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Weekly updates

The first day of a CARBON festival feels a bit like the first day back at school, but in the best way possible. There’s an auditorium, and presentations to attend, but the teachers are all trailblazing badasses and everyone sits at the cool table. Day one of CARBON 2013 was host to masterclasses on Building a Brand and Contemporary Art & Design and brought together a range of views and voices. Everyone had different approaches and idiosyncratic presentation styles, but all the homework set shared a theme: don’t procrastinate; go out and do something awesome.

Photography by Andrew Johnson.

Check out our CARBON day two recap here.

Forum A: Building a Brand, presented by New Era 

The first forum began with kicks enthusiast and publishing success story, Woody from Sneaker Freaker. With wit and candour, he discussed how he identified a niche in the market and turned his passion for sneakers into a global business. He went on to attribute the origin of the magazine to a desire to have fun, be cool and to collect free shoes. He went on to distill his success to five key points (and added five more after that), and left us with the gem of wisdom, “You won’t make it sitting on your arse”.

Next in line was PM Tenore from RVCA, who started the brand in his garage and built it up to be the success it is today. Tenore emphasised on the brand’s slogan, ‘The Balance of Opposites’, which fuses with his philosophy of bringing different subcultures together. That fusion is apparent in his ads for RVCA, one in particular that featured surfer Matt Archbold, whom Tenore described as “the James Dean of the surfing industry.” Tenore spoke about bringing his passion and business together, and concluded his talk with the inspirational message of going all out for your passion, even when it is not all fun and games, and obligations and hard work are involved on the pathway to success.

Kith founder Ronnie Fieg went up third. ‘Hooooly shit!’ he exclaimed as he saw the turnout. Regrouping himself, he then went on to give a brief introduction, talking about how he started his first job as a stockboy at a warehouse when he was 13, working his way up to the success he’s established for himself today in the span of 15 years. “People in this industry work extremely hard. If you do not work hard you will not be leading in your category,” he emphasised. Fieg stressed the importance of collaborations and social media as critical factors. He elaborated on the latter by explaining how social media gets the word out, and allows consumers to preview the product before its release, before rounding up his talk by listing the main outcome of his efforts and strategies, and that is to provide products with great quality that your consumers want/need, and is better than what is on the shelves. No shortcuts.

Anticipation was high for this next one: Shawn Stussy, the guy who founded the eponymous brand. Dressed dapper in a blazer and a crisp white shirt, Stussy explained how the visual aesthetic of subcultures like surfing and punk caught his eye. Stussy went on to explain that product design is a big deal for the development of the brand, and went on to explain that once “you start a project…you live your ass in the project.” Talking about brand development, Stussy’s approach was different from the other speakers today. He believed the brand is the prize at the end of doing a right thing, e.g., following a passion, and staying true to it. He rounded up his talk with a video showcasing him building a snowboard in his own S/Double Studio. The forum concluded with a short Q&A session with the panel, discussing about topics, like the importance of collaborations, with each of the speakers.

Jerome Lee

Forum B: Contemporary Art & Design, presented by Hennessy VS

Punters reconvened for the Contemporary Art and Design forum after the break, which was started off by graphic artist Mark Drew. Originally from Sydney, Mark spoke about those formative early years of his life when he became obsessed with everything to do with American culture, as most of us ‘80s babies did. Coming up as a teen in the ‘90s exposed Mark to those golden days of rap and hip-hop music which, as we were about to find out, really shaped his creative (and life) path.

In what would be the theme for all the artists in this forum, Mark never really had a plan, he just started making things he liked for the sake of it. As a result, hip hop and graffiti zines were his teenage projects, Sydney’s China Heights Gallery was born and Mark began to build his own ‘artistic’ portfolio and fanbase.

Fast forward to present day and Mark has been living and working in Japan for the last four years, a place where your daily life includes naked, dancing robots, swan ferries and a silver tooth.

