Last week, ThemePark ran the first of its real-world talks. Held at the ever inimitable Lantana, and bookended by an introduction from Adam Scott, Creative Director at FreeState, some rather splendid nosh, wine by the bucketful and a final pint across the road, it was, say all, a huge success.
What was? Well, these particular talks were sparked by a picture of a man in a tutu, with his dog, trying to gain entrance to a theme park.Each speaker was sent the picture, and asked to talk for 10 minutes - on whatever theme or topic he or she wished to speak.
Now, what follows is not each talk set down in its entirety. Rather, it is a rough corralling of core ideas, and as such fails completely to convey the depth of entertainment had - the patchwork of thinking that developed - over the course of the evening. It is just a synopsis, and only an interpretation. However, what it does do is give a flavour of the sheer borderlessness of the ideas explored: the need for fetishization; the gap occupied by pink; the opening of boxes not marked ‘like’; the strip show symbolism and final logic of the shop window; the return of the citizen. It shows five seriously alive brains, brains with hearts, and an audience to match.
Adam Scott: On In The ThemePark…, its point and what’s in store
‘…In the ThemePark... is an experimental series of real-world talks. Loosely curated, freewheeling conversations sparked by speaker specific postcards, In the ThemePark... is ideology free. It is not primarily about making money. It is not a manifesto. Held in small, intimate settings, five speakers are selected on the basis of their ability to provoke and inspire; members of the audience are hand-picked for their unwillingness to accept anything at face value; and the ensuing crowd-conversation is designed to create a springboard for further themes…’
It’s difficult to escape the idea that anything organised, public and rule bound, how ever loose, is something of a manifesto, but manifesto In The ThemePark… is not, a point illustrated by Scott’s image of the agenda-less joy of walking with toddlers. In this little fantastic world, a stick is a light-sabre, a hand-shaped stone, the means of magical communication. Objects are stepping stones to ideas, ideas to dreams, the only requisite being a sooped up imagination.
James Scroggs: On Being Against Lacquered Turds
James Scroggs - a marketer by training, and music entrepreneur - is the founder of HOOP Music
‘I think fetishising products, owning products and curating products is a mutual experience, I don’t think one should just rely on the retailer (…) It is about a retailer and the consumer meeting around a love of physical stuff.’
James Scroggs’s fetishization of a parcel box, empty now, but once the holder of an unspecified number of records, sent from America, is everything, he says, that today’s distribution-obsessed world of product making is not. Slightly used looking, its handwritten address and tickertape binding a clear indication that a real human was fully involved in its making, it feels cared for, loved, a one-off. A far cry from the upturned business models championed by the music industry, Scroggs’s box is neither lacquered nor turdish, the experience of receiving it being explicitly linked to the thought that went into both its production and distribution.
Against the grain, challenging so-called received wisdom, Scroggs’s beautifully designed products - the records, CDs, the sleeve art, the choice of materials – are distributed via carefully chosen and super well respected channels, and so pay respect, at every step, to the experiential significance of ‘real stuff.’ This, the caringly curated experience, returns the product to the essentialism of humans relating through meaningful objects, through non-turd things, things worth looking at, feeling, touching, listening to. It’s a journey, an adventure, a story about a thing and the people who love that thing - the maker, the seller, the consumer. It’s a different model. Completely. And the figures are stacking up in its favour.
Never one to sit on his laurels, Scroggs is off, next year, to America, to launch his loved products, through one shop. Repeat: one. shop.
Lisa Morgan: On the Disruptive Properties of Pink
Also known as The Pink Investigator, Lisa Morgan is an artist, lingerie designer and writer. She has recently published Design Behind Desire.
‘There is an element of chaos and disorientation that is entirely missing on the high street. It is all very packaged and sanitized, and it’s about perfection, and I think people are missing the wonder of something going wrong.’
Lisa Morgan’s journey through pinkness has, at its core, the idea that pink - the colour that is neither white nor red, the colour of blushes, of our orifices, of the gaps between one knowable thing and another – is pure desire, a desire that has nothing to do with thinking, and everything to do with the body. This pink is not a Victoria Secret pink. It is not ‘sexy’. It bears no resemblance to the artifice of high street capital, a pink whose signs are as easily deciphered as they are empty. Pink, in a Morgan sense, is flesh. It is animal. It is the state of becoming. It is sex. It is moving, body parts, bodily fluid, flux, flow, its objective a perpetual state of disruption. Pink is chaos. It is, in Deleursian speak, the war machine.
The high street, says Morgan, has lost its pinkness. Desire is packaged in shiny, manageable bites of baby food. Things go right, not wrong. Like death, like the wet chaos of our bodies, the real high street is under wraps. White and red are in control. We are not ‘engaging physically’ with products. The visceral nature of commerce - which is as much about lines of disruption as it is saving, building, portraying – needs reengaging.
‘We need to feel and enjoy our products. Bring back pink!’ Indeed.
James Whatley: On Speed, Paying for the Banal and the Positivity of Disruption
James Whatley is Senior Associate Director and Marketing & Advertising Digital Native at Ogilvy PR London.
‘The box that has no ‘likes’ is the box I want to open - to see if I’ll like it.’
A digitalised version of Edward de Bono’s thinking hats, a string of ‘thought starters’, James Whatley’s cashless whip along the high street sets out to question those conceptual stalwarts of the new marketplace: on-line dependability, new school relations, the supposed advances of on-off retail.
