve been living in Shanghai for over eight years now. For the first few of those I, like most young people, was faced with similar problems, including xenophobic locals, class division in the workplace, and other annoyances. Nonetheless, those feelings gradually dissipated – largely right after a friend and I founded the art bookstore Closing Ceremony.
Many people told me that Closing Ceremony is definitely one of the most exhilarating things to happen to Shanghai in recent years. Sometimes I would think in this way as well. The bookstore was located in a rather covert residential area and only opened on weekends. Our customers would always dress up in a casual but subtly sophisticated way – as if they were on a date.
It was very rare to see that many independent publications here, so Initially, we wanted to open a bookstore, a place which gathered art books and independent publications for the youth of Shanghai. As time goes by, I think Closing Ceremony has already transformed into a site bringing the young people together, even those from other cities of China. The people who visit aren’t just art practitioners, they’re from all kinds of occupations and fields. To some extent, I would think it urged and changed me from an observer of the city to a participant who helped to influence the city.
But during the summer just gone, due to economic pressures and other restrictions that arose from the overall environment, we shut Closing Ceremony down, leaving just an online shop remaining. Many young Shanghai residents feel frustrated about that. Over the past three years, it’s been exciting to see the changes around me. Hard working and talented designers are showing their work to the wider world, young resident DJs play all over the planet, and Closing Ceremony’s customers are starting to open their own independent publishing houses. We’ve even seen old customer’s work when visiting events like Art 012 and Photo Shanghai.
This is what’s happening here right now, and thanks to things like that, I feel passionate about living and working here in Shanghai.
Graphic designers Mistroom on Taipei’s continuous creative evolution
As designers, the source of our creativity is in finding an appropriate response to our client’s brief in each project, so we are not necessarily inspired by Taipei itself. But this year, we feel that everyone in Taiwan is seeking out identity from the nation and from gender equality issues. The younger generation is concerned about these issues and tries to communicate with the elder generation. Although the results of the recent referendum have left many young people feeling depressed, we still feel that positive energy is slowly gathering in Taiwan.
To improve our communication with the elder generation through design, we have to improve our integration capabilities. On social media, regardless of people’s sexual orientation and age, they make a lot of effort to communicate with each other and convey their beliefs. When communicating through social media and other online digital media, we must simplify our design work and make the key information clearer. The way we see it, the design movement and the movement for equal love must be condensed together. The force of design will gradually spread, and we believe that it will have a positive impact on Taiwan’s future.
One of our projects this year was Not Just Library 2018 Admission Ticket. We began by breaking away from the common idea of what an admission ticket is, and sketching the relationship between the library and the people who visit it. Our expectations of the ticketing process should be continually reimagined. We want to inspire the library’s visitors to be curious about everything around them in their daily lives, and realise that even the tiniest touches of detail are beautiful. Our design practice is in a state of continuous evolution, thinking about the interaction between people and our sincerest thoughts.
Designers Everyday Practice on social responsibility in Seoul
2018 saw us working on various projects, and some of the most memorable were the Park Geun-hye Gate and the 2018 Busan Biennale. Since the beginning, we’ve thought a lot about the social role that designers play and luckily this year we experienced the ripple effect that comes when design that faithfully reflects contemporary visual language is used as a tool for transmitting social messages – this is what we did with Park Geun-hye Gate project. The work for the Biennale, one of Korea’s biggest, was an opportunity to build an integrated graphic identity which encompassed print, web, and installation design.
For the uninitiated, Geun-hye Park, was a former South Korean president who was ousted due to scandal. The scandal was an extremely complex affair that featured hundreds of characters and dozens of trails. The saga is difficult to grasp without a little help. So, with that in mind, we came up with a special web project to help. We brought together all the articles published on the topic in Korean magazine Sisa-In, as well as court records from the investigation and the trial. The result is an independent archive related to the case and the shameful history of corruption that it represents.
When it came to working on the Busan Biennale, we wanted to reflect the separation, division, and confrontation contained in this year’s theme, which was “Divided We Stand”. We used strong colours at the top and bottom of the poster to signify separation, and applied different layers of conflict to visualise the conflicts that exist around the world. The fragmented and twisted logotype identity, images and colour contrast applied to the poster are intended to penetrate the theme of the 2018 Busan Biennale’s overarching message.
Photographer Stephen Tayo on a life of possibilities in Lagos
My 2018 started with an amazing Vogue feature which saw me shining a spotlight on how Nigerian children dress on New Year’s Day. The outcome of that feature was unbelievable.
It was a year that saw me participate in brilliant events like Homecoming, an initiative which saw Nigerian’s living in London returning home to celebrate young Nigerian talent. It really helped me connect with a lot of people from all over, and I’m now part of the Patta Amsterdam family as a result of the exposure it offered me. The scheme was initiated by Grace Ladoja facilitated by amazing Nigerians like Teni Zaccheaus, Seni Saraka the founders of Native Magazine.
Lagos played host to brilliant events that promoted young talent, like the Alara Emerge Competition, and ArtX Lagos, West Africa’s first international art fair. The city has shown me that hard work is its own reward. There are possibilities here. Things are only getting better.
