I seem to have seen a lot of ‘art’ lately. And, frankly, it’s corking my capacity to make any. It’s given me far too much ruddy inspiration.
Autumn is, as I have bored you before, my favourite time of year. Back to school, new trousers, fresh ideas. All that windows-of-the-brain-opening stuff, crisp air blowing through your thinking. Good time of year for it. So a good time of year to finally finish that blasted new Momo:tempo LP, for example? After a hot summer of scribbling and sessioning, will the mellow mists of fall frizzle up the fingers of finishingness?
Well, you’d think. And, that particular project is getting there as we type. Problem is, round these parts, this is also now a time when lots of damn-fool ideas are blatting about in the wind and can quickly clog your noggin.
For September and October are Silicon Beach and Arts By The Sea time in Bournemouth. And given that it’s also my birthday’s time of year, we complicated matters still further by taking a purely recreational trip to London and its many exhibitional delights, on top of planning out an impressive diary of arty-weird events and performances here at home. Which meant still more exhibitions and pottering and pondering and discussing and wondering and fanciful arsing about.
It’s been hell for creativity.
I’m not sure I helped myself. I stayed for every minute of Silicon Beach’s two days, this year. I think I followed the last sessions of 2012’s digital creative conference from a Twitter stream in the bath. Can’t remember why. Sudden unmentionable experience somewhere in the undergarments from over-inspiration? I wisely forget. But this year – the conference’s third, and another ticketing sell-out – I couldn’t imagine missing any of it. Any of the sharing, talking, listening and tweeting of ideas that challenge our norms and ineffectivenesses in the face of an unprecedented time of change facing human kind.
Yes, you reel out of the place thinking that monumentally. Right before you, or most of those around you, go get bladdered by the beach. It’s basically TED. Without the remortgage for the ticket.
I think Mark Stevenson’s ‘futurism’ talk , You ain’t seen nothing yet, sparked the most inspiration for everyone, and perhaps summed up what can easily seem so… meaningful about Silicon Beach. The sweeping implications of it all. Inevitable incremental digital developments in our creative processes – most practiced and explored in the advertising and media industries – will have, are having, exponentially cascading effects on… well, everything. Everything.
As Russell Buckley of Ballpark Ventures even spelled out. “The last four minutes are the ones where you realise it’s too late” he said.
If a single drop of water were placed in a football stadium, he suggested, and that drop of water were magically gifted to double every second, in less than 50 minutes of that exponential hydric expansion, you would be drowning in the highest seats at the back – but for three quarters of an hour you’d think it was all a small puddle way off down on the pitch. Not least because few people of the many tens of thousands of football fans around you are likely to jump quickly to the conclusion that the waterlogged pitch is due to bewitched H2O and think it’s time to start heading calmly to the exits.
Such is the nature of our world’s technology. Today. Colliding, expanding, morphing, fusing and filling up our gaps as we sit here titting about on Twitter. Oblivious to the impending Singularity. You better believe Skynet IS going to go self aware and start making unfathomably fast and sensible decisions about your idiotic, inefficient, waddling every day life, mate.
Some boffin or other predicts it’ll be in about 2050, we learned, but I already have my suspicions about the new MacPro. Hell, it knows when you’re looking at it.
Putting aside maniacally logical overlord computer intelligences for a moment, Mark’s take on this future from a human point of view was that it will have to be equitable – fair. Inclusive. Or it won’t work. But it will work, by sheer inevitable volume of people getting empowered by the changes. As digital becomes biological and molecular – as it already is now – so the fundamental way we deal with the material of life will be changed forever. And there will be no place for massive corporate greed, because it will simply be an inevitable block to human progress. Our future will be open source, and dependent on ideas. Yours and mine. So you’d better have some.
Now let’s hold hands and chant.
Look, cynic, here’s a thing. If Marcin Jakubowski can already place 50 items essential for building a working village from scratch or ‘open-sourced blueprints for civilization’ out on the web as free models for anyone to smoosh into a 3d printer, there is no excuse for us to allow poverty and oppression by those taking political power over groups of us. Because, it is supposed, in a short while we won’t need any of these people. There will be no government.
