CF: 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.
CF: What was it like to work at the Benetton Group Communications Research Center: Fabrica? How did your experience there change 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 there, but it’s not served on a silver platter, some people walk away from a year with almost zero.
I began my residency there (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’. 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 where I worked on a wide range of projects and loved 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 learned to work faster, think broader and more strategically.
CF: We were initially drawn to your work via your “Spam” illustrations. How did you come up with that idea and how did it evolve into a book and 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.
“I don’t recall ever spending a single minute of my youth considering future career paths, corporate ladders or saving the world…”
CF: 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.
CF: 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.
“My enthusiasm and (ideally) quality of creative work is at its strongest when producing for a variety of mediums…”
CF: Tell us about your future plans. Do you see yourself focusing solely on one discipline 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.
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.