Published in Collective Magazine, Issue 8

Since 1990 Inkahoots has carved an important niche into Australia’s creative community with its socially conscious design, and vivid explorations of the medium. From a main office located in West End and a satellite studio in Melbourne, Inkahoots blends client work with self-initiated projects. Studio founder Jason Grant says Inkahoots strives to work with complicated subjects that require sophisticated and original design thinking. He talks to Collective about the studio’s history and highlights some projects that fall under its broad creative umbrella.

Collective: Inkahoots began life as a screen printing studio in Brisbane, it would be interesting to hear about this initial phase of the organisation and what role you wanted it to fill back then? How did these formative years shape Inkahoots into the organisation it is today?

Jason Grant: Back then, as now, important alternative messages were smothered by corporate voices with vastly more resources. In the early days, Inkahoots was a community access screen-printing studio facilitating the public communication of all kinds of radical and progressive groups. There have been two main changes over time: technological – from screen printing, to digital, online and interactive mediums; and structure – from community access collective to non-hierarchical studio model. But mostly the game’s the same – advocating real public discourse towards social change.

Can you tell us about your workspace itself? How is it conducive to your creative practice? What do you find the best types of environment to create from are?

We are in West End in a newly built studio. Our previous studios have been burnt down, flooded, and eaten by locusts. So it’s mainly conducive to our creative practice by not actually being on fire or under water. We are sandwiched between a bar selling craft beer and a mosque selling eternal paradise. We like to think our design services, like the studio itself, falls somewhere between these two offerings. We also have a Melbourne studio.

One of your recent works is called Burst Open, and it explores the potential of open source design. The curatorial statement declares “quality design is considered expensive and elitist; the world of the modern day designer typically exists in a bubble of isolation”, it would be great to hear your reasoning behind this and how the Burst Open identity addressed this?

The exhibition investigated open source as an alternative to traditional design methodologies. Democratising the design process means sharing the responsibility and benefits of creation across self-directed networks. We extended this curatorial theme to the creation of the exhibition identity by combining images and text from an international invitation to contribute a typographic ‘O’ and a statement about open source design. Contributors sent in images of ‘O’s that had been photographed, drawn, painted, found online and digitally created, all accompanied by a text that explained why they thought open source was important. Inkahoots built the show’s ‘bursting O’ logo from fragments of these images and combined them in an interactive morphing animation projected onto the gallery’s prominent street front window. The ‘Open Morph’ projection is controlled by pedestrians’ deliberately-choreographed body gestures (by tracing the figure of an ‘O’ in the air). In this way the design has itself been open sourced and becomes an ongoing performative component of the exhibition’s identity.

Inkahoots has been an important part of the design fabric in Brisbane for almost a quarter of a century. How have you seen Brisbane define itself as a design city in this time? What are the unique aspects of the Australian creative community that you see in Brisbane in comparison to Melbourne and Sydney?

I’m not sure about significant cultural differences between Australian cities, I reckon they’re often overstated. I spend a lot of time in Melbourne for example, and aside from it being physically bigger than Brisbane, my experience of the two cities is very similar in many ways. One great thing about being in Brisbane is not having to argue about whether Sydney or Melbourne is better.

Your work over the years has been varied, but is there a theme that runs through the output of Inkahoots?

Yes, it’s like Pablo Neruda wrote: “I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.”