I remember the first time I sat in front of my brand new iMac G3. I had never come into such close proximity to technology and I felt both exhilarated and terrified. Following the instructions of my then London flatmate, I attempted to do as he said. With this round looking mouse thing, double click, he said, on a folder, he called, that was on my desktop, he declared. I tried that. With the intention of moving that arrow 'thingie' as he had done, to reach that folder 'thingie' that he had shown. Unlike his gliding arrow, mine seemed frozen in a virtual blue ocean. Convinced I had broken my Mac I screeched for his rescue, only to be mortified by the ironic tone in his voice telling me I was holding the mouse the wrong way round. Duh.
Since then I have become quite the master of the various Mac family members I have lived with over the years and just like everyone else, I have become completely co-dependent on technology. It is an incredible tool that provides me with my livelihood. I respect it and I use it. But I don't like it. Yes, it is faster than doing it by hand. Yes, it is better than doing it by hand, but at the end of a long day, my neck is tense and my teeth are grinding because technology promotes speed and efficiency and as a human I struggle to reach its expectation of me.
I try as much as I can these days to balance using my computer and using my hands. The differences are not so much in the result but in the way that they make me feel. The one tool I like to use most is a pen. When I use it I am forced to surrender to a pace that is slow and follow a rhythm that is consistent. If I fail to do so, the result is a mistake and unlike using my computer it is an irreversible one. This fear of a mistake usually leads me to two options. One, of acceptance, by finding beauty in it, and two, of forgiveness, because mistakes will be made, not
only with my pen but with life in general.
There seems to be much concern these days about technology mimicking mans' behaviour and what it might mean for the human species. Using both mediums, my concern is less about technology mimicking us, but about us mimicking it. We are human and we must be allowed to make mistakes. Ones that are irreversible. Ones that cannot be undone or deleted like technology so easily allows us to. We must be able to remember that our actions have consequences and that we are flawed and what makes us fundamentally human, is our ability to forgive.
For two months out of every year, I leave my controlled black and white symmetrical life and I enter into a world of colour and chaos. I work in a studio in the heart of Athens that makes costumes for dancers. All sorts, but mostly specialising in creating tutus for ballerinas. For those of you who don't know what a tutu is, it is that perky dress Natalie Portma n wears in Black Swan.
My job there is to make the hats that go with the tutus and also any costumes that accompany the graceful ballerinas. The teapot in Alice in Wonderland and the big bad wolf in Little Red Riding Hood. Quirky as it may sound, my job there entails carrying large rolls of fabric, cutting meters of foam into shapes, working fourteen hour days, Mondays to Sundays with the persistent murmur of revving sewing machines and my least favourite tool of choice, a burning hot glue gun. There, our two-month mission is to create more than two thousand costumes for divas of all ages preparing for their final year shows that take place within the same time frame. Anyone that has ever worked in dance or theatre knows very well the kind of pressure during those unearthly deadlines that become, not only the divas that enter the stage but all the crew behind them whose job is to make them seem as flawless as possible.
At the end of every season with burnt fingers and swollen feet, I wholeheartedly vow NEVER to go back. And every year I do. Why? Do I have a burning desire to adorn our future ballerinas with the most glittery hats their heart's desire? Well... No. Do I have a hidden agenda to punish my controlling self into submission? Well... possibly, but still... No.
The reason I go back, time and time again, is because in this studio are just over a handful of people whom I admire more than anyone in the world. Who so gracefully create an environment of togetherness like I have never experienced before. A place where there is no boss or employee. Only workers. Where there is no separation between mine or yours. Only the work. Side by side, labouring with women who are the salt of the earth. Hardcore, larger than life creatures, mothers, daughters and wives whom with such grace, power through the burning pain in their backs from sitting at the machines and aching pain in their legs from the hours of standing. Never. Not even once complaining about it. People whom I have shared the kind of laughter that only derives from deep within my gut and have cried in a way I have only ever allowed myself to do alone. They taught me what it means to have a work ethic and what it feels like to be part of a cog in a chain that is larger than myself. These people are my mothers and my sisters, my friends and my comrades.
These ladies are my earth. The place where I nuzzle into when my analytical mind needs rest. The home where my egocentric self, dissipates, and I can comprehend what it really means to feel at one with the other. There, I relinquish control and within the chaos that I detest, I allow myself to trust in togetherness.
These days more than ever, there seems to be a social stigma attached to the idea of being alone. And I don't mean alone, as in single, I mean just the simple act of being alone in a room for no apparent reason. Being in a room without an iPhone, without an iPad and without an iMac. A room without a matt for meditation nor a book for distraction. I am talking about a room with a chair and one's own thoughts for company. That room. A private space for silent contemplation and reflection.
