Archives for posts with tag: southbank centre

Last Friday Sarah and I went along to the second of the Southbank Centre’s “think ins” about the upcoming Web We Want festival. The festival is a collaboration with Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web Foundation and looks to explore some of the issues and challenges facing the web as it enters its third decade. The festival will take part over three discrete weekends this month, in September and in March 2015.

I reported from the first event back in the summer. That one was a pretty large affair, taking over the whole of the Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer and featuring an extended Q&A with Berners-Lee himself. This second event was slightly more modest. Again hosted by the Centre’s creative director Jude Kelly, it brought together about 70 people broadly from the digital world – designers, developers, entrepreneurs, adacemics, policy makers and digital artists – to brainstorm what kind of topics the festival should cover.

Now of course, when 70 people brainstorm any topic there’s going to be some overlap in the themes that emerge. Nonetheless, the ideas that were fed back at the end of the afternoon certainly covered a lot of diverse ground. Some of the issues raised that caught my imagination included:

Entrepreneurship The advent of the web has of course seen the birth and rise of some behemoth companies. But it’s been good for entrepreneurship at every level right down to “kitchen table” businesses. What barriers remain to entrpreneurs and start ups? And how can we address these?

Disruption But here’s the flip side of flourishing entrepreneurship. It’s easy to knock incumbent businesses who’ve been adversely affected by the web. But in truth it’s been a devastating decade industry after industry, and I would certainly argue that much vaunted new business models are hardly filling the gap left by the collapse of the old ones. The various forms of “free” are great for the VC-backed and ad spend-soaked tech megacorps, but how can both creative practice and meaningful content industry business be sustained in a world where everything’s given away?

Digital inclusivity This is not only a theme for the festival to explore but one for it to be aware of in how it’s put together, too. Several people pointed out that even in the UK we have a real digital divide, with as much as 10% of the population having no access to the web. Overseas (and the festival seeks to be international) the case is often considerably worse. Furthermore, in many regions access is primarily on mobile devices – something that’s hugely important for the festival to bear in mind.

Democracy and Free Speech Quite a week for this, what with beheading videos and stolen naked sleb snapshots. In some senses, there’s nothing necessarily new here. All democracies grapple the frictions that arise between the right to free speech, the right to privacy, the right to be informed, the right to safety. But there’s little doubt that the web has execerbated these tensions. As I pointed out onstage the web has gone in a few short years from being a utopia for southern Californian hippy libertarians to a playgound for violent misogynists, terrorists, chold pornoagraphers, cannibals… you get the picture. Yes, we need to preserve freedom online as far as possible, but let’s grow up: we need to police it, too. But in such an international environment, who does that policing? And how?

Neurobiological impact There was quite a discussion along the whole “is Google making us stupid” line. Coming out of the back of Carr’s The Shallows and Soojung-Kim Pang’s The Distraction Addiction I had a lot of sympathy for some of the concerns raised. Interestingly, I think that as little as two or three years ago the conversation wouldn’t have gone that far. But I think there’s a general creeping suspicion that something is happening to our brains that’s quite fundamental. I liked the suggestion of one group about using real time MRI in some kind of live demos – there’s definitely something to develop there.

Sex One participant pointed out that the festival definitely needs to cover sex. From porn to Tinder, the web has had a profound impact on sexuality and relationships. There needs to be a frank, open discussion about all facets of this somewhat landmine-filled area. As someone put it: “How do I meaningfully prepare my daughter for what’s out there?”

Identity & privacy And finally, this huge topic, that emerged in several guises over the course of the afternoon. It’s something of a cliché of the modern web that we are the product. For good reason: it’s effetively true. As the excellent Atlantic article “The Internet’s Original Sin” pointed out, there are huge consequences to the free model I touched on earlier, although it’s an approach taken up with great enthusiasm by the content industries. Not the least of these consequences is that advertising remains the only viable business model – but that advertising is predicated on the gathering of previously inconceivable amounts of data about our lives. How happy are we with this data being in the hands of private corporations? Do we trust them with it? Is the trade-off for free content, platforms and services worth it?

