Archive for the ‘creativity’ Category
I was in Rottingdean the other day with the Enfants Terribles when we passed a small shop called Serendipity. I asked them whether they knew what it meant and I ended up explaining it in terms of the Google ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ button (which I have to admit I’ve never quite got and always struck me as a bit of a lack of imagination on the part of the presser – it really isn’t difficult in the era of the Web to go on your own random or serendipitous journey).
The Wikipedia entry for Serendipity (which Google freakily informs me Aleks Krotoski shared on tumblr.com on 29 Apr 2011, Aleks having appeared at The Story #1 in February 2010) is one of its more charming entries:
“Serendipity means a “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise”; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful without looking for it. The word has been voted one of the ten English words hardest to translate in June 2004 by a British translation company. [prime wikispam] However, due to its sociological use, the word has been exported into many other languages. Julius H. Comroe once described serendipity as : to look for a needle in a haystack and get out of it with the farmer’s daughter.”
Meanwhile, over on the other side of Brighton… towards Hove/Portslade my former colleague at Channel 4, Matt Locke, was busy putting the finishing touches to his The Story conference, like the programme for the day which was etched into bars of dark chocolate. When Matt started this one day gathering in 2010 it was a labour of love alongside his day job at C4. I thoroughly enjoyed that first iteration and recorded 4 things I learned from it on Simple Pleasures part 4. It’s interesting looking back at that entry today: the first thing I learnt was:
1) The best conferences (like this one) have only two outputs – Inspiration and catalysing Connections between people.
The same held good for #2 last year featuring the likes of a controversial Adam Curtis, writer Graham Linehan and photographer Martin Parr. I think I was too indolent to write up last year’s.
Connections, inspiration and creativity are the meat and two veg of this blog and what the Web is wonderful at catalysing. Straight after exiting Conway Hall yesterday I met up with Karyn Reeves who was waiting just outside, a statistician from Perth, Australia who specialises in analysing mathematical patterns around AIDS infection. Karyn is only the second person I’ve met in real life through having made contact online. The first was Sandra, a street art aficionado from Jaffa. Karyn writes a lovely blog about vintage Penguin books, which she collects and reads weekly, and I came across her in the wake of reading an old Penguin I picked up at random in my local bookshop, Black Gull, about the trial of Roger Casement. By chance Casement’s defence lawyer, I read, had his chambers at 4 Raymond Buildings from where my best friend now operates. What a tangled Web we weave. So Karyn and I headed back from The Story 3 to Black Gull where she picked up a few more P-p-p-enguins.
Meanwhile back at the start of the day… Meg Pickard of The Guardian, with whom I got into a lively online discussion at one of the earlier two The Story s about where The Guardian should gather their user-generated photos of Antony Gormley’s One and Other (which we were discussing here and he was explaining here), kicked off the proceedings with a quick update from The Ministry of Stories, the excellent local children’s literacy project based in a Monsters Supplies shop in Hoxton and championed by the likes of Nick Hornby. Part of the ticket price for The Story goes to the now thriving, volunteer-driven project. It’s great to see such a thing burgeoning in Hoxton – when I was a teenager my step-dad would drive me past there on the way to Petticoat Lane where I worked on the market stall outside his shop, he’d point past some grim Victorian estate and say ” ‘Oxton, arse-hole of the universe, never go there, son.” How it has come on over the years…
Next up was Matt Sheret of LastFM in discussion with producer Simon Thornton of Fat Boy Slim fame about telling stories through the album form. Simon was the fella behind the brilliant remix of Brimful of Asha (way better than the original) as well as the marvelous Turn On Tune In Cop Out by Freakpower. The whole debate about the patterns of music consumption in the Web/On Demand age and the relationship between albums and single tracks is a fascinating one still, and particularly for me at the moment as I’m working on a development to do with a classic album with Bob Geldof’s gang at Ten Alps and Universal Music, very much shaped around a carefully constructed sequence of 9 great songs which may or may not now be a thing of the past (I take Simon’s side, but I would wouldn’t I).
