The Class of 2017

Talent comes in all shapes and forms and in these disruptive times, we look to those people who define our cultural experience, shaping the conversation around us.

We’ve assembled ten emerging talents doing just that, from the fields of fashion to philosophy and technology. We’re putting the spotlight on those people who are utilising modern and old tools in a unique way. These ten individuals have been chosen for their highly distinctive work and the uncompromising attitude.
From Yasmin Green, the director of Google think tank Jigsaw fighting online extremism to the go-to producer for XL Recordings Rodaidh McDonald, these are all people who possess a unique voice. All 35 years and under, they are only on the cusp of their careers, and we can’t wait to see how they carve out the path ahead of them. This is our class of 2017.

Sadie Williams, Fashion Designer

Photograph: Rosaline Shavanaz

London-based designer Sadie Williams uses a unique blend of textiles, prints and her signature metallic to craft an aesthetic somewhere between sport luxe and modern femininity. It is her intrigue in the manipulation of different fabrics and prints that has given her the opportunity to work with designers such as Marc Jacobs and Jonathan Anderson, but it is the instant appeal and wearability of her stand out pieces that has led to sell-out collections on the high street with & Other Stories. As a recipient of the British Fashion Council NewGen funding, Sadie’s namesake brand is ready to go to the next level.

Read interview here

Since graduating from CSM you have had a lot of exciting moments like collaborating with Selfridges and & Other Stories, and now you are one of the BFC Newgen recipients. Has there been a moment in particular where you felt like it was all coming together?

During the actual moments that a collection is being presented or a project launched, I’m normally running on adrenaline and probably a bit dazed! I’m not sure if I’ve felt like it’s all ‘come together’ because I’ve never been someone to have a future plan or goal and I’m quite eclectic in my creativity. I think one of the best feelings is when my best friends, peers and family let me know that they’ve enjoyed or admired my work. 

London has such a hub of exciting and diverse new talent at the moment in the fashion industry. Do you feel like your design approach has been influenced by growing up here?

Definitely! I love London so so much. I still shop and find inspiration in the places I grew up in. I’m always buying fabrics and trims in Shepherds Bush market, somewhere I used to go with my dad as a kid, and I still shop and research in Portobello Market. I love that this city is so vast and mixed up and multicultural. 

Your work focuses a lot on textiles and fabric. Are you excited by the new opportunities arising with the increased use of tech in fashion or do you like a more traditional craft?

Both! I am innately crafty and have always made things with my hands. I like to put a twist on textiles, so often I might take something that looks quite tacky or cheap and do something to it to elevate it, for example weaving shiny patterned Indian ribbons together to create luxe, crafted textiles. I absolutely love working with print, so depending on the textile and scale of the pieces, I might use a range of techniques, and some might be digitally printed. At the moment I’m looking forward to exploring new technologies which allow for expert quality onto 100% wool.

You are at a really exciting junction in your career as an emerging talent. What projects are you working on in the next couple of years?

Continuing with my label, and hopefully branching out into e-Com soon, where I plan to release some fun and easy pieces that sit outside the mainline collections. I’m also working away right now on my designs for the International Woolmark Prize, which I was recently nominated for. 

 

Rutger Bregman, Author/Philosopher

This year Dutch historian and author Rutger Bregman became internationally known for his book Utopia for Realistsan innovation in philosophical, economic and political thought that extols the virtues of a universal basic income and a 15-hour working week. At a time of disruption and uncertainty, Bregman’s radical view breathes new life into a stagnant system and inspires new ways of thinking. He continues as a journalist at The Correspondent and is hoping to now turn his attention to our long-held views of human nature.

Read interview here

What advice would you have for young people who want to be politically active and inspire new ways of thinking?

One thing that I really care about is speaking in a language that everyone understands, and trying to reach an audience as large as possible. So I think the question you should always ask yourself is not how many people did I reach, but how many people should I have reached with my idea? What really frustrated me at university studying History, was that I was learning about so many different ideas that were so relevant to our times; after the financial crash and the Arab Spring, it seemed obvious to me that history had so much to teach us. Then I turned on the TV and there were only economists there, which seemed pretty weird to me. So, what I really care about is trying to make your ideas and arguments as accessible as possible to a large audience, to really try and have an impact.

What role do you think art and culture can play in politics and society as a whole?

I guess it’s the same thing with writing and I think it’s really important to have an impact and think more often of your audience. What I really don’t like is this insularity or elitist mindset that the art or the culture is just for ‘us’, for the people who really understand it, and then the rest of the ordinary people should just go and watch Netflix. The most important thing, which is also the most difficult, is to make important ideas accessible to as many people as possible.

