CommuneEAST, an ideas and vision institute, provides space for “questioning, collaboration, exchange and fusion through actions in a view to creating a holistic utopian sensory output.” They recently collaborated with BA (Hons) Fashion Styling and Production to showcase students' work in situ at The Curtain. We spoke to Leanne Elliott Young, co-founder of CommuneEAST, about how to maintain a forward-thinking approach and why she’s keen to collaborate with UAL students.
Can you tell me a bit about your career history and how you cofounded CommuneEAST?
I studied Fine Art and then I moved to London to do my MA. At that point there were lots of spaces opening, and I started a few curatorial projects alongside various jobs that straddled fashion, art and technology. I worked with Nike as an in-house creative, delivering experiential projects in global entertainment and marketing. Then I was Head of Global Partnerships, Marketing and Creative Direction at Mastered, who were delivering online courses to 9,000 young and emerging professionals from over 95 different countries.
The focus was cultural collaboration, opening up the connections between different territories and dissecting cultural lenses.
It was very much driven by the tastemakers and the architecture of the industry. After that I decided that I wanted to focus on not just fashion but also art and technology, inspired by all of the disruptions that were going on in those industries. I went to Art Basel Miami and was completely immersed. At that point my good friend Richard Nicoll and I were talking a lot about the deep relationships and osmosis that happens between the art and the fashion worlds, despite them being so very separate.
We were looking at how art, fashion and technology could work holistically together and what that looked like.
That's how CommuneEAST was birthed. It was about cross-pollination within these industries and dissecting some of the narratives that exist.
Can you tell us about your IRL Book Club series?
What we're delivering is in the pretence of a book club, but it's actually about looking specifically at the root of collaboration. The books that we choose are all around that, dissecting and going really deep into the kind of partnerships that exist through multidisciplinary relationships – emotional, psychological and philosophical ones.
We've partnered with different individuals who have quite a staunch point of view. We’ve had ‘HIM + HIS’ by Helene Selam Kleih, focusing on men's mental health, as well as Amelia Abraham’s ‘Queer Intentions’, which is around the relationships within the LGBTQ+ community. The book clubs are about highlighting and heroing the authors’ work as thought leaders, but also as individuals that exist in multi-dimensional spaces. They're not just writers, they're also activists. They're not just artists, they're also thinkers, makers and event curators that create literature.
Why did you want to collaborate with LCF for Volume 4 of IRL Book Club?
It's amazing to be able to work with LCF and UAL because you are breeding and articulating what the future is.
It was really important for us to be able to work with the best of the best, because that feeds back into what we do. We have lots of public facing work that we deliver as CommuneEAST, but we also work on future mapping strategies for various companies and retail spaces like the British Fashion Council and the Selfridges group.
What does the ‘new’ look and feel like, and who are the key players in those spaces? I think the voices from LCF and UAL students and the wonderful course leaders are really important to have in that discussion.
Working with Clare Buckley [CommuneEAST x FSP collaboration] was amazing because she's open and articulate. Her agenda is curating the best, making the best and really pushing boundaries. The collaboration made so much sense because that's what we do – push boundaries and try and create new dystopic utopias, finding the balance between those two arenas, always looking forwards but considering the past in the narrative as well. The historical context is crucial because nothing's ever really new.
Due to the cultural osmosis that goes on, we're in an intense cycle of refashioning, so you have to understand the presence of each object and what it means through a historical as well as future lens.
What are you working on at the moment?
We've got a project with the V&A coming up, which is really exciting as it's bringing together big industry and emerging talent. I think that's an essential collaborative point – if you’re working in the big industry spaces, it's really interesting to pair that with young, emerging or established talent and have a dissection of different industries to create an objective perspective.
How are you fostering collaboration within the creative industries?
We always have science within our narrative to reflect the creative industries as more than just art, fashion and technology. We try to bring in psychoanalytical conversation as well as the physical science of the future of materials. The overarching art is the creative direction to make all this happen succinctly. Effectively we are creatively directing what the future could be, which needs to have all these sectors fed in. When you have different industry perspectives working in unison, when they're arguing, when you're solving a problem or when something you're working on becomes the problem – that’s when the real magic happens. We love solving problems looking at new technologies and the digital gaze, how it affects us as humans as well as how it affects industry.
When you're seeking to collaborate with a new organisation, creative or artist, what are you specifically looking for?
I would say it’s about finding something which ignites conversation through a perspective that's new, or layering a new perspective on something old.
For example, working with Selfridges we delivered disruptive alternative art tours dissecting the role of public art during their State of the Arts installation. We like brazen and brave, people who are up for debate. As a collective creative community, we build collaborative relationships that are answering questions and asking even more! Everyone we partner with has a disruptive point of view and works collaboratively with us on that activation.
What are your future plans for CommuneEAST?
We’re specifically pushing towards sustainability narratives. For our partners, brands, institutes etc, we are challenging them to consider what sustainability looks like for them.
The key thing is mapping a holistic, creative, sustainable future, and everyone – from educators to consultants, strategists, creative directors and the consumer – has to be asking those questions. All of us have to stop and take action.
We would want to be working in that space, as a disruptive model that is looking at how fashion and the creative industries could work together in harmony with technology to create new empowering narratives throughout the industry. Working with designers, makers, artists and thinkers, hopefully with some government backing, to push forward sustainability agendas.