Notes from a keynote: REMIX 2014

In the deluge of conferences and talk shops - Remix is one of the few I wouldn't do without.

Sitting (lonely) at the junction of culture, technology and entrepreneurship it brings together naturally creative, curious and organizationally capable people. I find it refreshing and challenging (and a tiny bit chaotic). It reminded me why I love the arts. 

I gave a 20 minute keynote at Remix's Sydney conference in May 2014. And listened to some fabulous speakers.  Hopefully soon I will be able to embed a video of the talk here.

In the meantime here are the notes from the talk:
(NB these are far more structured and bear only a passing resemblance to my usual chaos of a delivery).

I am part of Google’s Creative Lab, based in Sydney. We work with cultural organizations to enable artists, writers, directors and curators to look at interesting ways in which we can use the web, and the tools of contemporary society to make art.

I’ve been pretty lucky to be involved in some fantastic projects, working with remarkable people while I’ve been at Google so this is a sort of introduction to the last 7 years.

So, starting at the left (I really ought to remake this slide chronologically.. ).

  • Space Lab: We built a online/offline science experiment in the basement of the London Science Museum for a year;
  • Life in a Day: we made a film with Ridley Scott, Kevin McDonald and 80,000 film-makers
  • PLAY: We worked with the Guggenheim to curate the best 25 videos we could find on YouTube and had New Yorkers queuing around the block for three days
  • BUILD: We made a Chrome experiment out of Google Maps and HTML5 Lego bricks that let kids, (and adults) around the world build lego models on a giant lego Australia.
  • BINOCULARS: We put a pair of binoculars underneath the Opera House that looked out on other iconic World Heritage Sites via Google StreetView.
  • Hangouts in History - allowing kids to talk to famous people from history on a hangout.
  • I was fortunate to be involved at the start of the Google Art Project, which has blossomed from it’s early experiments - to become an online home to hundreds of galleries and collections around the world. Allowing kids from Mumbai to Caracas to visit the world’s great art galleries and see images in such high resolution that you just can’t believe.
  • SPACE LAB: We ran a competition for kids around the world to devise experiments that would be conducted on the space station
  • YTSO: One of our first projects was the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, where we auditioned musicians from all walks of life, and all around the world, and took them, firstly to Carnegie Hall for a one off concert in 2009 - but more spectacularly to the opera House, here in Sydney two years later, where their performance was watched online by around 35 million people.
  • Midsummer NIght’s Dream: with the RSC which we will talk about in a minute

We could talk about all of these, but they are in the past, and we’ve only got 20 minutes to talk about the future instead.  It is all a little difficult to describe - so I made a short video about where we have come from and why I think cultural organisations are the right partners for us [Google] to be working with.

This is a line.

I’m going to try and explain why I’m interested in all these sorts of ideas.

Most art forms, literature, theatre, fine arts seek to take you away from where you are and stimulate a response that is not rational to your physical context. To create a virtual reality. Hence the seamless white gallery space, or the silent library. Even cave paintings were meant to evoke a dream state.  

If culture is a kind of “virtual reality” it’s quite important not to get caught up in how you create that state of mind; Art is what you do to the viewer, not how you did it.

Which brings us to the main point of this talk. We are in the middle of a paradigm shift
Not just the internet. That’s small scale. Not phones or tablets or “Google”.
We are moving from a time when information was static, held in time and place in books, or on stages or images.
We are moving towards a world where information is entirely fluid.  Where anyone can know everything about anything anywhere.


we are still only a small way along this journey.

With our screens and gadgets. I think we will look back on this time as a very clumsy phase.

It’s not about how we experience the world today, or 10 years ago. Or 10 years from now. Online, on devices, we are always on. Not that this is a good thing or a bad thing. That’s not the point. That will change.  Just understand that we are heading towards that future.

So what does this mean?

Well actually that idea of fluidity caused me a bit of a crisis.

How were the next generation ever going to learn to think? If they never learn to read a map, or a guidebook; if they never need to use an encyclopedia, or pretend to have read a book at book club. If they bring their own devices because that means they don’t have to spell…(!)

How do we ever evolve from grunting and liking if the internet is going to do it all for us?

Well - fortunately Einstein helped me out. Perhaps not me, but in this simple phrase he let me see that the next generation don’t need to learn. They will swim along on top of the learning that we did for them.

So if you have a passing interest in sub-saharan witchcraft from the 16th century, or knitting, or fluid dynamics or ballet and quantum physics. The fact that I don’t know anything about any of these things is irrelevant - I can pick up ideas, take fragments of knowledge and bang them together and new, unexpected particles will fly out. Just like at CERN.

That idea - of banging ideas together - is almost a definition of ‘creativity’ - I believe it will be a very creative age.

In the past it would have taken time, and commitment, and energy to understand a stockinette stitch pattern. From today all I need to do is ‘ask’. 

We are entering the age of “return on collision”.
Collisions of knowledge, data, and sentiment that will transform our world.

Passion and curiosity are more potent than knowledge.

