Living in a Post-Digital World [Central Station book essay]
Two-and-a-half years ago I joined award-winning ISO Design, as their Commissioner at Channel 4, in developing an creative art, film and photography network, Central Station. It was the hardest sell of my entire time at Channel 4: those who got it, totally got it. Those who didn't, never would. You can read and view a video about Central Station on the site.
18 months in the network has proven über successful, connecting artists from the UK with those in Berlin, the Netherlands, Spain, the US and the Far East. It has continued to reflect a quality mark that most other networks could never claim: its initial members, joining through curiosity and choice, were Turner-prize winners and hotshots of the art world.
Through some incredibly careful planning about how that mix of social network, exclusive-yet-approachable, high quality but not "up itself" vibe could be reached, the team have pulled off an incredible feat, as a browse through the Collections and Portfolios shows. The Community is throbbing.
As part of its first full year in operation, I wrote an essay for a celebratory book, which I've reproduced below:
Star Alliance Art
When I started writing and publishing audio stories on my own blog I was convinced that it would be a great way to connect with people from far-off lands from the comfort of my own proverbial sofa. Half a million airmiles later I realise I couldn't have been more wrong. The growth in our online connections has in the past five years led to only one related phenomenon: in as much as we enjoy connecting virtually to people, art and artefacts, we want to connect as much with the analogue, physical elements we discover online.
For me, the highlight of this analogue-digital playoff in 2010 must be Joanna Basford's Twitter art projects. They've captured our imaginations: send a tweet, the most transient of our digital photons, and a real living artist will transcribe those binaries into a new sort of artistic physical binary of the black and white linear for which she has become so well known. You can see what she's up to - digitally - through the 24 hour welcome. 100 special customers pay top dollar to get hold of the limited edition - analogue - prints before sharing them in all their - digital - beauty on photosharing websites like Flickr.com.
Or maybe this tension between analogue and digital is best expressed through BakerTweet, designed by London-based Poke as a means of getting their local baker to broadcast when the croissants were fresh out the oven. A constructed, physical object with a mobile transmitter stashed inside, BakerTweet represents all that is artisanal and ambiently intimate in this digital age.
As we watch less television and participate more in virtual networks of real acquaintances, friends and Friends (there is a notable difference), we have gained, as journalist and sociologist Clay Shirky puts it, "cognitive surplus". With limitless choice in the virtual world we have more mental bandwidth than we've had since before the birth of television to do with what we please. That would include hanging on the every tweet of a baker's oven, or assisting in the creation of a new artwork by an artist hundreds of miles away.
The digital world lets us find these physical products more easily and we can attempt to experience them through photograph, visualisation, video or audio. But when it comes to the physical, the tangible and the experiential of the physical world, there is still a sense of scarcity, especially if the product is one of a creative or artisanal hand.
Central Station really is the meeting place of these two worlds. Behind almost every pixel is that scarcity of the physical piece. Behind every piece the even more scarce creator and maker. This community has managed to weave these two worlds together, and has managed to do so while both celebrating the real world of art, film and making stuff, and harnessing the best of the slightly transient, virtual world of click here, type there.
We can all be in each other's pockets digitally if we want, but, frankly, when the bread comes out the oven or the artwork receives its final stroke of the pen, we want to feel, meet, eat or see the physical, real, tangible product of their craft. As an artist, that's incredibly reassuring. As a bystander, it's exciting to know that the digital world will only help me get closer to the things I didn't already know I wanted to experience first hand.
Prints, above, from KavanStudio. View their portfolio.