Ideas Exchange Day 1: a blog by Josh Cannon
On a rainy a Lancaster Friday, a group of artists shared pizza, drinks and exchanged pleasantries. Fuelled by the community spirit and inspiration provided by Daniel Bye’s Tiny Heroes; this group were meeting to exchange more than just pleasantries, we were meeting to exchange ideas. Last weekend saw imitating the dog and Lancaster Arts host their first Ideas Exchange: Digital Horizons. Artists from varying disciplines, backgrounds and stages in their careers met to share ideas, experience and opinions surrounding the digital.
You may be wondering what exactly an ‘ideas exchange’ is; so were we, and indeed our initial conversations started by addressing this point. A few years ago, a writer once told me that ‘Ideas are cool, ideas are sexy, and it’s so important to share them with each other’ – Digital Horizons was giving us a platform and space to do just that. The weekend wasn’t aiming to be a transactional exchange, or a skills exchange, but rather a place for us to share practices, ideas, and discuss the notions of the digital. One artist said that they hoped the weekend would be like a Telephone Exchange with many different conversations firing off all over the place – but with a general sense of hubbub and direction.
The first session of the day was led by Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks, two of the three Co-Artistic Directors of imitating the dog, who spoke about the history of the company, and how their use of digital technologies has adapted and changed over last 21 years, along with the changes/availability and affordability of technology. It was interesting to see was how the company changed the way they made work, as technology progressed, which led to our first provocation of the weekend; “How has the digital changed the way we make work?” The other important message people took from this session was that the mere presence of technology alone is not always appropriate. The technology isn’t just a formal device, it has to be necessary, and certainly in the case of imitating the dog, can be used metaphorically, thematically, as well as formally.
Visual designer and technologist, Andrew Crofts (Crofty) led the second, and most technical session of the weekend. Educating us on how the technology works, how we can use the network to our advantage and importantly, how to get the machines talking to each other. Magic numbers, DMX, MIDI, OSC and I.P. all made an appearance – I hadn’t even heard of half of these before the session, but by the end we are all discussing different ways we could use them in performance. I was reminded of the artist James Bridle; who speaks of a ‘technological illiteracy’ within the Arts, and couldn’t help but think how we were working to resist and and rectify this. I’m not going to pretend I understood every word exactly (or attempt to recreate it) but like most of us at the end of the session, I felt like I understood so much more about the technologies I’d previously taken for granted. The best summary for this session was provided by one artist who stated ‘It helped me to understand how to turn my imagination into a reality’.
If Crofty’s session focused on networked interconnectivity, then the final session (led by Hwa Young Jung) turned our attentions to human interconnectivity and socially engaged work; asking questions like how can we reach policy makers, and what role can art play in climate change? This session certainly sparked ideas amongst the group, as we began discussing different types of gaming, which could be used to positively change the attitudes of young people and policy makers, who may not have the time or resource to engage in cultural activities.
Towards the end of the day, after being reminded of the social impact art can have, thoughts turned to the the dangers and anxieties surrounding the digital – an important moment of reflection. We may be celebrating and exchanging digital ideas – but it would’ve been irresponsible to do this without addressing the disadvantages of the digital. The rise in the use of technology has opened up a huge realm of possibilities, particularly for artists, but with these possibilities also come limitations: Fake news, a platform for extremist views, and the security of young people were all discussed as dangers to be mindful of in the digital world.
After a short break, we all met again in the evening at Andrew and Alice’s for dinner. Pete was cooking up a storm in the kitchen and proving that if he wasn’t in theatre, he most definitely could pursue a career in the culinary arts. As cartwheels were happening in one corner of the room; stories of projects gone-by were being told in another corner – it wouldn’t surprise me if some our most significant ideas were exchanged at this moment. As the old saying goes; it’s hard to remain enemies when you’ve broken bread together, and this was certainly the case, as our conversations flowed freely (much like the food and the wine). The relaxing atmosphere was a welcome opportunity for us all to get to know more about each other’s practice, and ready ourselves for another day of exchange.