Archive for the ‘open content’ Category

Dreaming the Dream

the dream by jaume plensa

The Dream Realised (courtesy of me)

Some great news just in at Channel 4 HQ – the Big 4 sculpture on the doorstep of the Richard Rogers designed home of C4 has been given an extension of 5 years by the planning department of Westminster City Council.

The public artwork – a 50-foot-high metal ‘4’ – was originally constructed in 2007 to celebrate both the Channel’s 25th anniversary year and the launch of the Big Art Project and was granted planning permission for one year, during which 4 artists were to decorate it. The installation is based on the Channel’s on-air identity, with metal bars forming the logo only when viewed from a particular angle and distance. It is basically a framework over which to date photographer Nick Knight, Turner Prize nominee Mark Titchner, Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui and recent art graduate Stephanie Imbeau have added a skin.

Nick Knight, known for his work with Kate Moss and Bjork among many others in the realm of fashion & music, covered it with bare chest skin of various hues, adding the sound of a beating heart at its core. I recently did an Amazonimpulse and bought Knight’s new book, imaginatively entitled ‘Nick Knight’ – at £32.50 one of the most expensive tomes I’ve ever shelled out on. From an Allen Jones-like Suede album cover to exquisite nude shots of Kate Moss, it’s a lively spectacle.

Mark Titchner skinned the Big 4 with panels inspired by trade union banners and advertising, the slogans questioning the on-going role of television: Find Your World in Ours, Find Our World in Yours. He came in one lunch time to talk to C4folk about his work, shades of The Waterboys’ Mike Scott about him. My second encounter with him was a great rum cocktail-fueled chat with at the Tate Summer Party this year. Guardian photographer Vicki Couchman took a top class photo of me in front of Mark’s Big 4 for a Guardian piece on the inaugural Media Guardian Innovation Awards in 2007 (which Big Art Mob won).

El Anatsui paneled the 4 with metallic newspaper colour printing plates. What I remember most about when El (as he’s known to his friends) came in to chat about his career in The Drum, the basement space beneath the Big 4, was his generous championing of young, emerging artistic talent from Africa like Nnenne Okore.

Stephanie Imbeau won a competition to provide what was to have been the final iteration. Her Shelter saw the Big 4 fleshed out with umbrellas of a myriad colours. This is the version currently in place – it’s best viewed at night when it is illuminated from within [see below]. The umbrellas all come from London Transport Lost Property Office so no pissing away of public money there then.

The Big Art Project from which the Big 4 sprang started life as a regular, if very ambitious, TV documentary series. In the original visually rich proposal for the project from Carbon Media a space was left for the cross-platform treatment. Into that space went the Big Art Mob and a bunch of interactive ideas I put together inspired by the wonderful public art works that punctuated the proposal. The Big Art Mob was born of my messing about for 18 months with Moblog‘s mobile picture blogging software after an initial encounter with Alfie Dennen in the basement of Zero-One in Soho. I was on the look-out for the right project to which to apply Moblog and Paint Britain which evolved into the Big Art Project proved the one – the first use of moblogging by a broadcaster and one of the first uses of Creative Commons licensing by a UK broadcaster (the first use was PixNMix, a VJ project I commissioned in 2004).

Besides the TV, web and mobile stuff, at the core of the Big Art Project was the creation of six actual works of public art, seed funded by Channel 4 and the partners we gathered. One of these was Dream by renowned Catalan artist Jaume Plensa, located high up on the site of the old Sutton Manor colliery overlooking St Helens, a 20-metre-high north-western rival to Gormley’s Angel on the opposite side of the country. It is the head of a nine year old Catalan girl with her eyes closed (I found that out by asking Plensa directly at the capping off ceremony, he was very cagey about who she was and reluctant to reveal much in that particular respect). Dream was Plensa’s response to a brief developed through conversations with ex-miners and other members of the local community. Initially he came up with a huge miner’s lamp but the miners themselves pushed him out of his comfort zone or at least nearer his true self

Dream most deservedly has recently picked up a couple of major prizes. Last month it won the prestigious annual Marsh Award for Public Sculpture which is given to a work of permanent public sculpture erected in the UK or Ireland. The definition of public sculpture is loose, but the location must be openly visible to the public without having to enter a building or gain prior permission. The award was presented at the Whitechapel Art Gallery.

Plensa also picked up the British Creativity in Concrete Award for 2009 for Dream at a special ceremony at Southwark Cathedral. This award is presented each year to an architect, designer or artist in recognition of a particular achievement for the creative use of precast concrete. It’s difficult to convey the photograph-like subtlety of the face, no more than a pale reflection in photos like above.

