ST-DUO Living Machines campaign

ST-DUO are an ethically-driven Rotterdam design studio formed by Sophie Balch and Tijn de Kok. They are designing for a better world, and are the visionaries behind the Conflux Festival’s 2023 striking visual campaign, based around the beautiful and complex ‘Living Machine’: the mushroom. They discuss their creative process, developed together with intern and current WdKA final year student Noah Verhoeff.

How have you visually interpreted the festival theme of Living Machines?

What were your initial influences and source materials?

The theme Living Machines sparked many discussions and interest in the studio. With artificial intelligence making waves within the creative / design scene, generative design tools and intelligence algorithms are raising questions about our relevance as designers and the longevity of our profession. Can a festival identity generate itself? What is the role of a designer when technology is able to produce campaigns? How can we use generative systems to aid our changing profession? Graphic design has survived and embraced the computer, web, code, motion, and AI is another branch we can grow on. 

ST–DUO loves contradictions and extremes, as two quite different designers we like to explore the realms of the inbetween. The terms ‘Living’ and ‘Machine’ stood out to us as one of these differences and we set out to find the point of overlap. Where do the symbolisms of the living (organic, detailed, random, autonomous, flow) collide with the machine (structures, systematic, information, connection, data, circuits)? And how can we address the questions of how we classify consciousness? For us this kept coming back to communication, so we were looking for an organic form that communicates like a machine, and we came to Mushrooms.

Mushrooms are beautiful, in their complex organic structure. They can be seen as conscious machines due to their complex network of interconnected mycelium, which acts as a communication system between individual mushrooms and the surrounding environment. This allows them to communicate with each other, sharing nutrients and information to aid in their growth and reproduction.

Mushrooms are incredibly adaptable and can thrive in a variety of environments, making them highly resilient to changes in their surroundings. Much like machines they can also be programmed to learn from their experiences and adjust their behaviour accordingly.

Can you explain some of your creative processes behind this identity?

Once settled on our source material we begin to experiment, to visualise and explore interesting ways to distort the imagery of the mushrooms, to find our own visual language. We set ourselves limitations for example keeping to black and white colours and we have many critical reflections on what’s working and where we are creating something unique.

We then systemise. The first edition of Conflux we decided to divide the programme into categories (Performances, Exhibitions, Club Nights & Conference), to aid the audience in expectations when viewing a very niche and underground line-up. To systemise our campaign identity in relation to the 4 categories we explored 4 visual treatments of the imagery to represent the life cycle of a mushroom > Growth, Distortion, Decay and Transformation. These terms, linked to the categories, became our communication concept and helped us to form a variety of visual material.

We used the tool Topaz gigapixel, an artificial intelligence that generates additional pixels for imagery to blow up and expand our visual language. The tools database is mostly photographic imagery, so the interesting and unique part of our use of it was by feeding it artwork we had created to see how it would react. Using artificial intelligence in this way expands the capabilities of our designs and is a valuable tool. Alongside this the AI also added a new level of visual distortion to the image which made the process a little more unpredictable and surprising.

Check the ST-DUO videos of Distortion, Growth, Transformation and Decay.

Can you introduce your design studio, your studio’s approach and general philosophy as designers and creators?

Our focus is to build authentic identities for visionaries with a passion-driven commitment to change. It is important to us that the clients we work for are working towards making the world a better place. Whether this is an inclusive dance group, or a boundary pushing festival we apply our skills to that cause.

We strongly believe in the value of those who stand for what they believe in, and we help our clients communicate this is the most striking way. To solidify our own morals and values into the way we design and those we work for we wrote a manifesto to form the vision of our studio; ‘A manifesto for a better world’.

The manifesto explains five attitudes. These five attitudes define the way we approach design, they also personify the kind of clients we want to work with, and in the grand scheme of things, they are the five attitudes that we believe will make the world a better place.

You can see the full manifesto on our website.
Are you interested in a collaboration or further discussion? Do be in touch!

ST-DUO is formed by Sophie Balch and Tijn de Kok. 

We are grateful to have had the creative input and skills of our intern Noah Verhoeff for this year’s Conflux Festival campaign.

Program 2023

  • Conference

    Curiosity abounds when dealing with nonhuman forms of consciousness in relation to the very human forms of emotional and intellectual expression inherent to the art and music presented at Conflux Festival. Do abstraction and beauty translate? Do intention and meaning change? Can one compose for another type of consciousness? What dreams do machines and bees share?

    The one day Conflux Festival conference happening at Worm explores machine hallucinations for waking humans through talks and presentations by theorists, artists and performers from the festival program in response to the festival theme of Living Machines. With special focus on the nonhuman experience of consciousness, the conference presents alternate ways of understanding our rapidly integrated human-machine world.


