I have been fortunate enough to get the opportunity to visit the BETT show for the fist time in a few years and engage again that ferment of the commercial, theoretical, practice-based and aspirational.
It also meant I got to stay in Stratford for the first time in a long time, after being based here as a student in 1986 – 1989, then living around here into the early nineties. If I wanted an awe inspiring example of the future drift discussed at BETT, I found it here!
From the relatively small, navigable town I landed in 30 years ago, (more, cripes!) the present brought a vision of a Bladerunnered transformation, I was thrust into this as if falling into a future world. Funny how memories remain as solid space, uncorrupted by the reality of what happens to those spaces. I knew, of course, of the changes brought about by the 2012 Olympic transformation of 2012. But being here, feeling the change, walking the spaces and seeing the modernist vistas of the current Stratford was incredible.
Not a nostalgic meander this, but a recognition of the speed of change, the dramatic potential of ideas, turned into collaboration, finding an outlet, building a vision, then boom, it’s all here. No matter how intricate the changes experienced by individuals, as a temporal accumulation of atoms, the world about us is so fluid. What we dream, of fear, is so close. It smells different here now, feels different and makes you look differently, upwards and (surprisingly) into wide open spaces rather than in narrowed streets and thoroughfares.
A massive shopping centre, a lot of commercial, a dramatic change in pace and purpose. To live here now must be so different to living here then, as I remember it.
Yet I found some small links, some beautiful still surviving and flourishing remnants of the past. Stratford Theatre Royal is here, and joined by a picture house and an arts centre. Brilliant vibe in the coffee shop of the art centre (new to me, but the staff told me with awe that they knew people had worked here ten years ago, they wowed at that – I have clothes from then). As write this, a vibrant hubub of children on a theatre visit surrounds me. The excitement, the energy, reminds me of how important this is, especially important when looking at how technology is discussed in education. The visceral, the community aspect, is so important in maintaining the infrastructure of the local, the experiences of being together, doing things together. It is not that technology is an opposite, but that it has to be integrated, part of, not instead of. The art here, the people here, describe the work, the art, the performances with love and pride. Past is gone, future not yet, here and now is always most significant. That the cultural hub has maintained itself and grown, been a site of creativity and coming together is uplifting and inspiring. I appreciate that the BETT show is in part a trade show, as well as an ideas share, but here the lack of ‘sell’ is massively important. It ‘sells’ by promoting the people that use it, that make it, that form it through doing and being. It is not the nuts and bolts of things but the spirit of the people that makes this place happen – and I am sure it this that is the lifeblood that has helped it thrive alongside the gigantic investment that surround it and that have transformed the landscape here.
Over in the docklands, a massive transformation in itself, the BETT show seems to indicate something similar going on, a reflection of the blend between the tech and the spirit, the hardware/ software and spirit of life that is important. To recognise these as a combination is essential. Stephen Heppell gave a great keynote where he described the value of technology, but at every turn and in every project, it was the humanness of the enterprise that was most significant. Prof. Heppell said, in an aside really, all these projects are more or less the same, thay are all about the bridge between people and technology.
This I found so crucial, the recognition of a combination of influences and purposes. maybe we can never live independently of a commercial infrastructure. It permeates the world and moves to an idealised past nirvana without such things is pretty much without foundation, or precedent. The drive has to be to always reassert the human, be a part of that, help enrich our planet with our own humanity, creativity, experiences.
that is what COOCs is all about. Not about being adept as a whizz of technology but a space to meet others and make a real world change with a blended appreciation of the environment in which we live.
In my last year here, I read Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting. I loved the idea of a book written that reflected regional and individualised ways of speaking, a recognition of a me in literature I thought then. All things possible, lives similar to my own, my friends. This went on to be a film, directed by Danny Boyle, who then went onto create the Olympic ceremonies that bracketed the 2012 Olympics. Lives interwoven, made great by creative zeal and courage to be individual. Circumstance and coming together made for massive successes by the writers, actors, directors.
My own travails much less glamorous perhaps, but we are all part of this web of life and it is superb to see that creative endeavour and participation become the most visible markers, the brightest lights along chains of time. COOCs is but one aspect of things but hopefully in future years we can see this as a space that always come back to the creative human spirit.