“I’ve never had an interest in just making something good.” Bior Elliott for Footpatrol, Gauchoworld & Jordan.

A story about Bior Elliott could be told through the unfinished books he’s written. Although now recognised as an art director and designer, his first creative explorations came through writing words on a page. Before long, those musings became lyrics in a song, and Bior was making music with his friends as part of a collective. Without a doubt, some artists focus solely on what happens within the four walls of a booth, but for Bior, he always had an obsession with how his collective was branded, ensuring that their message was being portrayed both sonically and visually. 

“The reason I got into art direction is because I’m very into the idea of controlling every aspect of any creative project,” says Bior. Though branding his own collective was his first introduction to art direction, it set him in good stead for further down the line — even after his days as a musician came to an end and he began to assume roles within multiple creative industries.

Driven by the boundlessness of his never-ending curiosity, Bior sits between ad land and the fashion world, somewhat following the steps of some of those multi-disciplinary creatives he looks up to — Ferdinando Verderi, Terry Jones to name a few — who have done the same. Although straddling the two industries was never an intentional move from Bior, it’s just the way the cookie crumbled, allowing him to specialise in two different spaces. “They’re not too far away from each other, at the end of the day, you’re exploring ideas, making campaigns. I didn’t expect to be embraced by the fashion industry straight away, but it’s been a back and forth, and I want to keep moving back and forth,” says Bior.

With a journey that’s taken many unpredictable turns so far, there are a few things that Bior credits for informing his identity, grounding his work in a series of questioning. “[Being a black Brit] What does that look like, in terms of the future?” Bior asks, explaining that his upbringing within London as a black man informs every aspect of his work. Being raised in a Catholic household, even though he is now “somewhat the opposite” shapes his work, the same way an unfinished Philosophy degree does. Whilst he might not have graduated in Philosophy, some learnings and concepts have transcended the two years spent studying Psychology, now permanent parts of his methodologies and approaches. “My brand, s_.ein, is named after a concept I learnt while studying Philosophy, it means ‘being’, it pursues the idea of a thing thinking about itself,” says Bior

Thus, to define s_.ein would be a disservice. As a concept that is constantly in the act of ‘being’, it is also constantly evolving, becoming many different things. Initially starting as his final project for university, the initial idea, as Bior puts it, was “to philosophically pick apart what a brand is, in particular a clothing brand.” Beginning as an analysis that consisted of diagrams and brand guidelines, the goal was then to make a brand out of it, in a “weird circular process”. Whilst getting into full-time work after university put s_.ein on the back burner, he’d constantly find himself returning to it, exploring “different ways I [he] can express that brand.” It’s already taken multiple formats, which Bior declares was “always the goal, if I put different outputs through this brand identity, it’s seeing what comes out”. We’ve seen s_.ein not only as a clothing brand now, Bior has directed a music video and is working on a zine, and most recently released an art piece, which is on show at 180 Strand, through the lens of s_.ein.

“Design is very subjective. You make something that some people will think is amazing. And some people will think it’s sh*t. It’s important not to take things personally.” Bior is continually interrogating the way design and art are interpreted in the ad world, making things that question the norms of what is considered ‘advertising’. In the same way that Maison Margiela expertly does, and the Truman Show is known for communicating, Bior’s aims all stem from the “questioning of media and reality — it’s like looking in the mirror.”

His latest art installation at 180 Strand is a perfect example of this. Aware of the gravitas that the space holds, it’d be easy to create work that’s a visual spectacle, considered “good” by the masses. But not Bior. His piece, entitled ‘targeted_ad.s_.ein’ is a commentary on the activities and concepts of branding, and is, as Bior simply puts it, “a physical version of targeted advertising”. Sitting amongst some large and eye-catching pieces, it’s a thought-provoking installation that is a culmination of the ongoings within Bior’s head. Speaking more generally on the piece and his work in general, Bior admits: “I’ve weirdly never had much of an interest in just making something good. I want something that is both good but also questions why it is good at the same time.” With the piece (which ends up as three separate pieces) being visualisations of graphics that Bior just got onto paper, his friend, Jamie Shilvock, rendered them. 

The next step was to screen print the designs onto fabric and hang them side by side. But the experience doesn’t end there. Sat just in front of the three pieces is a plinth with a stamp sat atop and a simple instruction written on the plinth: “Please use the stamp once to mark your favourite artwork.” Now covered in multiple stamps, Bior aims to individually count the number of stamps on each of the pieces and use that to determine how they’re priced relative to one another, with the most ‘popular’ piece (the one with the most stamps) being sold at the highest price.

In another interesting curveball, the plinth the stamp sits on is also decorated with a plethora of markings, meaning it might end up being the “favourite artwork.” Unpredictable for sure, but once again, upon reflection, it makes sense to Bior, he likens it to his understanding of human interaction with products and brands. “Take the iPhone, it is simply the container for everything, it’s what we view everything through, but at the same time people have a huge reverence for Apple as a design product aesthetically,” a further reinforcement of Bior’s consideration of this piece being a commentary on targeting advertising.

Creating an ecosystem where the audience is in charge of the value associated with the art is an interesting dynamic. But when you place power in the hands of an unpredictable audience, you’ll likely get unpredictable results. So as you walk through the exhibition space, you can see the s_ein branded stamp, solely intended to be stamped onto Bior’s art pieces, stamped on pieces by other artists, who they considered their favourite. “It’s a weird thing when things go viral, you don’t really have any control over it,” says Bior. 

If you haven’t already, check out Bior’s work at 180 Strand as part of New School’s debut exhibition,  ‘MAJOR’, until November 6 2022.

Photography – @armand.dasilva
Printing – @rhysbawilliams
Words – @igweldn
Editor – @elliefmuir
Styling – @romamitchell
Design – @andycarnegiebrown
Production – @pifivy
Special thanks – @180.studios

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