four23, the design studio, started out in an old attic space in Manchester, a space that became known as the Apex. This space had not been used for twenty years and had no functioning electrics, but it had some considerable personality and the amenity of its own front door. After some weeks of effort, and the voluntary endeavour of an electrician, it was made ready. The two founders, Warren and Darryl, in their 20s, organised a party, hired a hydrogen tank and let 423 balloons float out of the window. The film is somewhere. This is February 2004.
Nobody claims to have put a theory to it. No talk of a grand plan, or of a thesis. Ask, and you are more likely to think them anti-theoretical, refusing to be labelled, lit by many inspirations but then anxious to move to the next idea, the next ideas. It was a shared space, a creative impulse that brought them to it; that is all there was to it.
Opening the studio had been an act of liberty. The years that followed were filled with projects, exhibitions, installations, publications, travel, journals and by work with academics, artists, poets, musicians, authors, architects, institutions, charities and corporations.
That will to liberty had been lit and from it developed a form of studio that was not characterised by an in-house staple design style, but which was fluid and emergent. There was no à priori template, no model, and so through the very integrity of its work, the studio was forever inventing itself.
Its work was of graphics, film, the still image, code, fabric, paper, words, VR, screens, 360, hi-fidelity. It was a studio of craft, induction and retroduction. This meant that intrinsic quality was found in material, shape, texture and light. Meaning was found only in the application of that intrinsic detail to a particular context. Nothing of four23 was ever predictable because nothing could be predicted; all work was revealed only in the application of craft to context.
Every project was a challenge to learn, to learn more, to uncover something. Each project started with research, intensive research. Research was the means by which four23 was always sophisticated and knowledgeable without being complicated. Outcomes could be provocative, deep, simple, fun and fresh, but they were always highly attuned.
It was all also so intrinsically romantic. This romanticism was revealed in the value it placed on the emotions and experiences of its protagonists. Yet, always, throughout all art, all history, the romantic has a price. The value of emotions and experiences exists only because they are transitory. They must end if they are to have any meaningful life at all.
four23 started out in an old warehouse space in Manchester and chose Summer 2018, in London, as the right time to take its leave; for now at least. It is time to take time as individuals to reflect, have new conversations, find new inspirations, to visit new environments. It is time to live awhile without clocks.
Nietzsche once wrote “The end of a melody is not its goal: but nonetheless, had the melody not reached its end it would not have reached its goal either.” So, when do things end? How about they end when the studio is in demand, when it is comfortable and stable, when the appetite is still strong, when discussions of sale are not pursued and when there are good missions ahead? And most importantly, how about they end, or at least pause, with all we have achieved as friends?
Words by Professor Peter Kawalek