The Material Presence of Film

My last visit to the Tate Modern was for the current Unilever Series – namely, Tacita Dean’s Film (2011).

A 13-meter ‘Ode to Film’, Dean’s latest installation welcomed me as a physical manifestation of  this medium’s greatness. There  was something reverent like, walking into Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall: the giant projection seemed like a glowing altar, surrounded by darkness and bare concrete walls. Enchanted, I find myself sitting through not 1 but 3 loops of the same projection (11 minutes each), impossible to leave.

 

Time elapsed and yet stood still, present and abolished at the same time. As in the words of the artist herself, “Film is time made manifest: time as physical length […] beguiled into movement by movement and is eternally magical. The time in my films is the time of the film itself” 

Innovative, in they way its physically put together (Dean didn’t use any post-production and instead created all the effects inside the camera or by the means of gluing parts together) and the vertical positioning of the strip (as opposed to film’s traditional landscape orientation), it is a true gift to any film-lover or film-maker.

Eventually, the repetitive pattern does catch up with me and sunlight invites me outside. But I am reminded once more of the enchanting powers of film – as a material, a medium and an art form.

 

 

 

 

Tacita Dean's Film for Uniliver Series is on until March 2012  http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/unilever2011/default.shtm
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Autumn Dose of Art

Autumn in London comes with significant (in matter & number) art markets and exhibitions.

First, September was seen off with London Design Festival (17-25 September). The 2011 edition brought almost 300 partners and design events across 25 design disciplines, with centerpieces clustered at the V&A, the festival’s HQ for this year’s edition.


‘Landmark Projects’ included award-winning architects AL_A’s Timber Wave – a 12-meter-wide sculpted tunnel made from a latticework of American red oak; the French design team Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec’s  Textile Field – 240 square-meters of colored foam and fabriclining the floor of the museum’s Raphael Court housing seven large paintings by Raphael; and

BRITISH-ISH exhibition was dedicated to the work of recent University of Arts London graduates – with no designated single space, their pieces were interspersed among existing V&A’s British Gallery holdings, thus juxtaposing past & future.

Then October came with Frieze Art Fair and its “affordable” versions. This year’s Frieze accommodated 173 galleries and attracted close to 60,000 visitors – it was spectacular as always. However, compared to the 2010 edition, Frieze 2011 seemed a bit less… shocking. Humor and tongue-in-cheek were the means to achieve provocation, rather than the pure gruesome and shocking.

                         With the UK and pan European socio-economic climate gone pretty sour the last several months, the art world seemed to be quick on picking up the demand for more ‘light-weight’ produce. Pop culture references turning on themselves in pastiche and irony, cheerful twists on the established, as well as friendly quirkiness.

Very in tune with the ‘art world can laugh at itself’ mode, a crowd-gathering piece was Michael Landy’s Credit Card Destroying Machine (2010), which destroyed credit cards for art…literally

And as personal highlight of the Frieze Art Fair came the work of Lucky PDF and Hannah Perry, featured as part of ‘Frieze Projects’

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Online copywriting sample – WHATIF ‘cardmag’

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Online content for Creative Economy website (British Council)

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This fatal disease called Nihilism

It is scary to live in a society where too many refuse to take responsibility for their actions. It is scary to have a state that offers pay-outs and welfare system ‘for the sake of it’, breeding whole clusters that cannot sustain themselves. It is scary to have children that don’t respect absolutely NO ONE – not even themselves. It is scary to have nihilism spreading out to every layer of your society, with communal appreciation being an exception as opposed to norm.

Too much talk about social inequality, young people with no future, government depriving people… Hold on, none of the events of the last few days gave evidence to it being ‘youth raising their voice’. Just a sad and scary proof of refusal to take any stance or stake in the community, lack of moral, lack of belief in anything really. And this starts not with the government, the society, class. It starts with the family. The culture & values that is brought or should be brought from within. Where are the parents in this case? What do you mean “I can’t control them’? You can’t control a kid as young as 12 and stop him/her from growing up materially obsessed and willing to loot for a games console?

Control. Respect. All of it substituted by nihilism. A part of a generation that is not used to (or willing to) use its brains – in any sense. A part of a generation that does not know how to provide for themselves and constantly turn to the corrosive net of state benefits. Irresponsible people and irresponsible state – giving away money “for the sake of it” is not a solution. Yes, there are families that really need financial support. Yes there are young children who can’t afford to go a university and would really benefit not from £30 a week but a free place at a higher education institution. Yes there are disabled or elderly people, who would like subsidies and medicine. And yes, sometimes, being out work could be rectified with state benefits. But you have to be actually LOOKING FOR work in the first place. Actually trying, doing your best change your situation and then use the government’s support available. No one can prove to me that it is right for a young, healthy person to demand payments for… just being there.