What is next for you in 2017/2018?

This might sound quite ambitious, but I would actually like to write a book about human nature. So many people have a quite pessimistic view of humanity these days, because there is a rich history in philosophy that shows how civilisation is basically a very thin layer, and as soon as something happens like a natural disaster or war, it turns out that really we are all just monsters. I would like to prove that the exact opposite is true and that it is really important to try and develop a different view of human nature because what we assume in each other is also what we get and these are actually self-fulfilling prophecies. It’s a very simple but a pretty big idea that I would like to approach from several different angles like history, philosophy and economics etc.

 

Rodaidh McDonald, Music Producer

Photograph: Mike Massaro

Rodaidh McDonald is the XL Recordings affiliated music producer who works closely with their artists to produce some of the most loved music of the past few years. From The xx to Sampha, he works with artists to create a body of work and a sound, as opposed to a one hit wonder. His production on The xx’s eponymous debut album led to winning the Mercury Prize and he is now lending his expertise to some of the most exciting new talents out there.

Read interview here

You’ve built up quite a roster of talent that you’ve worked with. What do you look for when you work with someone new?

 At this point, I’m really looking to be inspired, challenged and to learn.‘Producer’ is a confusing title in music at the moment as there are very different types but I’ve forged a role as a producer who works for the most part on album projects rather than one-off songs and singles. The album is still the ultimate musical statement an artist can make, in my opinion – in terms of recorded music anyway. What this means is that when working on these projects my relationship with the artist takes place over a long time, sometimes 2 years or more, so being locked in a project with something you are not deeply passionate about isn’t at all workable. So in that sense, I might be looking for a kind of connection, understanding, and trust that I can reciprocate.

Your work is closely associated with XL and their artists. What is it about their ethos that works so well and their attitude towards artists?

 XL is all about cultural impact and making amazing and inspiring records rather than chasing hits and sales. When the music is good enough those things come naturally sometimes. The MO of XL is to sign progressive, uncompromising, brave artists and then point a mainstream audience towards them. It’s still completely inspiring to be around.

Does London as a city affect what you do?

 London has been my home for about ten years now. Its toughness has massively shaped and hardened me and my work. On a direct sonic level, this city has a texture and a feel that I’m sure informs what sounds we use. Here we might reach for icy and bleak reverbs whereas in LA we go for bouncy bright delays instead. Also, of course, the city informs how and what we sample as well as the rhythms we use. Sounds romantic but I think there’s something in that.

What’s your advice for a new emerging act trying to get a break in the industry?

 Build your own team around you, do as much as you can yourself. Try to establish your own sound, own visual, own videos, as much as you can before inviting a label to get involved to help get it out into the wider world. Listeners are suspicious if an artist comes out of nowhere and then suddenly is releasing on a big label. That way there’s no ‘story’ and stories are fun and important.

Any new talent we should be on the lookout for?

 My favourite new artist is Kelsey Lu and we’ve been working on a lot of music together. She’s a classically trained cellist and singer originally from North Carolina who I am completely inspired by and I can’t wait for people to hear these new songs. I also recently worked on some ideas with Mustafa The Poet from Toronto and there’s this guy Moss Kena who I’m in with right now. Smerz are really great although I’m not working with them, and there’s also a really exciting Powell and Wolfgang Tillmans musical collaboration that is sounding unreal so far.

 

Rina Sawayama, Musician/Model

Photograph: Megan Eagles

Rina is a Cambridge-educated Japanese-British musician and model who has been building a repertoire of 90s R&B/synth-pop tunes since 2013. There is a message behind her glitzy tunes, with recent hits such as Where U Are and Cyber Stockholm Syndrome seamlessly weaving in themes of the digital age and identity. With her first album due out later in the year and some exciting creative collaborations in the mix, Rina is a one to watch.

Read interview here

So obviously your main focus is the music but you also do some modelling?

So it was music first and then I accidentally got into modelling because I had a couple of friends who were into photography and so I said ok yeah I’ll model for it and it just went somewhere.

Tell me about your self-discovery and your journey in music, because from 2013 to where you are now it’s quite different.

 It took me about 2 or 3 years to ‘find my sound’. Part of that was accepting my Japanese identity, and when you go through an experience like Cambridge where you are constantly having to defend yourself and be the butt of the joke you almost hide your ethnic identity to try and fit in. As soon as I accepted myself it fed into my music.

You have a really strong social media presence. How do you think that has had an impact on you?

