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How London’s new creative generation is surviving in the city

We speak with BBZ, Jocelyn Anquetil, Contra, Gareth Wrighton, and Cattytay to find out why they make the work they do and what keeps them going

TextAshleigh KanePhotographyLucie Rox

In April, Dazed, in collaboration with The Design District, opened the doors to a huge open plan studio and invited collective BBZ, artist Jocelyn Anquetil, publisher Contra, fashion designer Gareth Wrighton, and designer Cattytay, to make it their creative homes – free of charge, for one year. After they settled in, we visited the studios on a sunny day, with photographer Lucie Rox, to learn more about why these creatives do what they do, what the hardest part of being a freelancer in London is, and what they’re currently working on.

What is it that made you realise you wanted to do what you do in terms of a career and discipline?

BBZ: Loneliness was a huge driving factor for Tia and I creating BBZ initially. We knew that we couldn’t carry on pursuing creative careers whilst feeling so isolated. Since the concept took off and the community we built let us know what they wanted from us. Building and expanding the platform was the natural next step.

Jocelyn Anquetil: To be honest, I’ve never really had a career goal like ‘aha, this is my path’. I’ve always been bad at making decisions because I always want to try a bit of everything, probably part of me is scared to box myself in. So I’m still just feeling it all out. But for now, I’m really enjoying my weird little realm of millennial sci-fi and digital realities, and feel like there’s a lot to be explored here. I’ve actually always wanted to open a fox sanctuary and make an erotic sci-fi movie, so maybe that’s the big dream to pursue! Obviously, these are two very separate and unrelated ambitions. They can happen in any order but definitely and absolutely never together (laughs).

Contra: We wanted to create something on our own terms, to freely work on the topics we are all passionate about, and to be part of a discussion we believe to be important and worthwhile. We felt that there was a lack of accessible analysis around the way images shape our perceptions of conflict. At a time when our exposure to conflict is increasing, the world’s attention span is simultaneously decreasing. Print encourages the reader to sit down, read through and consider a subject in more depth.

Gareth Wrighton: I think the jumper I knit and imported into a video game in my final year was the first instance of all the themes I am interested in aligning in one work. I am still inspired by that gesture, and always want to push it further. I still maintain though that whatever I end up doing as a career probably hasn’t been invented yet.

Cattytay: During my university degree I realised I needed to create something that the world actually needed, something that could influence the way we interact with fashion. I brought together my skills within fashion and tech that learnt perfectly towards the 3D digitalisation of clothing.

How has having a studio space changed your work or your practice?

BBZ: Having a base for the collective to convene and share Ideas has really elevated our work and collective processes. Feel like the collective has less of a hierarchy and more room for negotiation and possibility. Also, we can invite our creative peers for kikis and share skills like financial literacy and what not.

Jocelyn Anquetil: The studio’s really set me in motion. It’s given me the reason to just crack on, no excuses. Whereas before I’d think of something and be like ‘oh that’s a nice idea’, now I’m in full just-get-it-done mindset. Since we’ve had the space I’ve developed and shot a short collab film, the first linear thing I’ve ever done film-wise.. so that’s something new. Having the space was a big kick up the ass to just get the ball rolling. It’s also great sharing space with such interesting creative minds I wouldn’t have usually crossed paths with. Being exposed to other people’s practice, opinions, angles on things has opened me up to new considerations, new possibilities, new collaborations… it’s exciting!

Contra: Having the studio space has completely transformed the way in which we can work and organise ourselves. It has given us invaluable space and time to focus on developing our project and has provided added motivation to push the boundaries of what we’re trying to do. It also takes a huge financial pressure off us – given the independent, voluntary nature of the project we simply wouldn’t be able to afford to pay for a space ourselves. Sharing the space with the other Dazed competition winners has inspired and energised us creatively and we look forward to continuing to learn from each other in the months to come.

Gareth Wrighton: The commute is really great for me at the moment; going to work every day has helped me separate work from rest in a way that I have struggled until now. I martyr myself for my work and feel guilty when on downtime, so to not have to look at my knitting machine when I’m trying to sleep is proving good for my head.

Cattytay: It has provided an even higher drive to push forward with my practice, with a space that allows for a clear working conscience and better daily routine. The space has allowed for in-house Digi-Gal creatives to work together on projects. We will begin hosting skill shares and hold different events within the space.

What do you think the biggest concerns for young creatives and freelancers living in London?

BBZ: Maintaining your mental health.

