Yesterday afternoon, this year’s cohort took over the first floor bar of Leeds’ Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen to share their experiences of the first five weeks of this edition of the labs. We’re actually way past the half-time mark, but we thought this was a useful juncture to pause and reflect.
Each group took a few minutes to introduce themselves, outline the conversations they’d been having and the projects, insights and artefacts that are beginning to surface from their collaborations; we also wanted to give them an opportunity to get to know each other outside their matched pairs.
The cohort was also joined by a few members of our advisory group – Dave Lynch, Simon Popple, Richard England & Sarah Goodrum – who helped to provoke discussion and provide useful commentary on each project.
As each group outlined its projects, what was striking was the very human core to each subject area – from spoken histories of the Hajj pilgrimage, to the works of Harold Pinter, playful ways of seeing sound, interpreting the context of photographic archives and the training of actors – each was rooted in humanities and largely motivated by understanding the impact of technology.
Simon East also observed that many of the projects appeared to be toying with notions of randomness and serendipity. I wondered if this was a broader reaction to wider anxieties about a data and algorithmic-driven culture (what Simon called the “tyranny of big data”) and an attempt to design a kind of humanity into digital artefacts. We didn’t offer themes or narrative framing at the outset of the labs, so it was a somewhat satisfying surprise to see some common and complimentary themes emerging across the cohort.
Though most of the presented content focussed on outputs, Sue, Dave and I were quite curious to understand the process, mindset and methodology each group was experiencing. Many of the cohort commented on the liberation they felt from institutional and commercial pressures; I did wonder if this freedom would intimidate some, but they all embraced it with elevated ambitions.
It feels as though the labs have progressed creatively and intellectually between the 2012 and 2014 editions, we’re understanding that people and creative process are what’s unique about the structure and also we’re more confident in the vocabulary and metaphors that describe the philosophy behind it.
I’m actually a bit sad we’ll only have two more weeks with these groups, but each is determined to find a way to continue their collaborations in some capacity, with most looking at follow on funding to develop their projects further.