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Creative Injection: Semi-Permanent

Murray Bell & Andrew Johnstone

For two days each year, Sydney’s creative community gears up to dive down the rabbit hole and into a wonderland where pretty much everything seems possible. The mystical creatures are superimposed with human characteristics, but their magical prowess is evident in every word they speak – indeed, everything seems possible because they tell us it is. I believe the English word for such a phenomenon is called inspiration… and this week, it’s in Sydney by the truckload.
Semi-Permanent is coming to town.

For anyone who has chosen to tap into the right side of their brain for a living, the roadblocks that come with the territory can often be worse than the trademark insanity. Every so often our creative juices need to be re-injected, and thankfully, Murray Bell and Andrew Johnstone of Design is Kinky understand this impulse and brought the goods with them back to Australia after speaking at the famous OFFF design conference in Barcelona in 2001. Diesel knew about the guys because of their website, Design is Kinky, which was formed before HTML became a baby’s first words, and asked them to come up with a project which they could back. It’s not everyday that you get one of the world’s biggest creative companies asking you to do something which they can pay for, so Murray and Andrew got to talking and pitched their idea back to Diesel within a few days. It was simple – bring the concept of OFFF over to Sydney.

“There was a lot of excitement surrounding the conference within the design industry and it had a really good vibe, so we thought we should do it ourselves – and within a week we started going ahead with it,” says Murray.

The pair tossed the dice and started ticking off their list, which included renting a venue to fit 2-3,000 people. “There had been at least that at OFFF in Barcelona, so we saw no real reason why we couldn’t get those numbers ourselves. But really, we had no idea what we were doing,” explains Andrew. Working out of his bedroom, he and Murray also started to pick their dream speakers for the first event and deal with the rest of the logistics. The success of the first venture, of course, is obvious, as Semi Permanent is now in its eighth year and has grown to multiple cities throughout Australia and New Zealand, with prospects to get into the international sphere shortly.

With 140 speakers already having presented their work, Murray and Andrew say that they have to look to people who are relevant and have 50 minutes of interesting stuff to share with their audience. With a list of past speakers that have included Rinzen, Spencer Platt and Jonathon Zawada among many other great names across the design, magazine, art and photography platforms, being invited to play the game is a career highlight in itself. As for the actual speaking part? “Sometimes knowing how to speak is bred into people, but these people are artists, not public speakers, so we don’t know how it’s always going to go,” explains Murray.
“The crowd is rooting for them regardless,” adds Andrew.

No matter how the speakers deem their performance, one thing is certain – after every conference, there is definitely a heightened level of inspiration in the air. New projects are started, ideas are born and procrastination gets pushed to the wayside – if only for a moment. It’s an idea that has worked because Andrew and Murray understand the urge for creatives to immerse themselves in an event where they can gain insight and hear the story from the mouth who has it to tell – not the transcribed and edited version of it.

Every creative person needs constant inspiration,” says Andrew.

With the event being only a few days away, the guys are looking forward to what will be this year's highlights for them, including Ashley Gilbertson, whose photojournalism in Iraq “may be a little full-on and disturbing”; Jill Greenberg, whose series of bear shots is somewhat… perplexing; and David Michod, who makes documentaries. Other speakers include Frankie Magazine, Travis Millard and Mel Kadel, Craig Schuftan, Fecal Face, The Glue Society, Tin&Ed, Jessica Hische, T Magazine and Jasper Goodall. Side events include Ambush Gallery’s Mixed Business Exhibition and its pop-up Sesame Street Exhibition at Darling Park. There will also be an after party at Oxford Art Factory on Saturday night.

You can pretty much bet that Andrew and Murray’s stress levels will be rising over the next few days, but it will all be worth it when they wake up on the Sunday morning with a hangover and a steady reflection that nothing went wrong (fingers crossed). And, of course, it’ll be nice to look back on the talented speakers they’ve befriended and the people whose lives they have changed.

“We get emails from people all the time who have changed their career after Semi Permanent,” says Andrew.
“It’s awesome. That’s the whole point.”

Semi Permanent is on this Friday and Saturday, 19 and 20 March, at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre. You can buy a two-day pass for $290, or a one-day pass for $230. Or you can be REALLY lucky and win one from us.

The boys were nice enough to give us a two-day pass for one of our design freak readers. To win, simply email us your details and the reason why you deserve it so in 50 words or less to by 8pm tonight. We’ll let you know shortly after, because we know the waiting game kind of sucks.
Good luck!

words: Seema Duggal


March 28, 2010 at 1:18 PM Steve Mousakis said...

A mix of a little bit of the inspiring and a lot the downright boring, semi-permanent still exists because no one's bothered to step up and challenge it.
Year after year the event gathers amazing designers/artists to present but fails to screen their speaking and presentation skills.
Is your conference a success when a few speakers ever year get walked out on by people who paid to see them??
DiK needs to tighten up its ship before everyone walks out.

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