More supportive, more humane: The Glue Society on creativity post-coronavirus

The directing collective made their name with experiential projects that push the boundaries of traditional advertising. Now, as people increasingly turn to the virtual world, founder Jonathan Kneebone is contemplating the future.

More supportive, more humane: The Glue Society on creativity post-coronavirus

A magazine once called The Glue Society, an art and directing collective, "experts at things which haven’t been done before". That descriptor seems fitting, because the group of 10 artists, directors and writers have made their name with projects that played with imagination: a melted ice-cream truck, a giant sheep made from pillows, a full-sized graveyard to commemorate fallen Game of Thrones characters and a gallery of new artwork by dead masters such as Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso, to name but a few. 

Now, The Glue Society are facing another seemingly impossible challenge: creating work amid a global pandemic. This dilemma is particularly thorny for the Australia-based collective, because they specialise in projects that often deal with the physical and experiential, such as installations, sculptures and live activations. All of that could seem redundant at a time when people are forced to stay at home and turn to the virtual world instead.

So what next?

Jonathan Kneebone, founding partner of The Glue Society, is considering the kinds of questions that have most likely occurred to many creatives during this period: how do you continue to create under these new restrictions? What is worth making and saying in this atmosphere? And how will work change after this?

Campaign spoke to Kneebone, who lives in Sydney, about coming together with his community, the creative challenges of this new era and how the industry might solve them. 

We had a pretty bad summer [in Australia] with the bushfires and we weren't expecting something worse. There are people who literally lost homes and now don’t have a home to be in. A lot of people are reassessing the likelihood of a regular income this year. It’s as bad as it’s ever been.

Aussies are famous for being chilled-out, laid-back people. That’s probably born out of the sense that whatever happens we’ll get through it, the difficulties that the country has gone through and the realities of living here that you inherit. That resilience comes to the fore – it certainly did during the bushfires and I’m sensing it again.

Something that’s really new is the loss of income and livelihood, and the sense of not being valuable suddenly. What I’ve said to people in the business is that your talent hasn’t disappeared. It will still be there in six months' time. It is hard to believe it sometimes when there’s suddenly a lot less work to go around among crews and people whose jobs depend on production happening or marketing briefs being met.

HBO/Foxtel 'Grave of thrones'

The element of engaging or inspiring people doesn’t change because you do something remotely or online. You can create something that people will experience and get something out of just as easily on a screen as in reality. It brings me back to my early time working in an agency; the thing you always asked the account director or planner for was the restriction, because then you could come up with an idea that challenged the restriction. When the time and messaging is right and we’ve all started to get used to this new reality, a lot of interesting work will play around these restrictions.

We're starting to have creative conversations again and finding common themes and threads, in a world where you're struggling to find positives. It’s up to us as people who problem-solve to be aware of people’s spirits and respect them. 

The bigger thing is what type of communication is going to be right in this new atmosphere. It will be things that are more playful and entertaining to lift everyone's spirits, or something much more considerate and supportive, while not appearing to be making light of anything or throwing money around when some people don't have any. The common thread will be connection and community. It will be about being more humane and having some humility.

'Hot with the chance of a late storm'

The appetite for new experiences won’t go away – it will actually become more critical for people, because we’re all going to become a bit more human. The idea that you can just shove something out and people will buy into it is over. As advertisers, marketers and creative people, we need to listen and learn from that. By and large, people are being extremely selfless at the moment, and if that starts to get respected, it starts to change advertising from something that can sometimes resemble propaganda to something that is perhaps more useful, positive and valuable. 

Secondly, we’ve got a growing appetite for things that connect us, things we can talk about and engage with, and things that educate and inspire us. That will push us into things that are more artful and have a care and resonance to it. The combination of those two things – something that respects the audience and has inherent value – pushes you into work that is more like going to the theatre or an exhibition, as opposed to going to the market and getting shouted at about the price of lettuce.

Your immediate priority is to weigh up what matters. But there is an important role for people who have problem-solving talent or the appetite to solve problems – and that’s pretty much everyone in our industry. There’s a real demand, desire and need for that. Maybe sometimes you're being asked to solve problems that are perhaps a bit more flippant or seemingly more redundant; maybe you’re used to working out how to make people switch channels or go to one supermarket over another, for example. But you can apply the same energy and enthusiasm to other challenges, like how do you stop people panic-buying toilet roll? There are so many new problems to solve. We’re all good at that and it’s just realising we have got a role. We’re probably better at it than the government sometimes. 

We all want to try and help. That spirit is happening and it just takes a few people to lead by example. Those little moments of creativity are what make us human and make us feel that we do have a place and a part in dealing with the crisis. That’s what gets you up in the morning – the chance to have a positive impact.

There's a lot of solidarity in the creative community all around the world. The most important thing in this time is that we in the creative community support each other and those who have suddenly lost their livelihoods. Somehow or other, we need to unify beyond just our own businesses and companies to look after the people who last week were, say, the leading cinematographer in the country and this week are not able to work. We need to make sure all the people who bend over backwards to help us be as good as we can be don’t get forgotten. 

Those sorts of problems are problems that we as a collective community can solve. It’s why we’re great when we all put our minds to it. This is one of those situations where only good things can come from it once we get through it. There’s a lot of pain to go through first, but the most important thing is to have that shared goal together.