 It has massively helped me to come to terms with my own identity because since leaving Japanese school I don’t really have any Japanese friends, so I don’t share the experience of being East Asian in the UK and just trying to do stuff without being a stereotype. I think that Instagram especially has helped by connecting me with people in a way that I would never have imagined. I think it’s underrated how much of a help social media can be in finding yourself in so many communities. When I was growing up I never saw anyone who looked like me, so hopefully, if you can see more people who look different or have shaved heads and tattoos or whatever, younger girls and boys will be a lot more confident in themselves.

What are you working on now?

 I am working on a body of work that will hopefully be an album coming out in August or September, that is what I’m aiming for. I’ve had sessions with A. K. Paul and I just had a session with Vegyn who did Frank Ocean’s stuff… but mainly I’m working with Clarence Clarity. He’s amazing and he has that Swedish sound, very intelligent and complex. We’ve been working a lot on things and we share a mutual love of Britney and Max Martin, so we are trying to do that in our own way and pay homage to what we grew up listening to and on the visual side that is up to me to make sure that looks up to date.

Sophie Kennedy Clark, Actress

You may remember Sophie from Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac…as Sophie herself admits, she loves a bit of controversy. Her innocent looks belie the grit and depth she brings to her characters, creating the perfect paradox that directors are loving. Catch her later this year in The First, the story of the first woman to found a film studio in Hollywood.

Read interview here

What drove you to take a leap of faith in pursuing acting as a career? Moving to New York at 17 is a bold move.

 It never felt like a leap of faith. I believe the need to be a part of the creative process is in your wiring. For me personally, school wasn’t a supportive environment, there was nothing else that could hold my attention, so at the first possible chance I got to leave school I was like a bat out of hell. What I learnt first and foremost was that despite fuck loads of ambition, vim, vigour and gumption you’ve got to earn your stripes and learn your craft. 

What do you look for in a role? So far your performances have been really gritty and the characters have a lot of depth.

Directors seem to like putting my wee round face in gritty or extreme situations. I look for films that really affect people in any way. My favourite films are the ones that have made me feel something deeply or tickle me pink. I’m also a sucker for a bit of controversy.

You’re playing Mary Pickford this year in The First, who was the first female film studio founder. Do you think Hollywood or the film industry, in general, has lost any of the charm it had back then?

 It was such a different time. The charm we glorify is still a time where women had it tough. Some ‘charm’ we may have lost but the gain today is an industry fighting for women’s equal pay, representation and positions of power across the system. Mary Pickford was a pioneer showcasing women’s ability, dedication and creativity. Sadly since her, there has only been one other. That’s crazy! It’s taken the industry decades to shift and it’s only now that things are truly starting to change. 

What project are you most excited about that you have coming up in 2017?

Oh, now that’s tough as they are all so different! I guess I’m very excited to see Obey, a film about the Hackney riots. It’s written and directed by Jamie Jones (not the DJ) and we shot in East and South East London. I think it’s gonna be mega. A lot of love went into it.

Juno Calypso, Photographer

Juno is the young British photographer turning the art of the selfie on its head. Operating in an unsettling area, one which takes on subtle themes of femininity, body image and perhaps the dark underbelly of the United States, especially at a time like this. Think Cindy Sherman reincarnated as a housewife photographing herself in the 1950s. Her tongue in cheek images depict characters like the 1950s housewife and a secretary, questioning our ideas of identity and the meaning of femininity. In the last year, she has won the Foam Talent and BJP awards for her work.

Read interview here

Your work is quite unsettling, almost unnerving. It’s been called “humorous and creepy.”  Does ‘unnerving’ capture some of the spirit here?

Yeah, unnerving works. A lot of people find it enjoyable to unsettle themselves, so I guess I’m playing up to that, rather than actually trying to terrify someone or give them a heart attack. I’d describe it as melancholic, sarcastic, cynical, depressing, seductive.

Your work is so developed and mature already. Who are some of the giants whose shoulders you stand on?

Thank you. I owe a lot to my former tutor and artist Esther Teichmann. Cindy Sherman is an obvious giant. Matthew Barney, Pierre et Gilles, Erwin Olaf, Charlie White, Jeff Wall.

You’re making a lot of provocative statements about femininity and its place in society. What are some of the points you are trying to raise?

I think the main idea I have floating around in my work about femininity, is that on the one hand, it can be an exhausting and demanding task thrown down to women, but despite that, anybody has the right to indulge in femininity in all its glory without the fear of being condemned, patronised or abused for making that choice.