The paradox of the life we lead these days is that although we are never alone, always 'connected', constantly buying into this manipulated new age philosophy that we are one, somehow through a wireless connection, the epidemic of loneliness is more predominant than ever. We have isolated ourselves through the process of creating virtual 'profiles' of who we want to be, living in constant fear that we might be exposed for who we really are. Continually disappointed by the mundane reality of our un-photoshopped existence.
Creativity though flourishes on the on the fertile landscape of an empty mind. So how can we find a way to be brave enough to sit in that room, alone, with nothing except our own reflection? And even then, how can we make it through the initial state of utter panic to a place of surrender? This ever so simple task, takes a level of bravery that our popularity driven mindset cannot fathom, but the rewards of such a simple act are endless. It matters not what you think of during that time, but rather the act itself serves as a catalyst for a type of creative mindset.
So I challenge you to try it, following these ten not so simple steps:
1. Allocate a space, put a comfy chair and lock the door.
2. Designate thirty minutes to sit there without your iPhone, iPad, iMac.
3. Don't get up, even if you remember you needed to reply to a message.
4. Let your mind express its complete and total discomfort and shame.
5. Continue to sit there, even if you feel utterly absurd.
6. Think of anything you want, and I mean anything.
7. If panic enters, tell yourself that you are in a safe space.
8. Repeat the same thing the next day, even if you don't want to.
9. Remind yourself that in this time you can think of anything you want.
10. Do this every day at the same time for two weeks.
I imagine that these steps might seem like some new age, California style hullabaloo, and believe you me when I say I am the very epitome of nervous-overthinking-overworking-can't-sit-still-for-a-moment-have-a-million-things-happening-at-one-time-multitasking-monster. But time alone has become my friend and my confidant. It is there where I go to get away from the chaos outside and to a place that belongs just to me. Trust me when I say that as the days go by, you will begin to feel the shame subside, and there will come a moment of non-judgement and surrender that will lead you to a path back to yourself. A place within you that is not only truly 'connected' to the world around you but to a creative process that is intrinsically yours.
Towards the end of my studies at the London College of Fashion, I decided that I no longer wanted to be a Fashion Designer. For my final year thesis, I arrogantly decided to ignore my field of studies and with a few friends and a camera created a short, very artsy fartsy film. The film got me an award, a first class honours degree and into Fabrica. A place that was conceived on the premise that all creative fields are one. A revolutionary idea at the time and a place where youngsters were imported to create anything freely, regardless of its place in the world.
Upon my exit from that bubble, I decided to work in Advertising with the title Graphic Designer. The antithesis of what I had previously experienced. A minefield of dos and don'ts, must and must nots. A place where creative ideas come to die. Also, the place where I learnt one of the most important lessons that I still to date live by. That the job of the creative person is to communicate, in a simple and effective manner. And that only within the confines of rules and regulations and real-world contention can new ideas be born.
In some fundamental respects I believe that the process of Art and Design are completely different, but in some ways I think their intentions have some very basic commonalities. Here are a couple of them:
1. Art and Design cannot be selfish acts.
They are both inclusive and serve to sell you something. One sells a product and the other an idea. Both have in common their function. To speak to an audience. They must both speak a language that is understandable and void of arrogance. And I don't mean your Facebook, first person, we're all best friends, but also pop in and buy something, kind of language. What I mean, is that the idea behind your work however complex must be translated into a language that does not make your audience feel inferior. And the reasoning behind that is not to dull down complex ideas, but that I believe that both Art and Design serve to influence change in the world. And that the only way you can do that is to be able to reach the lowest common denominator. The person that isn't ready for change. And usually, his vocabulary is very basic.
2. Technology is not a creative idea.
These days anyone with a Mac and an internet connection can call themselves an Artist or Designer. But designing a hipster logo, a Graphic Designer does not make, nor does having the latest Photoshop brush, an Artist make. Both Art and Design must exist within the confines of trend or rather let me say within a chronological time frame, but they must both be able to stand the test of time. We live in a world where change happens in light speed and it is easy to become a copy artist by using new technology. What will withstand the test of time is the message and not the technique, the emotion and not the cool visual effect. The work created in this manner with still be around long after hipster logos and cool visual effects go out of fashion. Content must always be put first.
A much respected colleague of mine had once said to me that if your grandmother can understand it, then you've done a good job. I continue to live by that and am hoping I might influence you to adopt the same belief too.