Despite living in such a weird and fast-moving country, Mark is still stuck somewhere in that golden youth, where Peanuts comics and rap music rule all. The Deez Nuts project started off as a zine and is literally a mash-up of Peanuts panels and ’90s rap lyrics. Similarly, the C 90 series was also just another translation of his appreciation of lettering paired with his ever-present piles of rap cassette tapes. Both these projects were pretty well received (by everyone but the Peanuts licensing team, as it turns out) and were translated across tees, cards and gallery shows.

Mark defines himself as a graphic artist, rather than an artist. If he really had to put any term to it at all, because “I have original ideas, not necessarily original graphics… In the same way hip-hop [uses] samples and takes things outta context, is the same way I work.”

Another thing he’s quick to rule out is he’s not a public speaker but he wasn’t about to turn down the chance to speak at CARBON, especially since it meant he could personally ask for Barry McGee and Martha Cooper’s autographs.

Geoffrey Lillemon (artist, wine-lover, and apparently make-up artist for the elderly) took us on an abstract journey through the net art realm – a fusion between traditional art methods and subjects, translated onto or manipulated with new technologies. Using Faceshift and 3D Studio Max to replace heads and incorporate GIF-like animation are all fairly standard steps in Geoffrey’s line of work. Most of his presentation focused on creating engaging work that didn’t need to be viewed in an art gallery – allowing people to experience it in a very close environment and establish a one-on-one connection – and its potential for the future.

While a lot of the examples shown were pretty nuts – such as the Rainbow Brite, nail-painting horse that made dolphin noises – others, like the Bernhard Willhelm lookbook, gave a familiar object “new energy, a new space, a new approach.”

He then gave us a look at his next project “Image of Edessa”, a collaboration with Evan Roth (of Graffiti Research Lab) for adidas Originals. In his own words, this online project is geared to be a GIF worship spot of sorts, “A way to take these GIFs and turn them into some sort of religious pornography.”

He left us with his desires for the future, in which there would be some hyperreal, happy medium between absurdity, humanity and technology. And a quote from a man “who is an essential character in the world I like to live in”, Dr. Seuss – “Take imagination seriously.”

After being slow clapped on stage (at Dabs’ request) everyone’s favourite art couple, husband and wife team DABS MYLA, took us through their process of creation and collaboration. The pair is now based in LA, after also relocating from Australia, where they met at art school in Melbourne.

It almost seems like an impossible concept, to work and live with your partner (in any field) without creating any friction or conflict, but these guys seem to be the freak exception. It was pretty clear in their presentation that this was a one hundred per cent collaborative effort between them, from the joining of their names to indicate ‘one person’, to the constant exchange of skills since their first years together and the absolute respect each holds for the other’s talent and opinion.

From painting on walls together in Melbourne, to opening their own gallery (which they knew nothing about) and now working on an infinite amount of various art and design projects internationally, means they “spend an obscene amount of time together”. This seems to work out for them because, according to Myla, “We have a lot more fun working together,” and it helps them stay away from the “crazy town” or self-doubt that comes with creating art. Plus it also means these workaholics don’t have to worry about ignoring their spouse to pursue their passion. They can still get fatigued and burnt out by the long and constant work hours, but it’s all cyclical. “Any time we get bored of something, it ends, and then we’re working on something else.” That last part they said in unison, just so you know.

Rounding off the day’s proceedings was prolific artist Barry McGee. We knew things were going to get a little odd when his first act was to move the lectern completely out of the spotlight and start fielding questions. What eventuated was kind of like a virtual graffiti walking tour with Barry McGee. The San Francisco–based artist flicked through what seemed like an endless collection of slides of ’80s and ’90s graffiti, not all of which were his, stopping every now and then to admire a particular photo or drop a graff-related anecdote. Despite his admission of “I don’t even know what I’m doing up here anymore”, his love for and knowledge of raw graffiti was pretty clear.

“I love how out of control graffiti is, in a controlled way. There’s no rules but there are rules and it’s so physical.”

Even though he didn’t really touch on much of his own expansive portfolio of work (besides that he started doing graffiti at 19 and “tried to do political things”), the crowd was thoroughly charmed by his presentation. Probably because, for most of them, they were in the presence of a legend, which is another theme that will surely carry through the rest of the festival.

Khairun Hamid