Hi everyone, thanks for the invite Suzy, and apologies for coming to the
discussion so late, I've been very tied up these past weeks. In an
effort to make up, I wrote all of the below quite quickly in one
afternoon almost as a stream of consciousness dump so again apologies if
it's a bit long.
NB I've actually been on crumb for a few years (since 2009/2010 I think)
but I believe this will be my first post.
I'll talk about my work and experience in context of the primary
discussion theme, also reflecting on the themes mentioned so far.
There's a lot to be said so I'll try and keep it brief (though I'm sure
I'll fail). The text below could perhaps be complemented by a brief talk
I gave at Digital Utopias a few months ago, about production models
(under the disruptive innovation umbrella
My experience in this field (collaborations between the Arts and
Creative Digital Industry sectors) is perhaps a bit different to the
partnerships mentioned so far. I have exhibited work and have had work
commissioned by partnerships with corporate sponsors. But I've also
ridden this wave all the way into the firey pits of hell - working
directly with brands and ad agencies - and back.
-= A brief history of time =-
First a bit of background information, as this might help shed light on
how or why I ended up on this slippery slope. I grew up in Turkey, and
completed a degree in Civil Engineering. Not at all something I was
interested in, but somehow found myself in due to the education system
and my environment etc. (in the late 80s, early 90s). As soon as I
finished university I escaped to London, to pursue a life that wouldn't
involve being a civil engineer, or going to the army.
I was so naÔve and ignorant to the models of production available to
artists, that I thought the *only* way an artist could make art, is if
they found ways of financially supporting it themselves. I most
definitely am not a businessman or an entrepreneur, but I found I had no
other choice to try and find ways of self-funding my work.
-= The Mega Super Awesome Visuals Company =-
So in 2006 I setup The Mega Super Awesome Visuals Company - a
micro-studio which consisted of just myself, and was a channel through
which I could sell my services, and in return gain experience, skills
and of course the funds to develop my own work.
I did that for quite a few years e.g.
Depeche Mode music video
Wombats music video <http://www.memo.tv/wombats-techno-fan/> (2010)
Blaze <http://www.memo.tv/blaze-the-streetdance-show/> (2010)
Cascada <http://www.memo.tv/cascada/> (2011)
The above gave me the time, funds and technical skills to realize
personal self-initiated and self-funded work such as
Body Paint <http://www.memo.tv/bodypaint/> (2009) and Gold
<http://www.memo.tv/gold/> (2009) toured with the V&A's Decode exhibition.
Simple Harmonic Motion <http://www.memo.tv/simple-harmonic-motion/> #5
(2011 - ongoing) was part of Ron Arad's Curtain Call at the Roundhouse,
And publicly funded work such as
My Secret Heart <http://www.memo.tv/my-secret-heart/> (2008) premiered
at the Royal Festival Hall and won a number of awards.
Forms <http://www.memo.tv/forms/> (2012) won the Golden Nica at the Prix
Of course these self-initiated / self-funded or publicly funded work
also fed back into the commercial work that I was doing. So there was a
constant feedback loop supporting itself.
-= Marshmallow Laser Feast =-
I had no ambitions of owning or managing a large company, so I didn't
try to grow MSA Visuals. At the same time I was thoroughly enjoying
collaborating with friends I'd made on this journey. So in 2011, with
two friends I setup a new company called Marshmallow Laser Feast. Again
we didn't have aims of growing the company. We just wanted to be able to
independently do the work that we wanted to do. We wanted to
artistically explore new mediums, new ways of expressing ourselves, and
not limiting ourselves to any particular genre, output, discipline,
mediumor context. Whether it be visual, sound, dance, theatre, film,
live performance or commercial. This was the ethos I had with MSA
Visuals, and now carried on into MLF (and even though I've now left MLF,
I still carry to this day).
Prior to MLF, the commercial work that I was doing on my own was through
music labels, event agencies, creative agencies etc. With MLF we slipped
into working with ad agencies and even directly with brands, and that
opened up the doors to a whole new world of opportunity and pain.