And yes, not surprisingly, our children model their behavior on us. So stop talking about wider causes and look within – the families. The refusal to be part of the society rather than exclusion from it. Self-victimization. And not one single care.

Who took the streets of London? No, they were not rioters. Clusters of youths that any other day are most likely to display exactly the same behavior: disrespect, aggression, misguidance, material obsession. Children. Who by definition have no power. Boys. Who can model behavior on the violence & aggression that they see at home and on the streets. Who feel ‘grown up’ when forcefully taking what they want and not being punished for it in the slightest. And now question – what have been ‘deprived of’ (since a lot of people seem to suggest that they are an angry youth voicing out their discontent)? What are they, supposedly, angry about? The fact that they won’t be paid to stay in school? The fact that their parents can’t buy them the latest tech gadget? The fact that no one wants to hand them out money for no reason? It couldn’t possibly been about lack of jobs – among the convicted ones there are teaching assistants, leisure centre worker, a nurse, … a big portion were just kids, as young as 12, so were they thinking about recession or lack of jobs? For some of them this wasn’t even a first offense. For others it was, so they didn’t feel the slightest remorse or fear of being caught

Senseless. Brutal. Greedy. And with no regret whatsoever. Demanding. Looting. Bigger version of the long-standing ‘gang’ crime issue.
A nihilistic descend.  And let’s not kid ourselves that this is a riot for justice or any kind of rights. Looting & vandalism may accompany times of riot, but they are never its main event

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Without political connotations…

Panic on the streets of London
Panic on the streets of Birmingham
I wonder to myself
Could life ever be sane again ?

(“Panic”, The Smiths)

I was not in London over the “days of riot” but wonders of new media made enough images and video posts available to witness the shocking events. My heart dropped – for London that has been my home for the last 6 years, for the streets and local businesses in Lewisham, Dulwich, Clapham, Hackney, Camden, Ealing, Croydon… the list is unbearably long. For the people whose houses were set on fire. For no reason.

A lot has been said about context, putting things in perspective, social connotations. I’m not disagreeing or agreeing, justifying or condemning. This is without any political strands. Just hurt, disbelief and bitterness.

Firstly, let’s stop calling them ‘rioters’. They are hoolinags. Vandals, mob, terrorists – there’s many alternatives. A riot is a violent protest against a group or regime. The people who set ablaze their own community had no cause. They were not trying to overthrow a government or a regime, fighting oppression, demanding rights. They were, apparently, “showing police and “the rich” that “we can do what we want”. How? By setting fire to local shops, cars, warehouses, smashing & grabbing along the way – food, trainers, electrical goods… So we can add ‘thieves’ to the list as well. Just jumping on the bandwagon of violence & aggression, using one man’s death as a pretext. Or not – just simply joining in on the looting, bullying, destroying. With no respect. For anyone, not even their own families.

Realistically, they are kids. Horribly aggressive, thuggish, misguided ones. You poor deluded teenagers, you’re not showing “the rich” anything – “the rich” are not the ones that suffered your vandalism. You brought disruption to your own communities. In fact, you’re not showing anyone anything. You’ve got no cause. You’re fighting for nothing. A very apt tweet summed up, “The Youth of the Middle East rise up for basic freedoms.The Youth of London rise up for a HD ready 42” Plasma TV”…

And here’s a question – where were the parents? The ‘grown-ups’? Weren’t those your children? Aren’t you responsible for them?

Furthermore, videos showed dozens of police standing around, watching the underaged hooligans wreck stores and burn properties to the ground. Some of them homes …  So you can use force on students marching for their education but can’t stop gangs from wrecking whole neighbourhoods? Grown up men cannot deal with children?!?

Well done. On the destruction, mindlessness, opportunism. And lack of response, control, prevention.

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Second Life

This used to feature slices of creativity and thinking – and it still will! Now as a showcase of the two merged together, i.e. the enticing world of copywriting

Watch this space…

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Loose Ends & New Beginnings (Reflective Essay)

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” Seneca

No more Design Thinking & Entrepreneurship in Practice classes and here I am, at the end of yet another journey…. Or am I rather, once again, at the crossroads, deciding which turn to take? Because the story doesn’t really end where the university module does – you still need to write the rest of the chapters.

