Image Research: CAV EMPT & NICK KNIGHT’s “Untitled Project”
The conversation that led to ‘Untitled Project’ began two years ago between MACHINE-A’s director Stavros Karelis, SHOWstudio’s Nick Knight, director Rei Nadal, and the always-illusive design duo Cav Empt (Toby Feltwell & Sk8thing). The collaboration was not bound by a specific timeframe or deadline, and began with a candid back-and-forth between the quartet on the topic of youth. The final outcome was a film called “Energy Surplus” and a capsule collection at Slam Jam Socialism. Arthur Bray sifts through the digital moodboard behind the project.
Bringing people of various disciplines together tends to be a catalyst for new-found creativity. Sk8thing’s past as lead designer at A Bathing Ape may have lived in a different milieu to that of Nick Knight’s ethereal campaign for Jil Sander in the 1990s. Yet through “Energy Surplus,” a connection is formed that abandons fashion hierarchy in favor of ideas, life experiences, and themes synonymous with a period of shared experience: youth. As Rei told i-D: “It made sense in [Stavros’] head to introduce Nick and SHOWstudio to Toby Feltwell and [Sk8thing]…The two teams might not appear the most obvious mix, but it was very clear from the beginning this collaboration was going to be groundbreaking.” In order to understand the underlying themes of this project, one must trace its creative process.
The first stage took place in SHOWstudio’s behind-the-scenes discussions. Led by Stavros Karelis and chaired by Daryoush Haj-Najafi, the dialogue saw the creatives share archive images. “I was just finishing my relationship with Yohji Yamamoto that lasted from 1987 to 1990,” Knight reminisced, presenting a Joseph Szabo photograph of a pre-teen girl smoking a cigarette, “And starting a relationship with Jil Sander. But it was pre Alexander Queen, pre John Galliano, so my images were much more constructed. I wasn’t searching for naturalism.” This was followed by images from Nick’s first book SKINHEAD. For Sk8thing, that tome was also an introduction into post punk subculture.
The conversation led to science fiction and the romance of future, a theme which is often the focus of C.E’s graphics. “I like the idea of being attracted to the future, I never get the idea that ‘We’re moving too fast,’” Toby Feltwell chimed in. American writer and futurists William Gibson and Alvin Toffler were among the writers referenced in a debate that fluttered between literature, cyber culture, and pivotal musical movement that soundtracked their teens.
The second stage was an investigation of the topic via a back-and-forth thread of visual sharing. This five page research has been recorded on SHOWstudio. Some of it has been highlighted here, showing different viewpoints through videos, photos and screencaps.
In “Energy Surplus” many of the references in stage two can be pinpointed. The C.E clad models sitting in a circle chatting in bizarre helium balloon voices is a nod to British youth culture and the mob of teens that fill squat parties, indulging in NOS “hippie crack” balloons. Elsewhere, the vertical shots of models slowly falling into large foam mattresses is referenced from a shoot Nick did with Victoria’s Secret model Behati Prinsloo for the cover of 10 Magazine’s “Sensuality Issue.” If the cover photo of the luxury quarterly portrayed an image of laminated beauty, then the spilling of styrofoam balls and water splashing out from underneath models in “Energy Surplus” suggested another type of restless vigor.
The third stage of research consisted of various clips of Rei’s friend Ali Michael. In the brainstorming thread, Rei shared a clip of Ali on webcam playing with her face. With Cursive’s “The Great Decay” playing in the background, Ali sticks her fingers in her mouth before running them across her lips in a somewhat possessed manner. The caption simply states “I have quite an odd fixation with Ali, surely this video illustrates why.” This edit amongst other Skype videos is also included in the film’s final cut, along with a gabber and Jamaican “Bruk Up” dance battles that erupt in the kitchen. With neither of the creators wanting a simple, easy to digest narrative, “Energy Surplus” is an association of far-flung ideas. “It’s a film about youth. It’s a subject that was important to me in the past and is still now,” said Nick. “Working with film maker Rei Nadal and the C.E boys allowed us to explore very different perspectives.”