It's worth mentioning a few inspirations or 'role models' when we were
setting up MLF:
BMW Kinetic Sculpture (2008) by Art+com, commissioned by BMW
Absolut Quartet (2008) by Jeff Lieberman & Dan Paluska, commissioned by
Giant Xylophone in Forest (2011)by Drill Inc, commissioned by NTT Docomo
These were examples of what we were hoping to achieve. Ambitious,
genre-busting, anti-disciplinary work that were crossing boundaries,
reaching large audiences, inspiring others and not compromising their
integrity through brand funding (this last point isn't entirely true
actually, especially in the BMW / Art+Com case; Iíll talk about this below).
With MLF we made a lot of work that I am very proud of. Work that -
judging by the number of clones they've produced, other works that cite
these as references, conferences we've been invited to as a result etc -
has had a significant cultural impact.
Sony Playstation 3 Video Store virals (2011)
A live projection mapping of a living room.
Meet Your Creator (2012)
A live theatrical performance / kinetic light sculpture with quadrotor
drones, LEDs, motorized mirrors and moving head spotlights dancing in a
joyous robo-ballet celebration of techno-spirituality.
McLaren P1 light Painting (2012)
A stop-motion, long exposure photography light painting animation,
driven by real-life wind tunnel data and motion control rigs.
Laser Forest (2013)
A large interactive musical laser forest
Just for hits (2013)
A provocation on creativity, memes, cultural evolution and internet
culture; featuring Professor Richard Dawkins.
I am very proud of this work. I think we explored interesting new
territory - and quite importantly, inspired others. E.g. I know for a
fact that the Sony PlayStation videos inspired a lot of work which went
on to win many awards. And to me that is much more important than
winning awards for my own work.
But I of course I wouldn't call the Sony Playstation project 'my
artwork'. It's a commercial, for Sony Playstation. Likewise with the
McLaren P1 video. And the BMW Kinetic Sculpture.
-= Artistic R&D and motivation =-
I value projects like the Sony Playstation mapping, McLaren Light
Painting etc as *Artistic R&D*. They allow me time, space and facilities
to investigate modes of communication that would perhaps otherwise not
be possible for me. These investigations operate on many levels: Visual,
sonic, physical, interaction, storytelling, technical. I learn from them
and will hopefully be able to inject what I've learnt into further work.
And like I mentioned above, hopefully these projects are also a stepping
stone for *others* to learn from, be inspired by and fuel *their*
further work (which in turn will hopefully inspire and fuel *my* further
However where it gets tricky is when motivations are not aligned; and
this is the biggest issue I find when working with commercial
organizations vs cultural organizations - motivation. Often while *we*
are motivated by artistic R&D, commercial commissioners are motivated by
something else - getting more hits on youtube, more shares on facebook,
selling more products, winning an award, getting a promotion etc. And it
can be very tiring trying to pull a project in one direction, while
those who are commissioning you are trying to pull it in another direction.
So there's a delicate tension here. With the Sony PlayStation project,
or the McLaren project, on one hand the brand / agency gave us the
opportunity, facility and possibilities of exploring what we wanted to
explore; but with strings attached in that we had to deliver something
which communicated what they wanted us to communicate. We had to have a
PlayStation in there, or a McLaren.
This model works, but it is very tiring.
But it's not all doom and gloom (more on this in the Learnings section).
-= Perfection =-
"Meet Your Creator" was a very different beast. To me that project is
perfect. Not that it's perfectly conceptualized or realized. But that as
an experience working with a brand (Saatchi & Saatchi) it was in no way
compromised. On the contrary - the creative directors at Saatchi &
Saatchi Jonathan Santana and Xander Smith; the producer Juliette Larthe;
all the way up to the Head of Global Operations Norma Clarke were so
absolutely fantastic and aligned in vision with us. They were not only
aligned in vision with us, but collaborators, they were pulling the
project forward in conceptualization, ideation - and of course
production. There were no strings attached, just a shared vision and
determination to realize that vision.
