Submission to new media experiment 48 Hr Magazine - 7/8 May 2010
48 Hr Mag - a raucous experiment in using new tools to erase media's old limits.
Contribute an original piece of writing, photography or illustration on the theme of Hustle. Submit to 48 Hr Mag within first 28 hours of the available 48.
I stayed up all hours of the day and night creating a submission for 48HrMag, which unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, didn’t get selected. The competition was fierce! But the fact my piece isn’t in the finished magazine is, for me, almost beside the point. The thing is I had an enormous amount of fun trying to make the grade – that’s the point. I think 48HrMag’s greatest triumph is the fact that it motivated thousands of people to get off their arses at the weekend and create something original, without knowing whether or not it would be used, just for the pure unbridled sense of joy, fun and pumping adrenalin that comes from being under a tight deadline and in the race.
See my Cool Hunting post on 48 Hr Mag here and my story submission below with the accompanying slideshow above.
From the Dutch to Shake Up :
One young designer’s adventures at the most notorious creative studio in Holland.
All young designers have to hustle, there’s no doubt about it. It’s the name of the game. It’s not like being a lawyer or even an architect, sadly you don’t get paid. If you want to work for the world’s top designers you are going to have to do an internship and you are going to have to do it for free – no questions asked.
Or at least that was the case 10 years ago when I was an ambitious young thing looking to work from the ground up. I made it my mission to work for the very best and penny pinch my way to the top. Arguably, I hustled more than most and did more than my fair share of internships. I was a glutton for design punishment.
Seven months building mind numbingly intricate models in Thomas Heatherwick’s workshop in London; three months making daily lunches for Marcel Wanders Studio in Amsterdam; a week sitting in a French field, with Dwell’s very own Sam Grawe, sewing plastic rings together for Erwan Bouroullec. These were just some of the crazy things I did to get my foot on the design career ladder. But quite honestly none were as mad, bad or dangerous as my stint at the notorious art studio Atelier Van Lieshout in Rotterdam.
Did you know that the verb ‘to hustle’ actually comes from the Dutch verb ‘to shake’ or ‘mix up’ – ‘husselen’. This is particularly appropriate since those 4 four months of my life working for those AVL Dutchies really shook me up good and proper and frankly I was never the same again.
You can’t say I wasn’t warned. AVL is indeed or, perhaps less kindly, definitely was the enfant terrible reigning over both the Dutch art and design worlds when I went to join their workforce in February 2003. The atelier, run by the infamous Joep Van Lieshout, had made its name in the preceeding few years by publicly addressing every taboo known to western society with their bizarrely dystopian sculptural installations.
A home made weapons factory, an abortion clinic on the high seas, sex robots, and an independent state, shut down by the government authorities, were just some of the high jinks that earned AVL its bad boy reputation. Yes, AVL was a world unto itself and everything was deliberately designed to shock, confound and, at its zenith, horrify people. Of course it’s all in the name of art, darling!
For a small, blond, twenty something English girl looking for adventure, creative freedom, and a bit of corruption on the way, the AVL vision was like a red rag to a waiting bull. I stampeded over to Rotterdam and no one could tell me I wasn’t going to have the time of my life. What someone should have told me is how unremittingly dull the work would be. In hindsight I should also have taken the time to read Machiavelli’s The Prince before I got there, or at least packed it in my luggage for back up. As I would learn, one should always be armed.
But, had I been a good literary scholar I might have been put off and wouldn’t have found out for myself that my boss Joep Van Lieshout was obsessed Machiavelli’s treatise on power and politics or that he believed himself to be a modern day Duke of Milan. The Duke was described by Machiavelli thusly, “Francesco Sforza, because he was armed, from being an ordinary citizen rose to be the Duke of Milan…You are bound to meet misfortune if you are unarmed because, among other reasons, people despise you…There is simply no comparison between a man who is armed and one who is not.” (Excerpt from Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince taken from the Atelier Van Lieshout – A Manual.)
And so it was that, just like the Duke of Milan, Joep Van Lieshout had hustled his way to the top of the art world. He was duly armed and ready with his very own militia, which neatly turned out one shocking art work after another, in an efficient production line. While Joep was shaking things up at the top, in a very literal interpretation of ‘husselen’, I was hustling down at the bottom, in the trenches, with the rest of the AVL foot soldiers.
From the very first night I arrived I realised I was out of my depth. AVL is situated in an old spice warehouse on a large plot at the end of a long dock in Rotterdam’s harbour, far from the city centre. So remote is the location of AVL that by night our dock was protected by high gates and kept under lock and key. This was to ensure separation from the parallel dock, which was home to the very progressive drug and prostitute district of the city. As you may well know, the Dutch like to keep their vices where they can see them.
