AI, play and starting over: We uncover what really makes creatives tick at June’s Nicer Tuesdays in New York
Take a look at how our first ever Nicer Tuesdays in New York went down. Spoiler alert! It was an absolute treat of a night.
And just like that, we’ve held our very first New York Nicer Tuesdays. Who would have dreamt it! We’re not ones to exaggerate, but we’re still pinching ourselves at just how inspiring the night was. Much like its sister event in London, this one kicked off with a monster queue, curving past the beautiful Music Hall of Williamsburg (would it really be a Nicer Tuesdays without an eye-watering line?). But this didn’t dampen the spirits, and the audience were bustling with excitement. When everyone was eventually inside, the atmosphere was infectious and there was an unmissable community feel. To top things off, the three incredible creative talks were full of advice, honesty and warmth. Eric Hu began with a mind-blowing talk about originality and AI, Shawna X followed with an in-depth look at her stunning Long Island train station glass installation, while Emily Oberman rounded things up with a talk that spanned her illustrious career, showing the beauty of “starting over”. Read on to find out more about how the event went down – we know you want to!
Eric Hu on pixels, originality, AI and having faith in your uniqueness
Taking to the stage as our debut speaker at New York Nicer Tuesdays, Eric Hu well and truly blew our minds. Are we surprised? Not at all. While gearing up to present his mind-blowing presentation, Eric said as a precursor, “I promise you that no blunts were hit in the making of this presentation”, which of course got a fair few laughs from the audience. He then opened his talk with a run down of his creative career so far, which involved a childhood love of typography that’s followed him into adult life, starting the design team at Ssense and being a creative director at Nike. But the key fact that really underpinned Eric’s talk was being “obsessive about technology”.
His talk revolved around one central question: “Are images created or destroyed?”. To start the discussion, Eric returned to the “atomic level” – the pixel. From this springboard, Eric used the pixel to explore the topic of image creation, originality and AI. While he recognised that there are “legitimate concerns about plagiarism and consent”, and how tough the past year has been for creatives, he highlighted how there needs to be more open conversations about AI, and the things it will never be able to do. He outlined a clear distinction: “if images might perhaps be discovered, is art discovered? Absolutely not.” Instead, what stands out is humanity’s ability to give context to images, thus creating art.
Further on in the talk, Eric happily admitted that he’s “experimented” and “dabbled” with AI, mainly trying to “break it” and create “ugly” stuff. And, overall, he’s not too worried about how it works. What he is worried about, however, is the hands it may land into, and “that the people that pay us are going to try to get it to do something a little funky” – the point that should be the clearest area of our criticism. Nicely rounding up his talk, he finished by saying, “I know what I do is special, I know what I do is unique”. Well Eric, we couldn’t agree more.
Shawna X shares the inspiration and process behind her kaleidoscopic train station installation
Second to the stage was Shawna X, who started her talk as she started all of them – with a (very) cute picture of her at an art class, aged eight. It soon became clear why the image was there – because much of Shawna’s work revolves around the act of play, and tapping into your inner child. In her work, she also incorporates the act of mothering and therapy. “My potion is to enjoy the little things, and to not apply much pressure.” This is why Shawna always starts her projects on a 14-inch laptop screen, so she can “watch a trash TV show at the same time”. Truly inspiring.
Shawna took the audience through her project Cyclical Everything – a permanent laminate glass installation at Elmont LIRR station in Long Island. It was commissioned by the Metropolitan Transport Authority (MRA) in 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic. Being pregnant at the time and living through such a momentous time, Shawna explained that themes of transformation felt natural to feed into the project. Following extensive research, she stumbled across the Belmont horse race track – “the one unchanging staple in a rapidly changing city”. Its curves and lines provided the central motif to Shawna’s vibrant designs. The project was no mean feat, and Shawna was in charge of sourcing and interviewing all the fabricators, and testing colours and materials. “I’m very lazy,’ Shawna added, “but thank God for modern technology and postal service!”
When the project was finally complete (after two years!), Shawna told the audience that the first time she went to see it alone she couldn't quite believe her eyes. “I remember going there at sunset, an empty station, a train just coming back and forth; it felt like a very Studio Ghibli moment,” she said. “The layering effect, the vibrancy of the colours, the reflection of the sun. Everything just became this magic wonderland.” Later, Shawna took her mother to see the installation, who then interpreted the effect into dance – pushing Shawna to do the same. For Shawna, this event struck right to the core of the project: “evoking that sense of play and childlike wonder is something that keeps coming up in my work.” Now, looking to the future, Shawna shared that her big dream is to make a playground. Move aside kids! This is one we’ll be wanting to play in.
Emily Oberman on the importance of “starting again” throughout your career
When Pentagram’s Emily Oberman – our final speaker of the night – took to the stage, there was a painting on the screen behind her. Emblazoned across the canvas were the words ‘Start Over Please’. Emily began her talk by explaining how this piece by Ed Ruscha was one of her favourite pieces of art, for how much its sentiment resonated to her. “In our careers, we have to start over,” she said. Before getting stuck in, she gave the audience a little bit of her backstory through a video made after she won the AIGA gold medal. In it, we learnt of how her parents – both graphic designers – have always served as her greatest inspiration, alongside her youth growing up in the 80s, in the midst of New York’s explosion of creativity and her long love affair with the entertainment industry.
Emily then dove headfirst into her longest running gig – redesigning the logomark and spots for famed US sketch show, Saturday Night Live, which has been running for 28 years and counting. As a whole, the project shows the attention to detail required to be a successful designer; a redesign is needed every few years that requires Emily and her team to rethink the way to represent the show’s title. From its charmingly rough early days to giving it a sleeker “jazzy” feel as it became well established, and “fighting” to keep the lowercase N in night – which Emily explained gets a lot of hate online – this attention to details has cemented Emily’s work in the film industry. In her recent work on the upcoming Timothee Chalamet Willy Wonka film, Emily told the audience of how she and her team looked through the archives to find imagery of sweet shops and confectionery from the period the film is set, culminating in an obsession with how the W of Wonka curves around the A.
Emily then rounded things up with the twisting and turning story of her work with Warner Records. She was enlisted to create a new logo after their “leasing” of the iconic Warner Brothers shield was coming to an end. Trialling many different looks, and delving deep into the history of the record company, Emily and her team created something they loved – a bold, impactful, off-kilter W logo that felt current and fresh. Yet when things were so nearly signed off, it arose that somewhere along the line a number of clauses had been missed. One quite essential one was that no singular ‘W’ could feature in the logo… this ensued a mad panic, with Emily showing the audience many new variations before hitting the sweet spot. Nevertheless, Emily ended triumphantly, “We were forced to rethink something, and in the end it came out better.” Here here!
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