Nicer Tuesdays returned to east London last night for the first event of 2019. Despite being a miserable evening weather-wise, inside the walls of Oval Space we were treated to a line-up of talks which made us laugh, think and, most importantly, made us excited for the upcoming creative year.
Here’s to Nicer Tuesdays 2019 and another round of insightful talks from across the industry! From illustrator Joey Yu taking us all over the globe with her sketches, puppeteers Jonny and Will providing a glimpse behind their fascinating process, graphic design and art-direction studio B.A.M outlining how it approached rebranding White Cube, to Wieden+Kennedy’s Department of New Realities talking through its predictions for the future of emerging tech, check out everything that went down at January’s Nicer Tuesdays below.
Manifest the commissions you want to get and make sure you’re always speaking to people
First to take to the stage for the first talk of this new year was illustrator Joey Yu. Having only graduated from Kingston School of Art in 2017 (a self-confessed “fresh baby”), she chatted through her prolific career so far with all the charm we’ve come to know and love from her. “I’m interested in places and people and how they interact with each other,” she began, before going on to detail what, in her short time since graduation, she’s come to learn. This largely centred around creating work which makes things clash, sometimes uncomfortably, but with a view to speak to people who wouldn’t normally be in the environments her works appear in. With a sketch-heavy style, she explained: “I want to keep my work consistently inconsistent.”
While showing us drawings from her travels around Korea, Brazil and Greece, one example which cemented Joey’s unusual approach was her 2018 commission as part of the #LDNWMN campaign celebrating 100 years since (some) women were granted suffrage in the UK. As part of a campaign which saw several female and non-binary artists creating large-scale works around London, Joey depicted a line of women marching across several billboards, a protest march which passers-by could inadvertently join. “People were reposting it without knowing it was my work,” she explained. “It was really nice to be part of something bigger than me.”
Dishing out several nuggets of advice for anyone starting out as a freelancer, Joey concluded by saying “I’ve learnt that you have to manifest the commissions you want – not everyone is going to know what work you can do,” adding that you should “make sure you’re always speaking to people, it gets you places you never thought you would get.”
Handmade things have charm
A duo with a knack for breathing playful life into all manner of objects, puppeteers Jonny and Will were up next. They met at Wimbledon College of Arts on the technical arts interpretation course and began making together very early on. Having set up their production company making “weird silly puppets” at a time when everyone else was working in CGI, Jonny and Will’s work is still imbued with the same handmade quality that they fell in love with back then. “Handmade stuff has a charm to it, we’ve always been drawn to that,” said Jonny.
“We bring ideas to life,” they went on to say, later adding “we’ve done loads of things from tiny mice to giant dinosaurs.” However, it was their work for Ikea and Cartoon Network which took centre stage last night. The first provided the duo with a chance to work in a slightly different way to normal, tasked with bringing the company’s objects to life. “It was working out how to rig things rather than build things from scratch,” said Will. “It’s an idea that keeps coming up – bringing objects to life and giving them character, even though we do also make things with eyes.”
After proving why testing is invaluable to their process with a behind-the-scenes video (“shooting rough things on iPhones is often what gets people excited or wins you the job”), they talked us through their recent series for Cartoon Network, which has earned the pair a Children’s BAFTA nomination. Titled The Grumpy King, we were even treated to an on-stage appearance by one of the series’ protagonists.
If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it!
After a short break, B.A.M – which stands for (Lee) Belcher and (David) McKendrick or, as David pointed out, potentially also “below average mentality” – gave us a run-down of the studio’s recent rebrand of White Cube gallery. Having founded the studio in 2014, the duo has since worked across art, design, music, fashion and architecture. “We’re not just graphic designers,” they explained, “we call ourselves a design and art-direction studio because we commission a lot of photography and video.”
After retelling the story of how they founded the studio, Lee and David got into the nitty-gritty of their most recent project. They discovered, after being asked to pitch for the redesign of the art institution’s identity, that the logo wasn’t the issue, “but we very quickly worked out what was wrong”. Having had the same identity for years, White Cube’s system was geared primarily for print, and so the studio worked from the ground up to produce an identity that functions across all areas, be it in print, online, on the walls of the gallery or on the shop’s signage. “We wanted to look at the communication and strip out everything that wasn’t necessary,” said Lee.
On the subject of why they kept the logo as is, David explained: “We weren’t just being lazy, we really believe in not changing things if they aren’t already broken.”
Technology can be, and should be, haptic too
Rounding off the evening, and leaving us all with a lot to think about, was Wieden+Kennedy’s Department of New Realities. Nestled within the agency’s Amsterdam base, it describes itself as a “future-forward division of Wieden+Kennedy”. Representing the team here in London were Anita Fontaine and Geoffrey Lillemon who talked us through some of the department’s goals with its work. Across their portfolio of work, they explained, “We’re always interested in merging technology and art to manifest fantasies… creating worlds that don’t need our bodies.”
Through their experiments with emerging tech such as VR and AR, they create a hyperreal aesthetic with the intention of giving “a feeling” to pixels and intangible digital experiences. “With everything we do, we’re trying to give a dirtiness and grittiness to technology, seeing it as having a soul,” Anita and Geoffrey continued. This approach, which sees the department responding directly to what’s happening with tech around them, allows them to “enhance reality” and has led to a number of commercial commissions.
One such project came from Corona. Anita, Geoffrey and the team worked with the beer brand to create an immersive retail installation which acted as a portal to a hidden world. In another, they “reimagined the printed page”, augmenting the content of a book for Moncler. “We’re constantly experimenting and coming up with ways to bring clients into our fantasy world,” they explained, referring to how their investigative process can still lead to such projects. “The bread and butter of this company,” they concluded, “is turning speculative visions into haptic environments.”