Teri Orr: Curated collisions
Sunday in the Park
April 28, 2017
There is no time to process. For 10 days it all gets mushed up with when who said what about which earth-shattering new discovery or nuanced geo-political crisis.
We hear between eight and 28 talks per day. With workshops and excursions and dinners and spontaneous connections/combustions. I can't explain or evaluate what happens at the TED conference except to say it is a certain kind of alchemy. A convergence of Technology and Entertainment and Design and some secret sauce that makes it all delicious.
These observations are in no order…because that's the way they were recorded…scribbles in the margins.
In the first session, rock band OK Go performed and showed us one of their crazy videos. Then Damian Kulash, the band's lead singer, dissected what it took to create the video and the music. He explained the concept of wonder and surprise, with his bandmates holding up foam core illustrations in syncopated time. It was hysterical and so unTED-like. And we learned that good ideas have wonder and discovery.
I have time-traveled and shape-shifted and never left my seat in the auditorium.
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"We didn't think it up," Damien said of the wildly creative piece, "So much as we found it." He explained when you put yourself in a creative space, "ideas just come to you. …You find them." And anyone who has ever been in The Zone knew exactly what he meant.
Artist Daan Roosegaarde, showed us videos of his wildly creative inventions that are art forms, including a tower in Beijing that purifies the air around it, then he turns the carbon waste gathered into (future) diamond rings. All the images of installations he showed us humanize urban spaces around the world and created a sense of wonder.
"Don't be afraid. Be curious," he encouraged.
I can't find who to credit one of my favorite quotes of the conference: "On Spacecraft Earth, there are no passengers. We are all crew." I'll find the source — with time. But more than one speaker who followed, picked that message up and used it to remind us no one has the luxury of being passive about our ride on the planet.
Nigerian lawyer/activist/musician/artist Laolu Senbanjo spoke to us about his art. He considers everything a canvas, including the body, which borrows from the sacred Art of the Ori. Which led to one day getting an email message from Beyonce.
"I thought it was scam," he said. "I mean I'm a Nigerian." Which had the audience laughing loudly until it turned out the message really was from Beyonce. She commissioned his body painting work to be featured in the video "Sorry" as part of her Lemonade project.
When Gayle King asked Serena Williams about her recent announcement of her pregnancy, the tennis legend, superstar athlete laughed and said she was "looking for another handicap."
Kristin Poinar has a job title I had never heard of — Glaciologist — one who studies glaciers. And she made it all sound so exciting and cutting edge: "To be studying glaciers now is like working at Facebook in the 2000s," she said.
And then she showed us amazing photos and explained that radar can't see frozen water and told us to put an ice cube in a microwave and watch what happens. I plan to try it.
There were all sorts of robots and discussions on artificial intelligence and human intelligence and I will try to unpack those stories, too. And just as the world was learning about Kitty Hawk, the brainchild of Larry Page, we saw a video of that single-person aircraft/flying car. It wasn't completely like something from "The Jetsons" but maybe…just a little.
A short, lovely, gay Jordanian woman I met at a party one night turns out to be the crowd favorite in a session the very next day. Luma Mufleh is an immigrant who coaches soccer in a school she helped create here in the United States for refugee children.
In the middle of her carefully prepared talk, the unthinkable happens: She loses her way. She stops speaking and there is a moment — of hushed silence — and then we let her know, in the only way we can immediately communicate, that we are with her and we start applauding. It gives her space to find her words and redirect her thoughts and she nails the landing. She receives a standing ovation and the most sustained applause of any speaker all week. I am sitting up front — on the side edge of the stage — and it gives me a straight view across to the stage entrance where the staff and techies gather. Her partner is there waiting for her as she exits, and the tenderness of the backstage moment has me crying.
The next night I find myself transported by the lilting poetry of philosopher/author/Englishman David Whyte. He tells us a story of his young niece who, upon graduating college, decides she needs to test her mettle and sets out on a walking journey across the top of Spain that ends on a cliff on the coast. It is a centuries-old pilgrimage known as The Camino. It is a journey I undertook— the tiniest piece of — in 2005. When he then delivers two poems about her triumph in his deep soothing voice, I close my eyes and I am transported to that time of fear and freedom and otherworldly-ness. I have time-traveled and shape-shifted and never left my seat in the auditorium.
There is still one more day of talks and a few more of TED-related adventures. And then months, actually years, of taking the lessons learned and sharing them. Anthony Romero, president of the ACLU explained to us, we have not rights but obligations to protest, to defend, to stay in the streets. And he used a centuries-old Italian painting to explain good governance. A life of purpose still turns out to be the most beautiful idea worth spreading. All days, even those Sundays not in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.