Merging the natural world with the artificial, traditional with the unorthodox, multimedia artist Jon Emmony’s work is unique and ubiquitous. You might recognise his enigmatic animations from The 1975’s music videos or Selfridges London’s front display window, or even his AI-infused campaigns with BMW or his still-life inspired digital artworks. Here, we get to know the artist behind the screen.
Q: You work with many different clients, what’s your starting point when approaching a new project?
A: The thing I love about my job is it’s different every day. I purposely choose to work with lots of different types of commercial and non-commercial clients across fashion and music because I think that’s the thing that keeps it interesting for me, jumping between different worlds and not being in too much of a routine. However I do one consistent thing each time I start a project: I see how I can build a world around the idea or concept brought to me. Sometimes that can be a bit more literal than others. I sort of see what I do as world-building.
Q: When you start that world-building, what kind of tools and thoughts are you gathering?
A: It’s important, with all that I make, to try and avoid it being too much about the process or the technique, or trying to dazzle people with effects rather than considering the content. Over the last year, I’ve been thinking about how a narrative can be implemented into purely virtual worlds. I’m thinking about how to develop beyond surface, aesthetic treatments. I think we all live in such a virtual world anyway. At the moment, we’re half-existing on our phone, and half- existing in the physical world. There’s an exciting crossover between the two – something I’ve always found inspiring for my work.
Q: You tend to work with 3d animation, artificial intelligence and 360. What is it about those mediums that particularly interest you?
A: I studied photography at University and then went on to work at SHOWstudio. I came with interest in photography, especially fashion photography. That’s something I was so certain I wanted to pursue as a career. Working with Nick (Knight), I experimented and taught myself new ways of making digital art, creating different types of images and using things like apps on phones. Sometimes very DIY. All of those elements together led me to think it would be more exciting for me to pursue a career where I’m looking at creating digital work. It’s the possibilities that are exciting for me. When I open up a piece of software to make something, there’s nothing in it; it’s a void. You can craft any world you can imagine in there, which is exciting and terrifying. It can be daunting and nerve-wracking, but it can be thrilling when things start to emerge and make sense, when a logic starts to materialise.
Q: Do you think you have any signatures or Easter eggs that crop up throughout your work?
A: I love the idea of Easter eggs. I mean, that’s quite a trope found in computer games, and I’ll be honest, I’ve never really played computer games that much, beyond playing The Sims when I was younger. The idea of an Easter egg has always appealed to me. I see many of the projects I do as ending at one point and then picking up as another project for a totally different client in some abstract way. They may visually be different, but there might be a thread that I’m continuing.
Q: There’s always something that shows the process in your work too.
A: I’ve always loved that stuff. I think that a lot of the process can be stunning in its own way, partly because sometimes it’s a collaboration rather than my finished vision, or the rawness of a piece can be amazing or engaging. There’s a childlike playfulness to something being unfinished. I’ve always liked the torn edges where things aren’t entirely, appropriately rendered. Mistakes are something I like picking up in my work. Also the process can be quite funny – things go wrong and present themselves in quite absurd, chaotic ways.
Q: There are repeated words and phrases that get used when describing your work. Utopian, dystopian, a comment on our tech use – but what would you use?
A: I think I try to create things that umbrella all of that. There are good and bad things about technology, as there are good and bad things about anything in life. I find it exciting to turn the camera on all the different aspects: our addiction to our phones, information overload (which I often explore visually in my work). I think that technology and nature are the two significant influences on a lot of what I do. I quite like those crossovers, where you’re trying to visualise technology as something organic; I think we often see technology as a very rigid, stable thing in our lives, but often it goes wrong.
Q: When you first started working with Nick Knight, this genre and field were still relatively niche. Now, you’ve worked with mainstream characters and clients – The 1975, Selfridges, TikTok. How does it feel having your work and also the genre, progress so much?
A: I think it’s excellent. I think the thing I’ve always loved about 3D animation is that all you need to start is a basic computer. If you’re interested in making this stuff, there’s a lot of open-source software, and it’s quite an approachable way for people to make things. It doesn’t rely on where people are physically in the world, or what access to any physical materials or spaces they have. Photography in that way, I think can be quite limiting for people. Not everyone has the resources to go to a photo studio and shoot things, for example, but anyone with a laptop can go off and make this kind of work. I think it’s great that many different voices are coming into this field over the last few years. It’s a lot wider and broader – with different viewpoints and ideals.