At this point Channel 4 wove back in in the form of artist Jeremy Deller, currently setting up his one-man show at the Hayward on the South Bank and the prime mover of Artangel’s The Battle of Orgreave, commissioned and funded by C4. He sees the ’84-’85 miners’ strike as a critical moment in British history (it gets its own room in his soon-to-open retrospective) and that programme/artistic re-enactment as a way of “exhuming a corpse to give it a proper post-mortem”. He spoke about how everyone of our generation remembers where they were when the miners took on ‘The Iron Lady’ (in spite of the fact I’d voted for her [Streep not Thatch] Meryl Streep’s apology [in the Miltonian sense of explanation/justification] for the strange politics of that movie at the BAFTAs the other night is still bugging me) – my other half was up in Ayrshire making her graduation film about the miners’ wives with a dodgy old University of Ulster camera, while I was visiting my oldest friend at Baliol where a furious debate about how to support the strike was erupting in their common room, featuring toffs in donkey jackets as well as more grown-up, committed people than me, who was still relying on the likes of Joe Strummer and Elvis Costello to give me some political insight). Deller’s still- image only presentation was one of the highlights of the day for me, centred on one iconic photograph of a miner father and his glam rock showbiz son.
Next up, blogger Liz Henry who told the fascinating story of A Gay Girl in Damascus, a murky tale of hoaxing and fictional blogging (an area I find fascinating as an emerging writing form and which formed a substantial part of the now traditional annual Story lunch with Tim Wright and Rob Bevan, the former in particular much interested in this territory [and the person who taught me the value of the image-only presentation when I helped host the launch of his outstanding In Search of Oldton project at Channel 4 HQ a few years ago]). I learnt a lovely new word too ‘Sockpuppeting’ – to comment on your own blog both positively and negatively as a way of stimulating interest/activity. One of the interesting facts that emerged was that The Guardian published the initial story without establishing proper (off-line) sources based on people who had actually met the Gay Girl in question in real life (shades of Karyn above and Tom/Emily below).
Late on Thursday afternoon, the eve of The Story, I met for the first time Anthony Owen, Head of Magic (arguably the best job-title in the business) at Objective TV, home of Derren Brown. We were kicking off a project to do with consumerism. Lo and behold within 18 hours he’s up on stage before me doing a magic trick and explaining the role of narrative within that art/entertainment form. Particularly interesting for me as the youngest Enfant Terrible has recently become obsessed with performing magic, daily learning tricks off of YouTube and practising them with his chums over Skype (before posting them back on YouTube and Facebook). Anthony singled out the quality of encapsulating “something we’d love to have happen” (e.g. being psychic, becoming immortal, etc.) as the defining characteristic of a great trick – so sawing a woman in half only to reunite the two still living ends is a story about immortality which also has the key quality of being sum-upable in a sentence.
Coincidence and serendipity came to the fore again in the afternoon when Emily Bell, formerly of The Guardian online and now teaching at Columbia (who I first had the pleasure of hanging out with on the panel of judges she lead at The Guardian Student Journalism Awards a few years ago, in The Ivy so clearly a former era) interviewed Tom Watson MP about the phone-hacking scandal whilst: Meanwhile across town… in Wapping Rupert Murdoch was entering the newsroom of the Currant Bun and sticking two Aussie fingers up at the British establishment and public, who momentarily humiliated him last summer, by announcing the impending launch of The Sun on Sunday. The audience was riveted by the recounting of events from both the MP and Guardian perspectives, and the interview typified the rich and perfectly balanced mix of contributions making up the day’s programme. Watson predicted that there was a massive PC/Data hacking dimension to the scandal still to break.
Vying with Deller for highlight of the day was Scott Burnham. The last time I met Scott was in the back of a Nissan Cube in which he was filming me spouting on about why I love London. At this year’s The Story he spoke vibrantly about design in the city and urban play through a classic tale of 7 Coins, the last vestiges of a beautiful public art project in Amsterdam. He told of the construction of a Stefan Sagmeister piece made up of 250,000 one cent pieces and its subsequent thoughtless destruction by dumb cops who were trying to protect the raw cash (still held as evidence in the police station). His conclusion was that we’ll always have Paris… I mean, we’ll always have Amsterdam… he means, we always have the story if not the creation itself. He took the 7 coins, painted blue on one side, out of his pocket to show me and the Royal College of Art’s Bronac Ferran as we chatted outside the hall during the tea break.