Multidisciplinary studio Tangrama take us on a long and lazy walk down the most cultural street in Bogotá
Bogotá is changing. Follow us on a walk down Calle 26, the backdrop for the city’s most exciting moments in 2018.
In 2011, the Colombian studio El Equipo Mazzanti was hired by the mayor of Bogotá, Samuel Moreno, to do an intervention on the Calle 26’s overpass, connecting the emblematic Parque de la Independencia with Bogotá’s Museum of Modern Art. The intervention, named Bicentenario Park was far from attractive and created trouble for the city’s administration due to a backlash from local residents who fought for the preservation of the park’s boundaries, as well as for the trees, wax palms, and other species that were planted more than a century ago. The result is controversial, and some opponents assert that the project (as well as Bogotá’s administration and Mazzanti’s firm) did not take the park’s history into consideration – it had been threatened ever since 1952, when the then-president, Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, divided the park in order to build a highway that connects Bogotá’s mountain range in the east, with Eldorado Airport in the west.
Calle 26 has witnessed other controversial events, such as the decadent administration of Bogotá’s Museum of Modern Art, run for 47 years by Gloria Zea, who then handed the Museum to its new director, Claudia Hakim, with a debt that would take years to settle. We – as sceptical beholders – wondered whether it was possible to see a comeback from an institution that was quite influential in the art scene during the late ’60s and ’70s, or if it would fall into a new state of decline. 2018 was a more promising year: The Art of Disobedience exhibition featured highlights from the Museum’s collection. In addition, Italian critic and curator Eugenio Viola was recently appointed chief curator of the Museum, which for decades lacked coherent curatorial guidance. We hope these changes will bring new life to a museum that needs more than ever strong support from its audience and benefactors.
Not far from the Museum, there are signs of rampant urban development. A new wave of investment in the city exploded – and faded out – like a firecracker. Torre BD Bacatá, for example (located on Calle 19 with Calle 5, six blocks away from the Museum) was expected to be ready by 2016. By late 2017 the project was in bankruptcy, and in early 2018 both investors and people that had worked on its construction sued the managing firm. The future of the skyscraper is uncertain. But not all recent high-rise buildings have had the same fate—some look more promising. Back to Calle 26 with Avenida Caracas, we find Atrio, designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners in collaboration with the El Equipo Mazzanti. By 2019 we expect to see the first of two towers completed.
A few blocks away from Atrio, resuming our stroll downtown, we find the Columbarium. Initially created as a communal grave for the people who died in El Bogotazo on 9 April 1948 – the aftermath of massive riots that followed the assassination of the Liberal presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán – by 2009 it was empty and had been neglected for years. But the Columbarium was the site of an intervention by one of the most interesting living artists in Colombia: Beatriz González. Even though the project was initially an ephemeral intervention, Samuel Moreno’s administration, embroiled in corruption scandals, have left it unattended. The carelessness of Moreno’s leadership was somewhat of a call to González who thinks that her work (a counter-monument) should be preserved, not as a temporary project, but as a perpetual intervention of hers – a memorial to the victims of the war, in other words.
The Columbarium was supposed to be intervened on and renovated with a plan devised by Rogelio Salmona, a foremost name in Colombian modern architecture – and who also designed the aforementioned Museum of Modern Art. Salmona’s design included a generous stage at the centre of the Columbarium that was supposed to be for the community of the nearby neighbourhoods, Santafe, Samper Mendoza, and Teusaquillo. Due to a conflict of interests and a pending legislation towards the site, the area remains fenced, and the public is not permitted to enter and see González’s work. In 2018 this dispute between the city administration and González has become more public in terms of media coverage, however, the final use of the site is still unresolved.
The cityscape of Bogotá is also changing, and Calle 26 is no less than the epicentre of many of these transformations. When, in the early 1950s, Rojas Pinilla teamed up with Fernando Mazuera (three-time mayor of Bogotá) to build Calle 26 it was regarded as a shameful civil project that the city did not need. With the implementation of several overpasses at different points in Calle 26, years later after the motorway was done, the Bogotanos started to react more positively to the modernisation of a city that adores automobiles and deplores public transportation.
And as urban murals (graffiti, in other words) proliferate along Calle 26, creating a massive palimpsest that calls attention to our recent past, to the impunity of our democratic system, and to the clashes between the police and graphic artists that resist being white-washed, there is still no mention of the anarchy of development in our city. Mazzanti’s overpass has recently opened to the public and Bogotá’s Museum of Modern Art as well as the Biblioteca Nacional – adjunct to the Museum – are no less than witnesses of changes to come in downtown Bogotá.
Supported by Google
At Google, we believe that design is critical to product excellence. That’s why we’re proud to support It’s Nice That in its effort to champion a broad and inclusive community of creative makers and thinkers with the annual Review of the Year.
We also believe in fostering design through Material Design, a unified system combining theory, resources, and tools to help designers and engineers craft digital experiences, and through Google Design, a cooperative effort whose mission is to support design and engineering excellence by producing original articles, videos, events, as well as creative and educational partnerships. Sign up for the Google Design Newsletter.
About the Author
Josh Baines joined It's Nice That from July 2018 to July 2019 as News Editor, covering new high-profile projects, awards announcements, and everything else in between.