The Cyber Kids on Real studio specialises in design, creating campaigns and offering broad-based marketing solutions. Moreover, Dominik Cymer makes illustrations – sometimes they are autonomous works in their own right, but usually they constitute an integral part of the projects carried out by the studio. As the designers claim, it is not possible to clearly separate these two fields, because the artwork and design complement and merge with each other. Similarly, it is not always possible to clearly separate the fields that Dominik works on and the ones that Kasia is responsible for.
Dominik Cymer and Kasia Lorenz started their artistic activity at the same time and in both cases it coincided with the emergence of the Internet in Poland. Lorenz said:
When the first interactive agencies appeared in Poland, I started collaborating with them as the leader of projects. Those were the times when everyone did everything. There was a division between graphic designers, computer programmers and project leaders, but the position of copywriter basically did not exist. Consequently, inventing slogans and campaigns would be assigned to a person most suited for it at a particular time. Thanks to the fact that the beginnings of the Internet in Poland were wild and crazy, I could participate in conceptual work, although I was mainly responsible for the accurate flow of the process.
The beginnings of Cymer's activity are related to graphic arts and programming. When the Internet appeared, Cymer began to run a website Nobdepot, where every month he would place a new website that he hadd done from scratch, together with graphics and programming. As he said: 'Thanks to this I learnt a lot, it was a sort of a school for me'. Consequently, together with my colleagues from Będzin, a city located in Zagłębie Dąbrowskie, he created the initiative Będzin Beat. This industrial town was lethargic and Będzin Beat was supposed to be a way out of the malaise. It was, as its co-author said, a 'provincial cultural magazine' which Cymer ran with Marcin Doś. At first, this online magazine published works of people linked with Będzin, and over time it became a platform where its creators developed their interests. As a result, it gathered people who would met at electro parties, events and performances, for which posters were created. Afterwards, Będzin Beat published accounts from these events. The initiative operated between 1998 and 2002. Later Cymer and Lorenz moved to Warsaw.
The Cyber Kids on Real studio was created in 2010 when both designers were already experienced after having worked in other companies, creating advertising campaigns for many years. At the same time Cymer developed the illustrative and experimental branch of his artistic activity. He said: 'I did two or even three days' work: one at work, the rest afterwards'. Lorenz added: 'As still childless people then, we could spend our weekends tiling a mural on the fence of the Wedel factory, which was commissioned by Bęc Zmiana Foundation, or spend our holidays participating in an artistic event in Israel'. Currently, all these fields of Cymer and Lorenz work are combined within the activity of their studio. They design for publishing houses and illustrate, they carry out commercial projects, co-create socially engaged actions and engage in their own creative projects, such as expositions and, recently, Internet television.
Currently our main specialisation, which combines all these field, is making content. It can be website or social media content. Making an exposition is actually also about making content.
As the designers from Cyber Kids on Real explain, designing content also consists of writing texts, making short films and short animations. It can be exemplified by the social campaigns for Ponton and the project called Antakya Street. The work on such projects implies starting with what should be said and going on to making a decision what way to achieve it. It is, in other words, telling a story, making an outline which should fit well into a chosen form. Cymer said:
We don't make mechanisms for websites anymore. We make use of the opportunities that social media offer. We focus on the ways of conveying information. We can choose between many forms. We like to make films, gifs, illustrations. The adverts used to function thanks to campaigns. We did not talk about the content, only about branding, visual identification, publishing houses. It resembles packing things and we do the 'filling'. People who come to us expect that we will help them in telling what they have to convey. We construct the story so that it can be understood by the audience.
The campaign of the Ponton Group of Sex Educators concerning teens' sexuality is titled 'Don't Force Yourself to Change'. Its aim is to show that the images of women and men presented in the media strongly influence our idea of sexual behaviour and the ideal of beauty. Ponton provided the information about the whole set of behaviours that they wanted to talk about. The designers suggested gifs which purposefully did not exhaust the topic. They were not verbatim illustrations but an impetus to think, an opportunity to discuss the problems related to sexualisation and media. The reflection on treating the body as an object was provoked by a gif in which a boy obsessively watches photos of buttocks, as a result of which his girlfriend's head turns into a bottom. The designers also illustrated other cases of objectification. The campaign was accompanied by substantive texts edited by the educators from Ponton. They were not directed only at adolescents but also at teachers, parents and the media which were to publicise the problem. The materials were supposed to help adults in discussions about sexuality with their growing children. The gifs were made available in social media and attracted a positive response. An important aspect of this project was lack of moralism, thanks to which the campaign gained the youth's trust.
An earlier educational project was focused on sexuality and relations between people and it consisted of a set of memes created in 2014 for the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign, also commissioned by the Ponton group. This time Cyber Kids on Real included unambiguous and humorous vision of bans and orders. That's what Cymer said about the project:
We didn't want to value the behaviours we presented. There are other institutions who have right to judge. The point was to trigger a discussion. We had to be careful so as to avoid stigmatising anybody. I think that if we refer to somebody as a human being, who thinks in a wrong way and can't improve, this person closes up or starts defending, as a result of which the campaign turns out to be counter-productive.
That is why in the memes concerning violence against women the attackers were presented in a form of characters from pop-culture (for example King Kong) in a way that only behaviours were brought out of the shadows. In the case of campaigns regarding such difficult topics as sexual violence, the media in which the designers operate are an additional asset. The memes and the Internet content allow for a dynamic reaction to discussions and commentaries and correcting the form of the presentation if such need arises. In other words, a meme which turns out to be unclear or evokes adverse emotions can be easily changed into another picture or film, which does not reproduce the same mistake.