Q: Are you on the hunt for new tech? What are your future predictions?
A: My ambition is to start working more reality into my work. Thinking about how I can go back to some of those photographic routes that I started at and merge between them. So that I’m not just utilising CGI. It’s important to keep moving on and progressing and not being in your comfort zone; you can often rely on the same sort of tropes and things can begin to feel comfortable. One thing I’ve been looking at the last couple of years is artificial intelligence. I did a project with BMW last year where I took hundreds of press pictures of their new car, and then loaded that into a AI. The AI then designed or reinterpreted the car’s shaping into how it imagined the car would look if it didn’t have the context of the final image. It took sections of the car and melted them together.
Q: Would you say there is a contrast in your work: Artificial Intelligence vs reality?
A: In some ways there is, but I think they’re a lot closer linked than we think. Every time you take a picture on your iPhone, there’s artificial intelligence that chooses the most stable image frame for you. Even the types of images and news items you see online each day are selected for you by algorithms. We all engage with this stuff daily, and we will more and more so as technology blurs into our physical existence. The crossover will blur more and more for all of us.
From Somerset House’s exhibition ‘Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi’ to the Fantastic Fungi film release, mushrooms have been slowly entering the mainstream, a new-fangled and ever-growing love of mushrooms spreading the world over.
An increasing number of us are now able to recognise a mushroom species from sight, knowing which would get you high, which work well in a creamy white wine sauce or which would get you in trouble. It seems that during peak pandemic, we began using our limited time outside as a chance to get reacquainted with nature, foraging for wild and edible mushrooms; particularly handy when hoarders stripped the shop shelves.
Additionally, as this past year’s events have heightened our anxieties and mental health issues, many are turning to micro-dosing mushrooms for relief or as a holistic alternative to the high-demand therapy sessions or anti-depressants. Just a quick YouTube search shows grand statements such as ‘How micro-dosing psilocybin mushrooms saved my life,’ and ‘My chronic depression now manageable thanks to micro-dosing mushrooms!’
It’s the excessive time inside that has influenced the growth in mushroom popularity too. TikTok’s cottagecore trend saw the rise of gardening, mushroom foraging and flower arranging on the app. Most foraging and mushroom content creators have over 400K followers, and the hashtag #mycology has over 70K views alone. Even Animal Crossing, which was pretty cottagecore-y already, launched an Autumn update which had players foraging for rare and wild mushrooms too, allowing us to tap into the fantasy when we needed a bit of escape.
Some are so enamoured they’ve made the fantasy of escape a reality. Aimeè Cornwell (@peggweggyforaging) is an artist and farmer who this year, moved from Oxford to wet Wales (ideal habitat for mushrooms) to grow and seed species of mushroom in her farm’s forest. Her social media has rocketed over the past two years, with followers enraptured by her species knowledge and mushroom breeding tips.
Mushrooms have been trickling into the fashion world too, with flexible leather-like fabrications entering the space. These mushroom textures are often waterproof and compostable with groups such as MycoWorks and Reishi now seeding into the high-fashion world. Mushrooms have such a rich culture and such a visual history; unsurprisingly, they’ve become such a soothing and inspirational topic. Can fungi save the world? Perhaps, but for now, mushrooms are doing a fine job at helping us evolve and adapt.
Over-the-top glamour in stackable plastic – La Manso is the irresistible jewellery brand shaking things up
Barcelona-based jewellery brand La Manso has bolted into the accessories world with its colourful plastic pieces. Founded by Adriana Manso, the brand’s curvaceous and invitingly globular shapes have an infectiously 90s nostalgic appeal – think post-plastic fantastic Tamagotchi and Polly Pocket.
Initially inspired by Adriana’s grandmother’s penchant for plastic accessories, Le Manso is a personal venture. Her rings are made-to-order by a small, intimate team, including Adriana herself. Every element in making these mini-sculptures, from beginning to end, is a labour of love by Adriana; with each piece becoming a candy-like collectable from upcycled 90s plastic byproducts.
