Semi-Permanent 2014 review

I had the pleasure of heading up to Auckland for the Semi-Permanent Design Festival 2014.

The Aeotea centre is a cool venue, in the centre of a hustling city, plenty of yummy food around, beggars, musos and hipsters, places to smoke ciggs and drink java.

Initially I didn't really know what to expect, this wan't an academic conference, which is the type I've become used to. Indeed, there were trendy people everywhere, and lots of young people which is a bit weird as I'm now starting to realize that I'm one of the 'older ones' (since when did 27 become old AHHH!)

Lining up, I got a bag a free shit - well not shit, but you know promo stuffs, which I lugged around all day. (I always feel shy and awkward at these things). Luckily it was mainly good stuff, including two books filled with illustrations, and free coffee, yum.

These types of 'books' amaze me. They are pretty, and inspiring and all, but have little to do with design. I don't know why they don't actually fill the books with process work, interviews of design thinking - something relevant that people can actually learn from.

The conference pretty much lead on from that sort of aesthetic vibe. A lot of the presentations were basically a 'show and tell' of work, offering nothing more than what one could get from a google image search. M/M (Paris) literally went through the pages of his book on screen (Which was sad cos i love the work he's done for Bjork). I find it superficial and boring, and actually disrespectful that people can be flown from the other side of the world and not even value their audience. I find it surprising that as designers they didn't think of the design of the presentation itself. I find it shocking that the audience laps it up, I wanted more.

Luckily there were some gems...

Ian Wharton spoke of what he calls 'youthful thinking' which he defined as 1) embrace the ridiculous 2) creativity is transferable 3) learn forever and play 4) dare to fail. Surprisingly he didn't seem to reference hundreds of years worth of work on creativity, so there was nothing new here for me, but I really dug the idea that we are always in development of ourselves and that the learning never ends and one ever 'gets there'. This was comforting. He also highlighted the value in asking 'why not?' and how play equals innovation and trust. He spoke of failure and how we need to reframe it ((see my previous post on failure)) and used Google Wave as an example of how they learnt and iterated from that fail to put the ideas into Google Plus.

Golan Levin was the most relevant speaker for me. He is working in a lab in an educative space with code and visualization - mixing art/desi/sci. He talked of the marriage between the critical and the poetic which is a neat way to see the art/science relationship. "Computer art today still seams like a demo than a poem" He spoke of video entering an altogether different plastic medium with the use of 3d recording techniques. This space is rad, and the tools developed are surely going to aid the visualisation of big data and education in general. Golan spoke of interoperability and reverse engineering. He spoke of being open (openfit, opensource framework) and the archeology of media. Golan was a fresh and intelligent addition to the conference, working on the cutting edge in a fun, light hearted and social manner.

Daito Manabe electronic artist and programmer (though he would fall into a million other categories too) is also working in experimental ways with contemporary technology. He hooked himself and another up to some wires and converted radio signals into electrical signals (pic below) played some music as we watched their faces twitch in union. I don't really know what the point of this was but it was cool none the less, even if the other person said it "felt like being raped" (eeeeeeeek!) He uses motion capture tracking (an example of this is Radioheads 'House of cards') and embraces the development of tools via Github and Openframeworks - what a dude.

Surprisingly, two speakers talked about working with dancers.

Dance + Design is an amazing space and one I want to continue working in. Abott Miller spoke of the 'idea' being the driving force of anything. He has developed some interesting apps in which he approaches designing a dance experience in line with what the medium itself can offer as opposed the old transfer/transmit M.O.O. we see happen so much. Some examples are 'fifth wall' where the Ipad is treated as the stage. DOT DOT DOT and passe-partout (released in May '14). Nice to see how Miller started with dance magazines (dance ink and 2wice (with Cuningham!) and then progressed into this type of interactive medium.

 Mizrahi is from a theatre background and now runs Inside Out productions, he brings an expressive element to his projects "always perform with one foot in the audience..let the tension build, it's a conversation" I think the same philosophy should run for all communication - he reminded me of Milton Glaser - who's key is also 'holding things back'. I feel that designers often forget that, and make everything too obvious so that there no 'working out' for the reader, no magic, little interpretation. Mike told us that once he met Pina Bousch "everything made sense" - Here I got really jealous but also started to admire him, he was easy to admire. "There is simply so much more in you" "dig deeper" Mikes message was to aim for the amazing and more - for the sake of your audience and your own artistic drive.

Ashley Gilbertson photo journalist for the New York Times was also another crowd favorite. Jesus H. Christ that guy has been on a journey!! The sheer raw power, the humanity of the inhumanity of war, and his experience photographing it - was off the wall emotional. Why the hell does anyone ever go to war? Just wow.

Niki Caro finally filled a void in the conference, by representing women in the creative industry, community and culture. Maori culture specifically. Thank God! After all the talk of NZ being "a new country" and how somehow that should equal "innovation" (twitter #spakl) I was starting to get very angry about the lack of representation of anything critical. (Hey NZ was a country with people before it got colonized by some white honkys ya kno) The lack of people outing (or even realising) their pakeha privilege is something my friends and I constantly struggle with. So it was inspiring to see how Caro tackles this, by working in collaboration and partnership with the community, coming in as a listener and earning respect through being gentle, by being her true self. Being gentle is a strength, it's a hard thing to do.

There was defiantly an Auckland daze vibe going on that I didn't really 'get' (being from down south). When Nat Cheshire spoke from Cheshire Architects the crowd went bizerk as he poetically but rationally detailed his journey of envisioning an Auckland for and into the future.

Overall, #spakl was exhausting, yet edible, like having a whole box of chocolates to yourself, even if you don't like the peppermint ones. Sure, I didn't really learn anything from Semi-Permenant. The only advice given was 'Say YES to everything' 'drink all the time!' and 'work your ass off' these three things are what make designers mad, that's nothing new. But it was cool to get some inspiration, and reinforce that yes, anything and everything, is possible - and is happening all the time. There is no end point to our selves as designers, only progression - a constant development - design as akin to life itself.

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