So while this performance is obviously still promoting the brand Saatchi
& Saatchi,there isn't a single decision made in the design of the
performance, that was made because it suited the brand better. Every
single decision was made becausewe thought it was the right decision for
the performance. And S&S realize that in the long run, that was better
to promote their brand, than attach strings that would force us to stick
their logo in there or some corporate message. Instead they saw the
value in simply being able to promote the finished piece as commissioned
by S&S. (you wouldn't believe the number of emails we still get from
brands wanting us to fly quadrotors in the shape of their logo :/ )
So in my mind the way that project came about was perfect. The work
itself of course is far from perfect, but then again what work is
perfect? The outcome is true to our vision, it is perfectly
representative of what we set out to achieve, limited of course by what
we were technically and financially able to achieve - but at least we
were not crippled by having to make compromises due to the brand
funding. In my mind it is no different to making a personal artwork.
-= The End =-
That project happing in 2011/2012, got me very excited and hopeful about
the future. Unfortunately I never experienced that kind of brand
relationship again (except for in 2013, again with S&S for the "Just for
More on this in the Learnings section, but as the years went on I became
more and more disillusioned by the work we were doing.
The last commercial project I worked on with Marshmallow Laser Feast was
a U2 music video & super-bowl commercial for Bank of America / RED. A
collaboration with legend Mark Romanek (which was probably the highlight
of the job for me).
This project summed up everything that I was not happy with about the
commercial world. We spent about 3-4 weeks pitching (which is actually
very short, some pitches can last months, if not years), and then we had
3 week development time (yes, I know that's crazy - especially because
it was over christmas / new year). The basic idea ended up being taking
what I had done 6 years earlier, and throwing a whole bunch of money at
it, to make it BIGGER, and MORE WOW, because BIGGER IS BETTER.
Over the years this is what I feel I (and MLF) had become. Maker of
spectacles. Every day I was receiving emails from some ad agency who
wanted the next big thing. It had to be "bigger than before", "never
before seen" (at least "never before seen" in the ad-world, it was ok if
only a hand-full of people had seen it in an art-context), and a "be
there moment" which everyone would want to share on facebook etc. Taking
something small and throwing money at it to make it big was a very valid
So I resigned from MLF, the company that I'd co-founded 3 years earlier.
I stepped down as (co-)director and left the company beginning of 2014.
I've now gone back to being an independent artist (and on a side note,
started a PhD at Goldsmiths in Artificial Intelligence, machine
learning, cognitive science, data dramatization and artistic, expressive
human computer interaction).
-= Learnings =-
I don't think it's all doom and gloom. But before I talk about that, I
want to reflect on a few things.
-= Budget ~ Strings=-
An important rule, is that amount of creative freedom is inversely
proportional to production budget. Our budgets were growing and growing
(our fees weren't necessarily growing, but the production budgets we
were dealing with - which were usually handled by the client side - were
growing). And as the production budgets grew, amount of strings attached
An interesting side point to this, is that the formula that governs the
relationship between amount of strings attached and production budget,
also takes into account who you are. So Person A might have N amount of
strings attached for a budget X, but person B might have M amount of
strings attached for the same budget. Negotiating that is all part of
the fun (fun if you're a masochist, otherwise it's a major PITA and
waste of time).
-= Chain of Command =-
Another important factor which I often mention is "chain of command".
It's a very simple and obvious rule, but often gets overlooked, and that
is the shorter the chain of command, the better the work will be. All of
the commercial projects which I'm happy with, had a very short chain of
command. I.e. we were in direct communication with the people at the
client side who had the authority to sign off on all decisions. Or even
if they didn't have the authority to sign off on the decisions
themselves, they had to report to one level of superiors, but that was
more of a formality, and they were always confident that they could get
sign off from their superiors relatively easily. I.e. their superiors
had faith in them.
I've also been involved with a number of projects where we were dealing
with a creative director at an agency who had to report to his manager
who had to report to the executive creative director who had to report
to head of blah who had to report to the other agency who had to report
to the boss at blah who had to report to the account manager who had to
report to the producer at the client etc. etc. Without exaggerating,
sometimes these tiers would be 10 levels deep. Or we'd have "creative
meetings" with 10-15 people. Full of people who are fighting for
promotion, eager to make their voice heard and their input count.
