Wednesday, 30 April 2014

TEDx Sydney 2014

Sometimes a day isn't enough. How can I summarise the amazing experience that is being in the audience for TEDx Sydney 2014?

Firstly, a few words about the event for the uninitiated: TED originally stood for Technology, Entertainment and Design. It started as a conference in California in 1984, a not-for profit enterprise asking the world’s leading thinkers and doers to speak for 18 minutes and share their 'Ideas Worth Spreading'.

TEDx developed from there all around the world in local, self-organised events, bringing people together to share a TED-like experience with speakers and performers. TEDx Sydney is a day of ideas, storytelling, creativity and innovation. It's a day to foster the community, for conversation and debate.

There is an atmosphere of kinship, of 'we're in this together'ness. You can palpably feel the energy and love of 2,300 people in the audience, around 200 in the sold-out event downstairs and about 50 satellite events. The hunger for ideas is breathtaking.

It gives me such hope for humanity to look at the faces around me and know that we are all here to listen to inspirational people who - in one way or the other - want to serve the community, improve the life of their fellow beings.

The day is divided into four sections:


There isn't really one single performance that stands out - I'm blown away by different speakers for different reason.

There is the very first speaker, Markus Zusak, author of the bestseller The Book Thief, who delivers a poignant speech about the benefits of failure as a writer and a human being. He is funny, humble and self-deprecating.

There is the dry and matter-of-fact former soldier and diplomat David Kilcullen who works with communities in conflict zones to help them take over control in a participatory approach, dealing with crime and poverty in rapidly growing, overstretched urban sprawls.

Judy and Tim Sharp, down-to-earth mother and 25 year-old autistic son have everyone in tears after their appearance on stage. Tim is a talented artist who has created Laser Beak Man, a colourful, funny and quirky super hero who likes to take things quite literally. Think Barbie Queue or picking up chicks...

Oliver Percovich is founder of Skateistan, a grassroots project that started in Kabul, which teaches skating and general education to thousands of boys and girls in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa. He is very nervous, but incredibly passionate about his cause. His speech is a good example of what is so satisfying about TED: These are often not polished performers, but real people with a real passion to share a great idea.

And then there are the musical performances - the whimsical beauty of Linsey Pollack creating an orchestra out of a carrot, a garden hose and a feather duster. Or the breathtaking performance of Flamenco dancer Johnny Tedesco with the ensemble Bandaluzia that sizzles with his understated sexual energy and incredible stage presence. There is composer Nigel Westlake together with singer Lior who delivers the sublime and haunting Avinu Malkeinu out of their song cycle 'Compassion'. And finally Megan Washington, who gives a touching and vulnerable speech about her stutter, followed by her flawless and beautiful singing.

And finally the food. Oh, the glorious food. As Jill Dupleix says, "At TEDx Sydney we don't just do lunch". We sit down at long tables to nourishing, beautiful soups, curries, herbs, salads, hand churned butter and fresh bread with ingredients that are sourced from local refugee initiatives. The wine and beer is specially commissioned and locally produced for the day. The quality on such a large scale is astonishing and just so damn pleasurable. It seems like a fitting metaphor for the whole day - done with love, pride, passion and compassion.

What am I taking away from this day? Change is possible. Do something. Be open. I laughed out loud, I cried, I was speechless, excited, touched, inspired, and I can honestly say I enjoyed every moment. Bring on TEDx Sydney 2015.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The 19th Biennale of Sydney - MCA

I find art calming and invigorating at the same time. Strolling through the Museum of Contemporary Art to explore their display for the 19th Biennale of Sydney a few weekends ago, I'm wondering: What exactly is it about art that makes me so happy? Is it being surrounded by like-minded people, silently connected through the love of art? Or being alone with my thoughts, aimlessly musing about this art work or the other, making mental connections?

My first stop is a dark room with a wall-to-wall video screening by Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist. It's titled Mercy Garden Retour Skin (What is it with obscure titles for art works by the way? I guess it's supposed to draw you in, make you curious. Or I'm missing some vital cultural reference here. Clearly, this needs to be addressed in a separate blog post...).

People are lying on bean bags that are scattered throughout the room. I join them and let the atmospheric music and pictures wash over me. It's a loop of lush, organic, hyper-coloured plants, grains of sand, swirling water... I feel myself drifting off, being carried along by the vivid images when I notice people around me getting restless. There are a few embarrassed giggles, and I realise that what I took for a floating sea plant under water is actually a shrivelled penis gently swaying in the soft current. Which explains the reference to nudity at the entrance I was wondering about. It's light-hearted and sensual art at its best:


The next room is the opposite - brightly lit and angular forms. Jim Lambie's work is titled Zobop (obviously). He has covered the whole gallery floor in vividly coloured striped vinyl tape. The result is striking:

I almost walk past this next neon installation by Polish artist Hubert Czeropok. He is quoting the Joker in the Batman film The Dark Knight. The sign depicts a darkly comical message about the fine line between sanity and madness:

Continuing, I enter a bright, austere room where artist Roni Horn has assembled pale blue glass castings that look like small pools filled to the brim with water. It is incredibly tempting to disturb the surface of this still mirror, and a vigilant museum attendant keeps reminding newcomers not to touch the fragile art work. This is beautiful and ethereal:

The last exhibit reveals another thing about art that makes me happy: it's enjoying the sheer aesthetic pleasure of gazing at a thing of beauty. In that sense it's like poetry or music - it calms my inner turmoil. I guess you take whatever you need from art in the exact moment you experience it. And that is good for the soul.