In retrospective, the immediate conclusions that I could draw after completing this module are:

–      Real business ventures seldom happen when ‘a bunch of strangers comes together’ – team-forming is dependant on allowing enough time to get to know each other’s working styles, characters & priorities

–      Start-up capital is absolutely crucial

–      Even adhering to the ‘flattest’ structure possible, you cannot neglect labor division & role assigning (and there’s always a need for someone to be the ‘boring organizational one’ – things need to be done!)

–      Coming up with business ideas is not about having ‘the coolest’ or ‘the most ground-breaking’ one – simplicity and a fresh approach is 100 times more effective

– Prototype & test your idea as much as possible – do it cheaply, effectively & learn from the feedback

How much of this has been learned in class and how much – just own musings? Revisiting the ‘stops’ of the ‘journey’, the following are its highlights.

Design Thinking could be interpreted as

“a methodology that imbues the full spectrum of innovation activities with a human-centered design ethos. By this I mean that innovation is powered by a thorough understanding, through direct observation, of what people want and need in their lives and what they like or dislike about the way particular products are made, packaged, marketed, sold, and supported” (Tim Brown, 2008)

It does not have to be taken literally, as applied to product usability, but rather as a design of a system – holistic, user-centered. Developing a business is designing a system – one that works as a whole, with positive returns, long-term profit & recognition. The business/project/idea needs to be sustainable and this means you cannot focus just on short-term outcomes. The above can be achieved only through understanding the ones you’re designing for.

 1.    User-oriented design & the USER model (Dr Corrine Beaumont)


With Users in Mind 

 “As MACErs we are taught that the ’user-before-designer’ strategy is an essential foundation for a successful business. We are reminded to focus on the other people’s experience rather than solely our own – unless, of course, the product/service we are about to deliver to the world was never actually intended to be used by anyone else but ourselves.” (29 September 2010)

The journey began with an introduction to the importance of user-centered thinking and design, explained by Corinne’s USER model study (2010):

‘USER’ stands for ‘User System Establish Realise’, which represents the four stages of design thinking. Each stage has a set of activities, which alternate between analysis—synthesis and concrete—abstract. When four stages are completed, it forms a phase. Each phase increases in progress from develop to implement to evaluate. In a design thinking model, the goal is to develop a product/service that has been developed, tested and found to be successful with users. Once the project has reached success, it is transferred to entrepreneurial and business activities to bring it to market.

One particularly valuable point was learning to observe ‘extreme users’ – the ones that are outside the product/service’s targeted audience. Taking ‘extreme users’ into consideration helps identify issues that might’ve not been obvious otherwise – it is only when you take into account all those aspects and find a remedy for them that you can claim to truly cater for all users.

In fact, we have been encouraged to step into the ‘extreme users’ shoes on one of the very first sessions:

“the ‘blind user’ exercise threw me off track just for the very fact of not being able to see your surroundings and being totally dependant on another person’s help. Past that prime discomfort, general assessments were made on how well designed the toilets really are – in regards to both the blind and everyone else. That is when it became apparent that certain, seemingly minor, details like number and position of soap dispensers can be easily overlooked. […] if they are not factors essential to the person behind the ‘blueprints’.  Just like that, I am reminded of the issue that many ‘creative heads’ come upon – doing everything from your own point of view.” (29 September 2010) More… 

  • Lessons for the future – never propose a product or service with ‘I would use it’; don’t concentrate your research just on your immediate audience/market – go for the ‘extreme users’, the unlikely user of your product/service; they will show you where your flaws might be, whereas the ‘prime users’ would just work their way around those; observe, process, decide
  • WHATIF implementation – the origination of the business idea took place while we shared experiences as users (what frustrated us, where we identified a flaw, etc.); we finalized the concept of the ‘cardmag’ after gathering feedback from potential users’ point of view. The whole essence of the ‘cardmag’ & WHATIF experience is about putting the ‘You’ in the centre of everything – our key words are ‘personalized’, ‘personal’, ‘customized’, ‘practical’.    