Thought #1. ‘Just think,’ he says, ‘if we had to pay to walk down the high street!’ Question your basic retail assumptions. Don’t look in the box that everyone ‘likes’. Don’t buy the most popular coat off the hanger, the one with the tag that says: Facebook’s all over me. Provocative, counter-intuitive, these thought starters are designed to make us look with fresh eyes at the commonplace, to rethink how, in the future, we might approach this very basic thing trade. Use technology. Add speed. Watch space grow - in the moment.
Thought#2. Imagine - he says, poking a stick at purses, wallets, our physical passports to consumption - the benefits of truly harnessing the likes of RDIF. Being digitally savvy is not about going off off-line. It’s not about buying a £2000 sofa with your phone, on a bus, on the way home. Rather, it’s being in the high street, there, touching the thing, but using technology to stretch the moment, to create a different, invigorated space.
So, use the digital to enhance real face-to-face experiences. Be a busker with an Oyster card point. Be disruptive. Expect surprise, the pop-up, a brand new - technology powered, boxfresh - high street. And ask interesting questions. Always.
Jeremy Hutchison: On the Endgame of the Shop Windowpane
Jeremy Hutchinson is a conceptual artist. Awarded the Barto dos Santos Award 2011, he has recently exhibited at Saatchi New Sensations.
'He (the rioting looter) is not an uprising against rampant capitalism…He is the ultimate endgame of the window… the over-performing consumer.'
Interested fundamentally in the nature of desire, as mediated by that visor on the crash helmet of capitalism, the shop window, Jeremy Hutchinson’s forensic dissection of the symbolic nature of glass in the marketplace sees the clear and dignified lines of modernism trounced by the fragmenting and smashing effects of latter day materialism. How so?
Well, argues Hutchinson, the good old days, when buildings were art, and glass was an eye into the heart of art, were not, after all, the good old days. They just seemed so: because the shop window has never been anything but the refraction, reflection and magnification of the inherent confusion of that lustful being, the high street shopper. Like Wittgenstein’s duck-rabbit analogy, that game-sketch in which – conceptually – you know it’s a drawing of both animals, but can only ever physically see one and then other, so the shop windowpane is that cheating eye, at one moment the mirror of your lusting self, and then, its goodies sighted, the end of another desparate rainbow.
An impossible tension, glass like this, a bar, a mocking shield, is not, says Hutchinson, symbolic of the notions of clarity and transparency as championed by modernism. On the contrary, it’s everything it says it’s not, which is why, he says, the only way forward - with glass, with reflections - is the shard, fragmentation, distortion, all those asymmetric, pointy blocks of piled-up-ness a homage to the forked tongue that the shop window really is.
Seen in this light, its forms devolving into 3D stills of a world not nearly as clear as we thought it was (but still laughingly displaying everything we are told we should / could / will have), the shop window is in fact a personal invitation, from capitalism to its chief guarantor, the individual: smash me, it says; smash me and take as much as you want; as much as you can carry. Game over.
Greg Hadfield: On Humanity’s Soul-home
Formerly a Fleet St journalist and internet entrepreneur, Greg Hadfield is the founder of the Open Data Cities Conference.
‘The high street is not just about where we sell stuff: it’s where we realise our humanity’
Greg Hadfield’s crusade in the name of Open Data Cities finds its antecedent in a particular high street: Athens’s Agora. As passionate about Ancient Greece as he is about free access to data, Hadfield sees 5 BC Agora as the public space par excellent, the place where we got together, formed groups, traded, exchanged ideas, talked and shared. It was, in short, where one was most likely to find what it is to be fundamentally human: grouping, speaking, feeling, being a network.
Hadfield’s highlighting of old Agora is not an anachronistic dream, a misapplied plea for times gone by. Far from it. Agora is not the past. It’s not a mythical future. It’s the here, the now. Humans are social animals. They network. They networked in Greek times. They network now. They will always network. Networking is as much a part of our DNA as the capacity to speak. The only thing that has changed over the last 7000 years is our networking reach, that and the speed with which we are able to message each other.
So, rather than the internet sounding the high street’s death warrant, we are today, says Hadfield, poised on the brink of a deeply human brave new world: the chance to communicate (in the real world, ‘don’t confuse the web with the internet’) as never before. The data, the information, it’s all in place. It wants to be made real, to become knowledge, something humanly useful. Thing is, we’re not making it available. It’s there, but it’s guarded, kept, hidden. It’s being passworded out of existence: we’re staring the biggest most golden gift horse in the mouth; we’re blocked, stunned, unable to move. ‘Debenhams hasn’t changed in 50 years. Why? My wife and I have been going there for years. Does Debenhams know I’m there? No. Why.’ Make our cities, finishes Hadfield, open data cities, make the street, our public space, what it should be: a space to network, to group, to share, to be human.
Invitation: On What Happened Next
So, there ends the first set of In The ThemePark… talks. Well, no. Not end, because - out of the conversation that followed – the embryo of a new theme was born, and is now, as I write, taking brilliant shape. Watch this space. Postcards are aflying.
In the meantime, some things to think on: that is, one, the high street is a troubled soul; two, it needs us, there, doing what we always did, but with new tools, and with the knowing and extra stretch that a fully interfaced on-off street is in the position to gift; and three, those things with which we communicate, on which we place untold value, the products of our labour, they need to get back to being well-made, special, cared for. I think.
Finally, a huge thank you to speakers and audience alike: 'twas a truly wonderful start.