Elliott Burford is a young, australian born, art director who now spends his days working at the fabrica research center in treviso, italy. if you’ve been following us for a while, you might recall a brief feature on his “spam” project, which you can revisit here. this time around we have gotten in touch with the man himself, to bring you a full-blown interview about his experience in italy and a look into his continuation of the spam project titled “elliott burford is spam”.
ELLIOTT BURFORD (art director-designer, Treviso via Adelaide)
* who is elliott burford? how did you become entangled with the world of design & visual communication?
You’re a child, and your aunt/uncle/evil twin asks the inevitable question – “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. I never knew. In fact, I don’t recall ever spending a single minute of my youth considering future career paths, corporate ladders or saving the world. I wasn’t a fireman or a doctor – I was just – me. As it turned out, I was much better with arts and language than math or physics – but I still find attractive the somewhat naïve idea of not limiting oneself to a label.
The ‘light bulb’ moment happened in late high school, upon the realisation that creatively expressing my own ideas across varied media, provided the opportunity to communicate, tell stories and produce tangible experiences for other people. Graphic design was the logical bridge into the real world post formal education.
* what’s it like to work at the Benetton Group Communications Research Center: Fabrica? how has your experience there changed your overall outlook on your craft?
It’s a surreal setting – encased in an small and affluent northern Italian town, you spend 65 hour working weeks inside a Tadao Ando underground bunker, surrounded by a bunch of talented, quirky and possibly insane creatives from around the globe. There are incredible opportunities to learn, lead and produce work during your time here, but it’s not served on a silver platter, some people walk away from a year with almost zero.
I began my residency here (due to a mailing error) in the film studio. Given my predominantly graphics based background (and at the time an increasingly unhealthy skepticism of that scene), the opportunity to learn and create in new forms was a welcomed one. I jumped in, wrote my first script, shot, edited and ended up with ‘Annabelle’ (see below). After building up a basic understanding of the technical and compositional aspects of film, I was anxious to try other things, culminating in a permanent move to Sam Baron’s design studio. Here, I’ve been working on a wide range of work and love it – stationery collections, a mobile phone, glass pieces, ceramics, a global ad campaign for the new Benetton perfume, clocks, bags – even a modern take on traditional Tunisian rugs.
The experience of translating my ideas into a wide variety of forms successfully has been incredibly validating, and also very challenging. A year into my residency, I work faster, think broader and more strategically.
* we were initially drawn to your work via your “Spam” illustrations. how did you come up with that idea? how did it evolve into a book/exhibition?
I’ve always mis-interpreted spam e-mails, their message is either so blatantly obvious or impossibly obscured in a machine-like jumble of alphabet. A lot of the language seems very light hearted to me, impossible to take seriously and often ridiculous – “Tame her raging loins”?
In early 2009, I left London and had a few months waiting around in Australia while a working visa was processed, during which time I wanted to set a project that would produce a drawing each day. As my previous works had often used image and copy to play with each others meaning, the titles of the spam e-mails presented an obvious framework for an illustration series – use the title as the copy line, and create an illustration that plays with the intended meaning of that line. Work stopped on the series when the visa was processed and was given no further thought until my website crashed a few months later when it was picked up by the blogs.
The success of the initial series was a surprise and initially I was a little embarrassed with some of those drawings, as they were predominantly very surface level, a cheap laugh with no larger message or room for interpretation. The ‘Elliott Burford is Spam’ collection, book and exhibition was born from a challenge given by Sam Baron when I joined the design studio – to have a solo exhibition ready for early 2010. I wasn’t sold on the ‘Spam’ concept being explored to its potential, which resulted in another visit to the series but giving it greater depth, mixing humor with contentious social issues.
* if you could soundtrack your work, what would you choose?
Actually, I created a soundtrack for the spam collection.
Audio spam was a technique introduced by spammers a few years ago, where an attached mp3 or virus to embed a sound file was attached to the e-mail. This form of spam is largely ineffective and has since practically ceased to exist, but I found it incredibly striking – technology producing and emitting a message, distorted and jumbled, reaching out to us in an attempt to communicate.
Using this as inspiration, I created ‘Audio Spam’, which I identify as an addition to the oral tradition of spoken word, replacing the poet on the soap box with technology as creator and projector of content. ‘Audio Spam’ is created from the text based bodies of spam e-mails, transformed into sound waves through free text-to-audio software.
* what is your favorite thing about living in Treviso?
The lifestyle. Treviso removes you from the clutter of big city distractions and encourages you to appreciate the fundamental. Bike rides with friends along the river until you are lost; enjoying local wine in a tiny bar you accidentally discovered and searching for ingredients in the market for dinner with friends – simple, beautiful experiences.
* tell us about your future plans, what kind of projects are you working on? do you see yourself focusing solely on one discipline (i.e. graphics, illustration, etc) or would you rather continue to explore different mediums?
Right now, I’m working on a stationery collection for Libretto, a glass piece for Secondome, luggage graphics for Benetton and a customised wooden toy for Screamdance – but ask me again next week and I’ll have a very different answer.
With my residency at Fabrica coming to an end this November, I’ve recently begun the search for a studio or agency that can offer opportunities to continue working with super talented people on a similarly wide range of projects and clients. At this stage, location is not as important as the work but I’d also like to try a new city, perhaps (stereotypically) New York or Paris.
As for the styling of works, I understand the benefits of specialization in a single style or discipline – but how boring! My enthusiasm and (ideally) quality of creative work is at its strongest when producing for a variety of mediums. Self initiated work often provides a playground for experimentation in this (as well as providing groundwork for future commercial projects) and there is a list of projects that I look forward to realizing in the near future.
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