2.    Empathy & passion 

Empathic Professionals / Professional Empathy 

“The moment you aim your creative effort towards improving someone’s life, you get yourself on the productive path of user-centered business. […] In a deeper context of ‘understanding the other’, we are faced with the notion of empathy.”  (7 October 2010)

Empathy is at the core of the proposed USER-model and user-centered business ideas. “the designer at the bottom needs to be able to connect with and understand the ones s/he is designing for. But how do you actually get to abolish the distance between the designer and the user? ” 

When empathizing, the designer becomes the user for a day. Same as having managers on the floor, to experience the stress and issues that restaurant’s waiting staff might be dealing with, a ‘designer’ (entrepreneur) should test out the product/service in conditions experienced by the users

“Essentially, empathy could be brought down to putting yourself in other person’s shoes. […] Bringing any problem-solving into practice, we are taught, could be achieved through different ways, where you attempt to adopt the user’s point of view: role play, substitution, reacting, etc.” (7 October 2010) More…

Researching empathy, I particularly enjoyed Jeremy Rifkin’s video “Empathic Civilisation” and Seth Godin’s talk ‘The Tribes We lead’.

Passion was another key word discussed – the importance of being passionate about the issue identified & solution proposed.

  • Lessons for the future – doing business nowadays is not about imposing a product & creating desire for it, it’s about finding out what people want/need/like & providing them with it; community is the pillar of any project
  • WHATIF implementation – the ‘cardmag’ can be tailored for any use identified by the customer; sharing the cards is a key aspect of our strategy & design; we’re passionate about connecting people & building networks

3.    Systems 

Systematic Cash Departure

“No user-centered business could be established without placing it within the context of a ‘System’, which would help clarifying the potential and the drawbacks of whatever it is that you are trying to create. ” (17 October 2010)                                                                   

  • ‘user’ who is there to benefit from the offered service/product 
  • ‘designer’  that brought you this very service/product
  • ‘objects’ to be exchanged/used
  •  ‘roles’ to be carried out/performed, 
  • ‘rules’ enforced
  • ‘community’ of people who are there to make it all possible.


It is a system because everything and everyone is connected and not interchangeable – you lose or alter one and you affect (positively or negatively) the rest. 

  • Lessons for the future – looking at ‘the bigger picture’; researching & assessing ‘elements’ individually, before decision-making; make connections!
  • WHATIF implementation – designed with ‘community’ in mind; dependent on its participation; we could’ve benefited from having identified the ‘roles’ a bit earlier

4.    Personas & storytelling 

Persona Grata (or Who Are you Designing For?)

 “brilliant marketing people have come up with the concept of ‘example user’ or personas . These fictional people serve as detailed representations of the users/market you’re aiming to serve.” (26 October 2010) More…

I love working with stories – visual, written, verbal, the medium doesn’t matter. With stories you have characters & through them you can evoke all the passion & empathy (or any other emotions) necessary.

  • WHATIF implementation – our advert told a story

The Entrepreneurship In Practice bit provided a hands-on implementation of 1-4. The actual setting up of a business was practical yet too short to allow in-depth immersion in the ‘business grit’ or generate return of investment (both time & monetary) during allocated academic terms. What really made me test out my entrepreneurial hat were the little ‘milestones’ and tasks throughout the duration of our company’s development.

5.    Business Development

–      Idea origination & Innovation 

At that stage I found the ‘Where do good ideas come from?’ video particularly inspiring (another version of Steven Johnson’s talk, on the same subject could be viewed here). Johnson mentions the importance of multiple interactions – different minds coming together. This is also echoed by Piers Ibbotson (2008) – creativity is born at the crossroads & gaps of explored areas. The WHATIF concept came about from interaction of people with different backgrounds, dreams, ideas (even nationalities & cultural heritage), but common grounds, that defined our brainstorming sessions:

–      service vs. product (the ‘cardmag’ is a physical, tangible object, providing the idea/service behind it)

–      interaction & networking (bringing people together, getting to know different people – something we enjoy & felt could be done differently)

–      the simpler, the better (materially, WHATIF is just ‘cards + ring’)

In general, purpose of business can be to: take something that exists and modify it in a way that solves additional needs; use something for a different purpose; enable people to do new things with what they already have; provide a product to people in a new way; connect your customers to others in a new way (Corrine’s blog, 25thNovember 2010). We set out WHATIF with the premise of tackling information overload & lack of belonging (to a community and/or place).

–      Prototyping in action

From this

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         to this

–      Failing early – mistakes are necessary for success

With the safety network of it being a university experience, we were encouraged to make as many mistakes as possible, to learn and develop further. ‘Real-life’ companies are wary of failure – too much at stake – which means prototyping & ‘just-doing’ attitude is tricky to carry on in the ‘real world’.