What I was never quite sure about was who was being protected from who, but on my first night when, after dinner in town, I found myself on the wrong side of the locked gate, without any idea how to get into my new home, I was more than a little disconcerted. Who should I ask directions from first? The drug dealer, the prostitute, or her pimp? As it turned out I was rescued by two female artists (no, they really were artists), who just happened to be leaving their studio at the right time. I understood then that, while I was going to have to grit my teeth in the Dutch docklands, there were also some very kind souls about.
Next morning, and every morning after that, I was awakened by the ‘factory siren’. This in fact was not my alarm call, but the signal to get to work. At 8.45am we needed to be the workshop producing, but never being one to enjoy a strict schedule I was always late. I would arise bleary eyed and pop my head out of my shipping container door to see twenty or so men, young and old, trudging past into the workshop to begin carving, sawing, hammering and welding.
Yes folks, it was twenty of the toughest, roughest, working men I’d ever seen and little ol’ me, everyday. I was the only girl, but I certainly wasn’t the only one wondering how I’d got myself into this. It was clear that although there was a rich cast of characters working at AVL during my time there, they all thought I was the maddest of the lot. “Who is that little English girl carving foam all day long?” they asked.
The hustle at AVL was that as an intern you could live and work on site for four months. The company’s generous offer was carefully constructed to mean that you ate, breathed and slept the AVL experience, like a good foot soldier. Each volunteer intern was given an off duty AVL artwork, that wasn’t currently on tour, to sleep in. There were a surprising number of them littered about the place. Bulbous mobile homes, converted shipping containers, and ramshackled favelas were all piled high on the dockside.
In my case I lucked out with a very cosy shipping container slash sauna, it having been converted into a bedroom and lined in plywood for an installation. To me it seemed perfect, a good size, shelves, a desk and a double bed, three windows and a door. It was my very own AVL dolls house. It wasn’t until later that I discovered my container, in its previous incarnation, was known as The Dark Room, playing the lead in a design tale about paedophilia. Nice.
So, as the only girl in the joint, I was placed in the ‘girly’ foam workshop, where morning, noon and night I got to carve polystyrene sculptures and work with toxic industrial substances. What joy was this? Almost everything the atelier produces is made using fiberglass and polyester resin, two of the most horrible materials I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. At the end of the world, after the nuclear holocaust, I believe there will only be two indestructibles left on earth, cockroaches and AVL sculptures.
To work with these substances you need to be kitted out as though you were going into a nuclear war, or perhaps just going to work with Karen Silkwood. A full Tyvek boilersuit, plastic goggles, a face mask and often a pair of ear protectors was my daily work wear. Glamorous this art world was not. Macho it certainly was. The ear protectors were for when I got to use the chain saw to cut up the extra large blocks of polystyrene. Man, I felt like one of the boys!
So what did I learn during my four months as an AVL foot soldier all those years ago? I’m sorry to report that I didn’t get to make my own hand grenade, have sex with a robot or use the abortion clinic. However, I did, as mentioned, learn the skill of carving polystyrene sculptures and covering them with fiberglass and polyester resin. I then promptly swore that when I was done I would never, with the exception of one Snotty sculpture for Marcel Wanders, endure the interminable itching of that glass dust and those migraine inducing polyester fumes ever again.
I learned that working on a production line of any kind is unbelievably boring, whether you are screwing on bottle tops or carving endless baby jesus dolls, as I was. Even carving the giant penis in a series of enormous body organs was monotonous, until the glorious moment one evening when the boys lifted me up to sit on top of it, as though it was my trusty steed from which I could look down at my militia. My one and only Machiavellian moment at AVL I believe.
I learned the hard way that although the art world is glitteringly exciting and glamorous on the outside, it is pretty shallow, superficial and contrived on the inside. Yes, that was a predictable conclusion I guess. As you get beneath the carefully constructed veneer, you soon realise it’s just a business like any other and the daily sweat of creating shock value for the elite is just hard grafting hustle.
I learned that no matter how dull, back breaking or potentially toxically lethal the work, it’s the people that matter. I encountered some of the most awful people I’ve ever met at AVL, but happily they were heavily outnumbered by the most fantastic bunch of guys I’ve ever had the privilege to work alongside. The fun and games we had together, outside factory hours on that desolate dockland, are some of the most memorable of my life.
And finally, I learned the importance of a good story. While my time at AVL turned me off art in many ways and undoubtedly pushed me towards the more sustainable design work I now do, it definitely taught me that storytelling is everything. Everyone who worked at Atelier Van Lieshout knew how to weave a good yarn and they kept me entertained nightly with tall tales of adventure and derring do. Each of them understood that their daily graft was contributing towards the creation of the AVL myth, which so many art lovers get an undeniable thrill from.
AVL taught me that in order to capture people’s imagination you need to hustle and you need to shake things up.