NOTHING WILL EVER COME OF THIS. It's a waste of time.
Furthermore, linking the above two: the bigger the production budget,
the higher the probability of having a longer chain of command.
Something to be wary of.
-= Trust =-
Again linked to the above two points, when a client puts in a lot of
money, they want to know what they're going to get at the end. This is
quite contradictory to the way I work - and I presume most artists. If I
knew what I was going to get at the end of an exploratory process, it
wouldn't be an exploratory process. It would be just a linear
development process. The most successful (and fun) projects I've worked
on, are the ones where I (or we) have not had pressure at the start of
the project to promise exactly what we would deliver at the end. We've
only promised where we'll start, and inwhat direction(s) we'll explore,
and then we've documented our progress.
That requires a lot of trust from the commissioning body. With cultural
organizations, I find this is easier to establish. It's easier because
there is more of a personal relationship, that builds over long periods
of time, sometimes years. Also the exploratory process is known, it's
In the commercial world, expectations are different. They're used to
seeing storyboards and style-guides at the start; and then everything
going according to their plan. Also these long personal relationships
are tricky, because the world is so volatile. Even if you manage to
build personal relationships, if you have a long chain of command (again
that damn chain), it's often not possible to make sure you have a
personal relationship with everyone in that chain.
The one commercial project I've been involved with which I hold as an
example of how all brand commissioned art should be (Meet Your Creator)
was made possible because we had an existing relationship with the
client (Saatchi & Saatchi) from prior work, and they trusted us. And
again, quite critically, because the chain of command was so short, we
just needed to have this trusted relationship with a very small group of
people (Jonathan, Xander, Norma and Juliette - which is the exact same
group of people we worked with the year before). If the chain of command
is really long, even if you have a solid trusted relationship with some
people in the chain, if new people come into the chain who don't have
that trust with you or their peers, it all falls apart again.
It's also worth pointing out, that having a long-term trusted
relationship isn't enough. Neither is having a short chain of command.
You need those, but you also need to make sure that the people you're
dealing with on the client-side are awesome, and that isn't always the
-= Danger =-
The most dangerous situation, is when you start discussions with a
client / brand / agency, and at the start it seems like everything is
perfect. Motivations are completely aligned, there are no strings
attached, chain of command is very short. Everything is awesome
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etzMjoH0rJw>. This happens surprisingly
But unfortunately everything is rarely awesome
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhbliUq0_r4>. Only after months of
friendly chats and enthusiastic discussions do you realize that even
though motivations are completely aligned with the people you're dealing
with, perhaps the chain of command isn't as short as you thought,
perhaps someone new has been assigned at the client side at the very far
side of the chain, perhaps there are more strings than you'd initially
realized, perhaps the new person wants to make a teensy weensy change
that doesn't really affect the project but actually for you that
undermines the whole concept of the work.
But by this point you've invested so much time into the discussions
(perhaps even money), but most critically you've become emotionally
engaged with the project, that you find it difficult to let go. In fact
sometimes you come to this realization so far down the line, that it's
"quicker to swim to the finish than it is to go back". So you just bite
the bullet and finish it, trying to make the most of it. I.e. it becomes
"artistic R&D" when you'd set out to make "an artwork".
Learning to assess a commercial opportunity early on is a very valuable
-= Cultural differences =-
At the heart of it, the biggest issue is the cultural differences
between those who are in the world of art, and those who are in the
business of selling products.
The most obvious difference of course, is that a lot of people in the
brand world - especially those in marketing and advertising - just don't
care, about anything. They literally don't give a **** about anything
other than making money. These stereotypes do exist, and they ruin it
However I should make it clear that in my experience not everyone in
that world is like that. I'd also like to underline the fact that I am
most definitely not endorsing the view that "art world == good;
corporate world== bad". Both sides are as ignorant and *prejudiced* as
each other. Plenty of artists whose work I deeply respect and admire,
have said things that frankly quite shock me in their ignorance, naivety
and prejudice. There is the assumption (at least amongst many artists I
know) that *everyone* in the brand / commercial world is like the above
mentioned stereotypes: blindly driven, determined and obsessed to
corrupt, destroy and take over the world with their ads and corporate
tactics. In fact many of these claims - which I put down to blatant
ignorance - are further fuelled when these artists refuse to even engage
in discussion with the said evil corporate perpetrators (often due to a
moral high ground).