Also up in contention as a highlight was artist Ellie Harrison, author of Confessions of a Recovering Data Collector. She started her work focused on gathering everyday data on her life or ‘life tracking’ at Nottingham Trent university art school and then later at Glasgow School of Art (where our host Matt once studied). An early such work was ‘Eat 22′ in which she recorded everything she ate for a year in 1,560 photos. At the start of her talk she positioned herself firmly as a Thatcher’s Child (a resonant link back to Deller’s earlier session) and was sporting a Bring Back British Rail T-shirt (a campaign she champions, also resonant as my aforementioned best-friend above worked on that Kafkaesque privitisation). So food and beyond, Ellie’s obsession and the thread through her work seems to be with Consumption – she spoke about her development with great humour and insight (including into her own compulsions). From ‘Eat 22′ she went on to record all her everyday actions in a spreadsheet, in turn converted to colour-coded graphs, which is when the addiction kicked in. I was sitting in a brainstorm at an indie production company a couple of weeks ago discussing mental health and happiness when a colleague I have know a long time revealed he’s been keeping a numerical record of his mood on a precise scale of 1 to 100 every day for well over a decade, with the last five years available likewise in Excel form. So art/fiction are no stranger than life.
Preloaded I have known since they were born, as I worked with founder Paul Canty, as well as Rob Bevan and Tim Wright, on a game called MindGym way back when. Paul’s colleague, Phil Stuart, and writer Tom Chatfield talked us through the game of self-discovery, death and philosophy they made for Channel 4 Education – The End. This rounded off a fine day, alongside Karen Lubbock and Jeremy Leslie on mags and Karen magazine in paricular, ‘a magazine made out of the ordinary’, and a lively turn from Danny O’Brien on josticks, hacking, anarchy and the universe. And where can you go from there…
Hooked up the other day, after a dog’s age, with designmeister Jason Loader (who has just set up on his own as Yeah Love). We made MindGym together way back when – a game about creative thinking. Jason has been kind (and patient) enough over the weekend to dig out some of the old design assets from a moribund machine…
There are some more here
All these 3D environments were designed by Jason Loader (at a time when they typically took over 18 hours to render, so a bit on the frustrating side if you didn’t get it right first time). MindGym was a concept I came up with at Melrose Film Productions in the wake of making a series of films about Creativity. I nicked the title from Lenin or one of those Ruskies, who used the term with reference to chess. So Jason and I started work on it, then the pair of us hooked up with NoHo Digital to realise a bastard creation of great energy. Rob Bevan (now at XPT) did the interface design and programming, skilfully combining this kind of rich 3D with elegant 2D inspired by You Don’t Know Jack. His creative partner Tim Wright led the writing team – him, Ben Miller and me – it was a comic script with serious stuff underlying the gags. I couldn’t help chuckling recently when I heard someone refer to Rob & Tim as the Jagger & Richards of new media. Talking of which, Nigel Harris did the music and sound design – excellent audio was one of our explicit creative goals, again inspired by YDK Jack. And talking of Jack the lads, Paul Canty (now of Preloaded) and Mike Saunders (Kew Digital), who were just starting out, were also among the production team. The studio was infested with red ants (possibly flesh-eating), but it didn’t distract us from the task at hand…
Watching the Six Nations rugby this weekend (the Ireland victory sporting theatre at its best) I couldn’t help seeing the incidents when players’ heads hit the ground (that happened in both the England and Ireland matches, with stretchers sent into action) in a new light, with a frisson emanating from our fragility. Our fragility as spotlighted by the genuinely sad news of Natasha Richardson’s accident and her rapid decline over just half a week.
I only encountered Natasha once, at a recent party of the old friend of mine who I met my wife through. The party was appropriately theatrical, with the historical venue done out like Mandalay (complete with Mrs Danvers), and Natasha appeared in a glittery outfit fitting the surroundings and her star quality. She looked fabulous.