 

Tristan Pigott, Artist

Tristan Pigott’s art comes at a particularly relevant time. When we all find ourselves addicted to something, either Instagram, some social platform or a device in general. His work plays on our obsession with the self and social narcissism. Pigott blends traditional technique with biting social commentary. His oil paintings depict the quintessential image of millennial life, but with subtle humour as well. See his latest solo exhibition Juicy Bits at Cob Gallery in Camden.

Read interview here

The theme throughout your work seems to be pretty consistent, with this strong satirical message about our generation, the obsession with image that is so present nowadays. How did you decide on that as a focus in your art?

Having social media and all those sorts of things seems like the most present thing in everyone’s life right now – everyone is attached to their phone, so it is a natural extension when you are playing with image and what’s thrown down our throats every day with Instagram and what not.

A lot of people would argue that now Instagram has become a new medium for art, both as a way for professional artists and photographers to showcase their work on a broader spectrum and also just for ordinary people to get a bit creative. Would you agree that it is now part of the art world?

Yeah, definitely. The title piece in my show called Juicy Bits is all about this idea that with things like Instagram there’s no hierarchy of quality. It’s an argument of whether or not it’s a good thing that you can find all these gems and end up being influenced by them or actually is it going to just end up watering down your own work by constantly being fed all these images. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing or a good thing but it’s just the way it is.

Do you find that the people who are interested in your work or who receive it well are from the younger generation? Oil painting is such a traditional art form but your subject matter brings in such a contemporary feel.

It’s been interesting seeing who is coming into the gallery space. It has been very 50/50 in terms of the age range of people coming through. The reason I paint young people is because I am painting my friends and the people around me so I would hope that naturally those kinds of people would get what I’m trying to do. But painting is having a resurgence again and it’s nice that there are a lot of young artists doing their own thing at the moment, like Faye Wei Wei.

What’s coming up for you in the next year or so?

In September I’m going to study sculpture but the aim is to keep painting.

 

Aaron Angell, Sculptor

More than just a one’s to watch, Aaron Angell is bringing back one of the oldest art forms in the world. Pottery and clay work. Working out of his influential East London ceramics studio Troy Town Pottery, Aaron pushes the boundaries of what has always been seen as a limited craft with his intricate and diverse clay sculptures, described as a “weird, wonderful and hallucinatory”. This summer Aaron will be the Tate artist in residence in St Ive’s, Cornwall.

Read interview here

I’m interested in your use of ceramics and pottery because it isn’t something typically associated with burgeoning new art scenes. Are we witnessing a resurgence in this field?

I’ve always been interested in the motive potential of ceramics for sculpture and also the problem that causes for people involved in the more traditional ceramics scene and those whose heads are in the space of contemporary fine art sculpture. More often than not there is this boring and quite redundant question of some kind of split between art and design.

Your work has been called radical and psychedelic, and you have called it a ‘psychic compost of imagery’.

I think those two things are separate. When I first opened the pottery I called it a ‘radical and psychedelic workshop for artists’ in a very tongue-in-cheek way – it just sounded like the kind of place that I would like to make ceramics. It’s also a slight pun on the fact that it is still possible in people’s eyes to be a radical with a material – it’s 2017 and you still have people describing you as a radical for making sculpture with a material that has been around for about 5000 years or longer, which is really funny. A huge majority of the population will see a ceramics exhibition and question why something isn’t a pot…

Who are the key influencers in your work in terms of artists that you admire?

I like Paul Thek a lot. Susan Sontag dedicated Against Interpretation to him and he had a sort of shamanistic approach to making sculpture and things like that.

What is coming up for you in the next couple of years?

I’m about to go back to St Ive’s because I am the Tate Artist in Residence there this year. I am doing mine in collaboration with Bernard Leach’s pottery, which you couldn’t get more of a traditional pottery if you tried. I have a solo at GoMA in Glasgow in December and then next year in March is Kunstverein in Freiburg.

Olivia Sudjic, Author

Olivia Sudjic has been hailed as one of literature’s most exciting new talents after the release of her debut novel Sympathy. The novel details the obsession of one woman (Alice) with another woman (Mizuko), that she believes to know thanks to following her life on social media, and the dangerous relationship that ensues. It is the effortless manner in which Sudjic makes this story so relatable and weaves in references to all aspects of life in 2017 that gives this book a deep relevance. Olivia is now making plans for her second novel, with an equally complex and contemporary theme…

Read interview here

This is your first book, and before this you were working in various other fields like brand consultancy. What made you want to kickstart your career as an author?

I studied English Literature at university, and after I graduated there was a 2-3 year period where I really couldn’t read any fiction because I had reached over exposure. So I then went into a series of jobs that took me progressively further and further away from writing and literature. It felt like I had to get to the furthest away point to then turn around and say, hang on a second, the thing that I love most and am probably best at, is writing.

