This Saturday, January 19, The Ontario College of Art and Design University hosted its inaugural TEDxOCADU, dedicating a full day to “ideas worth spreading” specifically themed around the powerfully multifaceted concept of Simplexity.
For those who don’t already know, TEDx events are local, independently-organized conference-style gatherings modelled after the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) format, mission, and brand. TEDxOCADU is the first TEDx event I’ve personally attended, and was a truly inspiring experience.
TEDxOCADU framed Simplexity as “the constant tension between the simple and the complex” – a flexible definition that came to house a plethora of diverse interpretations from its speakers, audience members, talent, and hosts.
Here’s a brief glimpse at what the 12 presenters had to share:
Arianne Schafer, a local urban story teller, discussed the community-building potential of truthful story-telling. In her eyes, exchanges of reciprocal vulnerability and empathy emerge from situations in which strangers are simply invited to share themselves with one another. She encourages everyone to send a love letter to their friend.
Mike Lovas, an Industrial Design student at OCADU currently focused on themes of healthcare and sustainability, recounted his tumultuous path of searching for an education and career trajectory that could guarantee security. As you might expect, he’s concluded that security will no longer suffice as an aspiration, and attests that we learn to embrace the ambiguity and hold faith amidst our uncertainty.
Sara Diamond, President of OCADU, explored the snowballing phenomenon of Big Data, insisting upon our need to actively understand the ways in which our personal production of data is building our identity – in her words, “our personal data portrait”. Such an understanding can function as a mode of self-discovery as well as a way in which to take ownership of this parallel universe we are creating.
David Lewis Peart, a York graduate student focused on “exploring the beneficial use of performance for marginalized youth of colour,” worked with the metaphor of the circle to express his experiences of living and working on the periphery, and facing the simultaneously normalizing and exclusionary forces of the status quo, or centre of the circle. Embracing the margins, he found a place for creativity, autonomy, and reinvention.
Andrew Lovett-Barron, a designer interested in “ambient interfaces, sentient cities, and our behavioural commons” analysed the impact that the rapidly-changing cityscape has upon our existence as city-dwellers. Posing the question “What happens when the environment can read you back?,” he reflected upon the constraints of targeted advertising, lamenting the dissipation of freedom in ambiguity, and stressing personal reinvention and risk-taking capacity as diminishing resources in need of preservation.
Alex Leitch, Co-founder of Site 3 coLaboratory, discussed the infectious, disruptive nature of curiosity and strategies for making the most productive use out of one’s weirdness. She closed her talk with the following instructions: Find people who make you uncomfortable, make friends with them, and make things together.
Zahra Ebrahim, Founder/Principal of the design think tank and creative agency, archiTEXT, spoke of her journey in pulling together a community-led design project that brought a group of Toronto’s marginalized youth together to redesign The Storefront on Lawrence Avenue. Now that she’s being called upon as “expert” to explain how she did such a thing, she’d rather revert to a space in which she isn’t meant to have all the answers, but can rather be free to constantly learn through taking imaginative risks.
Britt Wray, a biologist turned artist interested in “biotechnically-driven change in the human and non-human living world” outlined the ways in which the realm of science – often presumed to stand as an untouched space of pure objectivity – is intertwined with art, politics, and society. She encouraged listeners not only to carefully consider the ways in which stories about science are being packaged for us, but to also take active part in the production of such stories.
Lukas Stark, a practicing magician now self-described as a “Mystery Entertainer” engaged the audience in a series of extremely convincing card illusions, then recounted his career as a magician and prompted us to welcome the mysteries in life – be they magic tricks or unsolvable physics problems – and to cherish the moments in which we are confronted with the unexpected and incomprehensible.
Lindy Wilkins, “maker of whimsical robots,” examined the ways in which games can be made enjoyable for everyone as well as the ways in which games can make unpleasant experiences not only enjoyable but anticipated. She discussed some of her inventions, including an umbrella that transforms falling rain into music, and a breakfast machine that makes eggs based on the daily forecast.
Eric Boyd, founder of electronic jewellery company, Sensebridge, explored the future of transhumanism. Explaining the plasticity of the human brain, and its ability to quickly incorporate tools into the human body, he described a variety of devices intended to augment our abilities – essentially delineating our path to cyborgism.
Trevor Haldenby, an “imaginative thinker focusing emerging technologies on exciting ideas,” reflected upon the insights to be gained from imaging our possible futures, and retraced the life-course of his most recent time machine: ZED.TO - an 8-month-long participatory enactment of the world’s end.
* Graphic facilitation courtesy of Sacha Chua (Experivis) and Patricia Kambitsch (Playthink). See the rest of their work here.
** Photo cred: Zahra Ebrahim and Ryan Maksymic
- Melissa Daly-Buajitti