Tomato was founded in 1991 as a collective of artists, designers, musicians and writers.
Each one of the creatives involved is a partner, sharing their own field of expertise and experience with the wider group. This has led to regular collaboration within the collective and continues to be a source of inspiration and reinvention for those involved.
Currently there are ten active members working with Tomato but many others have played important roles during the ongoing development of the studio. Two of the members are Rick Smith and Karl Hyde of Underworld.
For the past nineteen years, Tomato has involved itself with hosting workshops, publishing, exhibiting, live performances and public speaking as well as working with clients in the areas of advertising, architecture, fashion, public installations, music, television, film and graphic design.
Derek Fenech catches up with his friend, and one of the Tomato members, Michael Horsham, for one of their sporadic conversations.
Hi Michael. Great to talk to you again. Tomato were in the 90s, by many measures revered as icons of creativity. Are you guys still riding that wave? What is Tomato nowadays?
Hi Derek. Isn't it interesting how can reconnect like this, after a few years? I mean, we had a good time when we worked together and... (We need another beer sometime soon...) ...definitely... we've had sporadic contact via email etc, and then you were in London one time but I couldn't make it across town, but nevertheless, the internet gives us enough connection and distance to simply pick up our conversation whenever we like.
I mention this because it's really key to how tomato is working today and also how it has always worked.
You are right. We got a lot of attention in the 90's, but we never planned to do so. At no point did we ever hire a press officer or PR company. Everything that came along in terms of interviews etc was as a result of the other person/pubication/museum/publisher. We simply kept the door open and usually said yes to an interview/book/exhibition. So as the bandwagon rolls on, the journalists find other things to write about or do, we still have no PR company or press office, but we are still making work, we still run a studio and we still keep our conversation going.
We still say yes to every request. In terms of whether we are riding the 90's wave, or any other wave, well it's all a continuum. Though we have changed and got older, had more kids and grown, in our lives were are still choosing actively to be involved in the idea of Tomato as a studio or a place for conversation.
So there is this thing. On the one hand, it's a company in which we all hold shares. On the other, and in my opinion much more poweful hand, tomato is an idea...a place that exists where we can be very open and honest with each other, or as much as we choose to be about work and making things. I still enjoy the fact that in London we have a smallish room and we that live in London get totgether, hang, show each other work and work together on various things.
In that way it's the same. In another way John lives in Australia and Joel in Germany, Tota goes back and forth between Japan and the UK. Ant and Tom aren't involved so much anymore, but Dylan is... we are all still in touch and share work when we need and want to.
So, Tomato is still a powerful idea for me and for my colleagues because we actvely choose it to be. We still get on, we make each other laugh, and we have a lot of experiences to share... it's good, on the whole, a good place to be.
You know Michael one of the things I admire in you guys is that you are known to be a multi disciplinary studio. How easy is it for you guys to switch from writing to designing books and brands to directing films?
It's a myth that we all switch between everything all the time.
I think if you look back over the last five years, personally I have done a bit of everything, and in fact most of us have moved between mediums, or modes of practice... but I don't think it's a question of how "easy" it is. Personally, I don't find anything easy. At least, nothing that is worthwhile.
To find it so would suggest that I had somehow mastered the process and so had nothing to learn and could simply respond or make in a way which did not challenge me or give me pause for thought.
I think that if that were the case it would make things pretty boring. So, I'm not really interested in easy, I like the process of work, of conversation and of discovery. This isn't to say that I worry about what I am doing. I really try to immerse myself in what it is I am doing, and I really like the stress that comes out of trying to do something I have not done before.
I also like being asked to work within pretty tightly determined rules. Whether they are the rules imposed by particular materials and their properties, or whether by the brief, or by the relationship between me and the client or me and one of the other guys in the studio. I mean, for example, I got involved in making a big sign for a park here in London using stainless steel and a CNC cutting machine.
There were many logistical and technical problems to overcome and we are only just finishing it. I had never worked in that medium before, but the interesting thing was finding out how to make something that looked unified and authentic, remained legible and exploited the particular properties of the material... we've kind of got there and it looks alright.
Now we have to address installation. But that's another thing to learn from and even something as simple as that kind of installation will reveal something I didn't know, or hadn't yet experienced. Having said that, I also like the blank sheet of paper - the no rules, you can do what you like end of things - and the personal project. Several of which are on the go in different media, music, writing mainly. The photographic is on hold until my broken leg mends.
With so many ways of interacting with an audience do you guys still manage to do so and how?
I think that's a difficult question to answer unless we look at specific projects. I'm not sure if there is space to do so here. So in general, I guess the general answer is "yes" we manage to make work that works on a number of levels. It's not surprising. Communicating is really our job. That's what we do. Of course, everything communicates something. A blank sheet of paper is communicative of something. But we are hired to make communication work better than it otherwise would, to make communication more effective and coherent.
This implies to some degree that we think about the audience, but in my experience, it's not the audience that needs to be considered, it's the internal logic of the piece, its coherence and its power. this comes from bringing the elements together (if it's a commercial for example it's picture, narrative, music spoken word, typography) what we don't do is try to anticipate what an imaginary audience for any piece of work might think of it.
But we do try and make the work communicate in the best way we can. It's usually successful. There is a degree of chemistry and alchemy to the process, but every time we are working we are bringing into play all of the experience we have in making work, but we are also bringing into play ourselves, our aesthetics our minds and souls. Not to be too mystical about it, but it's pretty personal. It's how we as human beings, living in the world, choose to spend our time and time as we know is precious stuff.
So, if you are spending time in this way you might as well make the best things you can, with a good heart and at least the assumption that everything you invest in the process as a human being - consciously and unconsciously - transmits and communicates to your fellow human beings. You can't control anything you don't own and that would include the reception your work is given by any audience.
There are also parts of the process of making anything which are sometimes accidental, so it's a combination of editing and being open to allowing the accidental to sometimes shape parts of the work in progress in order to try to end up with the best thing we can for a given brief/moment/function/space.
Till our next one then...