It was stimulating afternoon, then, and it will be interesting to see how much of this thinking ends of in the festival as it comes together.


It’s the morning of May 7th and the week of back-to-back seminars, briefings and brainstorms continued, with one of the Southbank Centre’s famous “think-ins”, one aimed at launching the SBC’s Web We Want Festival – slated for this autumn, the Centre’s contribution to a year of activity led by Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web Foundation.

The morning was kicked off by the Southbank’s Artistic Director, Jude Kelly, who discussed the centre’s genesis in the deprived years of the post-War period, as part of the Festival of Britain. Thinkers then had called for a “propaganda of the imagination”, and Kelly has sought to build on this legacy with a series of festivals dedicating to exploring given themes in real depth; they’ve included Women of the World, Being a Man and Alchemy.

The Web We Want would start from the question: “how do we care for the web, as we do (or should) for the planet?” Kelly also set out her stall by saying that she wanted the festival to take into account the reality of the continuing digital divide in the UK and the fact that the tech space was still quite so heavily dominated by men. The morning was intended to bring together people from a wide range of disciplines to help develop the festival’s content, but before we got to that, we had a real treat: Kelly in conversation with Sir Tim Berners-Lee himself, whom I’m assuming needs no introduction here.

Sir Tim covered a lot of ground both in his talk with Kelly and in response to questions from the floor, so I’ll just jot some headlines down:

  • He echoed Kelly’s remarks about the lack of women in the tech community and encouraged more girls to be geeks.
  • The web had begun as an unmonitored phenomenon (John Perry Barlow’s “hippy commune”) but business and government had encroached more and more on that until perhaps that encroachment’s apotheosis: Mubarak’s turning off Egypt’s Internet access.
  • Corporate business had deliberately obfuscated the issues around Net Neutrality in a deliberate, coordinated “push back” against it.
  • The World Wide Web Foundation was set up to champion issues around Internet Freedom and was looking to create a “Magna Carta” for the web.
  • Good work was already going on in the area in Brazil, led by President Dilma Rousseff herself.
  • Meanwhile the EU is doing good work, led by the European Commissioner for Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes.
  • Other countries doing encouraging work included Estonia and Kenya.
  • The WWWF will build on this work with pilot schemes in a range of countries including Brazil, Nigeria and Ecuador.
  • The UK is very much a mixed bag. There’s good stuff going on with publically available data (he cited TfL’s great success in driving efficiency through its publication of APIs – an alternative to trying to “build everything itself”). But the public are wrong to trust the government in terms of privacy, with GCHQ being “the hand maiden of the NSA”.
  • He acknowledged that society always needed to balance privacy and security but that the law as it stands “offline” should be the basis for the security services’ activity online.
  • Similarly, the balance between the right to privacy and its abuse in the form of trolling is a tricky one to negotiate.
  • There was also some discussion about advertising and the fact that “attention is gold” – and everyone is after ours.

Perhaps the most moving moment of the morning – certainly the one that got a spontaneous round of applause – came during the Q&A, when a young schoolgirl made an eloquent attack on the impact social media was having on articulacy. That once we “ran out of hashtags”, what would we be able to express? Quite.

And I’ve really just scratched the service here; it was a very full morning.

I’d like to close with a couple of my own observations. And I stress my own.

Web-native art – I thought, given that this was an event hosted by the SC, that there might have been some discussion about what kind of arts might develop that are in some way native to the web, or to digital generally. I’m thinking here partially about James Bridle’s New Aesthetic, but also about interactive art in general. It strikes me as somewhat ironic that the most immersive or interactive art I’ve experienced over the last year has been in the field of (relatively) traditional theatre: Punchdrunk’s Drowned Man and Theatre Delicatessen’s Spaced.

Communities of practice – It seems to me that one of the great achievements of the web has been to bring niche communities of practice together across international borders, communities that could not have existed previously in any meaningful way. I’ve seen just how widespread, diverse and passionate this phenomenon is in communities built on three very different areas of activity that are close to my own heart: paleo health (Marks Daily Apple), contemplation practice (Buddhist Geeks) and, of course, extreme metal guitar (SevenString.Org). How can these kinds of communities in the arts world re-shape artistic practice?

