Images: Chris Holden
Garance Marneur is known for designing compelling experiential immersive spaces and costumes and wearable technologies for theater, dance, opera, and film. In 2007, she received the prestigious Linbury Biennial Prize for Stage Design, the highest award for stage designers in Europe. By 2011 she was selected as one of the 12 most influential designers in the UK by the Society of British Theatre Designers.
We first met Garance over eight years ago while AJOTO was still in its infancy and based out of a small art studio in South London. Since our first meeting, Garance has been highly influential, not only in her incredible creativity as a designer but in her boundless energy to get-things-done and push the limits of what is possible.
Since our time in London, Garance moved to San Francisco after being offered the prestigious role of Executive Artistic Director of LEVYdance & LEVYstudio. We caught up with her during our visit to the west coast to discuss her journey so far and share with you some words of wisdom from one of the most influential designers we have ever met.
AJOTO: When did you decide to follow this path? When was the first moment you decide to pursue this career?
GARANCE: I think it’s always been there. In general, the arts and culture have been a really big part of my life, but I would say it was when I moved to London that I saw the potential of being an artist. When there are no boundaries and you are open to endless possibilities and projects. I found this very inspiring.
This made me look at the world differently, and I began to find a way to express myself. I studied at Central St Martins and in the second year I met some key people who helped me to grow up, mature and find a voice in my design. Winning the Linbury Biennial Prize in 2007 has given me a real opportunity. It gave me the resources to win work at the highest level of the industry, and also money and an opportunity to start my own studio. I thought “let’s see if it works” and since then everything has organically grown and provided me with more and more opportunities.
A: Would you say that you can plan your career progression or is it fluid?
G: A bit of both. I would say in the beginning I set a plan and gave myself 5 years to explore and learn what I really cared about, what I wanted my work to look like. Then at the same time you need to be fluid, because it depends so much on people and opportunities. One of my rules now is forcing myself to take a day off so I don’t burn. I think life and work feed themselves. I have a happy lifestyle and happy mind today which is making my work more interesting. It makes me feel more secure to take risks, be more curious and innovate more.
A: How important do you think is to have a mentor or someone to work with?
G: It’s crucial. To be one person or want to do a determinate kind of work you need somebody to bounce your ideas off. That includes your crazy ideas. It’s really important.
A: You’ve been lived in Paris, London and now San Francisco. How do the places you work affect who you are?
G: One thing that I’ve learned from the theatre is that you make your work by understanding and thinking about your audience, and not only for yourself. You render it with your voice, with your aesthetic and your thoughts but ultimately you do it for the audience. Living and working in different countries has completely transformed the work that I do. I look at what people need, what they like, what they do and want etc. It enables me to take the big decisions and move to another country to start again when I feel ready and where opportunities are. When I moved to London, it was because I was seeking freedom. This was not only in an academic way, but I was looking for people that wanted to try new things and weren't afraid to fail. London was the best place for that. At this stage of my career, I thought, I really wanted to engage with high tech resources and harness the mentality of business, which has brought me to San Francisco.
A. How is life in San Francisco?
G: It a really interesting place. It’s a tiny city but at the same time in terms of business and art, there are vast and unlimited resources and the mentality of the people for imagining what is possible is incredible. Everything seems possible!
You always feel it's a new day of innovation in San Francisco. The quality of life from a personal level: you have beautiful weather, people, culture and it’s really enjoyable.
A: Are there some key milestones in your career progression to date?
G: Absolutely, the first was definitely leading designing a production in Edinburgh and then for the Royal Shakespeare Company, which was the first time I’d done theater in that way for the UK and embraced technology, it was a real learning curve.
I had a really good advice early on that I have returned to many times from one of my mentors Kevin Knight (and great international Opera designer) “With theatre don’t expect to be the best in one year, give yourself ten years. If you can do that successfully you can do anything you want in your life”. I took this advice to heart and it took the pressure of the need for instant success. It took ten years to begin to feel comfortable, I have just pushed through, even when at some points I became tired of it. To stick it out and understand what it takes, is the only way to appreciate your successes. I can now see and appreciate all that I’ve learned from my persistence and that has transferred to my personal life, family, my relations with business and people. The same process in theater is applicable in anything I do.
A: How important is to you the quality of your network, and will a good idea always succeed?
G: It’s very important because it doesn’t matter how great and big your idea is if you can’t work with a team. It’s almost worthless, especially in theatre. What I’ve learned is you have to be patient to find the right people and when you are you can achieve gorgeous and magic productions through the right collaborations.
Another key is passion, if you love what you do and you keep improving, not only in good times also in bad times it will be much easier to find people who will support you for the long term.
A: What are the main lessons you’ve learned along with your career?
G: Understanding that it’s not a failure as long as you learn from your mistakes and keep being curious. I think that this is my biggest strength, repetition is important because ensures you get better and understand why you are getting better. Curiosity and passion (along with education) enables you to constantly push boundaries.
A: We’re in the city of technology, how has this influenced your work?
G: I’ve always had a passion for technology as it brings together both of my worlds; art and science. As a result, I see technology from two different perspectives, firstly how can I can utilize technology to tell better stories better and also secondly how human stories can humanize technology.
We’re living in a world that is rapidly evolving due to technology. As a result, there are a lot of ethical questions that are arising and need answers. Change is inevitable yet how we approach it is very important. I think art and technology can help and inform each other. For example dance for me is a way to talk, to communicate emotions and stories and technology is a powerful tool to communicate to younger generations too. Nowadays many millennials don’t go to theatres but they consume art through technology and devices. So, I see a huge opportunity to utilize a new way of communication and be part of its evolution to engage the next generation in the power of art.
A:Where do you find inspiration?
G: All the time and everywhere! My inspiration comes from what I don’t do. I always love to try a new medium where I don’t feel comfortable because It's forcing me to confront difficult questions and challenges. It takes me out of my comfort zone. For example, Dolby is creating links to connect neurology to sounds, in order to try and understand emotional triggers. It is this kind of inspiring work that sparks my imagination. For me, openness if key, and exploring outside of my discipline is the only way to imagine new possibilities.
We hope you enjoyed this interview and highly recommend seeking out one of Garance’s productions when you are next in San Francisco.
To find out more about at LEVYdance visit: www.levydance.com levydance.org
Or Garance London DesignStudio: www.garancemarneur.com