Another fantastically busy week has been and gone, I’m saving one half of it to talk to you about next week, but I think if you follow me down any particular path of the interwebz, you will have noticed that on Thursday I helped convene the ‘Flash Conference‘ at the heart of the ACE/RSA State of the Arts Conference. The Flash Conference was conceived of by myself, Andy Field, and Laura McDermott out of a reaction our awareness of the general dissatisfaction with last year’s format, with some of the problems of scale often faced by such a large event (i.e., missing any address to the smaller scale), and finally, from my point of view at least, with the language and the questions that the conference was shaped around. That last point is perhaps a little impolitic to say (nor very clearly said, my brain is mush this weekend) but the shift into, for example (what turned out to be entirely rudderless) conversations about art and the Big Society rang rather uncomfortable with me, personally. Partly because of my own politics, but also because it felt like a program that pandered to government, not one that brought all to the same table for what could have been a more valuable conversation.
I’m being a little careful with my language here (‘careful’ for me, anyway), and that’s because, entirely to the conference organisers’ credit, when we approached them with our idea to run a companion conference in a nearby pub they actually invited us into the conference itself. Though, as Lyn Gardner put it we were slightly “banished upstairs” – the fact that we were there at all was brilliant, not because we ourselves wanted to talk to the top table types, but because it enabled us to bring so many other voices to that top table – people who couldn’t afford the travel or the ticket price; artists, students, performers and makers for whom the conference really did not feel like a welcome place; or single parents without childcare. I hope that the great deal of interaction that we enabled showed the organisers, and indeed any organisers of any event, quite how much people are dying to have a two-way conversation rather than a one-way panel-driven selection of monologues.
Over 4 days the flashconference.co.uk site had 1273 individual visits from 27 countries, 52 videos, images, texts and sounds were submitted to the blog, 1827 tweets were exchanged, with the majority of that activity falling on the day of the conference. We were inundated not just with contributions, but also thanks, for allowing people who had felt excluded to sound in on the debate. Certainly this was not a perfect format, but it was hopefully a spark, a small static shock. Our industry deserves such large-scale spaces for discussion, but they will only begin to be truly discursive when they speak to the whole of the arts ecosystem, and from a place in not above the world that we all live in.
I co-wrote a paper delivered last year at the annual Theatre and Performance Research Association conference. This paper was essentially on how conferences are, well, completely useless at truthfully representing either thought, discourse, or artistic practice. My section began with a quote from Foucoult:
We are in the era of the simultaneous, of juxtaposition, of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the scattered. We exist in a moment when the world is experiencing, I believe, something less like a great life that would develop through time than like a network that connects points and weaves its skin (Foucoult, The Essential Works II, 175)
The best art is collaborative, built in its simplest expression, out of dialogue between the world and the artist. Gatherings to discuss our industry need to acknowledge both this and the shift from media consumption to interaction, from marketing to communication being driven by the de-centralising effects of the digital world. We are woven together, you can’t examine a whole of a piece of fabric by only examining four pulled-out threads.
Next year’s conference has been announced as happening outside of London, moving it away from London is a good start, but I also hope that they think more about how they form their questions and how and with whom they discuss them. How would I do that? More artists, a sliding scale of ticket prices, greater responsivity, open manifesto sessions, a room full of remote contributions, art installations as reactions, and a selection of themes and concerns picked by both the organisers, and the wider arts community. Allowing the Flash Conference to exist in the wider conference space was a brilliant step in a positive direction, here’s to more of them.
You can view all of the provocations delivered on the day in this Youtube playlist, or on the flashconference site. You can also look through the archive to see all the contributions put forward by many others, and view the slides which we built through out the day of highlights from tweets and submissions. Thanks to Andy and Laura for wanting to work with me, the RSA and ACE for inviting us in, the excellent provocateurs, and all of the wonderful discussions and contributions put forward by people who couldn’t be more than tele-present.
(incidentally, I’m working my way through transcribing and captioning all of the videos, on 6/14 at the moment, if anyone could help me out with the trancription and/or captioning of a video, let me know.)