Saturday, May 15, 2010

McLuhan in Europe

As always, this year's FutureEverything festival (previously Futuresonic) has been a cornucopia of delights - and has taken up the best part of my week. They used to call it the "urban Glastonbury" and like that festival it's impossible to go to everything, and you either have a choice: pick out the highlights or go with the flow. Given that one of the themes this year was called "Serendipity City" I've mostly done the second. With art, music, debate and more it's good to sample different aspects of the week.

The main art exhibition, "Serendipity City" took place at the new Hive building in the Northern Quarter and hosted Wednesday's launch. The work there was an interdisciplinary pleasure, and one of the few exhibitions I've been to which really addresses urbanism in a genuinely challenging way. With the city's decision to close Urbis and turn it into the National Football Museum, this international exhibition was a reminder of the contradiction's in the city's policy and vision. Football, boringly everpresent everywhere else in the city, was not in the building. Along with the "Contents May Vary" group show in the basement bar of the Palace Hotel, the art strand this year has been a real highlight - I'm only sorry I won't have time to go to the artists/curators talks this afternoon at Castlefield gallery. Contemporary art remains a real strength of the North West, and these temporary shows and venues are, in the absence of more permanent gallery spaces, vital.

The various conference strands - settled on the Contact Theatre - have been challenging, both on a technical level (Glonet's conference strand had performers and speakers from different parts of the world beaming in via the internet) and an intellectual one. The festival has grown to such a result that the conference lacked a single centre - a keynote - but instead had several parallel tracks: opendata, imagination, next generation broadband connectivity - that probably added to the festival's reach, but may have diluted the sense of community. For once, I found myself wandering from session to session a little randomly. That said the panel discussions in particular were very strong - with the exception of a poorly focussed Future of Music session on Thursday afternoon - looking at new creativity, and models for opensource participation.

Yesterday afternoon also had a collaboration with Transmediale in Berlin, with the opening McLuhan in Europe lecture.Darren Wersher made explicit the links between Marshall Mcluhan's thinking and the 20th century avant garde, particularly Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis. Mcluhan's thinking around media and communication - particularly his provocative "probes" (like "The medium is the message") were referred to by Wersher as "weapons-grade aphorisms" - owe much to the avant garde literature that inspired him as an English literature professor. Wersher's premise was that with a poets being consigned to contemporary irrelevance, this ignorance of Mcluhan's sources in much of the new media veneration of him, leaves a large gap. He talked of the OuLiPo inspired Canadian avant gardeist Christian Bok whose book Eunoia is now being followed by a desire to embed poetry within the DNA of an organism. It was a somewhat thin audience at the end of a busy two days for what was probably the strongest talk of the conference. As possibly the only poet in the audience, I found it a fascinating discussion that took in scientific developments, the 20th century avant garde, and deep, profound questions about language and art. Coincidentally it will feed into a small talk I'm giving on Monday at Madlab about the OuLiPo as part of "interesting Monday." Wersher's lecture topped off a great day of mental overstimulation.

Futureeverything continues this weekend, with more playful elements such as today's free unconference and workshops, Playeverything - whilst the music and art program are both carrying on.

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