September: It’s all about the context

Last night’s series of talks at TEDx Biopolis gave me food for thought. It was a great line-up of speakers, with few minor glitches (the DVD player that wouldn’t play the pre-recorded lectures…).

I will not talk about Kishore Mahbubani’s slick introduction to make us all question whether the world is getting more stupid all the time. I won’t elaborate on the great job that Jack Sim did of bringing toilets to the forefront of our minds, or on the enlightened visions of “rubanisation” presented by architect Tay Kheng Soon. I won’t elaborate on the slick scientific presentations of Oliver Dreesden and Jonathan Bard, or the purposefully gory presentation of Tay Ming Kiong…

I would like, however, to reflect on the way my talk on failures (“Failomics: Using Failures To Predict The Future”) was perceived in the specially relevant context of Dale Purves‘ talk “Why We See What We Do”. By some unfortunate turn of event, none of the bio I had sent in ahead of time nor the abstract of the talk had been used in the presentation blurb. Even the title was incomplete. This means that there was ABSOLUTELY no reference to the fact that I am an artist and the fact that the presentation might not be a completely scientific presentation. I managed at the last minute to make them add the fact that I was studying for a Masters in Fine Art  at Lasalle College of the Arts – but I am not sure how much of that was perceived by the audience at the time I stepped up. For all I know they thought I was learning to paint flowers as a hobby. The context was lost. Dale Purves will tell you all about how you can make something that is really gray look yellow if you only give it the right context… my talk remained gray.

So, there I am, up on the podium, shaking like a leaf. Not a nice feeling. I have been rehearsing this talk for a while. You see, I like my presentation to have some theatrics in it. And the way I am comfortable is jumping up and down and interacting with my slides. The space did not lend itself to this; I cannot see the audience; I cannot read them; my usual remote control doesn’t work. I have given this talk a number of times already. Of course, I have re-worked it. It needs to feel fresh. But I have never given this talk to an audience of scientists. The way the talk works is by keeping the viewer on the edge in terms of “is this real?” – or, is this art or is this science? To an artist audience, it feels easier. The way it works is by somehow, at some point convince them that they haven’t walked into a science talk by mistake. Here, the challenge was the opposite… and it just didn’t seem to gel.

I will wait to see if there are any comments –   you see, I thought there would be a reception AFTER the talks, where I would be free to mingle and there would be ample time to judge the reaction of the audience in a relaxed atmosphere. But after the last talk, everyone fled home, so I am not quite sure…

Time to move on to the next challenge!

One Response to “September: It’s all about the context”
  1. Prema says:

    I’m sorry the talk didn’t go as expected, and since I get very nervous when it comes to public speaking, I completely understand and empathize with the shaking like a leaf part of it, but it seems to me that this is, ironically, an excellent contributor to the overall project of using failures. The audience changes art, just as the audience influences intepretation of art – if the context isn’t set properly, if one artist/speaker isn’t like the others, i.e. speaking about art as well as science, not just science, does it make a project that was successfully present elsewhere suddenly become a failure? Or is it the audience that “failed”? Is there some way this can be incorporated in the overall project?

    (I just woke up a little while ago and am still somewhat sleepy, so if none of the above makes sense, please blame it on groggy brain cells. 😉

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