Arup Associates have just won the Beyond the Hive Competition, sponsored by the City of London, to design a Bug Hotel for its parks. This one encourages the presence of stag beetles, solitary bees, butterflies, moths, spiders, lacewings and ladybirds by combining all these species’ required environments into one.
The ‘hotel’ consists of a vertical wall with cells divided into a voronoi pattern, where detritus and materials can be stuffed to creaqte the perfect environments for a wide variety of insects. The sides of the hotel are accessible to moths, and the top can absorb rain water through planting.
Tomorrow is the RSA’s AGM; the house will be full of RSA Fellows here to discuss the organisation, its future and the new charter. We’ve decided to shamelessly exploit the presence of all these experts being in a single place on a single day by running a series of brain-picking seminars.
I’m doing one with the excellentConnected Communities project which gives me a chance to start talking about something that I’ve been working on for a little while now. Back in the spring I was researching the subject of artists working in productive gardens, talking to people like Fallen Fruit, Amy Francheschini – and more recently Clare Patey of Feast. There is a huge enthusiasm around for this stuff. How can we create new ways to garden? How can we create new places to garden?
That connected with an idea that was put forward by a Fellow and so we’re now on the verge of launching our own project, Rethinking the community garden. The recession has meant that there is a lot of land – particularly building land – which is on hold in cities right now. How can we change the idea of gardens as permanent fixtures to something that’s more flexible, something that maximises land use throughout a city turning semi-derelict land into an asset?
We want to attach that to Fellow’s expertise and experience to make the project come to life in New Cross Gate, South London, an area that Connected Communities are already working in. If you are an RSA Fellow and you want to come along to this, or to any of the other seminars, it’s not to late to register. We need bright heads to brainstorm along the the following lines:
How can we persuade landowners to let us use small parcels of land for one, two or more years, and leave them confident that there’s not going to be local resentment when they need them back?
How can we persuade gardeners to pour their work into a piece of land they might only have for a single growing season?
How can we help the users design gardens in a practical way on land that may only be available for 18 months?
Research shows that successful garden projects are often run by a small group of people. How can we make a successful garden project that engages a wide slice of the local population?
Thanks to Harmen de Hoop for the use of Grow Your Own Vegetables – again.
I have been spending time in the presence of cyber-dystopians.
Last Tuesday I went to great talk by Evgeny Mozorov at the RSA, to hear Mozorov pour scorn on the idea that the internet is the harbinger of a new democratic personal freedom. He suggests that totalitarians and corporate astroturfers alike love it when we unthinkingly accept the internet as a force for good; it makes their work so much easier for them. Institutions are weakened by social media? Bah! It strengthens their hegemony.
I went to Art of Digital, hosted by FACT in Liverpool, where a great line up includedAndrew Keen rehearsing the thesis he put forward in Cult of the Amateur, namely that the internet is destroying the underpinnings of our culture by making conventional cultural transmission valueless, destroying newspapers and publishers and replacing erudition with Wikipedia. (Actually he’s moved on a little since then – but I’ll come to that in a minute.)
It’s true we have lived in the age of technological positivism for a little too long. When I freelanced for Wired it seemed almost heretical to suggest that some of the things we were writing about might not actually ever happen. A little corrective to that relentless utopianism is no bad thing. However the new public speaking circuit – something which has blossomed unexpectedly in the virtual age – naturally magnifies the extremes of the argument. You’re more likely to be listened to if you say something is either brilliant or crap.
While it’s true that the internet is altering culture fundamentally, maybe it’s time we started being a little more systematic about finding out exactly what it is that’s really going on.Matthew Taylor said this in his blog yesterday; any change produces results that are likely to be both positive and negative; we need to start understanding what they are. So what does this mean for the arts?
The Art of Digital strand has, naturally, been looking into that. I’ve argued elsewhere that arts institutions don’t fully understand the unfolding changes that are taking place – and the various consultants speaking earlier in the day, who didn’t go much further than describe social media as much more than a particularly whizzy new marketing tool, weren’t doing a great deal to change that outlook.
It was, paradoxically, Andrew Keen who pointed out one silver lining for the arts – and one that is going to be undoubtedly very powerful in years to come. We live in a world in which almost anything can now be copied for free. As the financial value of anything that can be copied disappears, so too the cultural value becomes undermined. For instance, recorded music, one of the greatest forms of the 20th century, is in a major slump from which it will never recover. Sure, there is great music still being made, but it’s a lot harder to get paid for it, and as a consequence, its cultural heft is drifting away. We are unlikely to see a cultural force as strong as, say, The Beatles – whose greatest music was never performed live – ever again.
But – sticking with music – we’re living in a golden age for performing artists. Never have as many people flocked to live concerts. The recession hasn’t even begun to put a kink in box office receipts.
As the value of the reproducible declines, the value of the irreproducible rises. A DVD of a performance is relatively worthless. Actually being there is invaluable. We are becoming a culture that wants the experience, as much as the content itself. Keen’s idea is an extension of Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. What we want is the “aura” of the work of art, to use Benjamin’s word – and in the digital age, that aura becomes the uniqueness of a single performance. We want the now. We want the one-off. We want to be able to say we were present.
Not only does this mean that all arts that have that specialness of performance, from music, to live arts, to drama, can expect to thrive, but exisiting art forms seem to be changing too – and in the oddest way. For the last decade anybody who’s written a book knows you’re likely to make more money giving readings of the work than you ever receive in royalties. The literary festival – quite the most ungainly of arts events – has become a monster. Even the most tepid reader of their own work gets a look in. Crowds, who more likely than not haven’t even read the book, pay the price of a new book to hear the author read a small fraction of it. The “aura” becomes all important.
Of course that doesn’t mean that the world won’t still be full of struggling actors…
What happens when real life interrupts your fantasy life? Artist Dirk Fleischmann was an active user of the virtual world Second Life when his concerns about the impact of his presence there led him to establish a real-life farm project in the Phillippines. Out of that experience, the RSA Arts & Ecology Centrecommissioned Fleischmann to make a piece of work would address the online the community. Go to RSA Arts & Ecology