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Dazed Secret Lectures: lessons from Parisian provocateurs

At the latest Dazed and Huawei Secret Lectures gathering, a group of Parisian creatives meet to discuss how to forge your own path

Last Thursday, Dazed and Huawei took their series of Secret Lectures to Paris. In the iconic club Le Castel, panelists asked themselves how to find a balance between a hands-on creative process and the limitless playground that is social media.

The conversation was introduced by Paralympic champion slash musician Arnaud Assoumani and mediated by Alex Sossah, co-founder of Creative Studio METALLIC INC. They were joined by Pigalle’s Stéphane Ashpool, Marie Madec, curator and founder of Sans Titre, Ill Studio’s Thomas Subreville & Léonard Vernhet, while after the talk Parisian DJs and sound designers Agathe Mougin and Wladimir Schall brought the party.

Here’s what we learned from the discussion from those inspiring the next generation about the various paths to becoming a pop culture provocateur.

NEVER SETTLE FOR LESS

Arnaud Assoumani kicked off the talk with a poignant statement: “All my all life I’ve heard people telling me what I could do and not do, now here I am”. Born without a forearm, Arnaud never allowed anyone to define his worth. He pushed the boundaries – not only is he a Paralympic champion but he’s also a brilliant musician called Jariath mixing electro and funk in a retrofuturistic fashion under the name Jariath.

“Quitting my job at the gallery allowed me to visualise exactly what I wanted,” began Marie Madec. “Working there I was only good to serve coffees and do copies. I wanted to be in contact with artists, presenting their work in the best conditions,” she added.

“As a student my grades were pretty bad,” recalled Alex Sossah. “I quit high school, never went to college...but nevertheless it motivated me even more”.

NETWORK BY TRAVELLING AND USING TECHNOLOGY

“My year abroad in California introduced me to a new scene, it was definitely a life-changing experience and a turning point, I met a lot of people there,” said Marie Madéc as the panellists discussed the importance of travelling.

“Sometimes the magic happens years later with people you have met abroad, you have to be patient,” said Stéphane, who used to visit the US through a student exchange programme.

All panellists agreed that social media is definitely a way to create a borderless community of like-minded people, but Alex Sossah pointed out that “networking up is cool and all but you need to look right next to you too, connect with people younger than you too”.

NO NEED TO BOX YOURSELF INTO A CATEGORY

“One day we went to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and explained to them what we wanted to do with the studio,” said Léonard Vernhet. “They didn’t understand a single word of what we wanted to do as a whole, they looked at us like we were crazy and told us what we were looking to do was more of a hobby,” said Thomas.

Being a slasher (someone who fulfils a lot of roles) is a term often used for someone incapable of choosing a career. Truth is, it is often a way to compensate for the reality of the labour market, or in some cases a way to make a multidisciplinary idea concrete. While in France we haven’t quite found an equivalent term for slashers, the country is slowly adapting itself to this new model” affirmed Alex Sossah.

“Being multidisciplinary can be seen as corny – because a lot of times it’s basically people doing a bunch of things and not excelling in one single field – but it is a really organic and contemporary approach,” said the Ill Studio duo. “Mixing mediums and working with different people and institutions is definitely stimulating. Working with l’Opéra de Paris was one of these defining experiences”.

“I was one of the first to work as a multidisciplinary creative successfully in Paris,” says Stéphane Ashpool. “Multitasking is not easy but the key to prevent confusion is to set a very clear goal and voice it verbally.”

TRY A MORE HANDS-ON CREATIVE PROCESS

“I love how social media revolutionised the art world,” says Marie Madec. “Three or four years ago there was still reluctance from art institutions towards it but things have changed for the better. Now I mostly get in contact with young artists through direct messages on Instagram. Let me play the devil’s advocate: although the excess of data provided by social media and thoughtful online curations is incredible, combining it with books remains meaningful – books provide context, historiography and most importantly critique”.

Stéphane’s shared his social media practice: “I’m very connected and use Instagram as a creative diary,” he said. But the fashion designer had to rethink his workflow and process: “I love objects and being hands-on with things so I decided to get rid of my computer. In my view, a smartphone is quite enough these days. With my computer I felt completely drowned in the digital, spending way too much time in front of a screen. Now, I mostly work with my phone and of course at the studio”.

GIVE BACK TO THE COMMUNITY

“The project I’m the most proud of is most definitely the basketball court me and Ill Studio rebuilt and redesigned in collaboration with Nike,” said Stéphane Ashpool when asked about the projects he’s the most proud of. The colourful court stands out from the Hausmannian buildings, Paris’ signature architectural style. However, Stéphane Ashpool and Ill Studio’s vision goes beyond aestheticism – the main goal behind this joint endeavour is to revive the area and recreate a welcoming place for the youth in a period of goverment cuts.

“It is a social project,” added Stéphane, reminding us to always give back to the community (particularly the youth) that you grew up in or were inspired by. Léonard Vernhet advised that mentorship is important and should be valued. “When we came on the scene, the previous generation never showed love or support so we want to nurture and give advice to young creatives,” he said. “We are always down to help and collaborate”.