People are calling this book the ‘first great Instagram novel’, which suggests that you are almost spearheading this new genre that is really pertinent to now. Where did you get the idea for this particular theme of our relationship with the Internet?

Originally it was set in the 17th century and I was looking at this pseudo-technology and pseudo-science called sympathy powder, which I found in books like Umberto Eco’s Island of the Day Before. It was going to be about how that connects us and this very age old need or human desire for connection. It wasn’t like I set out to write a book about the Internet and Instagram, it was more like I increasingly realised that it was the most up to the minute way of looking at an old problem.

Was there a message you wanted to evoke that evolved as you realised that this was the theme?

I guess it was to do with the fact that I myself felt very anxious about the very uncritical and unreflective way that I was using this tool that hasn’t really been around for very long compared to the Stone Age, Steel Age innovations. There has always been this collective anxiety each time there is a new iteration of technology, but I feel like with this one it isn’t coming under the same level of scrutiny.

I feel like the human thinking needs to catch up with the ways of reflecting on what that does to us. Unlike in previous ages where a Luddite could just go in and smash up a machine in the mill, we don’t really have that ability because it is so invisible and all around us. These tools like programming and coding and algorithms, we don’t understand them, or the way that Google and Facebook totally monopolise our lives and that spooks me.

So are you working on your next book now?

At the moment I am doing a bit of journalism, revolving around the themes in Sympathy, but yes I have started working on it. The idea for the next book stems from that paranoia about being in this world where we are so used to this constant surveillance but not actually feeling any safer because of it. This time it is going to be set in London and I am looking at a group of inhabitants living in the same shared house and how they all respond in different ways to slightly background things like a far off terrorist attack and this idea that in theory we should be safer than ever but we don’t feel that.

 

Yasmin Green, Head of Research & Development at Jigsaw

Yasmin Green has never been one to shy away from challenges. Working with Google for almost a decade she now heads up one of the most important think tanks in the world. Called Jigsaw, they pour Google’s financial resources into fighting extremists, fake news, trolls and all manners of evil online. Green and Jigsaw are developing some of the most innovative digital solutions to combat some of the world’s most pressing security issues. These challenges are now more important than ever. Read our Q+A with her below.

Read interview here

What you are doing is so cutting edge and important, and I think it will inspire a younger generation to do something positive with some of the problems that we are facing right now. How would you describe your work?

Jigsaw has existed for five years, before we were called Google Ideas, and we have mandates from Google and Alphabet to design technologies that will help keep the world safer from various attacks; attacks on free speech, online recruitment for terrorist groups, cyber security threats, basically we are just trying to be the good guys and make sure that the internet is used for good and to protect people. We always say that these are almost intractable problems because these are problems that have existed since the beginning of time, and they are causing the suffering of tens of millions of people around the world. It’s really easy in areas as tough as these to just make small dents around the edges but we fundamentally believe that technology can transform the way the world works. We have a lot of reasons to be optimistic in terms of understanding of and access to technology that is world class, and we are so lucky to have the space to bring all the disciplines together.

The first time I heard about you was at SXSW, in the keynote talk you gave on about fake news. What you were talking about was so fascinating, maybe you can tell us about that?

I think that keynote was important to let people know that these motives are not new and they are not confined to what you thought they might be confined to. We need to speak to everyone – because the targets are also the perpetrators – to design our solutions. And that’s the same approach we took for responding to online radicalisation; we went and spoke to people who have been recruited, like 25-year-old ISIS defectors. I went to Iraq and interviewed people who had actually trained to become suicide bombers. You know, who is easier to vilify and dismiss as helpful partners than someone that has subscribed to something so heinous?

So I think at Jigsaw we have the privilege to be able to actually go to the front line and ask people about their experiences, understanding the nexus of technology and their own emotional, human experience. That then informs the way that we design our technology.

Do you have any new projects with Jigsaw coming up?

Yes, a big project for us is continuing to use machine learning to understand speech and to organise comments specifically so that we can keep true to the promise of the Internet as a place where you can have a meeting of minds even if you aren’t in agreement on opinions.

And we have a few different methods of doing that beyond the Perspective API that we announced, but it definitely qualifies as a Jigsaw level ambition so worth looking out for.

Celebrate the Class of 2017 at a panel event on the 28th June at Second Home in London with musician model Rina Sawayama, photographer Charlie Kwai and author Charlotte Jansen at Second Home, get your free tickets via donation here