Collaboration has never seemed more important. In a world turned upside down by political turmoil and social inequality, working together is not only an efficient way to find solutions but a vital way of coping with what’s going on around us. At this year’s expanded edition of designjunction, collaborations are all around, between established and emerging creative minds, between people who know each other and those who don’t. But what makes a good collaboration? How do designers and artists work together? What are the possibilities–and potential pitfalls–of working with others?

Assemble X Granby Workshop, Splatware

As two hundred of the world’s leading design brands gather around King’s Cross for four days of activity, we spotlight some of the special collaborations taking place, from totemic tiles to tantalising tableware, and ask the people behind them to reflect on their process, how to make collaboration work and what the meeting of design with other disciplines means to them.

“What grabbed me was the parallel tradition of creating paradise scenes of plants and animals that aimed to show the abundance of creation as a celebration of God.”

Young artist Adam Nathaniel Furman has transformed Granary Square into a spectacular showcase of ceramic tiles through history. A first at designjunction, Turkishceramics–who promote Turkey’s rich ceramic heritage all over the world–invited the London-based Furman to create an installation that would create a dialogue between past and present practices, as well as traditions in tile-making. Gateways does just that: four, four meter-high gates set a scintillating mix of colour against Granary Square’s British bricks, each gate referencing a different era.

Kirkby Design X Eley Kishimoto, Courtesy designjunction

Furman’s collaboration with Turkishceramics began by looking far back, “I was riffing on the idea of the monumental gate, starting from the oldest surviving gate, Ishtar. That was the eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon–you don’t get much older than that!” Furman says. The Ishtar influence can be seen in Furman’s The Classic Gate. The ideological effect of tiles was also important to Furman, as well as considering how tile-laying techniques, production methods and aesthetics have evolved over hundreds of years. “I was also looking at traditional sixteenth century Turkish geometric tile-making traditions, but actually what grabbed me was the parallel tradition of creating paradise scenes of plants and animals that aimed to show the abundance of creation as a celebration of God. They also use geometry to show divine order, but in a different way.”

Equally important was to make the connection to current innovations in contemporary ceramics. “Ceramics have become really good replacements for wood and stone over the last fifteen years, as they’re more durable and impervious to the elements. Going through catalogues I found these tiles that were exactly like wood and various stones–but strangely hard or really shiny, which I liked.” Furman explains, talking of The Timber Gate. Two further gates bring visitors bang up to the present and transport you from sixteenth-century Turkey to Edwardian England. The Retro Gate takes inspiration from high durability tiles used in 1970s Sports Centres, while The Metro Gate will resonate with the millennial: “It’s kind of the hipster gate! The black and white tiles were used in Edwardian kitchens and bathrooms, and in some subway stations in New York, for instance.”

Of the process of working with Turkishceramics, Furman is emphatically positive–and the element of cultural exchange is at the heart of Gateways, a celebration of making design accessible to everyone, and taking inspiration from everywhere. “I think the human tradition of mixing is the best thing!”

After all that walking, you might want to take a seat at Assemble’s table–where they’ll be serving up food and drinks free of charge to tired visitors at The Canopy. “We’re launching a new product, which is tableware, and we thought what better way to demonstrate that than to host meals and serve food?” says Lewis Jones, of the Turner-Prize winning social enterprise, who have teamed up with their own off shoot, ceramic studio Granby Workshop and Kickstarter to create SPLATWARE, a new line of experimental tableware products, ceramic cups and plates, each one entirely unique. The Granby Workshop is itself an ongoing collaboration with the local community, training and employing local people to make its handmade products in Glasgow.

Gateways by dusk © Adam Nathaniel Furman, Courtesy designjunction

“We’ve run spaces before, as well as designing them. For a short while, we ran a pizzeria from the studio in London, but it didn’t go that well!” Jones admits. “We had a lot of fun setting it up and learning how to make great pizza but we realized after a few months we wanted to move on and design other things.” The four-day pop-up cafe at designjunction will be a different set-up, and a chance to test the tableware designs but also to experience the social side of the Granby community. “We’ve wanted to do tableware for a long time, and being part of quite a strong community, sharing food and drink together is a really lovely thing.” The range is initially available on Kickstarter from 9 September–a company that shares Assemble’s values for self-generating and self-funding creative projects.

“In all disciplines, there are people who like to work with other people more and others who are less into it. I don’t think it’s a pattern that designers or artists are better at it.

We’re a collective, so at small scale, collaboration is a really integral part of how we operate , even when we’re not collaborating externally, there’s a lot of people involved, and we have to balance thoughts and ideas — we really love it, and one of the best bits about it is that an idea can take unexpected turns, something we’re not capable of doing entirely in our own head, in that back and worth it can turn into something — it’s more like parenting in a way!” Jones explains. “It’s never perfect, but if it’s based on good interests and there’s respect for each others work, it’s normally resolved smoothly.”

Another Studio, Timber Tailor, Ruffle

Keeping an open mind and being flexible with the outcomes is key, Jones adds. “There’s always an iterative process of trial and error, of gradual development and evolution. That’s the way to approach collaboration–and we never expect to design something perfect! It’s part of the spirit of how we make things.”

“How do they see the overlap between design, architecture and art today? “We don’t see it as an overlap, it just is what it is. That’s just the world isn’t it! It’s all connected.””

Assemble have dedicated their practice to looking at how space is used by people and how we can engage with our neighbourhoods. However, this foray into domestic products is something new. How do they see the overlap between design, architecture and art today? “We don’t see it as an overlap, it just is what it is. That’s just the world isn’t it! It’s all connected.”

Mark Eley and Wakako Kishimoto, the Welsh-Japanese fashion design duo known for their iconic prints, have worked with an enormous and diverse mix of people from the fields of art, fashion, music and design, from Nike and Louis Vuitton to London Transport. Working together since the early 1990s, what do they believe makes for a successful collaboration? “In the early days to have things and friends we wanted in our lives, relationships to help us be globally aware and items to bolster our fashion collections. Nowadays; to have friends and family around us, to make the world within which we live harmonious, to realize long dreamt dreams and to have a laugh. Being able to get on with each other as people is first, regardless of the product we are working on. That brings on the sharing of enthusiasm for the development of products and enjoyment in the whole process.”

At designjunction, Eley Kishimoto showcases their latest collaboration with fabric designers Kirkby Design, which will come to life in a luxe VIP space in Cubitt Park called The Lounge. “It’s an immersive patterned installation that I hope creates a unique environment that uplifts what is normally a fairly standard back room in a trade fair, where important people hang out.”

Having worked across the disciplines for decades, the partners say the biggest lesson they’ve learned is “to survive and try to enjoy every day. There is no point in killing yourself or being stressed over work. If we all need to ‘work’ and spend more time working than not working, then you may as well enjoy the work!” They see the convergence of fashion, design and art as “part of our culture–and something that is a natural part of contemporary society, as it always has been.”

Designjunction runs until 24 September in London.

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