Inside Out Festival 2013 turns academics loose

Celebrating the nobility of failure

October 10, 2013

Inside Out Festival 2013
Various London venues
21- October

A tea dance in Blackheath Halls and a guided walk through the site of the notorious Old Nichol slum in Shoreditch, vividly described in Arthur Morrison’s 1896 best-seller A Child of the Jago. Exhibitions on “skinhead style” and Coco Chanel. Music ranging from Prokofiev to psychedelic Amazonian cumbia. Lectures on Elizabeth I and the post-war British Establishment. Discussions on everything from captive animals to Syrian refugees.

Meanwhile, the facade of King’s College London’s campus on the Strand will distort and transform itself in front of spectators’ eyes in an artwork called Bending Light by Dan Shorten of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

These are just a few of the items on the menu at this year’s Inside Out Festival, organised by the Culture Capital Exchange - a partnership between most of the major London universities and conservatoires - in association with Times Higher Education, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Creativeworks London, a knowledge exchange hub for the creative economy. Every event has some academic involvement from within the member institutions.

“We are amazed by the talent and diversity which exists within the academy, and we are very pleased to be able to shine a light on up-and- coming young academics and their research,” says director Suzie Leighton. Experience of the past three festivals has convinced her that “it is subject matter and depth rather than names that attract an audience - people are prepared to take a chance on something unexpected. There’s a real appetite for the intellectual stimulation which we are able to provide. We had no big names last year but got the biggest attendance ever.”

Unlike in earlier years, the Inside Out Festival 2013 has a thematic strand - the nature of failure - and about a third of the events are marked with a black star.

Off the Beaten Taqsim

“The idea of failure is very important in creativity and research,” Ms Leighton suggests. “You have to fail to move forward. At a time when institutions are under huge scrutiny, it can be a big issue whether they are willing to admit to past failures, though many individual artists and academics were very keen on the idea of taking part. Failure is part of the human condition and deserves to be examined and even celebrated.”

This strand will kick off in the opening debate, “Failure: What’s it good for?” (21 October), in which actress and comedian Helen Lederer will moderate a discussion featuring a scientist, an academic expert on business, the managing director of Lion TV, the artist who invented the Ministry of Failure and the principal of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

Further dimensions will be explored in a series of salons by three philosophers from King’s College London, illuminating the sometimes unexpected value of failure in art, perception - and even humour.

“Philosophical jokes are not, as a recent spate of media interest suggests, jokes about philosophers or jokes about people being over- intellectual,” explains Mary Margaret McCabe, professor of ancient philosophy. As a real example, she suggests: “There are two muffins in an oven. One muffin says to the other, ‘Coo, it’s hot!’ The other muffin replies, ‘Good Lord, a talking muffin!’”

In her presentation “Is that funny? Thinking about jokes and paradox” (22 October), McCabe wants to “try out some jokes and some paradoxes. Then I am going to think about how they work, or how they don’t work, and how it is that they create the sense of the absurd…I will argue that some jokes, like some paradoxes, cause us a kind of disturbance - when we realise that we seem to be committed to a contradiction, or to something absurd.

“The jokes make us laugh because the sense of the absurd is uncomfortable. This is the failure I am interested in. And it makes a serious and much- overlooked philosophical point.”

Psychedelic cumbia

A different kind of educational entertainment will be provided by Peter McOwan, professor of computer science and vice-principal (public engagement and student enterprise) at Queen Mary, University of London, in “The maths and computing magic show” (24 October).

“Many popular self-working card tricks are algorithmic,” he notes. “Follow the instructions, use the deck like a computer data stack and you will discover the chosen card. There are some lovely algorithms that make card tricks and other applications work, so the show will explore these, performing the effects and explaining the algorithm.” He also hopes to show what magic can reveal about the psychology of human error and to discuss some recent tricks his team has designed using artificial intelligence.

If that’s not your cup of tea, you’ll find a different brew on tap on 23 October. Stella Moss, an expert on women’s drinking cultures and teaching fellow in modern British history at Royal Holloway, University of London, will consider an iconic beverage in “‘Good for you?’ Branding Guinness”.

Several discussions during the Inside Out Festival will address challenging contemporary issues.

Rosemary Hollis, professor of Middle East policy studies at City University London, is also the director of the Olive Tree Programme, which brings together Jewish Israeli and Palestinian students on an intensive three-year course. At an event in King’s College Chapel on 24 October, “The Middle East: News and Narratives”, she joins forces with alumni from the programme to analyse how and why most of the news we get about the region is shaped by one or other of the two great competing narratives.

A panel on “The Changing Face of Value” (23 October), held in partnership with the British Academy, will look at how our social and cultural values are being shaped by the digital world, notions of “authenticity” and “connectivity”, and a shift of values from the enduring to the ephemeral.

Shifting Focus

For Kay Politowicz, professor of textile design at Chelsea College of Art and Design, for example, “facts concerning environmental, economic and social impacts of textile production, consumption and waste have led designers to re-evaluate their practice to include approaches to sustainability”. What we now need, she will tell the audience at the British Academy, is “a consumer acceptance of - and enthusiasm for - the designed lifespan of a product”.

As in previous years, the festival will include a number of musical and dramatic performances, such as a piano masterclass, excerpts from “Australia’s first Indigenous opera”, jazz, folksong from the eastern Mediterranean, and productions of The Seagull and The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov. It will also turn its attention to the future of stage performance in a debate titled “The decline of the theatre director?” (22 October).

Offering their views will be Mischa Twitchin, co-founder of the performance collective Shunt (who also teaches in the theatre and performance department at Goldsmiths, University of London); Jenny Sealey, artistic director of Graeae Theatre Company; and director/designer Tobias Hoheisel.

“Directors are one of the most recent inventions in the history of the theatre,” notes panel chairman Simon Shepherd, deputy principal (academic) at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. “They arrived into, and helped produce, a certain sort of theatre. But has that theatre moved on? Where does the director fit in relation to experimental coopera-tive work, where roles are shared? Can people take turns in directing? Do directors need actors more than actors need directors?

“We’re told you need to be a control freak to be a director. Does directing involve the wrong sort of power? Does it close people down? Does theatre really have a place for control freaks? What sort of art does control freakery produce? Is the art changing and, as it changes, is the director on the way out?”

matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com

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