Last weekend I was lucky enough to get along to Semi-permanent in Auckland as part of my personal development – to immerse myself into the creative industry and meet local and international creatives.
Semi-permanent for those who don’t know is an annual design conference hosted in cities around the world like San Francisco, Sydney and (more accessibly for us Kiwis) Auckland. “Design conference” is a formal title for the event but it is more a platform where a wide range of creatives are invited to showcase their work, experiences and creative insights with the aim of inspiring the rest of us. Semi-permanent brings together creatives from a wide range of areas both young and old; from architects and photographers to web designers and even fashion design entrepreneurs. The result is a celebration of creative culture itself.
When I told family and friends I was going to Semi-permanent, one of the first questions I got was “What is a design conference?”. At the time this seemed like a pretty stupid question but I found myself wondering the same thing before the event too. As this was my first time going I didn’t really have a good idea how the day was going to pan out or what it would involve.
Surprisingly it was a series of lecture type showcases set in a big theatre in downtown Auckland. A 9am to 7pm schedule over two action packed days saw over 13 different creatives take the stage, with a few surprise special guests and performances, including Taika Waititi who provided a hilarious intermission between speakers. But what really pulled this event together was the presenter: Te Radar. His incredible ability to interact with the audience and feed off all of the creatives was a delight, not to mention his witty, “punful”, and sometimes inappropriate humour.
I found myself immersed in the culture of a wide range of creative industries, and like many people there, I found the stories of struggle, hardworking attitudes and passion very inspiring. To talk about every highlight would be difficult so I will only write briefly about a few. If you talk to anyone who went this year I think they would agree that there were three really special presentations, from guys who were unbelievably passionate about their life and work.
Left – Credit: Hwa Goh | Right – Credit: Ashley Gilbertson – www.ashleygilbertson.com
Ashley Gilbertson, Photographer
Ashley Gilbertson is an acclaimed photographer who worked in Iraq, most famous for his work between 2002 and 2008 which featured in The New York Times and various other publications on numerous occasions. Ashley’s experiences as a photojournalist at this time were unthinkable. He described surreal scenes with IEDs exploding like they would in a Hollywood movie. In the drive to get the shot, he threw himself into a place he could quite possibly not return from; not for personal gain – it was a selfless act. Image by image he described an unlawful place with such passion and vivid emotion. At this point in the midday showcase of his work and stories there was utter silence and admiration which brought many in the crowd to tears. Seeing the “WTF” faces of the people when the lights came on after the presentation was something in itself.
Left – Nat Cheshire | Right – Credit: Jeremy Toth – www.cheshirearchitects.com
Nat Cheshire, Cheshire Architects
Another standout speaker whose passion for his work and his industry was just as admirable and exciting: Nat Cheshire.
Nat is an Auckland-based architect who has co-owns and directs Cheshire Architects alongside his father Pip Cheshire. Like a lot of the creatives at Semi-permanent, Nat speaks incredibly well and he made an hour feel like a lifetime of insight. And to put it plainly he has this humble swag that would make Jude Law and Ryan Gosling look insignificant. He spoke about his work for Auckland city and the numerous bars, lofts and big model buildings he has designed with a team of people he loves. Although Nat spoke with such conviction and confidence, he was also incredibly humble and had numerous pockets of one-liner gold. When talking about his latest achievement, which recently won the Home of the Year award, referring to the two cabins as “Anything but indoor outdoor f*cking flow”.
It’s pretty hard to write about how much everyone appreciated his presentation but one thing really summed it up. At the end during a five-minute Q and A session Te Radar said it was the most moving he had ever witnessed in the five years that he has presented at the event. And he wasn’t alone: numerous people were tweeting in from the audience saying Nat Cheshire should run for mayor and less seriously, asking if he could come to Hamilton to redesign the city (there were a few digs at Hamilton as per usual, which is always hilarious).
Framestore Showreel – www.framestore.com
Marc Smith & David Mellor, Framestore
A final mention of pure coolness is due to two guys from the team at Framestore who are the masterminds behind the creative direction, post-production and CGI work in movies like Batman: The Dark Knight, 47 Ronin, James Bond, Gravity, Ironman III and Gravity, just to name a few. The work they presented in the showreel was enough to blow anyone away but their humility and naturally engaging personalities were again admirable. As a young aspiring designer seeing someone like Marc Smith, a guy from Wellington, working in such a prestigious company with such an influential role was rewarding. A real bonus for me was that I actually met Marc in 1885 (a bar designed by Nat Cheshire and his team) in Britomart the night after the conference. We had a boozy chat for a little while (networking, in other words), which resulted in me leaving with a confident respect for what we do as creative people and loving the idea of enduring the hustle.
I walked away from the weekend at Semi-permanent thinking about the culture of the creative industry and exactly how we can be so passionate about our work and lifestyle. I was very impressed to see a range of New Zealand-born designers doing so well and listening to their stories of the hustle and grind made these influential people feel very real.
At times, the creative industry can can appear overwhelmingly competitive sometimes and the fear of failing and being judged is always there. But I feel now that failing fast and learning hard are the only ways to progress your career, and though uncomfortable, I find this idea very inviting.