The future of the content industries – I’ve said it til I’m blue in the face, but the content industries’ future needs to be where it always has been: in scarcity (that’s just basic economics). But the nature of that scarcity has changed profoundly with the un-coupling of content and artefact. Someone in the audience raised the issue of artists being rewarded for their work. Fair enough, but no-one can agree what that work is worth, least not in the digital realm, and that’s because there simply is no inherent commercial value in creative practice. That commercial value arises from, again, simple economic circumstances, and again, scarcity is surely the chief one. If that scarcity isn’t in the form of artefact (yes, the vinyl boom is great but you’re having yourself on if you think it’s going to preserve the kind of record industry we had in the 90s) then it surely has to be in experience. So what new kinds of “scarce” artistic experience can be created in the realm of the digital?


I learnt something surprising today: we have a Professor of Networking in the UK. To her immense credit, Julia Hobsbawm then went on to explain that she was a visiting Professor at Cass Business School, not an academic. In fact, she doesn’t even have a degree.

Friend and social media guru, Kate Lawrence, has been working on the Southbank’s Women of the World Festival for the last few months, so I thought I should go along and check it out. I’m very glad I did. Julia’s session was on how to overcome shyness in order to get the best out of your connections.


Her central thesis is that everyone feels as thought it’s their first day at school when confronted with a room full of people they don’t know. Even the “important” people at a networking event, the ones everyone is trying to get time with are probably feeling anxious; they’re under pressure to live up to peoples’ high expectation of them after all.

Her remedies and practical advice included: your time is precious, so pick your events wisely.  Target well “curated” gatherings where you’ll make interesting and like-minded contacts. Have something interesting to say and be curious about other people. Don’t be goal-focussed; you shouldn’t network to sell. Instead, let the “weak ties” from events develop into strong networks over time. Technology is useful but not a substitute for face to face meetings.

My favourite quote of hers was that networking “has nothing to do with self-promotion and everything to do with self-preservation” as this chimes with my thinking around Angel Academe.

The book Nice Girls don’t get the Corner Office generally got the thumbs up from the current and former corporate and City women who reviewed it in the following session. Although it doesn’t delve into the big questions about what needs fixing with corporate culture and assumes people love their job, it helps women (and men) understand where they might be unwittingly undermining themselves. From being too nice, to how you speak, to the games that go on in the workplace.

Hannah Philip, corporate broker and feminist activist, told an amusing story about leaving her City job for one in the Arts. She thought it would be much closer to her heart, but actually found the politics far more complicated to navigate than those in her previous job. She’s now very happily back in the City.

I liked all the women on this panel. None of them were waiting around for men to fix things for them. So on their recommendation, I’ve ordered the book. About a fiver including postage on Amazon.

It’s also worth mentioning the first session of the day on international activism and the power of an individual to change the world. Ziauddin Yousafzai talked very movingly about his daughter, Malala, the young Pakistani campaigner for girls’ education who was shot by the Taliban in October 2012. The session was chaired by Jude Kelly, the Southbank’s Creative Director and also featured Sarah and Gordon Brown and Valerie Amos, UN Special Envoy for Global Education.

Thank you Southbank. An excellent event all in all and I hope the rest of the festival is a huge success. If I have one suggestion for next year, it would be to include a session on entrepreneurship. But then I would…

Culturally speaking, one way and another it was a pretty packed year for Sarah and me last year, so as we embark on 2013 I thought it might be nice to get some of the highlights down here.

Our rather late-in-life conversion to Opera – yes the artform, not the browser – continued apace. We caught Jonathan Kent’s splendidly delirious production of Purcell’s “semi-opera” The Fairy Queen at Glyndebourne, Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann at the ENO (delirious in its own way) and two minimalist classics in revival: Glass’ Einstein on the Beach at the Barbican (which Sarah attended without me) and Adams’ Death of Klinghoffer, again at the ENO. It’s also worth mentioning a live relay from the Met of Glass’ much later piece, Satyagraha, which we saw in the cozy surroundings of our favourite cinema, The Duke of York’s here in Brighton.