Being a sensible tax payer – I think I earn enough to pay someone tax somewhere – I have never before considered this as an even vague possibility in the real world. No government. I might at least budge forward enough to say now that I no longer dismiss the concept totally. Distant dream though it resolutely still is.
And you thought I was going along to hear about a few cool ad campaigns and how they made them work on a website. Cuh – you.
Only a week later, I was strangely comforted to see a face and hear a voice I hadn’t since childhood. And it was one that seemed to be utterly concurring with this utopian, distinctly Star Trek sounding vision of the unfolding century. Doctor James Burke. He had been interviewed forty years on from him uncannily predicting whereabouts we’d be as a technological species about now. The power of the computer to connect and facilitate daily life and all that.
Asked about the next forty, he said things like: “There will be no pollution, because you’ll fashion everything you need from the dirt around your house. But recreational pastimes in nature, like gardening, will become instinctively vital to our well being. Earth will become an untamed wilderness, peppered with gardens” he smiled, beatifically. It was spellbinding.
Thing is… yeah. The thing. In the hear and now, the backward echos of this to our point in timeline are manifest in the pressing need for global social justice. We need more than a 3D printer – we need political engagement. We need people working together.
Yes. We really did just get from a web designers’ piss-up to global social justice.
Such are the implications of business right now, basically; trade and financial interactions and investments in ways of doing things and working with the powers that be. All that. And at this point I feel I can say that dandying bearded teeth-flasher Russel Brand isn’t helping. Or is he?
I forget how much some people loath Katy Perry’s ex-husband’s swaggering brilliance and glinting self awareness. But his interview last week with Paxman on Newsnight has sparked many re-posts and sparky reposts. Most recently this week from fellow telly comedy gurner and less parryingly witty half of Mitchell &, Robert Webb. It appears to be open season for the open letter, and openly wanton attempts to get publicity from other people’s media pickles – despite all the carefully worded very good points made by everyone.
Some people just find Russel Brand annoying, but pretend it’s his aversion to using the vote. Personally, I want to hug him. Not because he’s more than a little reckless in suggesting the vote IS a waste of time to his millions of fans. But because he knows his vulnerabilities and is essentially himself blatantly everywhere. Don’t imagine a professional role switched on for the camera is necessarily a dishonest one. He just happens to be a flashing wit as he does so. The swine. I can’t help liking this enormously.
Russel stirs debate in a way that many people feel they can identify with, and with some relief, just as many more think he’s a grinning preening prat who enjoys spouting vocabulary and bonding fluids quicker than he does a considered, responsible thesis.
Which is both a little caricaturial and more than a little Who Can Blame Him If True. Anyone who knows the value of life’s deepest things enough to make hilarity with them is worth at the very least a warm shake of the hand from me. Much like US TV Not News hero Jon Stewart. Both are blokes with a lot of money and success, interestingly, but with some kind of perspective on it. And both at least getting to affect larger debate on some big issues, thanks to their profile. And doing so, y’know, by being funny.
This always feels like it matters. Even while surrendering few reassuring statistics to measure its matterdom.
Begs the question, though: Who do we want as our poster boys and girls of revolution? And do we even need them really?
“There is a growing underclass, disenfranchised totally from the political system” Brand said, angrily. Between charming barbs. “What I want, what people want, is a real alternative.” A change has gotta come.
As Mark Stevenson retorted to an instantly frozen-awkward room – after Silicon Beach platform sharer, DP of D&AD, boss of Dare and very liked good egg Laura Jordan-Bambach had shared her work to try and put a social community spin on her internationally known credit card client –: “Barclaycard is f***ing the planet, and they need to know we don’t think it’s acceptable.”
People know the big system isn’t working fairly. Go on, you’re vaguely aware of it. People have long known it. And people know that lots of people are completely disconnected from The System. So I personally feel no fear when a bloke who got lucky with talent and efforts points this out to a comfy telly journo.