So if we can get a grip on that idea that we are on a trajectory from a world of static information to fluid information.

That the next generation - the new audience - will not understand information as you do, as something to be looked up, or visited, or found. or SEARCHED FOR….

They will understand information the way you understand power or electricity.
To them information is just a swipe, a gesture or a voice command away.

The farmer in his field thought power was a horse, or the wind.
We think power is a light-switch, or a button. it just works.

Similarly we think information is in books, libraries, newspapers, even on servers. 
The next generation will think it is just … there.


The best art, theatre, dance, of today - will be seen from the future.

This is the transition phase that our artists will show us back to ourselves - and it will feel perfectly recognizable to us - it will be multi-linear, time-agnostic, fragmented and discordant, bitty, high-speed, non-linear storytelling.
At best our work will be seen as ‘of its time’.
To make interesting work you need to use tools and paradigms that will make sense to that audience; i.e. your children, not yourselves or your bosses.

Our reluctance to embrace this is fascinating. We want our art created the way we like to consume it
Maybe the future is just too scary.


It’s great to do the basics well - creating fantastic websites, running communities or creating data-based art works. But I believe that by experimenting with digital tools at the creative core of culture we can transform existing cultural practice without losing the tradition, values and intangible qualities that make the arts so valuable to us all.


... Shakespeare.

I work with a lot of different groups, the Australian Ballet, the Opera House, the ABC, the Powerhouse but this morning I’m going to focus on some theatrical projects.

I’ve noticed Australian conference like foreign speakers - well I’m happy to say that everything I’m going to show today is Australian, made by Australians, and, in this case, exported back to the UK.

This project started with the RSC asking me to write an essay on Shakespeare - Something about what would happen if you invented theatre today, in the 21st century, with the internet?

A year later we created a full performance of Shakespeare with a secondary cast online who talked about the play on social media from within the reality of the play.



We made two films about this - the first film assumed everyone would understand what we did - that the online and the offline were the same production....

So then we had to make a second film to explain what we did:


One of the great challenges of these projects is identifying the magic...
and then not breaking it.

The Shakespeare project was a huge success on a number of levels was also a huge learning curve for me. I felt exhilarated but also determined to try and share what we learnt, as much as celebrating the project itself - and we continue to try to do that although it is sometimes hard to find a way to share the learnings of your experiment. On this occasion I wrote the blog post for a completely different Lab.

On the train back to London I wrote 5000 words on everything that broke. On everything that failed. For example the importance of physical chemistry and the effect that devices have on that suspension of disbelief. Most of those learnings have been turned back into a new project which I will talk about in a minute. 

Publishing your findings is what turns your project into “an experiment” and we can all benefit from that. We don’t do it enough. In fact there isn’t even an established way to share learnings - even though that is the only real way to move forwards. Everything else is just show-boating.

All of which led to more shakespeare:

As I have explained - I work with Google’s products and the web to see what is possible. Not what is effective, and we learn and try again. I love working in the arts because people come with an open mind and less of an agenda.

It is a place where there is the most opportunity to boldly try out new ideas and formats.
Embrace that. Don’t worry about it being good, or people liking it. That’s not the point.

Last week, we celebrated the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth with a series of experiments. Some worked brilliantly others were a little more chaotic and experimental but we had a fantastic time and I am very proud of Grumpy Sailor Creative and Bell Shakespeare for embracing that chaos, that energy and having fun. Without brave people in brave organisations nothing good happens.

This is how that looked:


So this isn’t a project yet.

In fact my dev team would be horrified to know I was showing it - but I'm fascinated by the tech we keep in our pockets - at a consumer level - this uses Google’s Photosphere - an amazing bit of technology buried in the Photo app. We made a mock-up that feels  like StreetView crossed with a Radio Play crossed with a choose your own adventure. 

The point is - don’t invent the technology, don’t build the hardware, and please don’t wait for Google Glass expecting it to be some magical fits-all solution to your needs. There's not much emerging tech for artists or museums (we aren’t a $billon market) but  you can already find what’s out there and hack it. It’s remarkably easy. Dream; find a geek, buy him coffee; combine dreams. 

The next Stage

Finally I’d like to share a project that I am working on at the moment.

It requires (and continues to require) astonishing conviction and belief from Lee and Simon and the wonderful team at Griffin Theatre


(it’s interesting isn’t it - normally you expect the big corporate with the money to come along and be the risk-averse ones! I’m afraid if you invite us into the room we are way more likely to terrify our collaborators, and if you can scare us back then we know we’re going to do something special.)

Anyway - this is a pitch film - you’ll see it is cobbled together from the first film I showed. There’s a reason for that - we don’t have any money either! However it  allows us, as with so many other projects, to talk about complex ideas without spending money. Or at least we hope it explains what we think is exciting about the future, for theatre, for ballet, for film, for culture around the world.

[ALAS I don’t have the rights for this film - so you will have to wait until we are ready to show you]

ANd then I conclude… (make something up that pulls the ideas together and makes it all sound coherent and sensible, instead of absurd and vague)