Gender-fluid Acid Trips, Naked On-stage Panels, Stefan Sagmeister and the Ode to Joy: Moving>>FORWARD>>in Vienna


Gábor Bagladi

5 min read

October 27, 2021

No Cannes, no London: Our first creative festival in 2 years

With no major IRL creative festival in sight for the past couple of years, we decided to stop waiting for the big ones and seek out those that do take place in the flesh in 2021. That’s how Forward came into sight, so we thought we would pay a visit to our beloved imperial brothers-in-law. We started out as a group of 10, but, due to COVID restrictions and non-accepted vaccinations, only 4 of us made it to the newly renovated Gartenbaukino

For those of you who have never been, a trip to Vienna is a far more convenient experience than a trip to, say, Orosháza. After two and a half hours on a shockingly quiet train, we were slurping a Viennese coffee at Hauptbahnhof, which looks more like a fancy shopping centre than a train station. 

Small, but aspirational: Programme Highlights

Forward Festival is a two-day event with about a dozen main-stage panels and a handful of side workshops. Among this year’s speakers was Accenture Interactive’s Kaitlyn Chang, who, with her newborn baby round her neck, held a 45-minute talk on the negative effects of gender stereotyping in our industry. Not the kind of subject you’d never seen discussed at a creative festival before, but still entertaining and eye-opening enough for us to watch it all the way through. 

Serviceplan strategist Luca Conte did a talk on sustainability and listening to Gen Z in advertising, a hot potato of a topic these days. He produced some rather convincing arguments, but at the end of his presentation, I felt like buying Patagonia instead of £1 bikinis was not our ultimate weapon against climate change. He also urged agencies to advise and, if need be, drop clients who refuse to stop environmentally harmful practices or ones unwilling to favour social diversity. Something we, Hungarian agencies, should perhaps take a bit more seriously

Then there were some more design-centred programmes, such as gender-fluid AR art collectiv IAMs 45-minute acid trip, or the up-and-coming Serbian-Austrian visual artist Mashi, whose crew were literally naked throughout her entire presentation to promote body positivity, just to name a few. 

And then the big ones. Sadly, Annie Atkins – Wes Anderson’s art director – couldn’t make it. One of the shows I had anticipated the most, especially because I’d missed her panel at D&AD a few years back. The same was the case with Martin Parr, one of Britain’s finest photography exports, but, contrary to Ms. Atkins, his panel was held nonetheless via Zoom. From the comfort of his studio at his foundation in Bristol, the master documentarist took us through the different phases of his career: probably the second most stimulating panel of the festival, even though he wasn’t actually there and a few jokes were lost as he couldn’t interact with the audience.

“All my clients drive me crazy…”: Stefan, a true meister of words

The festival’s absolute highlight was Stefan Sagmeister’s nearly 2-hour Thursday night talk. The Austrian design guru, in his thick Schwarzenegger-like accent, talked about how he’s still managing to find inspiration after 35 years in the industry. 

He did a re-cap of his entire career, which he divided into 7-year blocks. He talked about his years as a junior designer in Vienna; moving to Hong Kong and New York to work with his mentor, Hungarian design legend Tibor Kálmán; setting up his own company to design album sleeves for the Talking Heads, the Rolling Stones, Brian Eno and the like only to grow tired of it all and start working on his own projects, which he continues to do today. 

He claims that he’s managed to maintain his creative zeal because he always knew when to take a break. According to his system, instead of thinking of one’s career as 25-40-15 (i. e. the learning years, the working years and retirement), creatives should mix up the latter two, and take a 1-year sabbatical at the end of every 7 years to find new inspirations and feed their inner drive. Yes, he says, it means that you lose 5 of your pensioner years, but who really wants to retire, anyway? He most probably doesn’t, and his method seems to be working for him just fine. 

At the end of his talk, he asked everyone in the audience to stand up and join him in singing his own version of The Ode to Joy. Here’s how it goes:

All my clients drive me crazy,

Never show no guts at all.

For the peanuts that they pay me,

They get logos 10 feet tall.

I don’t normally go in for these sorts of flash mobs, but, I must say, it was quite a liberating experience. Danke sehr, Stefan! 

Too close and yet attractive: The girl next door

Although we tend to think of our Western neighbour’s capital as a rather sterile and much more boring equivalent of Budapest, Vienna really is worth a trip at least once every year. I hate to admit it, but the city’s stunning architecture and the mint condition of its buildings outshine ours, and so does its variety of cultural programmes. Right now there’s a Modigliani, a Schiele and an ‘80s art exhibition at Albertina, and that’s only one of Vienna’s main museums. Not to mention the currywurst stands, the colourful markets, the shops of the gentrified youth hub Neubau and the variety of great, albeit very expensive restaurants. So, in the words of the late Falco, Austria’s probably one and only real pop star: Vienna Calling!

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Emese Bódi

Mesi is searching for minds and souls, loves a good CV and to chat with new people. Go ahead and find out!

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Emese Bódi

Mesi is searching for minds and souls, loves a good CV and to chat with new people. Go ahead and find out!

Apply now!


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