Her poor husband Liam Neeson I’ve also only met once. It was in sad circumstances too. It was at the memorial for another old friend, actor John Keegan, at the Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn. I was introduced to Liam by Adie Dunbar. We had a ridiculous conversation about Dundalk and I found myself talking about the Four Lanterns take-away when what I actually wanted to say was “Liam, I think you did a cracking job with Oskar Schindler.” (It was the reverse of an encounter I had with Ralph Fiennes in the bar at the Almeida where I had the opportunity to say “Ralph/Rafe/whatever you call yourself, I think you did a cracking job with Amon Goeth” – and did.)
What can you take from a tragedy like this? To enjoy each and every day. To cherish the simple pleasures. To be conscious of everything you have, every privilege and happiness.
Watching the first episode of the new series of The Secret Millionaire last night, featuring ex-Rover boss Kevin Morley, you couldn’t help but detect that Kevin’s journey into the dark heart of Hackney has brought him back in touch with what really matters – he came to recognise the true value of his home and family, clearly regretting that his children’s growing up had passed him by while he was in the office. The one thing that seemed to escape him was that things like his collection of sports cars, which he showed off at the beginning of the programme with reference to shiny little models in a cabinet, come at a cost – beyond the readies he shelled out. Someone, somewhere pays for it ultimately. It could be a homeless person in Hackney. Or a starving family in southern Africa. Someone, somewhere always pays.
As Liam Neeson wakes his beloved wife and comforts their children none of the Hollywood glitz adds up to much. As my Irish mother-in-law always says (not a million miles from Liam’s home town of Ballymena): your health’s your wealth. Gandhi, much though I admire him, was more long-winded than Mrs Murphy: “It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.”
This morning I was involved in launching the government’s new White Paper on informal adult learning (doing a case study around Picture This and illustrating how Channel 4 brings motivation, purpose and inspiration to networked media), so with both learning and fragility in mind another Gandhi quote rounds things off: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
Bumped into Adie Dunbar at The Pigalle Club watching an intimate performance by Sinead O’Connor. Adie hails from Enniskillen, not a milion miles from Ballymena, and knows fellow thesps Liam and Natasha well. He underlined the great tragedy here by describing the powerful, positive energy the pair of them radiated together. In the words of the great Matt Johnson: “Love is Stronger than Death.”
In our lives we hunger for those we cannot touch.
All the thoughts unuttered and all the feelings unexpressed
Play upon our hearts like the mist upon our breath.
But, awoken by grief, our spirits speak
How could you believe that the life within the seed
That grew arms that reached
And a heart that beat
And lips that smiled
And eyes that cried
Could ever die?
I heard Solid Air performed live just last week at a performance of Nick Drake’s songs at Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush by Keith James and Rick Foot. It’s such a unusual song in that it’s equally associated with its subject, Nick Drake, and his friend the creator, John Martyn. What really struck me was what a warm, open expression of friendship it is, especially as I imagine the communication was rather one way.
The last time I saw John Martyn live was when he played the whole of the Solid Air album live at the Albert Hall. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the greatest albums ever. I went that night with a friend whose life subsequently took a bit of a nose dive due to drugs – a close-to-home illustration of how delicate we all are with regard to alcohol and the like. Watching JM decline from beautiful boy to one-legged survivor wasn’t easy but his unique voice and experimental energy was an enduring thread through his music-packed life.
The penultimate time I saw him was from a red velvet seat in the front row of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire with Una. The performance had a beautiful later life serenity.
Dyed in the wool Londoner that I am, I’ve never been a big lover of West London beyond occasional quick sorties to the All Saint’s Dinner (sic) and the Hammy Odeon, but West London seems to run as a skein through my life with John. One of the first times I saw him was in the Underworld/Westworld (? darn, what was that place called?) somewhere under the Westway near Portobello market. I just remember it as electric.
I saw him live around a dozen times – the Town & Country Club (Kentish Town), the Jazz Caff (Camden Town), the Mean Fiddler (Harlesden) – he struck a chord with me. We shared a birthday. Cooltide accompanied me down the Nile at sunset. One World has that special vibe of Jamaica which runs deep in me.
