From residencies at Harvard University to speaker slots at World Economic Forum, Harry Yeff (creative director of Reeps 100) is an award-winning artist exploring visual and audio culture. For this weeks In Focus, we talk to him about his mission to educate and why it’s important to go with your gut.
You’re an award-winning artist, championship chess player and accomplished producer, mastering any skill you turn your hand to, what drives you to keep learning?
I would shrivel up and disappear without a challenge – I need to keep growing otherwise I simply don’t feel alive. Level up, always and forever.
Growing up in East London you talk about your environment shaping you, can you tell us a little more about this?
Things were rough growing up but it taught me no-one has your back more than yourself. It’s that simple – nothing comes for free and I work hard to support my family and feel so grateful to exist as a creative. Sometimes the thing you are most angry about as a young person become the greatest lesson.
From artist residencies at Harvard to speaker slots at the World Economic Forum, your projects are incredibly diverse, what are your secrets to staying focused and managing your time?
Being impulsive – intelligently…
Of course there is a contradiction there, and that’s intentional. I have many disciplines but it’s actually moving between them all that keeps me engaged, excited and driven. Being bored is the worst thing for creativity. That doesn’t mean you should only work hard on things you enjoy, it’s more about finding creative ways to make your weaknesses stimulating. Also being aware of your overall mission can be a powerful driving-force when you are near your limit.
“Technology offers so many new opportunities and that is where the power is.”
You’ve had major success with your vocal compositions, amassing millions of views for your Youtube videos, is there a formula for these successes?
Ask the algorithm… but honestly I think it all starts with spending a lot of time knowing what you want to make before you need to think about views. Quality and honesty comes first, stats come second.
You’re an advocate for pushing boundaries and rejecting the idea that ‘everything has been done before’, what advice would you give to someone just starting out in the creative sector?
Use what’s new. I like to think about what is only available now as opposed to mediums that have existed for millennia.
Titian, Da Vinci, Escher were all visual artists – illustration and painting has been tackled, and has produced many masterpieces. So think about what tools only exist today. What will be the first computing masterpiece, or dome projection masterpiece? Technology offers so many new opportunities and that is where the power is.
“Sci-fi sensationalism, marketing and fear all come synonymously with innovation.”
As a society, we are more connected ever, yet research has shown that we are rapidly losing our social and communication skills. How can we harness tech in a meaningful way that encourages real-life interactions?
It’s simple really – our senses are like a muscle. The main danger is that we allow technology to replace – when we should always be thinking about augmentation. Technology replacing millions of years of evolution is a very ridiculous concept. Training your fundamentals is key to a happy and healthy life. Once you have those central pillars in place, technology offers a powerful collaborative relationship. But we simply cannot forget we are human first.
Artificial intelligence is – rationally – a positive development yet we see a huge amount of scaremongering in the media, why do you think there is so much negative press around AI?
Sci-fi sensationalism, marketing and fear all come synonymously with innovation. Mystifying new technologies is extremely damaging to progress as it tends to create a divide and also pushes the illusion that we have a choice when it comes to our interaction with new technologies. The scary thing is these innovations are coming at a fast rate and the more we mystify, the harder it is for people to have ownership over these new ideas. AI can fire nuclear weapons and save millions of lives. It’s an immense tool, but it’s mostly a human lead tool. Human beings are creating these systems and we need to stop personifying AI – instead, look at the people using these systems and how they are impacting lives. We can guide it as civilians, and to ignore it just gives that choice to commercial, political and tech giants. Interact. Understand. Guide.
“Follow your gut – it’s your greatest asset.”
Where do you see yourself, and what do you see yourself doing in 5 years?
People on average use about 20 percent of their vocal capacity. My job is to increase that number globally via my work. As long as it fits into that mission I will be content.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your 17 year old self knowing what you know now?
Follow your gut – it’s your greatest asset.
If you could collaborate with any artist (living or dead) who would it be, and why?
I would say director Chris Cunningham. His mind and visual language is simply beyond this world. He is a draftsman in prosthetics and has moved into Direction. People who can manifest their most abstract vision are my idols.
What are you currently working on? Do you have any exciting projects in the pipeline?
Currently I’m writing the closing performance for WEF Davos, a Dome projection show for SAT in Montreal, working on a DEEP FAKE video piece at Factory Berlin and the list goes on… but I’m excited to get back to solo performance, that’s my roots.
Give us three underrated accounts we should be following on instagram?
We’re always seeking to champion emerging talent, which creative should we focus on next?
He’s a musician but his approach to art making and facilitating ideas is astonishing.
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AI – friend or foe?
You can only have one, Digital or Analogue?
Describe what you do to a time traveller from the pre-internet age.
One thing about you that might surprise us?
I’m bad at accents.