TED Global 2011: The Stuff of Life
On Thursday, I attended two hours of TEDx Jakarta Live‘s simulcast (a delayed version of a webcast) of TED Global 2011. Called “The Stuff of Life”, TED Global 2011 took place in Edinburgh, Scotland. Prior to this, I have only watched a handful of videos from previous speakers. One of my favourite talks is Sir Ken Robinson’s in February 2006, when he spoke about creativity’s place (or lack thereof) within the education system. For quite some time, I figured that such an event would only include Indonesia years from now, and that I would only be privy to distance appreciation from the comfort and constraint of my computer screen. But soon after learning via Twitter that there was a TED community in my city, I was determined to check it out.
TEDx Jakarta Live’s webcast of “The Stuff of Life” covered four sessions of TED Global 2011, and I attended the evening session, “Bodies”. The session catered for the Jakarta audience consisted of presentations by a movement expert, biologist, roboticist, techno-illusionist, artist, and singer. The showcases that impressed me the most were, unsurprisingly, were those inclined towards the arts.
Marco Tempest: Augmented Reality Magic
As an adult, I can understand and appreciate the existence of grey areas. They add dimension to black and white thinking. Magic is essentially an exploration of that gradient, deliberately breaking the delineation of established reality and its opposite. Marco Tempest pushes traditional magic a step further, this time blurring the line between tactility and virtuality.
What initially struck me about the Swiss magician was that he describes magic as “introverted”, a first I’ve heard with regards to the field. It makes sense, because to perform in order to mesmerise involves directing energy inward, to keep the secrets of its inner workings so the fascination can happen again and again. Revealing any of their mechanics discredits a magician’s legitimacy.
For this year’s TED Global event, Tempest performs what is called “augmented reality magic”. By simply using a board and a pen, he literally draws out a reality that acts in communion with the physical world. Most of the TEDx Global 2011 talks are still currently unavailable, but I found an almost identical performance from TEDx Tokyo in 2010. (Language: Japanese, with English voice-over translation.)
Although watching the performance more than once seems to have taken away the magic (Ha!) somewhat, Tempest’s presentation momentarily made me feel like a little girl again. I once again found myself in a mindset where the real and not-so-real were blended into one, as I was amused by the playful lines, the story, and the light-hearted humour of the entire act. Judging by the enthusiastic response from the audience both in Jakarta and in Edinburgh, I wasn’t alone in my sentiments.
Jae Rhim Lee: Infinity Burial Project
“Death is the last taboo,” said late American psychologist Dr. Timothy Leary, and he couldn’t be more right. What happens after a living creature expires has been investigated in various ways throughout history, most especially in art and science. In tandem with exploring these, the end of a mortal life is synonymous with uncertainty, loss, pain, sadness, and an array of expressions frowned upon by cultures that place value on concealment. Therefore, in many of those instances, an openness to the facets of death is deemed controversial.
Visual artist and designer Jae Rhim Lee reminds us that today’s burial methods are not environmentally friendly. Embalming delays the decomposition process, and the large amounts of embalming fluid pumped into a body contains dangerous compounds that can potentially change the chemical make-up of the soil of the burial site and its surrounding areas. Cremating a body not only pollutes the air, but mercury gets released as tooth fillings disintegrate in extreme heat. It is understandably difficult to view embalming and cremation as dangerous burial methods, though, because it is likely their origins were out of grief-ridden sentiment. Lee presents the Infinity Burial Project, a “modest proposal” of an alternative burial option that obeys the laws of nature.
Once again, the video of her talk at TED Global 2011 is not yet available, which is a pity because in it, Lee wears her signature Mushroom Death Suit. The name of the outfit alone amused the audience, even though the rest of the presentation garnered silent attention. But the main point she makes is that death is part of life. It shouldn’t be regarded with fear or perceived as morbid, and it certainly doesn’t mean that its reality shouldn’t be examined from all possible angles — most especially, from a sustainable one.
Ideas Worth Spreading
For my first TED-related event — albeit being around for only a couple hours — I liked what I saw and heard. Finding out about the TEDx Jakarta community is undoubtedly one of my favourite recent discoveries, and it’s great to be around people who are enthusiastic about absorbing new ideas. I look forward to watching more design-oriented talks in future Jakarta-based gatherings, and I hope attending a live event will eventually be within my reach.