This week I’ve been lucky enough to go to FutureEverything 2011, a UK arts, digital, media conference-cum-festival even WIRED have heard of and enthuse about it. Any event THAT arse-achingly cool and I’m sure to fit right in.
My hopes for attending this event were probably way too unrealistic, like deciding what you want before you visit a jumble sale… I was looking for inspiration. Looking for inspiration can be a dangerous thing… You might not find it, or worse, you might find it where you didn’t want it to be in a shape too awkward to carry home with you.
The whole event began beautifully. I stumbled off the train and over a footbridge and straight into the FutureEverything (FUTR) exhibition. I love the feel of easy, relaxed and accidental discovery. In the exhibition, apart from the free vodka cocktails were some pieces that really made me think.
A darkened area combined bamboo, a Kinect and projection and a light that you passed your hand through. What intrigued me about this is that although it kind of interacted with you, it was difficult to work out WHAT it was doing. It was really pretty anyway… ( the picture below doesn’t do it justice ).
A collection of “masterpieces” with nutritional facts were very witty. Although they did kind of make the same gag over and over I still liked them ( I have a short memory and a good gag is a good gag).
There was a music piece ( you had to don earphones) that was, if I remember rightly, based on weather patterns and data. I’m always a bit dubious of scores that look like this below. They make me think that really the composer is just playing with a load of nonsense and coloured toys then when you wheel in a trailer load of gifted musicians they make the squiggles sound wonderful.
I think I’m saying if weather REALLY had been turned into music, then maybe today’s weather data could be “played” and sound nice. Or to put it another way, whilst there is that interpretation going on, it feels like cheating, as if a new language or mode hasn’t really been created, but just alluded to. Like saying, we have a secret language that you can’t quite fathom and you discover they can’t either. Anyway, despite these misgivings which I find difficult to articulate, it was great.
Ooh, one more thing I just remembered ( I have a great memory ) is that whilst it was playing I would have loved to see where we were in the score, maybe a playhead or something.
The box below has a counter and the text, “This artwork has been visited XXXX times”. Lots of people peeped in the hole and some people didn’t register, some registered two or three times. Made me laugh out loud.
There was a “money” oriented idea which I didn’t quite get. I think it was that there was a game where you bought bonds, but were only given half the ticket. Finding who had the other half would win you a cash prize. I’m afraid this piece raised my heckles and I let loose my full prejudices. It sounds like one of those ideas that needs everyone to take part before it works, one of those wild and lame fantasies that creatives knock out. But, there must have been more to it than that because it won the FUTR Award… I wonder what it was. I’d love to be wrong.
Of all the pieces, the one that intrigued me most was the cup. It sat their quietly doing something with data ( see the inside of it ) but I’m not sure what. I couldn’t guess what those lines meant or why they were there.
Later, we saw this guy. He was playing drums and a xylophone that was wired to things that made noises. I loved him. He had a helmet that flashed.
So that was all that happened in the first few hours apart from meeting a heap of interesting people over terrible but free “cocktails”.
The conference proper got off to a strange start with David Bausola from Philter Phactory demoing Weavrs, which are put simply twitter bots finding things on the internet, like this. I’m not sure I got this at all… it was an artsy muddle around notions of identity, avatars and alter egos which despite being nice in itself failed to get across more than muddy message… It felt like an exploration that was interesting but opaque and vague. Maybe just too subtle for me.
What I thought it could be is a great alibi provider in that, not only could your alter ego be checking out places, leaving a trail across Google Maps, stealing other peoples’ geo tagged pictures, whilst doing so it would also be interacting with other “hard to prove that they didn’t exist” collections of people.
Chris Speed from Edinburgh College of Art told us that THINGS aren’t things, they are events (or occurances) and showed us how his work involved adding stories to objects (with VR codes) and adding stories to “placeholder objects”. I liked his ideas around things as mediums, literally revealing the ghosts behind things. In a way, although exciting, it sort of just points at the importance of story in us humans.
Elizabeth Turner demoed her excellent Plings.info visualisation work with the Tanzanian goverment, making budgets transparent and navigable.
Luis Bettencout, Santa Fe Institute, gave a great presentation about understanding cities. Why they exist, what they are doing and when is a city a city. He asked “Why do people choose opportunity and squalor over subsistence and rural living?”… what IS going on. He mentioned that New York’s economy is bigger than Russia’s. Tokyo bigger than India.Double a cities size and GDP grows by 160%. Violent crime grows by only 16%. Is this right? Did I get the numbers way off there?
At the end of it I think we felt that maybe we weren’t special talented snow-flakes but just data points in an algorithm, which is both liberating and disappointingly humbling at the same time.
@TomChatfield talked around identity, how the Sutton Hoo helmet is a digital identity object in an analogue world, and how control is lack of control… I’m not sure I got his analogue vs digital metaphors though.
There was a journalism panel with Paul Bradshaw, Chris Taggart (Openly Local, OpenCorporate). It was great to see Martin Belam (Guardian), who always talks a whole heap of creative common sense ( I don’t know how he does it ).
MegPickard and Dan Catt gave a delightfully engaging presentation about their data-oriented work at The Guardian, at one point saying something along the lines that most “social media isn’t social at all, you are not collaborating with friends – you are ruthlessly exploiting the pain of others, of strangers.”… pointing to TripAdvisor and Amazon reviews. They showed their excellent work of tracking stories, making that data usable by journalists and ultimately driving novel interfaces like Guardian Zeitgeist.
Kars Alfrink mentioned the horror that is Kidzania ( I’d not heard of it) in a talk that argued against those crappy games that creatives knock out… He said ” Life doesn’t need to be more like game”… and alluded to more life-affirming, positive alternatives.
@jamesbridle was hilarious. His talk, Where The Robots Work, looked at how the robots are moving in to real estate near you. He called data centres the new civic buildings and shared his obsession(s) with them.
In the evening I went to see Dark Dark Dark and Black Heart Procession play in a beautiful chapel.
They sounded like this… totally lovely. I particularly liked the acoustics in the chapel where the “Ooh ooh ooh” bits sort of resonated, gaining a life of their own.. it sounded like this…
Sue Thomas shared some of her research about Why Geeks Go Camping. thewildsurmise.com , pointing to the fact that maybe all geeks aren’t all stay-inside sorts at all… I was interested in her chats with the O’Reilly team – looking to inject some hope into the digital industry after 9/11 with their FooCamp experiments.
At the We Are Forest talk, I liked the “Every Project Should Have a Theme Tune” angle they began with. They showed us their phone-experience piece in which about ten people would dial into a conference call that would direct their movements, repeat their utterances back at them and create a strangely orchestrated event about 20 minutes long.
Ela Kagel (below) shared her work in a Free Culture Incubator in Berlin sharing their different approaches to helping make sure that culture happens including crowd-funding approaches.
I then saw the people at DIYgeo, who are engaging the public in the process of Biology. Not only were their projects fascinating, but also scary. Scary because every project they work on has all sorts of legal and ethical and financial and political implications. The guy pictured below is from Machester’s “Novel Technology” department in Bio research.
I watched a session that seemed to be agonising about the models for replicating community initiatives, sort of saying that existing business models don’t apply ( franchising, sale, subscription etc) because it’s all about the community. I felt that that was the point, that foisting your (perhaps excellent) solution to (in this case) helping people with disabilities into self-employment, merely needs to be shared and interpreted anew by whoever follows your lead… like the Open Source approach that you were alluding to.
Ironically , I came to the event looking for inspiration and by accident ended with my head in the clouds.