Where's the frame
August 23, 2022 9:00 PM
Born and raised in London, Cengizhan Sen began developing his practice as an artist, exploring a broad range of media during his studies at Goldsmith University. With his hands-on approach and love for storytelling at the forefront, he found inspiration using photography as a tool to sublimate his personal story. However, rather than looking to other photographers, Cengi us influenced by fine art and the fashion industry - leading him to develop his own visual code by utilising symbols and subliminal images, forcing his audience to actively view and question his works. Balancing both an artistic practice and a commercial career, Cengi works full-time as a Digital and Events Producer at the Sarabande Foundation, established by Lee Alexander McQueen. where’s the frame? had the pleasure to talk to him about how he finds balance in the art world and how his career allows growth for his artistic practice.
First and foremost, how did you get into the arts?
My preliminary introduction to the arts started at Goldsmith University studying Media and Communications in 2016. Initially, I started specialising in moving image and film production. I was very ambitious and I wanted to create really polished visuals. However, with the restricted production knowledge and budget as a student, I wasn’t able to realise my concepts. Therefore, I tried the radio production course and messed around with recording my own voice as I liked the idea of telling stories without any visual cues. Though, I wanted to try it all and, on a whim, I went to the photography course - I loved it. Photography allowed me to work through some of my personal conundrums, and I was able to find my own voice within. I used a lot of fine art and fashion references rather than looking up to other photographers. As a result, my work included a lot of subliminal images in the works because there are so many symbols and secretive messages flowing throughout. I wanted to force whoever looked at the work to interact with it. Being creative is not a lazy job - you put a lot of effort into it - so whoever is looking at it should put just as much effort into decoding your work and acknowledge it.
My secondary introduction to the arts was industry based. After my graduation, I went on to an internship at The Sarabande Foundation. This was the first time I experienced art as an industry on a business level while also challenging me creatively and artistically.
Tell us about your role at Sarabande and how did you end up there?
At Sarabande, I currently work as Digital and Events Producer. However, it is a much larger scope of work. I produce a lot of digital and film content and I manage social media to communicate the artists' works and the role of the charity. I am also responsible for the operations of the studio spaces and building and ensuring they meet the artist's needs. The outcomes of our artists are so personal and intimate that it can be hard to vocalise it so I also help with copywriting, pitching and overall discussing works. It is funny because in the creative industry, the title is always one thing, but then you are responsible for a million other things. However, I love that. It is such a privilege to learn from this incredible hive of people - my coworkers - and artists. It lets me experience what the creative industry has to offer and allows me to grow in a lot of different directions. I always felt like this is something inherent to arts or any creative practices.
As mentioned before, I initially started as an intern at Sarabande for 6 months in 2019. I went on to work for digital fashion brand AUROBOROS which is run by Paula Sello and Alissa Aulbekova. After 9 months there, I got an email asking if I wanted to return to the team, and I became the Digital Assistant - I felt incredibly lucky as this happened in the midst of the covid pandemic. It definitely helped that I worked at Sarabande before and that I was always keen to go the extra mile working on projects outside my scope. AUROBOROS was also located in the same building as Sarabande at the time, so they kept seeing me and witnessed how engaged I was. Now I’ve been with Sarabande for nearly 3 years.
For people who don’t know about Sarabande, can you give a quick overview of what they do? How do you see the role of organisations such as Sarabande for people that are just like you at the beginning of their artistic careers?
Sarabande is the foundation established by Lee Alexander McQueen. In essence, it provides subsidised studio spaces and scholarships and hosts events such as inspirational talks, workshops and exhibitions. On top of that, Sarabande offers different streams of support for their residences and alumni like legal or project-based support, mentoring and accountancy assistance.
I think the role of such organisations is vital. However, I can’t speak for all organisations but in terms of Sarabande we act as a direct call - almost like an SOS line for the artists. We are providing support that goes beyond legal, financial and creative affairs. Even though the arts are an expanding and more inclusive industry now, there is this assumption that it is easy to establish yourself. Frankly, I don’t think that is true. There is no guide on how to be an artist, what you need to do or how you do what you are doing. There is no one size fits all approach for entering the art scene, whether professionally or artistic. Sarabande acts as a guide on a highly individual and personal level. We make sure that their creative vision is communicated effectively and that they are achieving everything that they want to achieve on their own terms. It is a part of your career elevation during and after.
Where do you find yourself/practice/interest in the midst of it?
I started my artistic practice in 2016 when I first got into university, where I was in an environment where everyone was highly creative and constantly challenged themselves. I used photography as a medium to work through my personal conundrums and utilised a phantasmagorical world playing on ideas of escapism. That being said, it has been nearly four years since I graduated and actually made my own personal body of work. A lot of people think that is a shame, but I disagree. It is part of my growth as a creative person because right now the space I’m occupying lets me figure out what I want to create, the stories I want to tell and my tonality. When I am at Sarabande witnessing all the artists, their practices - how they tell their stories and how they navigate the business side - and their growth, I gain so much inspiration. Right now, I’m just learning and growing whilst I help others learn and grow as well.
Do you have any insights for the younger generation who are trying to get into art (into a position such as yours where maybe the main work is on the business side – hope this makes sense)?
There are many ways one can go about the creative industries. One is work experiences, not necessarily internships but work experiences in general. Not everyone has the means to go and get an internship. However, there are work or creative opportunities that allow you to interject your way into these spaces. Also, when you are looking for opportunities, be direct about it. Offer to assist or ask to visit their studio.
Another thing is networking. Not in a way to gain something but to make genuine relationships with people. Go and speak to people, be candid and upfront about who you are, where you are and what you want to achieve. That person might be able to offer you an olive branch. Sometimes, I think it’s important not to question what you can get through that connection. That person can be someone who joins you on your journey.
I would also say, for anyone who is trying to enter the creative industry, even if you’re not an artist yourself, try something creative. It allows you to understand the process behind being a creative and you gain an understanding of how much work goes into it, the logistics and the feasibility of things.
What’s next for you in terms of projects and practice?
At the moment, I am not working on anything personal. I started to dabble a bit with music production. I have been reaching out to people and speaking about learning opportunities. Again, in all that, there is no how-to. I realised that with music production, everyone uses similar software but in different ways - just like other artistry using the same scope of things but executing it in different forms. I am also trying to take part in other people's projects, and I am communicating with a few people. I am interested in being part of their world, understanding their views and engaging in new creative processes. It is nice to go into things without any expectations or pressure. A lot of times, collaborations become this big thing, and you lose yourself in it, which is the opposite of what I want. It does not always have to be a business thing, it can be fun and simple. Sometimes it is just about creating and enjoying creativity for what it is.
As an artist - or any other job - you have to appreciate each stage and not rush the process. Otherwise, you are not going to learn effectively, and you are not going to enjoy the journey. I am riding the wave of my career, and after covid, I want to make sure happiness, health, and mental stability are on the forefront. Industries will keep going, and I have to make sure that I keep going so I can be part of it.