It’s just that we really are a long way from simply not needing governments and voting influence. A very long way. And any real future has to be connected – and much more than by party politics and a ballot box.
We’ll need to be connected properly. Not just lyingly in the phone ad sense.
By ‘properly’ I mean, as much as anything else, ‘in new ways’. A re-ordering of connections, maybe. And while characters from our background blur of entertainment and conversation can stir the pot, it’s less profiled people and meeting-places that nearly always generate the ideas to throw into it.
Events such as Silicon Beach are, I think, meant to be little diamond moments, if you’re looking for them. I think that’s the aim of Matt Desmier, founder and George Clooney legs-alike. It’s meant to be a time out from the relentless need to work and respond to clients… to think. Something the world of Business seems to claim it looks for in workers but culturally resists giving anyone time to actually do. Down time is not Making Shit We Can Count time, at the end of the day. Assuming your working day ever ends.
But this was a chance for local, jobbing creatives to be reminded, perhaps, that their work is meant to have some very real effects on other people. It’s meant to stimulate responses. Which means first making connections. Which we think we know and think about all the time.
If our particular work is about ideas and problem solving, we could really do with periodic time out to see just what the business of ideas is up to generally. In an era for humanity that has never been more culturally about ideas and stories, us ordinary Joes in agencies and private studios need to have thought about the human possibilities and implications of some very real very far-reaching technological developments coming right at us all. Developments that creatives are able to be among the very first to explore and deploy and benefit from. And help others make sense of.
As an event, I couldn’t shake the sense that SB’s tone of voice had the same calmly excited assurance as that of much of the scientific community of our day, seeing so many disciplines and ideas merge and, well, sing the same song – to put it not just creatively, but humanly. Folk songs have been some of the sinews binding generations together across history, shared by ordinary unprofiled folk – but this was no bawdy cautionary tale or ballad of misery, it was a sobering song of possibilities. Of real empowerment. And of the necessity to engage with each other everywhere. To share ideas if they are to be realised.
Once again, a challenging notion to a bloke who works alone in a shed.
Something quoted by a few people coincidentally over those two days in the Pavilion Dance was by Aristotle. Or Plato. Or one of those pre-crazy Greek fellas. “Books will be the undoing of humanity – for they will banish the need for memory.” How we all laughed – so will the technology of today seem, surely? Held aloft as it is by Luddites as the thin edge of a silicon wedge being driven between us and the Earth and any hope of a ‘natural’ way of life. One day we’ll laugh at how we feared its implications like cave trolls.
I always think of DH Lawrence’s out-of-leftfield science fiction short story, The Machine Stops, here, with it’s vivid portrait of a world of isolatory super-chairs and vid screens plugging us into each other from miles away and turning us fat and flacid as some ubiquitous super-system efficiently evacuates our fluids. Written in the 30s, it is a creative reaction to, I guess, fear of the 20th century’s explosion of industrialisation. And no kidding – with more than eight decades of hindsight, you can almost picture The X Factor on Vashti’s portal screen when you read it.
But… I dunno. A perspective that seems to seep out to me from everywhere at the moment is that, while we certainly do reach for our iPhones in pub quizzes and check spelling in the Google search bar without thinking and this all does seem a bit unnatural or lazy or something… critical – creative – thinking is becoming much more important than facts retention. In this world changing shape around us.
Perhaps this is why Claire Suttcliffe’s presentation on Code Club also inspired one of the heartiest rounds of applause at SB – the need we all felt to equip our children with the language, the currency, of the 21st century.
“Whole nations will be serving maitais on the beach because they don’t get this stuff” as Dave Birss I think quoted.
It’s both sobering and exciting. This stuff. It calls to the kid and the adult in us. It is really, the urgent stuff of what we COULD win, if we don’t frak it up. Which is, inevitably, as political a call as it is professional or creative.
But then, days later, in London, we stumbled upon an exhibition that rather struck this nail on the head with a loud, ominous death knell.