On the subject of Island, if I had to pick just one song to take to a desert one, it would be Don’t Want to Know:
I don’t want to know ‘bout evil
Only want to know ‘bout love
I don’t want to know ‘bout evil
Only want to know ‘bout love
Sometimes it gets so hard to listen
Hard for me to use my eyes
And all around the cold is glistenin’
Making sure it keeps me down to size
And I don’t want to know about evil
Only want to know about love
I don’t want to know one thing about evil
I only want to know ‘bout love
I’m waiting for the planes to tumble
Waiting for the towns to fall
I’m waiting for the cities to crumble
Waiting til’ the sea a’ crawl
And I don’t want to know ‘bout evil
I only want to know about love
I don’t want to know ‘bout evil
I only want to know ‘bout love
Yes it’s getting’ hard to listen
Hard for us to use our eyes
‘Cause all around that gold is glistenin’
Makin’ sure it keeps us hypnotized
I don’t want to know about evil
Only want to know ‘bout love
I don’t want to know about evil
Only want to know ‘bout love
Not much more to say after that. From the words of another great English bard, if music be the food of love, he satisfied us wondrously in his six decades – and I couldn’t love him more for it.
Not the easiest of weeks as I walked around half deaf and drowning in my own snot but here we are, Friday evening, made it. And it had its moments. Highlights included two awards ceremonies. Last night I presented the Multi-talented Award at the friendliest awards in town – the 4Talent Awards – to Oli Lansley who combines acting, writing and directing in the theatre and on TV in a way full of energy and promise (“that dirtiest of dirty words” – just been watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s for the first time, Holly Golightly is my beloved sister-in-law Bronagh, right down to the take-out cwofee). I judged this category with Dan Jones of Maverick TV – we have both been building 4Talent (formerly Ideasfactory) since the early days, over the last 6 years painstakingly developing it across the UK with James Estill and the dedicated crew to the point where it has the warm, creative vibe that was suffusing the room yesterday evening. Oli has a new series going out on ITV2 early next year called FM based on the Comedy Lab he did for Caroline Leddy at C4 in 2006. He also has a series in development at the Beeb with Matt King of Peep Show called Whites. On top of all that, he leads his own theatre company called Les Enfants Terribles who did a show entitled The Terribles Infants at Edinburgh this year and last, due to tour it in 09. So a multi-talented, multi-channel man to keep an eye on.
The 4Talent Awards were hosted with great aplomb by stand-up comedian Jack Whitehall, talented well beyond his 19 years, with fine comic judgment. Other entertainment came from the versatile jaw of Beardyman.
Winners were a rich mix ranging from Hollyoaks’ Emma Rigby for Dramatic Performance to Rose Heiney for Comedy Writing, from Dan & Adrian Hon of Six to Start for Multiplatform to Robert Glassford & Timo Langer for Directing (this last presented by my colleague Peter Carlton of FilmFour with whom I had a lovely rabbit before the presentations, the two of us equally infectious so no danger of adding to overall global germ activity).
To start the week I had the pleasure of attending the announcement of this year’s Turner Prize winner at the Tate. I arrived with Jan Younghusband, fellow Commissioning Editor for Arts & Performance TV, who introduced me to the ITN team that was shooting the event live for Channel 4 News. The looming gothic cowboy with the handle-bar moustache who walked by me with his looming gothic girlfriend was Nick Cave. He first entered my life with the Bad Seeds on The Firstborn is Dead over two decades ago now. On this night he passed by in the flesh like an extra from Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (which I watched again recently – fabulous film, Kris Kristopherson was perfect as the Jim Morrison-style gunslinger-cum-rock messiah).
A while later another messiah, model for that humungous roadside crucifixion that is the Angel of the North, Antony Gormley introduced me to Grayson Perry who was wearing a fetching art student-designed post-it note dress. Not too often I get the chance to say stuff like ‘Antony Gormley introduced me to Grayson Perry’ or spout my theories about avant-garde art 1900-1970 to two luminaries of that world but we had a great chat and a consensus on how difficult it has been to innovate in the wake of that huge Modernist arc that went to the roots of every aspect of painting and art over those seven decades.