Jocelyn Anquetil: I actually made a whole art piece (‘Mundania’) that touches on this. I’d say generally it’s trying to stay true to your style and maintain an organic creative process while also battling the money issue. It’s always a struggle anywhere to turn your passion into cash flow, but in London, it seems a bit more like a race. There’s a goal but it needs to happen ASAP, because the cost of living is constantly firing cannons at your romantic creative ideals.

And especially with so many other artists pursuing their creative goals, it seems like there are only so many spaces work-wise, and you’ve got to fight for it. In ‘Mundania’, the main character obsesses with creating the most authentic, the most unique, the most saleable version of themselves in order to stand out, but in doing so, loses themselves completely. Money and creative success have become this sort of fast-forward-dot-to-dot plan, so it’s hard sometimes to opt for, or to believe in, your style and vision and natural process, over the path that leads you to comfortable renting and quitting that second part-time job you have at the weekend.

Contra: Without a doubt, the financial strain of living in this expensive city while working in creative industries that are grossly underfunded. Freelancing is a rewarding and satisfying pursuit for anyone who wants to pursue the creative goals that drive them. However, it is interesting to consider if the expense of living in London prevents people from reaching their creative potential.

Gareth Wrighton: In the fashion industry in particular, people just want to hear how amazing they are and there isn’t any room for work that critiques the current system. I’m not talking about scratch-the-surface-call-out-culture level of fashion critique either. I think people feign wokeness, when in fact we’re all complacent, and therefore complicit in an unsustainable machine, where censorship reigns, and genuine brilliance is lost in a sea of merchandise. Change my mind!

Cattytay: Rent prices, getting paid a fair day rate, or being paid at all. Not having the right experience, but having to work for free to gain any. Working a job that is only just sustaining their rent, and unable to find time to push into creative work.

What are you working on currently that you can share with us?

BBZ: We have an events programme funded by Arts Council England. Essentially making BBZ events more regular, more accessible and financially beneficial for all the artists involved. Soon come with the promo.

Jocelyn Anquetil: I’ve just finished shooting a concept film with Fuego Nails for Dazed Beauty. It’s my first proper crack at a directorial role that’s not one-on-one my own work. Real excited to see how it comes out! Hopefully, it’ll be released at the end of the month so will be able to share more then.. But now that’s finished I’ve started re-developing ‘Mundania’ into a fully-immersive narrative environment with AR & VR interactions. Very, very different vibes, but excited to get back into the techy side of things.

Contra: We are working hard to launch our new and improved website, to organise an eclectic events programme that will run over the next year, and to develop issue 03. We are also beginning a collaborative project with another independent magazine that will be announced in the near future.

Gareth Wrighton: I am making a small video game of the collection I showed with Fashion East in February this year, that I will have online over the summer. I want to flesh out the story that I presented with a medium that I find more relevant than any other in the contemporary fashion system.

Cattytay: I am working on developing the new collective, Digi-gal, a group of womxn, trans, and non-binary people who work within 3D and animation. We are being featured by a large department store this year and we are creating a large body of work for the campaign. It will be released in July and September! Digi-Gal has a residency at Glogauair in Berlin starting the end of June.

What do you hope to have achieved by the end of the studio tenancy?

BBZ: Stability, workflow, profit, more community engagement, our mothers’ approval, routine, a business plan, black queer artwork, and studio party memories.

Jocelyn Anquetil: Um, it’s quite a big list at the moment. Lots of experimentation, exploring spatial interventions with technology, VR/AR development, materialising pockets of narratives I’ve been working on… Probably something with green people and green screens, organising my desk. It could go on forever really, now just to do it...

Contra: The studio is providing a platform for us to push on from being a voluntary passion project to becoming a professional and financially sustainable organisation. By the end of the tenancy, we hope to have significantly expanded our operations. We hope to someday be able to provide an amazing studio space for some other lucky people!

Gareth Wrighton: I can already feel the way I want my work to be consumed is changing and that is great. I like sort of flirting with the conventional ways of the fashion system, then just flipping it on its head in other respects- and as the industry evolves so quickly before our eyes, there’s always something new to antagonise each season. 

Cattytay: I will continue to develop my own practice whilst pushing 3D fashion processes and visuals into physical experiences. I will continue to direct Digi-Gal, creating skill shares, and events within the studio space, and hope to work on many more projects together.

The Design District opens its doors to tenants in early 2020 and will create a new cultural destination for London. This creative hive will contain open workshops and studios set around a series of pedestrianised courtyards and a central public square, with a transparent food market hall at its centre. Visitors will also be able to explore “open house” workshops, terraces, and cafés