The Memory Palace at the V&A. A surprise birthday treat for me, and a sobering counterpoint to all this Replicate Your Way To Human Enlightenment guff I’d been getting swept up in.
Built around a poetic original story by Hari Kunzru, the exhibition brought together some twenty international designers and illustrators to articulate different bits of the tale. A tale of a thoroughly, if atmospherically, dystopian future London in which a catastrophic event had destroyed all digital infrastructure and, with it, our memories. For had we not disavowed our collective remembering? Deporting it from earnest fireside folk song to idle frappacino Facebooking? Loathsome morons that we apparently are. Were. Will be. Something.
The narrative was rich in its implications, with a delicious detail of language and references. The narrator himself was supposedly in prison, accused of being part of a long-banned sect that practiced the revived “ancient art of memory”. The very opening paragraph of the accompanying book, charmingly demure and old fashioned in its format, describes his basic technique for remembering things – assigning memories to specific physical details of his tiny cell. So transforming its claustrophobia into a deep-breathing ‘memory palace’ of ideas and sweet thoughts and elements of his identity.
It was all splendidly Orwellian. Bleak, but beautiful in 20 distinctly different ways – illustrations, sculptures, digital pieces; graphic, confident and detailed all. And all bound together with the calm typography of quotes from the story. It was wonderful.
But was it jarring with my multicoloured outlook I breezily brought into it? Was it a truly 20th century, 1984 or Machine Stops Told You So to the post-industrial system?
As I settled into it, and days afterwards, I began to wonder if it didn’t sort of oddly compliment the Can Do of a digital economy. The power of ideas is all. The fearsome fearful pedantry of the leaders in Kunzru’s future civilisation is not really so different to the bullying pedantry of giant corporations, is it? Going back to the land and banishing technology might seem like a very human and true thing to do – or just a sweet relief as Diana Janicki and Ali Hanan demonstrated nicely at Silicon Beach when they filmed North London media trendies responding with far-away looks at the suggestion of turning off the Internet for a few days.
But. Those same people couldn’t imagine living without the tools of the digital age. The apps and mobile freedom of instant knowledge. And why should they? It’s brilliant.
As Janicki and Hanan went on to charmingly consider, it’s not the tech that’s the problem. And it’s not the business model, either. It’s not even the giant cogs of industry. They all have their cultural banana skins – their particular natural ways of stealing us from ourselves and people, be under no illusions – but the real problem is us. How we use them.
And what we need, they suggested to a room full of cynical advertising creatives, is love.
Seemed so obvious, I could hear us all sneer.
“Rights aren’t something we take, they’re something we give.” I’ve found myself saying this a few times lately. It’s my own quote, I think, but sounds much more important in inverted commas.
The only way we get the freedom to be inventive, is to get the freedom to be individual.
We only get that by all agreeing to give it to each other. Sounds simple. But it needs designing, codifying and deploying. And remembering. Inculcating. But before all that, it needs inspiring.
Dropping in on many different events afforded by Arts By The Sea festival this year, many of them in the same modest project theatre space where Silicon Beach took place, Pavilion Dance, right in the centre of our beach-side town, I thought again about the word inspiration. It needs to be unlocked. Like the parts of your own seaside town you might never normally visit, were it not for some stupid-, uneconomic-sounding arty farty exhibition or performance.
What creatives can do is tell stories well. Like folk singers. Be the conceptual glue between us all. Take us out of our tramlines of productivity, day in day out, and make us remember things. And imagine new things.
Scientists developing molecular technology and developers mucking about with code to try things are really just playing. Or they are when they get their best results. But really good play puts a rocket under inspiration. And inspiration is freeing.
Of course, freedom is forever responsibility – to the bloke next to you.
But if you can inspire him, you’ve already connected with him.
And I don’t know about you, but when the singularity hits, I’ll feel a bit less overwhelmed if I’m holding someone’s hand. Especially if whoever it is is so excited about something they’re in the middle of dreaming up that we both forget what we were getting worried about.
Seriously. Why would we not make time to get inspired? It’s always the thing that leads to making a difference.