Friday, 30 January 2009

"You'll never be better than a spider"

Public lecture time. Very cool format – a ‘conversation’ between Richard Wentworth (artist, curator and teacher based at the Ruskin School of Fine Art in Oxford) and Mark Lythgoe (Director of the Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging at University College London and prolific science communicator). 

The audience were distinguished looking folk and I immediately felt like a scruffy pleb. I was sat next to a very smart looking woman who I promptly elbowed while taking off my coat. 

We were in an enormous hall usually reserved for graduation ceremonies. Right at the front, dead casual like (this was a conversation after all), were some brown leather arm chairs and a tiny projector screen.

Richard Wentworth kicked off by showing some photos. 

I would have said “this projector screen is too small for this room”. 

Richard Wentworth said, “we are defeated by the combination of pre-war confidence and modern technology”. 

This is why I am not an Oxford Professor of Fine Art. That and a few other reasons like being shit at art.

The conversation was about images like this one:

Since the mid 70s Richard Wentworth has been making a photographic documentary of aspects of everyday life that interest him in an ongoing project called ‘Making Do and Getting By’. 

It’s about the fact that we are not really very suited to our surroundings, but we ‘make do’. We innovate with whatever materials we have to hand, and we're really quite good at knowing exactly which chocolate bar will best silence an alarm, for example. 

If you grinned a bit at the alarm bell image, then that’s the bit that Mark Lythgoe is interested in. He wants to know what happens in the brain when people experience that warm satisfaction from seeing a piece of improvisation or ingenuity, an elegant bit of engineering. Just generally the recognition of brilliance in others.

He believes that it’s a form of reward, and there is growing evidence to suggest that in the same way memory consolidation is improved during stress (so we get better at avoiding those situations in future) it is also improved during reward and may be enhanced by positive emotion (so we are better at learning nice solutions to tricky problems). 

What Richard Wentworth does is record the things that make us feel like that; capturing a problem and a solution simultaneously. 

The way they were talking about coming at the same concept from completely different angles was ace. Especially as it developed into an in-depth discussion on the nature of creativity in which they both agreed that "maintaining awareness of the periphery is essential". Which I took to mean “it’s ok to fart about on the internet instead of doing actual work as it will somehow lead to increased flowing of creative juices”. I’m pretty sure that’s what they meant.


Allison said...

Ha! I think your conclusion to his talk.

Sounds quite intriguing though. I always love hearing artists speak about their craft.

Karen's Mouth said...

It was really interesting. I lost a lot of what Richard Wentworth said. He is the most quotable speaker ever, really beautiful sentences just littered his talk. I've no idea what most of it meant but it sounded awesome.

Someone asked him in their Oxford interview exactly what it was they were looking for, he replied "a little bent bit of wire inside you that no-one can see". Brilliant!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I think you captured the take-home message beautifully. And I think you may be right too, you'd be amazed at how much my offspring knows about just about everything, simply from farting about on the internet (as you so eloquently put it).

Karen's Mouth said...

The internet is truly amazing. However I think finding inspiration in unexpected places might involve actually leaving my desk once in a while. I feel I'm doing by bit with all my farting about though. ALSO Mark Lythgoe talked a bit about dreaming about solutions to problems. So basically farting about and sleeping! Result.