    Click on names for more info

    Laura Tripaldi
    Soft Machines. Material Interfaces Between Bodies and Technologies
    Nicky Assmann
    Artist Talk
    Jorrit Paaijmans
    Artist Talk
    Joost Rekveld
    Analog Dreams of Nature
    Dave Murray-Rust
    Claire Williams
    Artist Talk
  • Club Nights

    After the neurological demands and multisensory stimulation of the Conflux's Festival day program, by night you're invited to viscerally engage in the techno-driven sounds of the club nights happening at POING and WORM across two dancefloors. Plunged into darkness and sensorially deprived by strobe and smoke, surrounded by other bodies ensnared in the ritualistic human-machine interactions of the dancefloor, here the unconscious processing can begin.

    At POING on Friday experience an afterhours program of bass-driven techno with daring producer and Fever AM label co-founder Rhyw playing with Amsterdam experimental bass artist Zohar and rising Rotterdam dubstep DJ Nala Brown from the female-focused AMPFEMININE collective. Plus local support from Ruwedata, Nikos and Mark Rutta (AKA Mark & Ruta Genyten).

    At WORM on Saturday, the playful leftfield house sounds of rRoxymore meets electro, industrial and seering "Mensch-Maschine" techno with Oliver Ho DJing as Broken English Club alongside Rotterdam techno veteran and Mord Records chief Bas Mooy, with a special collaboration from Perron resident Rita Maomenos and visual artist Cem Altınöz. Plus local support from Afra, dirtydms and Vox supreme.


    Click on names for more info

    Broken English Club
    Bas Mooy
    Nala Brown
    Rita Maomenos & Cem Altınöz
    Vox supreme
    Noach & Tyn
    Mark Rutta
  • Exhibitions

    Are machines living among us or are we living among machines? And how can we learn from each other's experiences? This year’s Conflux Festival dives deep into the human-machine dichotomy and raises questions about our relationship with artificial systems through two exhibitions exploring the festival theme of Living Machines.

    At V2_ artists Claire Williams, Evelina Domnitch & Dmitry Gelfand, Jorrit Paaijmans, Louis-Philippe Demers and Entangled Others Studio present multidisciplinary works at the intersection of science, art and technology. Under the title ‘Living Machines’ the selection of artworks show alternative views on how technology influences human perception. The second exhibition at Roodkapje presents kinetic light installations and screen based experiments by artistic researchers from the Macular collective, who celebrate 15 years of their nomadic lab practice.

    The exhibitions are free of charge. Opening times:

    Thursday 15 June: 18:00 - 21:00
    Friday 16 June: 14:00 - 20:30
    Saturday 17 June: 14:00 - 20:30
    Sunday 18 June: 14:00 - 20:30


    Click on names for more info

    Entangled Others Studio
    Macular: Nicky Assmann
    The Abysses of the Scorching Sun
    Macular: Daan Johan & Joris Strijbos
    Macular: Daan Johan & Joris Strijbos
    Macular: Eric Parren
    Macular: Nicky Assmann & Joris Strijbos
    Liquid Solid
    Jorrit Paaijmans
    Automatic Signum Series
    Jorrit Paaijmans
    Linearis Objectum No.3
    Louis-Philippe Demers
    A Monocular Dialogue
    Evelina Domnitch & Dmitry Gelfand
    Hilbert Hotel
    Claire Williams
    Macular: Matthijs Munnik
    Macular: Matthijs Munnik
  • Performances

    Conflux Festival explores the broad and murky boundaries between humans and their machines over a four day program of innovative sound performances, live audiovisual presentations and experimental cinema showcases by a cross-section of internationally renowned artists, happening across a diverse range of environments throughout the city of Rotterdam.

    For the free opening concert on Thursday, Conflux Festival presents a public sound art intervention at Plein 1940 featuring elements of the Kinetic Sounds multichannel sound installation. On Friday, the concrete cathedral Brutus will host an expanded cinema showcase of audiovisual works going beyond the traditional frame of a screen. On Saturday, visual artists and musicians will present a series of immersive screen-based performances at the Arminius Kerk, and on Sunday experience experimental theater and sound performances at Worm.


    Click on names for more info

    Drew McDowall
    Leila Bordreuil
    Ulla & Nan Wang
    AV live collaboration
    Joost Rekveld, Fani Konstantinidou & Anne La Berge
    Acidic Male & Jelmer Noordeman
    AV live collaboration
    Michela Pelusio
    SpaceTime Helix
    Olivier de Sagazan
    Encor Studio
    Mint Park
    Macular: Daan Johan
    Joost Rekveld
    Film Screening: Mechanisms Common to Disparate Phenomena; #59
    Pandelis Diamantides
    Paul Devens
    Pulses, Pops and Kaboom
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