IAM Weekend 2018: The Subversion of Paradoxes
InterviewBy Thomas Dahm •
Can you please introduce IAM Weekend for the people how are unfamiliar with IAM?
We like to describe IAM Weekend as the best weekend of the year for internet people, and by ‘internet people’ we mean curious and open minds interested in understanding better how the internet is evolving as cultures and the implications of this in the futures of everything. IAM Weekend is the name of our annual event and IAM is the name of our platform which includes a community, content and research & experimentation branches. We decided early on to go for a weekender concept because it is the best way to fit in people’s agendas and also the spirit of the event experience is well aligned with an ideal weekend, meeting new people, discussing big ideas, thinking collective, while having serious and meaningful fun.
IAM has embraced the color blue since the beginning, can you tell a little bit about where it stands for, for IAM and you personal. And why this color in particular?
We call our blue ‘hyperlink blue’ (#0000ff) and it comes from the standard color of links or hyperlinks, which is the essence of the internet, what gives meaning to the massive infrastructure and technologies built on top of it that we use on a daily basis. It stands conceptually for the idea that, in the end, the internet is a network of networks of people.
Since Adrián Perez, the talented Barcelona-based designer who created the first IAM website and visual identity back in 2015, told us to adopt this color as our flag, our personal relationship with blue has changed, dramatically. Somehow we now feel a shared sense of belonging to all things blue but is in a dynamic relationship that is evolving. For us today, blue stands for hope.
"We like to describe IAM Weekend as the best weekend of the year for internet people"
As a conference you work with themes, why and what is the theme this year?
Actually, we work in an opposite way. As futures researchers we created IAM Weekend to explore futures in an alternative, inclusive, playful and collective way, so every year around early spring we define a speculative concept that we want to explore for the upcoming one, so in a few weeks, we’ll define internally the theme for 2019. This theme, and the subtopics tied to it guide our research and projects during the whole year, including our annual event.
For 2018, we decided to explore The Subversion of Paradoxes, because we are interested in understanding better the complex issues we are dealing with today and the role that the internet is playing in shaping those challenges, while actively thinking of how we can use it to deal with them. We noticed that contemporary societies are full of contradictions and here is where paradoxes become useful. After exploring utopias in 2017, we realised that we can find in philosophy really valuable tools to imagine and invent better futures but the times we are leaving also demand a big upgrade of our philosophical thinking. That’s where we connected the concept of subversion, linked to the spirit of resistance and the need to question current power dynamics in society. Overall with The Subversion of Paradoxes we want to challenge the toxic binary mindsets ruling the narratives and polarising people today: black or white, left or right, man or woman, etc.
Also for this year we decided to define a near futures horizon: 2025. We are interested in having conversations and action plans for the next 7 years, empowering people, especially young ones and partnering with organisations across media, education and the arts to collectively decide what kind of futures we want to create. We also decided to explore the concept of the ‘futures of everything’, and this year’s program includes perspectives around work, identity, automation, arts, design, education, advertising, privacy, commerce, fashion, food, sex, power, realities and the planet. The main reason for this is that the complexity embedded in the big challenges we will face in the upcoming years demands a holistic approach and many different perspectives. We are finding really interesting patterns and connections across these topics that will give everyone who comes to the event and follows IAM a better understanding on everything that’s going on and most importantly cultivate hope, because today being hopeful is a subversive act.
Can you give one example of these patterns or connections you see?
Can you give one example of these patterns or connections you see?For example in the Beyond-Desires track, we are looking at the Futures of Food, Fashion, and Sex, which relate to very basic human needs and behaviors. We eat, we dress and we fuck and/or make love. What has happened in the last decades with the digital acceleration of capitalism is that the ethical layer of these behaviors has been replaced by a consumption layer. Now we are realising the consequences of fast fashion, fast food, and porn. In the last decade young (and older) people around the globe have been buying cheap clothes in Zara, cheap burgers in McDonald's and getting their sexual education on Pornhub or using Tinder as a transactional tool for quick sex. And now we have Trump and Brexit and the disruption in climate patterns because we are consuming like crazy without thinking in the consequences, and the way we use the internet scales up all of these issues, so we need to use the internet to redesign desire, in an ethical and sustainable way.
Can you explain what you mean with hope?
Hope for us stands for a fundamental idea. The idea that ‘better’ should belong to the futures not to the past, which has been the idea behind the huge trend of nostalgia in multiple fields, from politics (Trump = “Make America Great Again”) to entertainment (Stranger Things, Ghostbusters, and all the other movie remakes or remixes from the 80s) to Fashion (normcore, etc). Nostalgia fosters lazy brains, exploiting what is familiar. Nostalgia is toxic.
We are worried about the dominant media narratives being only about dystopian futures were we become slaves of technology, call it “AI or robots”. On one side, this is a misleading statement as we are already slave of technology-driven corporations, not technology itself, we all work for free for Facebook and Google everyday and they make sure to keep us addicted to their tools and devices. Sci-fi writer Ted Chiang, explores this deeper in this must-read article.
On another side, we need to challenge this narratives and create alternatives, loaded od critical optimism, because the futures are there to be invented not predicted, and when talk about being hopeful today is about thinking collective how the futures can be better, improved and also playful and exciting for as many people as possible. We are tired of living in the utopias of the rich and powerful white dudes of Silicon Valley. We need alternative internets, and start thinking of ‘the internet’ in plural as well.
Like switching between speculative concepts, you work every year with a different group of creatives, designers, artist, filmmakers, to build a new weekend identity/feeling. Why do you choose for this approach? What are the benefits and downsides of doing so?
