sweating the small stuff


York Hall: terrible drawing, great venue

Taking time out from the everyday for mental refreshment is usually sound advice, as is “Don’t sweat the small stuff”. Conferences usually trade in comfortable & exotic locations and the promise of rest and revelation. Getting away from it all is supposed to help you get back into it all – an appealing (if often costly) idea. An alternative is to take Art & Science’s great lesson: Everything Is Interesting If You Look At It In The Right Way – and step in to the everyday.

This weekend (parted from a hard-earned tenner) I made my way to Bethnal Green’s York Hall, venue for the second Boring conference, founded/organised by James Ward, whose business card should surely read Chairman of the Bored had not Insurance Salesman James Osterberg got to that title first in 1979. This year’s expanded event was alluringly titled Boring 2011…

The prospect of too much interest threatened to unbalance the event. I was disconcertingly excited to learn that both Jon Ronson (he of Tottenham Ayatollah, Them & The Men who Stare at Goats) and Adam Curtis (The Power of Nightmares, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace…) were to appear. In the (magnificent) hall, dangerously heavy levels of irony were detectable at times and hipster-nerds seemed to outnumber genuine aspergers-quality geeks. The presence of a Canadian film crew suggested the possibility of the event overwhelming its subtle content and the news that the conference was trending on Twitter caused mild panic – until it emerged that the hashtag had simply been mistaken by global pinheads for a vehicle for general complaint. Thankfully all the above concerns were misplaced.

The talks covered forensic examination of the obscure and the familiar including Which? magazine, Greggs, hand dryers, Nandos, bar codes, Budgens, tube lines, NASA Nazis and the filming locations for About a Boy. The Big Names as you’d expect were very good: Jon Ronson talked about his documentary on Stanley Kubrick’s extraordinary archive and Adam Curtis was engaging, strange and frightening in equal measure both on TV minutiae and biggest of issues.

Image © Dr Felicity Ford

For me the real highlight was Dr Felicity Ford’s presentation of a Sound Diaries project Vending Machines of the British Isles. Less than promising you might think – but her sound recordings and observations turned out to be hypnotic. Dr Ford’s sonic focus on ‘the infraordinary’ was serious but also amusing, poetic and uplifting – everything I hoped Boring 2011 might dispense. It made me think anew about something everyday that I would normally dismiss. It reminded me that there is virtue and value in the smallest something if you look (or listen) carefully enough. A philosophy that can inspire your work or at the very least get you through many a dull day. Sweating the small stuff can get you down… but it turns out it can also lift you back up.




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