Hoick Studios is a communication and environmental design studio based in Cape Town and London. Since starting in 2013 they’ve stayed true to their name, producing work that is as unpredictable and weird as it is wonderful. Here everyone is a friend of a friend, and working with interesting materials in experimental ways is nothing unusual. They’ve created everything from delicious posters for a street food festival to clay artworks hanging in a bagel shop and, most recently, papier-mâché sculptures for what they call “a solo exhibition by a group”. While their projects span mediums and styles, they all have one thing in common – they’re so much fun to look at that you can tell they were fun to make. For Hoick, collaboration is essential and they believe that working in unknown ways and with unfamiliar mediums, particularly ones you don’t have complete control over, gives the most interesting results.
To better understand how they do what they do, we chat to Hoick’s co-founder Dale Lawrence.
How did Hoick come to be?
Stephen Manion, Claire Johnson and I are friends from our days in college at AAA. Stephen has been living and working in London since 2010 and started working closely with a film production company called Ealing Studios while he was there. He approached us late in 2013, suggesting we go over to London with him to set up a studio there to help him with the work. After a bit of chatting we decided to set up studios in both London and Cape Town – Stephen in London, and myself here in Cape Town, where I teamed up with Ben Johnson. Ben has since returned to freelancing and Claire and Franco Fernandes joined the studio. Franco and I are old friends. We share our studio in the Bokaap (called Soto Voce), with Jonathan Kope and Jarred Figgins of Kope | Figgins, Dario Leite (of a store and Private Life), Ben Johnson and Michael Lumby and Werner Lotz (L+L Architects).
How would you describe your approach at HOICK?
We aim for our style to change with each project. The aesthetic must be characteristic of the project, rather than of us. We try to find ways to bring out unique and important aspects to highlight in the projects we work on. We also like to use projects as an opportunity to learn and explore new avenues of design, and try our hand at mediums and processes we haven’t worked in before. I think this approach works both to our benefit and to the benefit of the project; the results are often fresher than we would otherwise have been able to achieve, and we have fun. You can often see the difference between something someone enjoyed making and something they didn’t. An art teacher at school once told me a drawing I’d made was painful to look at because it looked painful to make. It was a pencil drawing I’d really put a lot of effort into. I think the teacher was Alex Emsley. It was good advice.
What are some of the projects you’ve been working on up to now?
We’re working on identities and campaigns for some upcoming films at Ealing Studios. At the moment we’re working on the campaign for Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is being released in the US later this month. We’ve also worked with a few great local companies on their identities, including Hannerie Visser’s Studio H and Andrew Kai and Matthew Freemantle’s Max Bagels.
Two particularly interesting identities we’ve worked on were those of two new local architecture studios, L+L Architects and Hours Clear, who approached us independently, and who share very similar backgrounds. Despite this, we found their characters to be vastly different, and after a bit of time spent comparing we realised that in many respects they pretty much serve as polar opposites. The next challenge was finding a way to relay these characters within the highly restrained parameters of good architecture identities. The projects took months of trial and error to come to the right result.
Please tell us about your creative process.
We spend a considerate amount of time investigating and pondering over a subject, trying to understand it so we can represent it in a way that feels fresh and honest. While working on L+L Architects’ identity for Michael Lumby, I was borrowing a Chuck Klosterman book (‘IV’) from him. There’s a section in the book where Klosterman is interviewing Val Kilmer and they get chatting about Kilmer’s method acting. In this discussion Kilmer delusionally states that he “understands more” what it feels like to be a fighter pilot than a fighter pilot does because of his role in Top Gun. Klosterman goes on to ask, “You understand how it feels to shoot someone as much as a person who has actually committed a murder?” Kilmer’s response was, “I understand it more. It’s an actor’s job.” Mike jokingly likened our process to this.
Collaboration is an important part of our work. Internally, we exchange ideas and swap work. It’s rare that any project belongs to any one person. Often we swap midway to prevent losing impetus and becoming stale. Fresh eyes are extremely valuable. Externally, we view the working relationship with clients and with other professions (interior designers, writers, architects, social media managers, etc.) to be a collaborative one. We want to influence and be influenced by the people we work with. Some of the best results in the concept phase are ones that suggest an experimental aspect to the execution, and force us to try processes and mediums we haven’t worked in before or don’t have much experience in. Materials and processes always brings something of their own with, especially if you don’t have full control over it.
