Will Self opened the event with an uncharacteristically cheerful plea for more playfulness and recounted his experience of walking to and from airports and the effect it has on the perception of time and space. The next day Brian Eno walked to Tobacco Dock from his home in Notting Hill, taking only a small sample of his Oblique Strategies cards and some loose pages of paper with him - the pioneers of electronic music keeps his presentations strictly analogue!
At the other end of the scale were Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky who treated the audience to a guided tour of his iPad, taking in the history of songwriting, sound research and music technology; Soh Yeong Roh who introduced a whole range of companion robots from drinking buddies for lonely singles to swearing grannies for polite introverts; not to mention live microchipping of human volunteers.
FutureFest is a two-day conference at the intersection of research, creativity and innovation. Launched three years ago by Nesta (formerly the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts, now an independent charity), the 2016 edition had four overriding themes: Work, Love, Thrive and Play. But just like the boundaries between work and fun become increasingly blurred did most contributions tick more than one box. FutureFest itself is both a serious conference and a festival, attracting a predominantly professional crowd despite taking up an entire weekend.
One overriding theme was the significance of playful risk taking, starting with the lack of public space for children to roam in urban environments and the absence of fun in schools, through to the need for creativity in all departments and the importance of learning from bad ideas, no room for serendipity in recruitment and selection processes based on metrics.
While last year included contributions from Spain’s Podemos and Iceland’s Pirate Party and a video call with Edward Snowden, this year’s political contributions seemed the weakest link in a post-Brexit and pre-Trump limboland. The general consensus across all strands was that you can’t predict the future, you have to invent it - by breaking down existing structures from the grassroots up.
From a personal growth perspective Bill Burnett and Dave Evans gave practical advice on putting design principles at the core of creating a more satisfying life plan:
- What are the best parts of the life you already have?
- What would you do if what you do now didn’t exist?
- If money was no object and they wouldn’t laugh at you, what would you do?
Overall, FutureFest is positioned more at the heart of creative industries than at the wider intersection of science and culture, hence the concentration on technology and design-based disciplines. Yet it was the artists who made the robots come alive, put the fun into AR and reminded us of life beyond STEM. These and other examples also highlighted the relevance of interrelation between art and science across all aspects of modern life from healthcare and nutrition, education and entertainment, to urban planning and life after death.
And now on to something completely different, with just a fortnight to go until Frieze London opens its gates again, the fair’s Talks programme has just been announced. Themed “Borderlands” artists will share their take on the current political climate, refugee crisis and an increasingly divided society. We could do a lot worse than looking at art to make sense of the world.