The moment I walked round the corner of a forest path and first saw Dream in April was one of the high points of this year and indeed of my career at Channel 4, and made every second spent on the Big Art Project over the 5 year lead up worth it. It was a moment shared with my former colleague Jan Younghusband (ex-Commissioning Editor of Arts at C4, now Head of Music at BBC) who proved so open to the multiplatform dimension. It was indeed a dream come true.

stephanie imbeau

Night Shelter (courtesy of Tom Powell)

More on Big Art:

The launch

The mobile dimension

Mark Titchner’s iteration

Britdoc rocs


On my way home from Oxford and that annual documentaries jamboree that is the Channel 4 British Documentary Film Foundation‘s Britdoc Festival.

I was on the panel of a lively session called Steal This Film about the future of Intellectual Property Rights (if there is one) and the impact of peer-to-peer file-sharing on funding creativity in film and television.

Refereeing was Britdoc meisterin Jess Search of said British Documentary Film Foundation and Shooting People.

In the red corner, Jamie King (Dr JJ King to his friends), a prime-mover of Steal This Film, an internet documentary about sharing films you neither made nor invested in (financially or in kind). I jest, it’s actually a good provocation about very important cultural, creative and business issues – and he is to be admired for taking the brickbats so doggedly for raising perfectly legitimate issues as points of principle. 1.85M people have viewed the film in 12-18 months. It has netted, in JK’s estimate, £16k.

In the blue corner Eddie from FACT (Federation Against Copyright Theft) of Knock-off Nigel fame.

Sandwiched between was Guy Avshalom, Head of Legal and Business Affairs at Lionsgate Films (formerly Redbus – a link between our careers as the broadband video outfit I set up with partners before turning gamekeeper at Channel 4 was backed by Redbus Investments too) and Yours Truly.

My main issue with Dr Jamie’s theories about filesharing is that they are a bit on the black and white side – everything should be free vs the corporations rob us all.

As he spoke, he reminded me of Mrs T. Thatcher emptied the mentally ill onto the streets and then tried to put in place ‘care in the community’. Jamie seems to want to dismantle IPR-based business models and then figure out how to finance creativity. Having run 4Talent/Ideasfactory at Channel 4 for four years I’m a bit obsessed with creatives in whatever discipline making a viable living and emerging creative companies thriving.

At the Other Annual Documentary Festival which shall not be named, the day I spoke there last November the front page of the FT announced that Google UK would earn more advertising revenue than Channel 4 in 2007 and than our biggest commercial broadcaster ITV around 2009. So as all that cash gets syphoned off out of the country and the parasitic business models of YouTube and the like invest big fat zero in content, talent nurturing and supplier corporate development, the question is who steps in to fill the gap when the broadcasters can’t afford it any more? Who helps the next Ricky Gervaises get from flawed series 1 of The Office to the classic series 2? I can’t really see why Dr K doesn’t focus his very evident creative thinking and energy on new ways of funding creativity properly rather than on how to take apart the old. There’s room for more than just black and white in a complex world in rapid transition. Guy seemed very open to new commercial models for the film business and even Eddie acknowledged the need for new approaches to IPR in this emerging digital age.

The logic of that diversion of ad revenue coupled with that failure to invest in creative content and talent is that ultimately we all get to watch more cats on skateboards and mentoes in coke bottles. (Top of Google Video as I write: “This is a funny video about a hipo and his dog“.) The irony of Steal This Film is that the only stuff you’d want to steal in a longish 32 minutes is the Hollywood movie clips. It’s a good summary of the issues with not so good narrative skills. It is populated almost exclusively with the type of white 20ish males who would get off on this, like the 7 people who watched it yesterday on YouTube.

In spite of the lively exchanges around all of the above, there seemed a broad optimism in the room – the auditorium of The Phoenix Cinema, which looks like it must be the sister of my beloved Phoenix in East Finchley, the oldest purpose built cinema in the UK (where I do a bit of pro bono work). Optimism about the opportunities networked digital technology and a more creative approach to IPR promise. The Phoenix in East Finchley was built in 1910. Whether I’ll be able to enjoy films there like Guy’s title The Lives of Others in 2010 or 2015 will depend on resurrecting viable business models for rewarding individual creatives from the ashes of the models which no longer compute in this on-demand, networked, two-way era. We’d better sort out our creative community care before we chuck professional creators out on the street or we’ll all be watching more cats and mentoes. What does happen when you put a pussy in pepsi?

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