What are some of the things that influence your work?
For design projects, we often look toward contemporary artists for inspiration. There are so many artists doing such a wide range of things, it’s difficult to stick your usual methods of research and working when you consider the possibilities. We also take inspiration from our contemporaries in Cape Town, London and beyond. Tough competition means design studios are constantly upping their game, it makes for a fun and ever changing field of play where no one can rest on their laurels.
How do you keep the team motivated and inspired?
We’re a small group so we tend to motivate each other. The level of respect and trust within the studios mean that there is a sense of freedom in the way each of us work, which breeds motivation in itself. There are generally lots of ideas floating around, most of which will likely never materialise, but they’re good excitement and good for motivation. We also ritually visit Clarke’s for their morning breakfast special, which starts the days off well.
You recently assembled a temporary art collective of friends and associates to present an exhibition titled ‘On Second Thought’ at Smith Studio. Please share with us the inspiration behind this show?
I had been chatting with Amy and Candace from Smith Studio about the idea for a while. It was originally conceptualised as a group show that I would work with Amy on organising, which then evolved into the idea of Hoick doing a collaborative show as a studio. Claire, Franco and I did something similar when at CLRS&Co., the In Situ project. Smith then had a postponement at the end of March which left them with an opening in June, and we happily filled it. Claire and Franco joined Hoick at the beginning of May, and Ben is still working in Soto Voce. Bella has always kind of been an unofficial part of the studio. She spent six months or so with us when she was looking for her own studio space, and still visits most days. Ben and Claire are brother and sister. Claire and I are a couple, Ben and Bella are a couple. Franco and I have been friends since we were children.
Trust is a necessity when doing a show like this in such a tight time frame. We were able to get onto the same page relatively quickly, and I knew I could rely on everyone to carry their own weight and more. There was no wrestling with individual egos, everyone embraced the collaborative aspect. I think it was quite liberating for each of us to have the moniker and the group to work within. It allowed everyone to take more risks and try things they may not have been brave or brazen enough to do on their own.
We came up with a brief for the show: each person was to create two papier-mâché sculptures, or pseudomonuments, which would then be available to the other members of the group for interpretation in the form of photography, collage, digital collage, drawing, painting, and more. We wanted to explore the variety of opinion and understanding in such a close-knit group. The range of outputs was quite great. It was rare that there were overlaps in ideas. We assembled the group and conceptualised the exhibition in April, and had May to complete the work. The five of us more or less worked around the clock to make it in time. I think the work benefited from that.
Please tell us a bit about your choice of medium for this show?
The time constraints were the first influence over the medium and format of the show. We needed a way to bring our various styles and approaches together and decided to choose a common medium as a starting point. The sculptures would form the subject matter for the collateral work on the walls. Papier-mâché would allow us to apply our graphic skills to sculptural objects, by way of paper treatment. We explored a number of techniques for the treatment of the ‘skins’ for the sculptures, including monotype, stamping, linocut, papermarbling and making pulp containing cement oxide. Further than that, it interested us to make sculptures from an ostensibly temporary medium. We’re used to seeing papier-mâché used for children’s sculptures and festival decorations in the US and Mexico; but, as we found out, in the right circumstances sculptures of similar materials, like Egyptian cartonnage, have survived thousands of years. The illusion of weight of papier-mâché is also alluring, meaning we could make large heavy-looking sculptures without the logistical and cost issues. The comparison of papier-mâché sculptures to flawed monuments followed naturally. It was our way of joining an important conversation that is ongoing world wide.
What can we expect from your studio going forward?
We look forward to meeting and working with more designers, artists, writers and people working on interesting projects in Cape Town and London. We’d also like to do another exhibition in the format of ‘On Second Thought’ — a ’solo exhibition’ by a group — where we choose medium that isn’t something we normally work in as a starting point and develop the show from there. Perhaps this time next year.
‘On Second Thought’ is showing at Smith Studio in Cape Town until 20 June 2015, so stop by 56 Church Street if you’re in town. More about this show at onsecondthought-exhibition.tumblr.com.