Day two of Dublin creative conference Offset featured another packed schedule, with talks from Sarah Illenberger, Tom Hingston, Neville Brody and Richard Mosse, plus an exclusive video interview with Milton Glaser.
After a talk from Norwegian illustrator Bjørn Lie, who discussed the landscapes and visuals that inspired his illustrated childrens’ books and commercial commissions, Sarah Illenberger spoke about her work making sculptures, installations and editorial illustrations using a diverse range of materials.
She presented a series of 3D illustrations for German magazine Neon, including one for which she used vegetables, toilet roll and balloons to depict the results of a survey on sex and beauty:
And another for a feature on plastic surgery, for which she presented the subjects of classic paintings such as the Mona Lisa to plastic surgeons, asked them what changes they might make to their bodies and faces if they were living patients, and modified the artworks to reflect the results: an inventive and provocative idea.
Illenberger focused mainly on editorial and self-initiated project, as while she does create work for ad campaigns, she said this is mainly to pay the bills and fund her experiments. “Play is a huge part of what I do. It expands the mind and helps you problem solve,” she said.
She also spoke about a need to innovate to avoid being pigeonholed. After completing a papercraft project for the cover of Papercraft magazine, she was inundated with requests to create paper sculptures, culminating in a series of elaborate window displays for a Hermes store in Berlin, which took a team of six aroud four months to create. “It was fun, but that was the climax. I didn’t want to be known as ‘the paper artist’,” she said.
Since then, Illenberger has been regularly experimenting with new materials, including foam, fake nails, pretzel dough and rubber. She also created a series of objects using food, which were sold as prints and have been exhibited at galleries in Europe and Tokyo alongside installations including origami popcorn and lights that look like ice cream.
While she has an incredibly imaginative approach, Illenberger described herself as an observationist: while living in London, she took a camera with her everywhere, building up a visual inspiration library, and said she inspired by people like Paul Smith and Martin Parr, who find beauty or colour in surprising places. She also likes work to have a tactile feel and said that big budgets don’t necessarily make a great project, as this hand crafted feel can often be lost when an artist is given endless creative opportunities.
Next up was Tom Hingston, who spoke about his many creative influences and the key principles they embody which have shaped his work.
Citing Mick Jagger, Prince and David Bowie as inspirations, he said what makes those performers so successful is that they are uncompromising in their approach. “They are very different but they each perform with passion…it seems spontaneous but their is a clear intention in their work…an organised chaos…a desire to take you out of your world and into theirs,” he said.
He also noted the work of German painter Gerhard Richter and Czech photographer Miroslav Tichy, whose techniques provided visual inspiration for Hingston’s recent video for David Bowie’s I’d Rather Be High (see our blog post on the video here), and said he is inspired by the ways in which Martin Scorcese, Jean Paul Goude and Samuel Fosse explore their identity through their work (Fosse in his self portraits, Goude in his work with Grace Jones and Scorcese in films such as Mean Streets, which drew on his own New York upbringing).
This notion of embracing personal identity was the guiding concept for Hingston’s artwork for Grace Jones’ album, Hurricane, he said, which featured images of the singer inspecting a production line of chocolates in the shape of her own head. “The project was making a statement about Grace being entirely in control of her own identity,” he said (more about the artwork here).
Hingston’s third guiding principle was “be playful with the language of colour,” and he cited Paul Smith, Luis Barragan and Spring Breakers director Harmony Korine as creatives who use colour to powerful effect. For those of you who haven’t seen Spring Breakers, about a group of teens on holiday who become involved with arms dealers, the film uses colour as a narrative device, beginning with sunny blue skies and, as events take a darker turn, a deeper and more ominous colour palette.
Projects inspired by this principle include Hingston’s work for Danish mobile brand Aesir, he said, for which he undertook a residency at a litho printing workshop in Copenhagen (one of only a few left in Europe) to learn the craft:
Following Hingston’s talk was one from Irish documentary photographer Richard Mosse, who recounted shooting plane wreckages, US army bases inside once palatial ruins in Iraq, and communities in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, where more than 5 million people have been killed since 1998.
Mosse said he was drawn to the region because of the complexities of the conflict there. “It’s a profound tragedy but it doesn’t make it into the papers very often… [partly because] it’s a horribly complicated war, with various groups fighting each other and a remote, inaccessible landscape,” he said.
His series, Infra, features images of soldiers, communities and victims of civil war shot using Kodak Aerochrome film, which was once used by the military to detect camouflage and turns plants, trees and vegetation a vivid pink. The powerful use of colour creates a beautiful, surreal and unsettling effect:
In using the infrared film, Mosse said he wanted to defy conventional approaches to war photography, which is often shot in grainy black and white to avoid aestheticisng human suffering.
“To de-aestheticise is still a conscious aesthetic decision, so I thought why not just embrace it?” he said. “I was angry with generic photojournalism, and I wanted to smash it up…and find my own genre,” he added.
Mosse also worked with cinematographer Trevor Tweeten on a haunting 40 minute video installation, The Enclave, in which his footage from the region is displayed on six double sided screens in a darkened chamber, set to music by Ben Frost. The result is an intentionally disorientating and hugely compelling piece of work, and one which left much of the audience in awe.
After a break for lunch, Neville Brody delivered a talk on the power and future of design, and the need for designers to take risks, defy convention and create meaningful, impactful work that people can engage with. He also showed examples of his work for the BBC, the Royal College of Art, Fuse, Wallpaper and the Anti-Design Festival.
“We are stuck in a place of fear – fear that we will lose our jobs, that we’ll lose our clients, or people won’t like our work…we’re in such a rush to get stuff out that we’re defined by input and output…but when we play and experiment and things go wrong, you get new ideas and ways of thinking,” he said.
Brody also expressed concern that the global nature of communications and the need for simple, universal messages was leading to homogenised branding at the expense of individuality and local identity. “Complexity and difference…are not the friends of brands, who want us all to think and behave in the same way,” he said.
Imploring designers to think about the value and potential impact of their work, adding “we do not exist in a vacuum, and our translation of invisible ideas can change the world,” Brody said it was vital that creatives “take risks, trying something new and empower others to do the same.” This was the driving fore behind the Anti-Design Festival, he said, which featured various experimental installations and artworks made “without market restrictions”.
An interview with Milton Glaser
Next up was an exclusive video interview with Milton Glaser by Steve Heller. Glaser, who is 85 and still designing, spoke about his iconic work for Pushpin, his iconic I Love NY logo and his love of making things.
“The desire to make things is a profound life time commitment. It becomes the most important thing in your life…[and] gives you a sense of being alive,” he said.
Glaser also expressed concern that today’s creative industry is growing increasingly concerned with making people think a certain way, rather than “making them aware of what’s real”, creating an industry more concerned with persuasion than communication.
He also questioned our obsession with branding – “the idea that it is the highest form of design is reprehensible,” he said. When asked what advice he’d like to give to the next generation of designers, he said that we need to abandon the notion of “the heroic, individual genius” and focus on working with others to create work with real social value. “There are very few geniuses – but we only need a few – what we need more is people working together,” he added.
It was a pleasure to hear Glaser’s reflections on his life and work, and the passion he still has for his craft after decades of designing. The film will be made available online (along with all the talks from the conference) later this year.