It’s not a good sign when you’ve just hosted an event with an international celebrity and no one sticks around for the after party. When the “hand-picked crowd” walked out at the end of The Vivid Ideas Forum that had featured the festival’s creative director Ignatius Jones, artist Justene Williams, software developer Renee Priston, and “a man who needs no introduction – will.i.am”, a bitch fest was soon unleashed in the women’s bathroom.

“I got a babysitter for that?” seethed a digital producer.

“I would have at least expected some discussion on creative collaboration but that was a joke,” lamented another.

will.i.am had been flown into Australia especially for the Vivid Sydney festival. His involvement was a little vague, but the gist was that he collaborated with the DJs, artists and coders to create the interactive light projection on the MCA extension. DJ Keets, software developer Renee Priston, and Sydney artist Justene Williams had each designed elements of the light projection to be directed by the audience. Using sound, light and music, the audience’s movements and interaction created the piece that was reflected across the building, with sound reverberating around it.

The discussion started out relatively well, with Justene explaining how the piece came together from her perspective, but there was always one focus in the room, and it wasn’t the art, ideas or collaboration we were there to discuss.

“I looked out at the night’s sky – and I knew it was about light – and I was looking at the stars and thinking about them as constellations,” Justene began to explain.

“And I was thinking of early astronomers and how they [researched] the stars in the sky. And then I just started thinking about will.i.am because he’s the star – it’s not often a local Sydney artist gets to meet someone like will.i.am – so it was just on that level I was working on.”

will.i.am praised the coding artists and designers of today as the artists of tomorrow, but his rant slowly strayed and made the most of artistic license.

“The coders are important designers. Why don’t we acknowledge those coders?” he asked.

“I think we have to appreciate intellectual property. So when you think of a toilet seat – when I say I gotta take a crap, I neglect the person that created the crapper … Until we appreciate and recognise intellectual property is when we will celebrate coders and make them the next revolution.”

“We acknowledge Mr Thomas Crapper for making the toilet. But who is Mr Piano Guy? Who is Mr Harp Mother Fucker? … Why don’t we know who these guys are?”

Mr i.am discussed technology as art using his theories of “old school and new school”. According to him, everything goes out of date so quickly now. Which is why he believes technology and specifically light installations should be accepted as art mediums like more traditional art forms such as sculpture and music.

“Literally, you walk down the street and you see billboards and that’s old school,” he began to explain.

“You drive down your neighbourhood and you see a building that’s painted, but a painted building doesn’t really show the beauty at night – that’s old school as well. The way that Sydney’s lit up when the sun hits it, that’s old school too because we know it won’t look like that at night. So the way a city is designed is pretty much old school.

“And then when you’re walking down Sydney Vivid it’s a new school approach because there’s light projections on the buildings. But it’s still old school compared to what it’s going to look like in the future …

“So right now, this is real cool, but in the future, it’s totally different.”

His perspectives on technology and art were nothing ground breaking, and yet because it came from him specifically it was revered by the panel as enlightening.

“Will, this thing you brought up about old school and new school is really, really interesting,” praised Ignatius Jones.

will.i.am flickered between moments of insight – “Culture is as much about the fleeting experiments as it is about the permanent installations, and that’s why we need to embrace technology [as art],” to moments when you felt like you were listening to the words of a stoned teen marvelling at reality, making pointless statements – “When I see the light projections on buildings – that’s just the beginning of what light is going to be like in the future. [The Vivid projections] are not about impressive lighting – it’s about taking it to the next level. You know what ‘level’ is? It’s ‘level’ spelt backwards. And I’m pretty sure you didn’t even realise that. It’s fuckin’ ‘level’ backwards!”

At times, he made some good points, but the tangents he took showed that maybe he didn’t really know what he was there to discuss – and neither did the audience. According to the invite, this was supposed to be about ‘creating interactive collaboration’. But asides from a description of how the panelists each contributed to the light installation affront the MCA, there was no mention of working with other artists on interactive creations.

His points about love as a frequency and quotes from his own lyrics – “that’s so two thousand and late” – could be forgiven due to jet lag having just flown in from London. But there seemed some dissatisfaction in the audience that the event was missing a major element – ideas.

The proof is in the numbers, and if people want to hang around and discuss the event and art installation, then surely that illustrates some kind of success. But when there are only a few small groups in the bar 20 minutes after the event’s finished, you can’t help but think that something was missing. Substance and direction perhaps? Or maybe the celebrity took the spotlight away from the ideas and the people that never needed the star power.

More will.i.am quotes

What do you see for the future of interactive interfaces?

“Right now we’re in transition of yesterday and tomorrow – I don’t mean that poetically. Literally, you walk down the street and you see billboards and that’s old school; you drive down your neighbourhood and you see a building that’s painted, but a painted building doesn’t really show the beauty at night – that’s old school as well. The way that Sydney’s lit up when the sun hits it, that’s old school too because we know it won’t look like that at night. So the way a city is designed is pretty much old school. And then when you’re walking down Sydney Vivid it’s a new school approach because there’s light projections on buildings. But it’s still old school compared to what it’s going to look like in the future – sharing information, gathering information, and interacting in a city landscape that is enhanced by light projection. So right now, this is real cool but in the future it’s totally different. The fact is, it’s just as important as the Empire State Building and in the future all the architecture that it took to make the Empire State Building, in 2025 the projection of lights and lasers and the code that goes with it – how you manipulate it, share and interact with it – is just as important.”

Is the fact that art that’s made with ones and zeros made it any less of art than say a painting or music?

“That’s just limitations of a person’s conditioning… A coder is an artist in my eyes. A coder is *sound*. Man, I can’t even find the words. It’s just, like, dope-ness. To me code is the new next. Because the next is brand new right now. But it takes discipline. [Discovering coding] is like pirates finding the Carrabin. Coding is like so fresh … Coding is the next frontier.”

“I think we have to appreciate intellectual property. So when you think of a toilet seat – when I say I gotta take a crap, I neglect the person that created the crapper … until we appreciate and recognise intellectual property is when we will celebrate coders and make them the next revolution.”

In response to DJ Keet’s comment that 15 year-olds take to the installation so effortlessly and instantly know how it works

“Ok, so we’re in 2012 and they’re 15 so they were born in 1998. In 1998 they’ve been conditioned on what the future’s going to be, because the future that you can think of if you’re over 30 has been dictated by the 1920s interpretation. So if I told you what the future’s going to look like you’d think flying cars, robots and fuckin’ aliens – that’s the future to a lot of people. But that’s not the future that’s the past – that’s 1920 – that’s the futurism perspective. If I asked you what the future was going to be like you couldn’t think of anything – because the future we’ve all been waiting for happened a long time ago. And these 15 year olds who pick up an iPad with no instructions – this is a new device that can transform the way we look at the world that has no manual for it – that’s because these kids who are five and 15 are the ones who are going to invent the next future. It ain’t us. Our future is dictated by the 1920’s – since The Jetsons!”

Explaining his rise to fame and which nations grew to know him

“In 1998 it was NZ, and in 1999 it was Australia, and then in 2002 it was London in a massive way. So that’s the order. And then America was 2006. I’m sorry – two thousand and late. That was a lyric from my song.”

“Love is like harmonious energy, and it makes C collaborate with G when you’re doing chords. So it’s all frequencies. So love is just things that are harmonious with each other.”

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