Watch the video of Marcus Lyon’s talk at TEDxExeter 2016.
Scroll down the page for the Live blogs of the talks.
Videos about Art & culture
Live blogs about Art & culture
Peter Randall-Page is next up. He very kindly allowed us to display some of his artwork on the stage this year.
He is speaking on theme and variation, commonly associated with music, but he is applying it to nature. It is ubiquitous but hardly noticed.
At 6, the Natural History Museum sent him a box of fossils. He was dyslexic, so learnt through means other than words. He found lots of patterns. Patterns in nature are generally created through opposing processes, and there is a limited book of patterns, which could be understood as driving the evolutionary process itself. Without an organising principle, what would randomness look like?
He is showing some wonderful images on screen. The latest are the Giant’s Causeway and a hornets nest. Both have hexagonal packing. Neither are perfect because geometry only exists in human imaginations. And yet we intuitively understand this. We enjoy the dangerous unpredictability of variation, and the common underlying theme.
Variation is not a singularity. In art it implies playfulness and expression. So Peter work often uses sequences in his work – e.g. images of walnut kernels – to build up expressions of qualities through comparison. As an aside, we seem to respond to bilateral symmetry, probably because our bodies are symmetrical.
The shape of pine cones and pineapples is to do with efficient packing, relating to the Fibonacci Sequence and the Golden Ratio, and is very pleasing to the eye. Peter used this principle in his work ‘Seed’ for the Eden Project.
The underlying principles of the microscopic pattern generated by two chemicals that don’t mix reminded Peter of playful improvisational music. The phenomenon produces the camouflage patterns on zebra and mackerel. The resulting artwork – a combination of painted canvas and boulders – Peter called Rocks in my Bed, after the song by Duke Ellington.
Variation also implies an element of chance. So Peter often uses the random, e.g. a weathered boulder, and a structuring principle, e.g. an overlaid geometric net. Compare with fish-net tights, which help us to see and appreciate the form of the leg more clearly!
Fundamentally, Peter is interested in what makes us tick, and subconsciously tries to bring it out. He shows a piece using a random boulder and a continuous line – ref Paul Klee ‘taking a line for a walk’. Another is based on the Platonic solids, sculptured from a chaotic material.
Back to spirals, and an image of a galaxy, illustrating the different scales of theme and variation. We need both: theme without variation is monotonous; variation without theme is chaotic. Together they can create beauty in nature, music and art.
The Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter reopened in 2011 after four years of regeneration, and is currently the Art Fund Museum of the Year. Camilla is telling the story of a “Home for a Million Thoughts”.
RAMM opened in 1868 as a 3D encyclopedia of the world, aimed at educating the local population. It was funded by local subscription, not philanthropy, so there is still a strong feeling of local ownership.
People were glad the Museum had the investment for regeneration, but often asked “you aren’t going to make it worse, are you?” The project team asked two key questions: What is the role of museum collections in the information age? and How do we expect visitors to benefit from their visit?
To answer the second question first, the museum is still about education and personal growth, inspiration and creativity. So the Museum staff offer interpretation to visitors, quite different from the original prescriptive approach.
“Home for a Million Thoughts” tries to encapsulate the spark that happens when a human mind encounters a real object. This is something that can’t be found replicated over the internet, hence the answer to the first question.
This led to implications for laying out the Museum, firstly the taxonomy of how galleries are structured and what objects they contain. RAMM will always be collection-led. The regeneration created narratives, immersive exhibitions, such as the gallery on history of Exeter. This produces richer engagements between objects, and a touch of magic.
Then RAMM contains shared space where people of all backgrounds can come together. It aims to provide room for delight, humour, surprise and other human emotions. “Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else, and seeing something different.” RAMM hopes to enable moments of discovery by linking the past with ideas for the future.
With an arts and occupational therapy background, Carrie is a pioneer in creating environments that heal.
Imagine that on leaving the Northcott tonight, you are not going home, but are told you must get into this ambulance and are going to hospital. You feel things have been sliding recently, but you remember senses and experiences from 50 years ago. Yet the eyes of the people with you are glazing over.
Why do we not face up to dementia? Because it means facing our own vulnerability. There is no cure, but can we still do something for people with dementia? All of us have a need to love and be loved. Can we strengthen people’s sense of belonging? Create a sense of connection to place, people, each other? We need to shift the focus from what people can’t do, onto what they can do and their strengths.
How? Environment, senses and arts together can be transformative. Going for a walk together, having a coffee in a cafe. “Look,” says Peter, “it’s beautiful, I’m alive.” So design of the physical environmental of care centres is really important. Good lighting, colour, artwork to aid way-finding, familiar domestic-scale rooms, access to outdoors, a variety of places offering choice.
Even in advanced dementia, the emotional and creative parts of the brain remain intact. This gives a way in – the freedom to imagine instead of the need to remember.
The healing environment is dynamic and engaging, not passive – creating paintings together with artists, encouraging connections with remembered landscapes, sparking connections through everyday objects. Through showing Mary paint charts, matching the colours with her brightly-coloured clothes, she moved from “I’m frightened” to singing nursery rhymes, and speaking: “have you any colours today?”.
Let’s bring together carers, architects, artists, gardeners, children (and lots of others I couldn’t type fast enough to capture) and in a spirit of kindness and collaboration, create new spaces and experiences which meet people’s emotional needs and bring joy.
Most importantly, we need to listen to people with an open heart, and live our way with them into the answer, and hope that when our time comes, someone will listen to us.
Alzheimer’s Society : About dementia
King’s Fund Enhancing the Healing Environment programme
Martha (another dragon tamer?!) is giving us the etymology of “community philanthropy”:
Community – from munos “a gift” and cum “with, among one another”
Philanthropy – “the love of humanity” in Greek
She has a slide of Brueghel’s painting of “The Fall of Icarus”. It’s not about Icarus, but about apathy. While Icarus drowns in the sea, the farmer continues to plough, the shepherd dreams, the ship sails on by. What seems to be an image of idyllic existence is actually a picture of passing suffering by.
Suffering is difficult to see; we have to choose to look for it. But everywhere there are community philanthropists, also known as volunteers, who are acting, and building compassionate communities.
Martha’s questions for us to ponder: “What suffering are you walking past? And what are the gifts you would like to give?”
A gem of a short talk. Coffee time!
Martha is also on Twitter