The theatrical highlight of the year was undoubtedly Complicite’s adaptation of Bulgarkov’s magic realist classic Master and Margarita at the Barbican. It’s exhilarating stuff – if perhaps bewildering to those who haven’t read the book – and I highly recommend getting along to it as it returns this month. Runner up prize on the theatrical front would have to go to Punchdrunk’s immersive Macbeth-inspired Sleep No More, now into its second year in New York, where we were lucky enough to catch it.

Actually, the Barbican – which plainly had a stupendous year – deserves its own mention (full disclosure: the centre is one of our clients). As well as Einstein and Master, we saw: Água, the São Paulo piece in Pina Bausch’s World Cities season, revived by the Barbican and Sadlers Wells as part of the Cultural Olympiad; two truly remarkable blockbuster exhibitions, Everything Was Moving – Photography from the 60s and 70s and Bauhaus: Art as Life; and Song Dong‘s strangely moving installation Waste Not, which gathered into the Curve Gallery everything the artist’s mother had hoarded in her life. And of course we went along to the Barbican Weekender a couple of months back, which we reviewed here.

I’m getting together a review of my “year in gigs” over on my personal blog DGMFS, but of the gigs we went to together, several stand out: Susheela Raman at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (an absolutely intoxicating show), PiL at the Concorde 2 in Brighton, Bang on a Can Allstars at the Barbican and Faith No More at the Apollo (and was that Danny De Vito crawling around onstage towards the end of the gig or a hullucination?) Then of course we travelled to both New York and Berlin to see Meshuggah; still not sure Sarah really digs it, but I think if nothing else she enjoys the gurning look of joy on my face for a couple of hours. I should mention two shows Sarah couldn’t get along to, sadly: singer-songwriter Rufus Wainright at the Brighton Dome (seriously, one of the finest gigs I’ve ever been to) and jazz pianist Brad Mehldau at, you guessed it, The Barbican, as part of the London Jazz Festival. And talking of jazz, we’ve hugely enjoyed our old friend Jez Nelson and Jazz On 3‘s monthly Jazz in the Round shows at the Cockpit theatre in Marylebone; looking forward to many more of them in 2013.

We only made it to one of the Proms this year, but it was a pretty special one; the massive, 120-strong Aldeburgh World Orchestra was recruited online from 35 different countries for three weeks of concerts, including a Sunday evening prom at the Albert Hall. As though the logistics weren’t tricky enough, the band – conducted with the usual verve by Mark Elder – played an astoundingly tricky (but very, very powerful) set including Britten’s Sinfonia de Requiem and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, in possibly the tightest, most aggressive interpretation I’ve heard live.

As I write this Sarah has got the annual film marathon which comes with being a BAFTA judge, so I’ll reserve judgement on the film front except perhaps to say that Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master is really quite breathtaking. Oh, and that the most fun we had in terms of cinematic experience this year was a very special screening of Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon in the appropriately baroque setting of the Brighton Pavilion’s music room (thanks to Brighton’s Cine-City festival for that one).

Three very different gallery shows highlighed the work of three very different (but undoubted) geniuses: the massive Cindy Sherman restrospective at MoMA in New York; Ferran Adriá and El Bulli: Risk, Freedom and Creativity at Palu Robert in Barcelona; and, almost certainly our shared art highlight of the year, Grayson Perry’s The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman at the British Museum which pulled off the remarkable feat of being simultaneously funny, deeply moving and, well, angry.

We finished the year off, appropriately, with a concert of Bach’s Christmas and New Year Cantatas given by period music specialists Florilegium at King’s Place. It was the opening show of a year-long season: Bach Unwrapped and we’re looking forward to much more.

So that’s it. A a hugely enjoyable year, and one that’s going to be difficult to top, although, that said, we’re already looking forward to, among other things, Kraftwerk at the Tate, Cirque du Soleil at the RAH, the Barbican’s post-Duchamp show, the Southbank’s Rest is Noise season, Neil Young, Richard Thompson… and maybe, just maybe, Meshuggah in LA.