A difficult topic was also tackled by the project titled Antakya Street, carried out for the Nomada Association for Multicultural Society Integration. It is an educational platform about forced displacement created in the context of the war and humanitarian crisis in the Middle East. The project presented true stories of several inhabitants of the same street who had to flee from war and decide for a costly and a very dangerous journey to Europe. A website is one of the project's elements – it presents varied content, including a series of short films presenting the problems that refugees face. Cymer talked about the project:
We wanted to approach the topic from distance. We didn't want to say if good or bad people live there. We wanted to show that somewhere in the Middle East there is a street no different than streets in Poland. We came up with the Antakya Street, where a group of people live. They just as well could be Poles, but they were born in another part of the world.
The Nomada Association presented some true stories to us and on the basis of them we created the idea of a block of flats where ordinary people live: a young couple, elderly people, a young girl with her father. They are normal people who are so diverse that every receiver can identify with one of them. Together they created a shared story.
The Cyber Kids on Real project supports the Nomada Association in their educational activity and is used during conversations, workshops and other field activities. It also functions as a separate educational tool and contains guides for teachers, healthcare staff and social workers. It is supposed to help them in contacting the refugees from the Middle East (the guides designed by Projektor group and Joanna Synowiec). The important underlying assumption of Antakya Street was that it should not horrify with drastic content which could discourage people from using this material. Rather than shock, it was supposed to attract attention and familiarise the audience with foreignness, even though painful topics could not have been avoided. Lorenz said:
Despite the restrained means that we used, the campaign accomplished its task. We appeared in the Polish media and institutions, the campaign was widely acclaimed.
Dominik Cymer and Kasia Lorenz are also involved in creative actions which they carry out on their own. The exposition Dreams and Marketing was such an initiative. The photos were taken by Jacek Kołodziejski. The exposition took place in 2016 in the Kronika Gallery in Bytom, and its curator was Stanisław Ruksza. It was devoted to advertising and commerciality, but, as opposed to many artistic and activist actions regarding those topics, it was not limited to pastiche and criticism. Above all, it employed speculation and created imaginary marketing worlds, which were not expressly negative or positive. They were supposed to provoke a reflection on how the marketing mechanisms shape the product, often in an unobvious way. Dominik Cymer approached this exhibition from a perspective of an insider, a creator who is himself involved in advertising. The non-existent companies invented by Cymer in his childhood were the inspiration to create particular works:
I invented a company called Dragon which produced computers. When I was working on the exhibitions I started to wonder what would happen if the company Dragon really existed on the market and was Apple's competitor. It offered a computer meant for physical labour. It functioned just like a normal PC, but it was operated by doing physical exercises.
For the sake of the exhibition Cyber Kids on Real developed products which were supposed to uncover the mechanisms of advertisement and marketing. One example is the website Message in the Bottle, sold as a service which made it possible to send a message to the future. In reality, it used the well-known function of sending messages with delay and the unreal service actually merchandised an old mechanism by wrapping it in an attractive package. One of the elements of the work were the stories of friends who used this mechanism and sent messages to their future selves. Another project, Alkotak, criticised the hypocrisy and uncovered the mechanisms of capitalism, where money sometimes makes it possible to get round the law, and the invention of entrepreneurs appears when the law has no reference to reality. Alkotak is a service which resembles a parking meter and sells coupons that allow for unpunished drinking of alcohol in public. Another project was iSoap, a soap sold for 2000 PLN as a 'fragrance communicator'. One of the projects commented on the celebrity worship, which is inherent in advertisements. The Cele buy online shop offered exactly the same products that celebrities buy. In the case of Dorota Masłowska, who took part in the project, those were potatoes and bread. The exhibition Dreams and Marketing was not supposed to be a pastiche. All the campaigns were aesthetically attractive and professionally prepared and, as a result, they matched the desires of the visitors/clients, who were confronted with their own susceptibility to an attractive marketing story.
A reference to the project Będzin Beat from the beginnings of the activity of Cymer and Lorenz is KTV. It is a TV channel which was created during a two-month stay in Katowice, where Cymer was invited by Street Air Festival. He decided to carry out a series of programmes filmed in Katowice. It is a self-ironical, self-referential project and at the same time an attempt to come to grips with the medium of Internet television. Cymer said:
It is something that I like a lot, something a little bit unnecessary and I really appreciate unnecessary things.
The concept of the visit is not that you come and make, for instance, a mural. The idea was to come into contact with the city and make Katowice influence itself somehow.
The project also featured Marcin Doś, with whom Cymer created Będzin Beat, and a few other people who co-created this community. As a result short video materials were created. They presented neglected, unnoticed elements of Górny Śląsk (Upper Silesia) and Zagłębie, such as the mysterious Ranczo, an unusually expanded, anonymous gallery of peculiarities composed of waste and rubbish. Cymer said:
The most important thing for me is the fact that I created a medium which may activate the Będzin Beat crew again. I show that it doesn't have to be a cabaret, stand-up or show that makes us famous. The point is to tell something interesting. (…) When you make a graphic, an identification to your own initiative, then a design becomes an incredible tool to create alternate worlds. Thanks to this we can make something that functions perfectly from scratch. I suppose that making graphics to your own projects, as in the case of Dreams and Marketing or KTV, is the most satisfactory work for me.
Originally written in Polish by Agata Szydłowska, translated by MW, February 2018.