For this week's 'Artist of the Week', we speak to Lea Clidassou, a great friend of PTC and co-founder of Studio Brique, the quirky graphic design initiative which encourages an experimental and collaborative approach to graphic design.
Founded by Lea and her friend Margot Sarret as part of their design Master, the organisation, Studio Brique, has grown into a shared space where Lea and Margot can pour all of their ideas and creations that don't necessarily conform to the conventions of traditional art and design.
With a patient, thoughtful and unique approach, Lea and Margot have co-created an eclectic body of work which varies from cookbooks, to silk-screen cards, to fanzine. Always, there is this air of defiance, of disruption through creativity which Lea describes to me in detail, and which is echoed throughout their projects: "La création offre une résistance à l’état du monde" (Creation gives a resistance against the world). This defiance comes from Studio Brique's rejection of the hierarchical and individualistic structures of conventional art, and society in general, in favour of inclusion and collaboration with all people, places and things.
Over time, Studio Brique has become an inspiring creativity hub that explores a wide range of concepts, and works with people and communities from all areas of life. The unique strength of Lea and Margot's partnership lies in their ability to see the beauty and artistic potential in objects and individuals which often get overlooked - from the people who are told, "you cannot draw", to objects or stories that get thrown away, or lost over time.
In our interview, Lea and I discuss the raison d'être of Studio Brique, their past projects, future plans, and enduring inspirations. We also talk about the special relationship that Pass the Crayon and Studio Brique have forged over the years. Since PTC began, we have made a lot of procedural changes, however, one of the things that we have always maintained a steadfast commitment to (because it is so damned awesome!), is our brand aesthetic. We remain eternally indebted to our friends at Studio Brique, who have been loyal to PTC since the start, and who have been instrumental in helping us shape and implement this aesthetic. We <3 you Studio Brique!
Q: Hi Lea, can you introduce yourself, and describe what your role is at Studio Brique?
"My name is Lea, and I’m a graphic designer. I came to Berlin three year ago now, and even if I’m working as a designer, I always wanted to have Studio Brique as a safe space where I could put all of the inspiration and desire to create stuff which doesn’t fit into the corporate art environment.
Studio Brique is a result of a collaboration with my best friend, it was a diploma project for our design Master. In this field there are a lot of people who are an ‘artist’, but in the higher sphere, and they lose that connection with reality. We created this thing to be separate. We started to organise some workshops where everyone could come and express themselves, away from the value-centered approach of academic art. We create a space to welcome everyone, no matter what you say, no matter where you come from. It came as a really rebellious reaction to the rigid study program of our school. We found a lot of sense in it. We kept on doing these workshops. When I met sevin and martin, I thought that working with them would fit completely with our ethos, and what we wanted to do."
"We started to organise some workshops where everyone could come and express themselves, away from the value-centered approach of academic art."
Q: How did Studio Brique come into existence? Who thought of the name?
"In french ‘brique’ is brick, and we were thinking about the fact that everyone can bring his own brick to build something together. The idea was to build a knowledge bank, but it was also about creation, ideas, concepts, and we will find a way to do it."
Q: Since forming Studio Brique, you have participated in many different projects. Can you name 3 of your favourites?
"There was one in particular that I really enjoyed doing which was ‘Cuisinez-nous’. Basically it’s a workshop that took place in a food-bank, a charity that provides food to people in need. It was only for women. We went there and we were asking them their stories related to their background and related to food. It was in a two-session workshop: first session we introduced ourselves, and the second time they all brought an object or recipe that related to their history. We created a whole book of recipes and their stories, and we scanned the brought objects, spoons and things, into the book. It was really full of emotions and personal. It was a book with folders instead of pages, so you could add your own recipe, or take some. It gave us the opportunity to exchange something. These people are told they have no design ability, no experience. But we told them that, “yes, this is possible”. We helped them realise that they can do this stuff, and they are valid, and they can design."
Q: From looking at your body of work, you use a lot of different techniques in your graphic designs- collage, printing etc. Do you have a preferred medium that you particularly like to work with?
"I really really like the print field. Apart from Pass the Crayon, we don’t have many digital projects. But I really like the print process. When we start the workshop, we have no idea about the finished result. This comes with talking with people and processing the ideas. I would say that with printing- silk-screen printing is really amazing. It’s also a way to deliver the project- you think about it, and when you print it, it is forever, it is finished."
"These people are told they have no design ability, no experience. But we told them that, “Yes, this is possible”."
Q: You have been a friend of PTC’s since the start. Why did you choose to start the partnership? What resonated with you about PTC?
"The first time I saw a post on Facebook from Sevin saying “hey we are looking for artists and volunteers for this project”, I really wanted to help, to do something for newcomers. I feel like Germany is handling the refugee situation much better than a lot of other European countries. In France it is really a disaster. I moved here and I really wanted to do something. I met sevin, and told her I was a graphic designer. I told her I don’t know what to do, but I told her if you need anything to help build your identity, let me know what you need. She told me” okay, we need flyers”, and step-by-step I was doing this for them, trying always to keep the crafty touch that they have-- and also the cheap cost! So I was always offering and suggesting, “okay we can do this or that.” And they have always been really supportive every time, and they liked my suggestions."