–      Team-work / role division

The MACE experience just showed me once more why I’ve previously worked as project manager, production coordinator & film producer – I like organizing things. And people. Not in a ‘bossy’ way, but I do like when everyone in the team is dedicated to the project & there’s no need to take on the ‘head-teacher’s role (‘Come on, children, no time to play, do your homework!’)

I guess I just fit into the Organising Personas, as suggested by Tom Kelly’s Ten Faces of Innovation (Corrine’s blog post in October)

–      Time management – proved to be tricky to manage collectively (although towards the end we did well). Understanding each other’s dynamics & work patterns happens after while & maybe that’s why we had this hurdle.

Having an apprentice-style challenge (Compassion 2 One), facing Dragon’s Den panels to pitch business ideas, or being a runner-up in the “Best Sales Pitch” (Trade Fair February 2011) – all contributed towards polishing off certain business skills.

We agreed on continuing WHATIF beyond the university experience. It did not feel right to just ‘pull the plug’, given that the business journey has only just begun – we have only passed the ‘incubation’ stage (developing the actual concept).

Now is the part of setting up the Goal For the Future. Admittedly, I do not work well with long-term goals. Maybe my mind simply cannot stretch beyond the next 12 months because there are always many projects running side by side. Alternatively, this might be due the fact that I like to leave room for change and excitement from exploring new opportunities and deviations from the pre-mapped route. Or because places where I stay are all ‘temporary’ (even after 6 years).

In a nutshell, I value the task of goal setting – one does need to know the end destination (at least have a list of possible ones) – but don’t believe in having only one journey route. I like short-to-medium term goals – they are the lovely anchors you can hold on to and explore around.  In the summer 2011, these are as follows (not necessarily in any particular order):

  • Complete the postgraduate final research project – potentially enhancing my employability
  • Successfully present the ‘cardmag’ concept at the Download Festival
  • Raise the profile of Film Doctor and start receiving income from it
  • Decide on which type of visa to apply for next (when you have a non-EU, non-EEA, non-UK passport, this is something that you have to deal with on a regular basis) – dependent on finances & employment opportunities.

Am I better prepared to do all of the above now, than I was 8 months ago? Have I learned anything new or just put in practice what I already knew?

A lot of loose ends to tie. Taking up an MA & ‘Design Thinking…’ module in particular was not a journey of discovery but rather clarification & confirmation – both personally & professionally. I have not discovered ‘a new self’ but definitely built connections between past & present experiences and aspirations for the future.  

References

Beaumont, C (2010) The USER Model

Tim Brown. (2008) Design Thinking

Compassion2One

Seth Godin. The Tribes We Lead’

Piers Ibbotson (2008) The Illusion of Leadership

Steven Johnson. ‘Where Do Good Ideas Come From?’                                                                                      TED Where Do Good Ideas Come From?

Tom Kelly. ‘Ten Faces of Innovation’

MACEKingston Blog (25 Nov 2010) Business Types

Jeremy Rifkin. ‘The Empathic Civilisation’


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Bit of Entrepreneurial & Innovative Spirit in Sofia

I was visiting my family in Sofia over the Easter holidays back in April… lovely place & time to go to a few outdoor coffee shops (those are typical for Bulgaria & you’ll find all sorts of people drinking their espressos almost always complimented by a bottle/glass of soft drink – coffee & coke anyone?)

So sitting in a lovely cafe in the Borisova Garden, waiting for our teas. Then we’re served this

Tea in a stick! It’s served in a heatproof glass (like the ones you’d use for a mulled wine or Irish coffee), with a straw (!!!); the “tea” sips into the water through little holes at the bottom half of the “stick”. I HAD to take a picture 🙂 this is not something I’ve seen anywhere else… ever! It’s not even found anywhere else in Sofia itself – just that one cafe in the lovely Borisova Garden.

Was that done to gain ‘competitive advantage’ (against the cafe next door)? Or is it supposed to make tea-drinking easier & simpler (‘hey, no annoying, wet tea bags to take out’) ? Unappreciated innovation?

I didn’t get a chance to ask….

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Extraordinary Sensory Experience in Real-life Bunker, East London

Ever wondered what working life might be in 20 years time? Come on a journey of your life-time, exploring the depths of a disused World War II bunker place in Dalston.

Blending sci-fi and climate change themes, this sensory installation focuses on links between ourselves and the world around us and offers an optimistic and thought-provoking vision of our society.

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