Seen on the likes of Dua Lipa, Normani, Bella Hadid and Miley Cyrus, La Manso’s costume jewellery has dominated the style-set of Instagram this past year. The glittery, fruity rings filling up our feeds started a wave of chunky ring production. Still, it’s La Manso’s quirky knuckle dusters and signet-style rings that provide a modern antidote to the trend of delicate, traditional jewellery and a much-needed bolt of joy.
Have you met Fabio Rovai? The multidisciplinary artist traverses worlds of artificial intelligence and digital mutation and has worked with the likes of with GAP and JW Anderson. Here, we get to know the artist behind the screen.
Q: How would you describe your creative practice?
A: My photographic background has deeply influenced my practice. I mainly use previous works of mine; usually, all the pictures you would discard because they’re too similar to each other and add elements of disruption on my dataset with technically different images. The final result resembles a picture I would have shot, without having to shoot it in person.
During the project I did for GAP and Dazed, I created a sort of dataset with their look book images. For my residency at the Immersive Kind, I have realised the portrait of Kadine (The Immersive Kind owner) from thousands of miles away, just with 3 different pictures of her.
Q: Is your work usually drawn to new technologies?
A: I haven’t always focused on new technologies, the last 3-4 years I did tons of research on primitive art and the art of the ’60s and ‘70s. Artists like Matta-Clark are an infinite form of inspiration; Metzger’s idea of auto-destructive art has defined my practice a lot too.
Coming from art, I always find new technologies a tool, to disrupt images, video or even sculptures. My work lives between technical innovation and some dogma I gained from art, like focusing on the process over the final result. I like to mutate and take on new challenges.
Q: What are your thoughts on how art and artificial intelligence reform our world?
A: Soon, artists will have more and more space; the whole tech industry has a lot to learn from the art realm. Lots of ideas discussed in art academia have such impactful potential, and it is now time for art to interact more with its surroundings, to create a more dynamic world. For example, I am obsessed with Peter Bunnell’s 1970 MoMA show Photography Into Sculpture, and now, I am looking at algorithms that similarly untangles multidimensional problems. We have a lot to learn from a time where art had a role in shaping technologies.
Also, the exhibition UUmwelt by Pierre Huyghe at the Serpentine Gallery was a way to create a hybrid environment, a sort of dimension between materiality and the digital realm. For me, it was inspiring, and one of the most memorable exhibitions I have ever seen. It was a real 360 immersive experience.
Q: You’ve worked across many mediums, what is it about artificial intelligence that particularly interests you?
A: AI allows me to combine everything; I can use sound, images, sculpture and video altogether without choosing. I always criticised the passivity of the photographer’s role, and this critique made my workflow dynamic. I lost the labels ‘how, why, what’. I now can keep creating without worrying about justifying the specific medium response to my practice ( my sculptural practice suffered a lot because of my indecision).
Q: Your work often explores what it means to be a digital citizen; how does the idea of a digital citizen evolve?
A: I started to investigate the digital citizen concept in response to my Immersive Kind residency. Working with Kadine was inspiring; we discussed a lot about the idea of lasting forever, having an online presence that will outlast us. I am currently coding an LSTM (Long short-term memory) chatbot, which will respond as Kadine’s avatar with her tech and art knowledge.
Q: Tell us about the making of this piece
A: I have been using image synthesis for almost a year now, and this video is one of a more extensive series, of a larger research project. It was intended as visual research, where I was building a creative project to be taught to the machine. Back then, my statistic knowledge was inexistent, so this was one of my first and more naive approaches to the medium. I had to come across different hypothetical ideas and tools to generate this artwork. The piece is a cooperation between myself and the algorithm. This piece was somehow the apex of my photographic practice, where I approached ML technologies not from a technical point of view, but a creative one. I wanted to reconstruct my way to create an image, feeding the algorithm with mood boards and previous work of mine, to teach him, a technique, a sort of style. Also, I think part of this project’s charm is the imperfection of the final results; instead of clear images, I got synthetic noise, a sort of cloud gazing task for my viewer.
Q: What do you hope for the future?
A: My hope for the future is to see more and more co-operation between creative practices (Art, fashion etc.), STEM subjects and technological advancement. I believe clo3d has been one of the most disruptive events in the fashion industry so far and is only an example of what kind of new technologies can bring to the table.