Q: The flyers and posters you designed for us are something we are all very proud of! Can you describe the design process of how you made these flyers?
"The transparent event flyer. I always try to keep in mind the crafty aesthetic of PTC. Experimenting is really the main part of our job, as designers. Every time I try to experiment in the design. Paper, printing, cutting. I did the illustration (for the event flyer) with potato stamps and then with inks, trying to build and then scanning again, to have a nice effect. Always trying, just from the simplest process, there is always something nice that will come up. If you play with the shapes and with the processes. Of course it fits perfectly with PTC and the child universe, so yes, everything is connected with the main way of working at Studio Brique. Basically, the idea that nothing is wrong. There is always a way to do it. When you try it, you can’t lie when you try something, if you like it. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but there is always a way to start from afresh. Especially in design studies, even school, when you are like 6, 7 years old, you are told when you draw, “you can’t draw this or that… angles, perspective”, of course this is true, but it shouldn’t be one thing above another. When you are an artist you are trying to re-learn these things, and get back to this original state. This thing you spent so many years to find it again. It so hard to deconstruct this."
Q: You have worked with PTC on a couple of workshop series. Can you describe what you did, and how you found the experience?
"I haven’t done so many workshops with PTC, as I was more comfortable with doing the branding for them. But every time I’ve been to the shelter, I have been really amazed by the energy, in every sense of the word! Last time we did a stamp/painting session, and it was crazy cool what we were able to create. The power, the energy, the spontaneity of the kids. Everytime I see them creating it seems so easy, so natural. I find it really inspiring. I read something lately that I really liked: the person said, the grassroots DIY movement has been taken by corporations and now it’s been exploited, and turned into another commodity. Everyone is now selling books about DIY, selling services, and it has lost the original essence of the movement. So, we should now start a “Dont Do It Yourself” movement, and start sharing again, collaborating, being open with each other and learning from each other as a community."
Q: Designing and creating Art with children is very different to doing it with adults. How would you compare the two?
"The process is probably faster with children because you tell them ,“we are doing this’” and they take stuff, and begin to do it without questioning. But with adults, they already have preexisting ideas about what is ‘good’, or ‘bad’, or ‘ugly’. So you need much more time to say, “let it go”, to talk, to reassure them that we will figure it out together. When they face a white piece of paper, they always say, “I don’t know how to draw”, so we say, “just try”: You can cut it, or make a stamp, or fold the paper. There is always this resistance at the start, and they need extra support."
"Art puts everyone on the same hierarchy, it is very democratic and opens people up. It teaches us that status is interchangeable- the teacher can become the pupil, and vice versa."
Q: How do you think Art can help children, and people in general, overcome their struggles in everyday life? Has it helped you in your personal life?
"I think that, even if you are not a newcomer, expressing yourself is always a good window to let things go. Even if you don’t show what you do, you have a way to express. The nice about gathering people to co-create is that you can find support, acknowledgement, and new knowledge. In this way you feel that you are valid. This is something which is important at Studio Brique- even if you don’t have a diploma, or a valuable place in society, you can find value and acceptance. At the women’s group, this woman had no food, she was coming from Lebanon. In Lebanon she wa doing a thesis about virginity in society. But when she came to another country she had to start from scratch. She said, during the workshop, that it was great to feel that she was listened to, and she had the opportunity to share. Art puts everyone on the same hierarchy, it is very democratic and opens people up. It teaches us that status is interchangeable- the teacher can become the pupil, and vice versa.
During the start of our research for our diploma, we found out that in libraries, there is a system to classify the books with letters or numbers. We discovered there are ten categories - geography, history etc. You have 1, then 1.1 etc. This is how you classify the topics. But we discovered that the number 4 was empty! The group who was taking care of this kept the space blank - the box is still empty. With my friend we thought that this box could be the shared knowledge - personal memories, miscellaneous stuff that people don’t think is important- knowledge that will be lost. So this is why we started the box. We asked the librarian what they do with this empty box, and they said it’s really for personal use. In one library, they used this section for thematic exhibitions - for example, aliens. She would put everything about aliens in this section. Some leave it blank. So we went to some libraries and asked if they would like to collaborate. The libraries were open to the workshop idea. They would connect associations that were already doing events with groups, and did a workshop with us. At the end of the workshop we would put the book at the end in the fourth box."
Q: What future projects are you excited to be working on?
"I actually bought myself a small silk screen materials and equipment, so now I want to experiment. Basically, I found a website that connects people together. You just give your address, and they give you a random address of another person, and when you send your postcard, they send your address to someone else. I want to make an art project around this concept. I really want to work around this postal connection idea."
Q: We would love to have you back for another workshop session! Do you have any ideas for what you would like to do?
"I love to print, so maybe I try something digital, like a coding project. Graphically we can create really crazy stuff with just a few lines of code. My friend at Studio Brique, she is working in France for an institution that experiments through digital mediums. They cross learning with technologies. I find that very great. That is something that could be interesting with children. You could help them learn German through code. To help learning is something I find really nice."
** All pictures featured in this article are from the online archive of Studio Brique. In order of appearance, they are: 'Brick Free 16', 'Elles', 'Cuisinez Nous 3', 'PTC 5', 'CCR 4', and