We've long been admirers of the Sydney-based creative platform Semi Permanent, which is well-known for its live festivals, and now as a creative studio. But we hadn't realised just how long it's influenced the profession. The release of its new anniversary book, Semi Permanent 20 years Forward & Back puts the record straight, in beautiful fashion.
This 200+ page archive is a non-linear time capsule exploring two decades of creativity forwards and backwards, charting, reflecting and refracting a broad spectrum of excellence across multiple disciplines. Designed in-house, the book archives significant projects from the past as well as significant ideas that can guide us into the future. It also includes fresh contributions from filmmaker Roman Coppola, industrial designer Sabine Marcelis, architect Bjarke Ingels, artist CJ Hendry, and digital entrepreneur Mikaela Jade.
Each body of work featured in the book presents a different approach to the creative process. In some instances, the project provides a moment of pause and reflection.
Fashion designer Bünyamin Aydin, for example, takes the opportunity to look back through his personal photography as a means to make sense of his daily practice as a fashion designer; to draw a line between what his eye sees on his travels and how it manifests in his seasonal collections.
Other featured projects serve to demonstrate the power of creativity: to showcase its ability to affect change. And the book also includes an extensive conversation that dives into an important project – 'New Spaces of Justice' – initiated by the late creative director and entrepreneur Virgil Abloh, Nóra Al Haider, policy and design lead at Stanford Legal Design Lab, and architect Oana Stănescu.
In contrast to other sections in the publication, there are no images on these pages, making the point that creativity isn't always visual. Or at least, it doesn't always start that way, but rather as a spark of an idea, a willingness to collaborate, and a desire to reshape our future.
In short, this isn't just a thrown-together, 'best of' collection, but Semi Permanent has put real thought into how to curate its last two decades of history. And founder and executive creative director Murray Bell has a clear vision for how it should be read.
"These case studies peek into others' portfolios, unearthed archival prints, and freshly-published artworks are by no means a singular representation of creative practice in the 21st century," he explains. "We hope you find it inspiring, sure, but that you ingest it not in a passive manner and see it instead as an invitation. What will you do today that's meaningful in 20 years? We are all semi-permanent, but creative expression lives forever."
And Semi Permanent, too, is firmly facing forwards. The release of the book doesn't just hark back to the past but marks a new chapter for the platform as it further launches the Semi Permanent Brand Studio to the world.
Self-tasked with a brief to "always be more generous", the book is, says Murray, a new iteration of Semi Permanent fostering creativity in all its disciplines at a global scale, following large-scale projects for Tokyo 2020, Tourism Portugal, the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture, Google, Dropbox, Gucci, Nike, and more.
As an object, the book design is "teched-out" and playful in the conventions of bookmaking: employing a semi-reflective cover, a full front-cover index, custom fonts, and flush page edges that create a hefty box-like feel.
An architectural approach to content presents information in increasing granularity, starting with contributions from monumental creative forces – presented in suitably monumental font size – and moving into a fully catalogued archive of Semi Permanent works.
This book-as-object approach acts as its own time capsule, a future-proofed resource, and thus exists within its purpose.
"Semi Permanent was founded with the thinking that, as the world moved increasingly online, real, tangible experiences would become even more special," Murray explains. "The energy, serendipity and interaction that fills the atmosphere when we're grouped together in a room can't be equated – even as 20 years of digital innovation have passed.
"But while a talks program was, and still is, core to the Semi Permanent festival, it's only ever been half of the story, and from the very first – unintentionally – guerrilla exhibition with Banksy back in 2002, our desire has always been to create a platform for creativity. More than a conference, we hoped to create experiences that would spur conversation and incite curiosity. This book forms an important part of that journey."
Semi Permanent 20 years Forward & Back is available for purchase from the Semi Permanent Shop and at Semi Permanent festivals taking place in Singapore (April), Sydney (May) and Wellington (November).
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