2015 was an amazing year for me, professionally. But before that starts to sound braggy, it was also a record year for knock-backs! So, hopefully, ‘growth’.
It was a year of professional firsts.
In February, I was one of about 10 innovators from around the world selected to take part in a development programme at the Future Everything festival in Manchester. I had an amazing week – we were treated like VIPs – and able to speak at the event, show our work and participate in workshops to develop our ideas. When would I ever get to spend so much time with such talent from countries I have never been to… and, let’s face it, will probably never go to?
In March, I fulfilled a longterm dream and created and put on a musical with my friend LJ Rich. On the night, it didn’t resemble anything I’d pictured, but it was great fun and hey – we made a musical! I was interviewed about it for a full spread in The Independent, and we were featured in a really good item on Click, the BBC World Service Radio show.
In the summer, as someone who almost never travels internationally, it was a big deal for me that I went to Berlin on my own to deliver some creativity workshops at the wonderful ‘School of Machines, Magic and Make-believe‘. I also flew to Ireland in the summer to speak at the Dublin Maker event – by far the best of the many maker events I’ve been to and lovely to catch up with that gang.
I had two separate art commissions in September, including my first ‘show’ in an art gallery. With the engineering help of my friend Saul and code from James and James, I developed a ‘life extension experience’, and with my camera guy Zaid, produced a documentary alongside it which was screened for two days at Lighthouse in Brighton for the Digital Festival and an evening at the British Science Festival gallery. Saul and I were busy non-stop, manning the ‘Life Extension Booth’ nearby, and ensuring everyone’s consciousness was safely uploaded to the digital realm without too many glitches.
Also in September, I organised an outdoor magic show in Leeds for Emma Bearman‘s Playbox project, roping in my technical creative friend Duncan and magician Steve. Again, learned loads, and we all had a really good time.
AS WELL in September, I had about two weeks to become an expert on Richard Dawkins and read his massive new autobiography before being ‘In Conversation With’ him on stage at the Lowry theatre. He was fine!
Knockback-wise, I pitched for a number of residencies I didn’t get – probably at least 5 – some of which got to interview stage. All of these I’d pitched as a ‘collective’, trying to push Hack Circus in interesting new directions. Everyone was interested… then they thought about it, then they said no. That’s how it goes with Hack Circus. It sounds like such fun, but in practice no one actually wants it enough. In the summer, I got some way towards launching a fascinating activity-packed day that would teach you all the technical and life-hacking skills required to ‘turn over a casino’, as a Hack Circus workshop for a mere £50, but no one bought any tickets for it so I had to cancel it and let all the contributors know why.
I think that was when I decided I might have got enough out of HC events for the time being. What a fantastic time I’ve had! I mean, seriously: what a privilege. But in the end, the fans and contributors are a loose group of enthusiasts – at best it’s something to pass the time, at worst it’s exploiting us all. No one wants or needs this to be a ‘Business’. There have been some really dark moments this year, and some striking disrespect (inevitable statistical fact, I guess, given the number of people I deal with) but 2015 has on the whole been a year marked by great and supportive friends and worthwhile new adventures.
I gave loads of talks this year, which was often fantastic fun, but also very tiring and generally poorly paid. It’s not something I’ll be doing as much of in 2016. Also, I want to make sure I have something new and important to share if I go back to that.
Without knowing entirely what this might imply, I feel like I’ve reached the end of the line with the outspoken ‘technology culture’ community. It’s a world built on sand. It’s fairytales, all the way down. (I always suspected, but I’m realising this so profoundly at the moment, watching first class dancers being uncontroversially amazing at their job every day.) I do love to rant about the hero myths and chancer culture, but I’ll say it again anyway: the speculative wing of tech culture can be toxic and infantilising, and it’s not something I want to be associated with. This stuff is of course sweetest when it is idealistic, but idealism leads to terrible errors of judgement, dreaming for the best, gaping opportunities for exploitation by unsubstantiated egos and consequently a really weird microcosm of society based on a currency of objectively laughable ‘ideas’. I can’t get my head around it and I dearly want to find new communities in 2016.
Which leads me to a ray of hope! In October I was interviewed for a residency at Rambert, a leading contemporary dance company, and got through. I’ve been doing that ever since and you can read about it over on hackingrambert.tumblr.com. I have spent half the grant on travel and accommodation, and it is the most exhausting thing I’ve done for ages in terms of travel and London-time, but it has been an IMMENSE experience for me. It’s affected my views of pretty much everything, from dance to my own work to art to the point of technology to the nature of intelligence. I hope to continue working with these incredible people even after the residency formally finishes in February.
One last thing. This has been a really interesting year for fielding ‘why you?!’ reactions from people. There’s always that lingering idea that you might have got that gig but you didn’t do an actual proper interview, surely? Some sort of shortcut or cheat took place, didn’t it? Must have. Why you for Richard Dawkins? Why you for Rambert? Why you for your own art show in Brighton?
Well, luckily, I know ‘why me’, even if a lot of other people seem desperate to believe opportunities are impossible outside of their picture of ‘who gets opportunities’. This bit will sound defensive, but maybe it’ll serve as a reminder to me as much as anything, as I certainly judge others like this too. We’re all guilty of it. In my case, I’ve been around a really long time. I’ve made it my own agonising business to know and get on with a vast number of people from different backgrounds in a continual effort to make fun things of quality happen. I’ve been making magazines, comics, shows, books, stories, pictures, computer stuff since I was about six years old and I just haven’t stopped. So, yeah, I have experience of endlessly bootstrapping stuff into existence, but mostly I have hustle.
I think the ludicrous tech culture idolators, and our own stupid preconceptions about how the world should work from broader culture, are stopping us appreciating the people right in front of us.
If you ever catch yourself actually paying attention to these ‘why you’ losers, seriously: what fairytale are they buying into this time? Why the hell not you?