A lot of the problems arising between the commercial and art world is
due to this ignorance. Ignorance to how the other side functions and
what they value. (Isn't this the root of ALL problems in the world? - In
fact now that I have one foot in academia, I can see the same issues re:
academia vs real world).
There are a lot of people in the commercial world (perhaps even
majority) who have genuinely good intentions.
However they may not possess the language to articulate their intentions
in a way that would make them accepted in the art world. In effect, the
problem simply becomes one of communication. A tier down from that, they
may even show different intentions. But again often these differences
can easily be reconciled if caught early on.
-= Disrupting from within =-
One interesting point regarding what I've witnessed in the commercial
world (e.g. ad agencies), is that those who are younger and more junior,
are more likely to be open to learning about how to engage with cultural
organizations and artists. They genuinely want to "do good" and
instigate change. Unfortunately they often have less power, and access
to smaller budgets etc. Those who are older, more experienced, and have
more power are often more stubborn and want to do things the
old-fashioned way. Just concentrate on making money. Of course this
makes complete sense, even from a Darwinian evolutionary point of view
(those who are in high power positions are there because they are more
interested in doing what it takes to get to a high power position), and
unfortunately this makes progress difficult. But if we are patient, and
do not give up engaging with the younger, more open minded generation,
theywill hopefully instigate change from within as they grow within
The 'Rules of engagement' approach is a good starting point, but it
isn't enough. There needs to be a deep cultural change in both sides of
the debate. The current trends, incubator programs, artist in residence
etc are all good initiatives too and helping these cultural shifts to
varying degrees, but are still acting on the surface. We need much
As Tatiana talks about, disrupting from within is the only real
solution. I've been trying to disrupt the commercial world from within
for almost a decade. I've now left the front-line of this battle as I'm
exhausted from it, and I don't think I'm equipped with the right tools.
I feel like it's not "artist-in-residence" programs that we need in
corporate organizations, but "curator-in-residence" programs. And not
for 4-12 weeks, but 4-12 months. I can go and do a residency for a few
weeks at some startup in SF, but what good does that *really* do if I'm
just focusing on trying to get some work out the door in a few weeks and
I'm only liasing with someone from their marketing team, whose only
connection to "art" is following a few cool techy blogs (of which
there's now more than there are artists in the world probably. And they
all copy paste each others posts. We need sites that will rip our work
apart, not just copy paste it all over the place - that's a whole other
topic, but I think an important part of this cultural shift that we need).
Besides, most of the tech-artist-in-residence programs attract
relatively young, emerging artists (perhaps because they offer very low
fees and only "good exposure"?). (Excluding exceptions) these young
emerging artists perhaps don't yet have the life-experience or
understanding to have an impact on the commercial organizations they are
resident in. On the contrary, these commercial organizations may be
assimilating the artists in residence more than the artists are
assimilating the commercial organizations.
This should be an added incentive to why we must first let experienced
curators - such as yourselves - deep into the commercial world, and try
to assimilate them from within. Curators such as yourselves can start
sowing the seeds of this cultural exchange. And then you bring in
artists-in-residence and engage with them within commercial
organizations; you instigate partnership programs with cultural
organizations from within, reaching out as opposed to reaching in from
outside, or marketing managers trying to do so (and failing to do it
properly). Then hopefully the channels of communication between the two
worlds will be open, clear and fruitful. And both sides will see more of
and learn how the other side expects to operate.
Of course this is not easy. It's going to be hard, and very painful. But
if we don't at least aim for it, then it's never going to happen.
I feel like I've written a lot and perhaps this is a good point to sign
off and let the discussion continue.
P.S. I can't not pay homage to Andy Cameron, who really fought hard to
make deep cultural changes in the ad world. And he was making progress.
Slow progress - as he was pretty much the only person that deep inside
within the walls of an ad agency with his background - but progress was
there. So tragic that he went so young.