Andrew Shoben: City spirit

We chat to the playful artist and founder of greyworld, who counts the city as his biggest inspiration.

From the Series

Andrew Shoben. Image:
Andrew Shoben. Image:

Andrew Shoben is the creative spirit behind some of the world's most playful public art. The founder of greyworld, a globally renowned collective of artists, his work includes a bridge that sings, a windup forest, a fake sun and a human tail. "Our work erupts from the city," he says.

When this London-based creative is not encouraging public interaction and observing the psychological effects of artworks in public spaces, he teaches design as professor of public art and computation at Goldsmiths, University of London.

We asked Shoben what he is currently working on, why he loves commissions and why he thinks France needs a tummy-tuck.

What greyworld's your design mission?

We want to create art that allows people the opportunity to play, preferably in the city. We want to create work that you don’t need to read pages of artists' statements to enjoy.

When did you realise that you wanted a career in design?

I don’t think I ever thought of it as a career… I started making work without permission in the city, and slowly it grew in scope and substance. 

Do you have a design muse?

The city. Dark and noisy and surprising and exciting and harsh and sometimes even relaxing.  

Can you tell us a little about your company, greyworld?

I set up the group in Paris in 1993. Rather disillusioned with some of the so-called "high art" that the public felt obliged to patronise, greyworld was created to produce work for public spaces - and as a consequence, for those that hadn't necessarily made a concious decision to go see some art. 

Describe your workspace…

We have a large sunny studio full of toys, a decent coffee machine and good friends that are also colleagues.

What is the most rewarding part about being a designer?

There is nothing better than a phone call telling you that the client wants to commission you! To be asked to create something for somewhere, for someone, is a massive thrill. 

Do you believe in a better world through creativity? How can this be achieved?

I do. I think a big problem there is that people often describe themselves as uncreative. And it is almost always just not true! It needs to be fostered, encouraged and then loved. 

If you could redesign anything in the world, what would it be and why?

I’d like to redesign France. It’s a lovely place but takes too long to travel from the north to the south. Maybe we could remove a little round the waist?

What do you think the future of design holds?

Well, the "bedroom" music revolution – of home DJs and creatives – is finally spilling over to product design and sculpture. 3D printers of all kinds, model shops that can create all kinds of ideas for you – that’s an exciting future. 

What are you currently working on?

Something for a Moscow public space, something for a Nigerian lobby, and something for an unused bicycle park that needs love.

We have two copies of Andrew Shoben's book In the City (2nd edition) to give away. We will also be running a special price for the duration of the competition. Keep watching this August for details on how to win.

Watch the Talk with Andrew Shoben