That was, of course, the Biggie but other chats included John Woodward of the UK Film Council (who agreed, through not quite gritted teeth, that FilmFour has had an awesome year with its string of Irish tales of waiting), and TV types like Roy Ackerman of Diverse and Michael Waldman (Operatunity). Art critic Richard Cork (The Listener – why on earth don’t they bring it back?), Alan Yentob of BBC’s Imagine (the Woody Allen of British TV, gets to make whatever he wants, quietly, no questions asked), Hans Ulrich Obrist of the Serpentine, were all swilling around. Enjoyed the walk home past the neon courtyard of the Chelsea College of Art and through the rainy backstreets of Pimlico
A final high point of the week takes us from art to architecture. I was having a meeting with RDF, who make Secret Millionaire, and Zopa, the interesting online finance service (interesting and finance – not words I often invite out to the same sentence). The fella from Zopa was asking about the Channel 4 building as we headed up the particular red of the stairs (the colour is lifted from the Golden Gate Bridge which is a delightful thing to think about every morning) – were Channel 4 the first occupiers? was it purpose built? etc. – I told him what a fine building it was bar a few flaws which I’d love to pass on to the bloke who designed it, like there’s no Gents on the side of the floor I work on, two Ladies instead. The delicious irony was that the RDF rep was Zad Rogers, son of Lord/Richard, the architect of C4 HQ in Horseferry Road – we revealed this after a while of course as – as in that essay on Iago by WH Auden in The Dyer’s Hand (Joker in the Pack) which velvet-jacketed Mr Fitch (RIP) drew our teenage attention to – there’s no satisfaction in a practical joke without the final revelation.
[written and published elsewhere shortly after the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony; published here the day before the closing ceremony including an 8-minute hand-over slot to London 2012]
I dreamt I saw thousands of people moving in unison in circles. I dreamt they were so numerous that the incredible spectacle looked as ultimately unconvincing as CGI. I dreamt I saw children singing songs so simple (so not made up by children) they were bland and charmless – We plant trees, we sow seeds, the land turns green. The air turns brown. We wear masks. I dreamt I saw teenage girls swaying for hour after hour as country after country filed past, filming the filmers on their made in China handycams. Getting tired? Keep swaying happily girls or it’s the labour camp for you. Meanwhile back in the labour camp, some months earlier: OK, lads, here’s the choice – break rocks or learn this little dance. I dreamt I saw some other lads goose-stepping in black boots. Tanks filing past, missile launchers, fly-bys. One world, one dream. One tank, one student. Meanwhile, some miles away: 150 tanks roll into Georgia. Georgian army 11,320 – Russian army 395,000. Georgian population 4.63m – Russian population 140.7m (though due to halve by 2050). Georgian annual military expenditure $380m – Russian military expenditure $59,100m. How much did this spectacle cost? How much does China spend on education per year? I dreamt I saw no flag from Tibet. I dreamt I saw unison not unity. I dreamt I saw bird cages in a bird’s nest. People moving in small circles. I dreamt of the Mordillo cartoon I cut out as a kid. “We’re all different!” shout out the identical looking mass of people. “I’m not!” shouts out one of them. One party, one line. I dreamt I saw something which sub-consciously summarised what others fear.
In 2012 to follow these people making a spectacle of themselves, partying to the tune of the Party, London must be itself, tune in to its idiosyncratic, eccentric, spirited creativity (one thing that cannot be manufactured); its rich mix of cultures and peoples; its unique, particular, genuine handmade in Britain talent; its individual dreams which thread the tapestry of its Jerusalem spirit.
As it turned out, some of it was CGI (the footprints across the city sequence as shown on TV across the globe). The ‘lovely children’s singing’ turned out to be voiced by the little girl with crooked teeth whilst the pretty little girl provided the acceptable face. And those various ethnic groups represented by children dressed up in various ethnic costumes turned out to be not very ethnically mixed at all. So after two weeks of great sport, it still looks like a bit of authenticity, eccentricity, diversity and deep-down creativity should go a long way.
Went to Trafalgar Square on Sunday to watch the Olympics hand-over communally. Within the 8 minute British 2012 intro perhaps the most interesting moment was when David Beckham kicked the football into the serried ranks of the Chinese performers (seemingly not where it was planned to go – how very England FC of him). For just a moment the fine-tuned order was disrupted as a lone individual nabbed the ball and showed a brief glimpse of genuine delight.