We like to work across disciplines, cultures and borders, which is what internet allows for. Last year we worked with a studio from Monterrey (MX), previous one we worked remotely with a young designer in Madrid and this year with a studio and a designer in London. For us this approach is natural. We think and work in a network-based way. We are constantly evolving and that’s why we always are looking for different collaborators bringing fresh ideas, perspectives, skills and approaches. We also learn a lot by working in this way. It is definitely challenging and demanding, time consuming and full of all kind of shared risks but in the end, creating something new every year is motivating and exciting.
What have you learned from working this way?
From the daily lessons we have on this experimental way of working, I would say the key learning have been:
- Trust your intuition
- There is never enough time and enough money
- Defining and sharing expectations early on, and aligning on a shared vision makes a big difference in any project.
How do you select the creative team?
Can you tell, how you approach the creative process?
We believe in the power of creative freedom, experimentation, challenges, shared goals, and playfulness. These are the sort of core values of our creative approach. In every brief, we make sure to align the expectations of everyone involved and let that guide the process. We always work and look for process-driven and proactive creators. Also, our briefs are all about concepts, trying to avoid references and instead use provocations. Overall the key to a successful creative process is trust and communication.
Since you are based in Barcelona and most of the creatives you work with are located somewhere else, what’s you prefer why of communication? is there an IRL meeting of only video calling, lost of chat email etc…
We run IAM on Slack, Skype calls and shared Google docs, but physical proximity makes a huge difference to build relationships and trust. Especially when things don’t flow as expected, so we try to have meetings and spend quality time with our collaborators everytime we can. I guess in comparison to traditional organisations, for us meetings are the exception and they become really valuable and special.
IAM launches the festival identity roughly 8 months before the actual weekend. How important is a new visual identity and the use immersive technologies to reflect the future (visual) thinking of IAM.
For us the visual identity and everything that comes with it is radically important in the research process because it helps us understand the topics better from a visual and more abstract perspective. Designers and artists ask interesting questions that they use to make their creative decisions and this opens new doors for us.
Also it is a way for us to make the complex topics inclusive, using curiosity and a playful and provocative visual language. We are constantly exploring how to use the tools we have available in alternative ways, experiment with emerging technologies to enhance the narratives and concepts. This approach is also a way to explore bigger questions: what is the role of a creative event in the internet age? How can we go beyond the boundaries of time and space? How can we challenge conventions?
The 4th edition of IAM Weekend is happening 27-28-29 April. You just launched a new IAM weekend website, can you tell what we see there. And what was is the idea behind it?
For this edition we commissioned the London based studio DVTK, created by Kim Boutin and David Broner. Following the spirit of the Subversion of Paradoxes theme, we asked them to pick a paradox they wanted to subvert and use it as the guiding concept for the website experience. They picked the ‘Alone, Together’ paradox and used a video game visual language to subvert it. They bring is Jack Wild, a very talented creative developer to build a unique feature on the website which allows any visitor to see the cursor of anyone else who is visiting the website at the same time.
There is a expanded story from a conceptual and technical perspective with more details here.
Is it a reflection on how you look are the future right now?
Maybe. The reflection concept is one of our favorite ways to understand the internet. In many ways, the internet is a mirror of society. So bringing this idea back to our micro scale, maybe the website is a reflection of the opportunities and challenges we are experiencing this year. Is life a video game? Are we ‘alone, together’? Maybe.
Does the visual esthetics also reflect the speakers you select? And who is speaking in April?
The criteria for the people we invite to speak at IAM Weekend is definitely connected because everything comes from the same conceptual base and theme. So there is definitely a relationship, but not necessarily a reflection. It is more a dialogue. For example, this year we are inviting LaTurbo Avedon who is an artist avatar and Audrey Tang, digital minister of Taiwan is coming as a hologram. We will also have on stage intradisciplinary artist Dr. Pinar Yoldas, Ingrid Lafleur who was candidate for mayor of Detroit last year, Marie McPartlin who is leading Somerset House Studios in London, Kelani Nichole who runs TRANSFER Gallery, Dr. Charlotte Webb who is leading the Feminist Internet collective, the heads of UX and Audience Planning of BBC, creative futurist Monika Bielskyte, artist Meriem Bennani, the founder of Para-Site School, technologist Ian Ardouin-Fumat… and in the upcoming weeks, we will announce the final round of guests and workshops, so there are even more surprises. But the best side of IAM Weekend 18 is on the front of the stage. The audience, people coming from very different backgrounds, cultures, professions but with a shared curiosity. It is both, speakers and attendees who make IAM Weekend special.
Thank you so much, Andres, for your time and wonderful answers, we are really excited for you and Lucy your partner in crime. We are looking forward to this always amazing weekend.
27 – 29 April 2018
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IAM Weekend 2018 Speakers
- Audrey Tang, digital minister of Taiwan
- Pinar Yoldas, Infradisciplinary Designer / Artist / Researcher
- Ingrid Lafleur, Founder of Afrotopia, and former candidate for mayor of Detroit
- Marie Mcpartlin, Director, Somerset House Studios
- Alan Warburton, Indie CGI Artist
- Dr. Charlotte Webb, Digital learning coordinator at University Of The Arts London, and Chief Leopard Of Feminist Internet
- Laturbo Avedon, Avatar, artists and curator
- Jane Murison, Head of user experience & design, BBC
- Juliette Lizotte, Co-founder, Goys & Birls
- Kate Coughlan, Head of audience planning, BBC
- Kelani Nichole, Founder, Transfer Gallery
- Meriem Bennani, Artist
- Felipe Castelblanco, Founder, Para-site School
- Nahum, Founder, Kosmica Institute
- Francisco Carballo, Deputy director of The Centre For Postcolonial Studies, Goldsmiths, University Of London
- Monika Bielskyte, Futurist and co-founder at All Future Everything
- Ian Ardouin-fumat, Technologist / Independent