Wednesday, 10 April 2013

New Media v Fine Art: FutureEverything

You may remember that I told you recently that I had won a bursary to attend FutureEverything's conference in Manchester. As a fine artist based in London, my work is far removed from digital or new media art.

At the time I made the application, I thought I had little chance of being selected and was very surprised to discover that I had been awarded a place. I originally decided to apply for the bursary because I was interested in hearing the speakers:  Steve Crossan from GoogleJeremy Boxer from Vimeo and Stephanie Pereira from Kickstarter - to name just a few. Also, I was getting ready to launch my first Kickstarter Campaign, so this opportunity could not have come at a better time for me....

But as soon as I downloaded the timetable for the conference programme and started trying to decide which events to attend, I realized there would be a whole lot more to it than I first thought. The three themes of the summit - The Data Society, Future Cities and Creative Code – all addressed new ways of thinking. This in itself would be a challenge.

So now I am back in London and have had a chance to gather my thoughts after the event. I did not see much of Manchester in the few days I spent there. A short trip from the train station to the hotel, then to the conference, then back to the hotel. It snowed on the last two days of my visit - the city looked like a Lowry painting with its red brick industrial buildings and bitterly cold winds. 

As to the conference: it was about gathering and generating new ideas from various sources, proposing a method of looking at different systems of working, through strategies of organising knowledge and new ways of doing.

One of the highlights of the conference for me was The 'Platforms' panel, which I already knew would be pivotal. This looked at opportunities for launching art projects through online media in the public sphere. In effect, 'giving creativity back to the creator'.
Another of the presentations outlined in the keynote speeches about 'smart citizens' and 'citizenship', really captured my imagination. To be quite honest, I have never really thought of myself as a citizen. This presentation described the layers of meaning encompassed in that term. Such projects depend upon innovative thinking and a collaborative approach to building communities.

A perfect example of environmental and urban ecologies was presented by Natalie Jeremijenko who looked at the city as an ecosystem where different forms of life, from human to animal and bacterial, coexist and impact upon each other. Natalie gave us several examples of how this worked: the 'tree office' in New York, where the tree took on the role of landlord; and her project Fish n Microchips, a fish monitoring system located in New York's East River where visitors can text the fish and the installation will text back, giving updates on fish activity and water quality. Her work combines an inherently playful approach with a very real and serious concern about the environment.

As a 'non-techie' I found many of the terms mystifying. But one of the things I learned was a new definition of the term 'hacker' that has nothing to do with hacking into bank accounts or credit cards - the new hacker is 'a creative and playful misappropriation of technology'. This made me laugh out loud. Another strange fact I learned at the conference was that 51% of Americans think bad weather affects cloud computing. Ridiculous, but true. New technology remains something of a mystery for many!

The speakers and delegates at the conference were a lively mix of people from the arts and the digital world – a crossover between the technical and creative communities, the analytical and the creative - who explored how technology and computers have revolutionized the arts and the creative process. The ideas generated at the conference will continue to be a useful point of reference for me as an artist and as an individual. Thank you FutureEverything for inviting me to be part of your summit.

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