Category Archives: #InTheMedia

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the story has been chosen by Hanna Heiskanen.

The case for an independent London

The debate around devolution in the UK did not end with Scotland voting for staying in the union earlier this autumn. In his article for the Financial Times (“London should break free from Little England”), associate editor

Philip Stephens argues that London should acquire independence from the rest of the country and become a mini-state of its own – if one can call a state with an economy about the size of Sweden and with nearly three times as many inhabitants as in Finland small.

Stephens’ case is a strong one, at least when it comes to the figures. In addition to generating a large amount of money, thanks to its financial sector and but also the endless number of tourists flocking in every year, it benefits from much lower unemployment rates and a younger demographic than the rest of the country. Situated by its natural lifeline, the Thames, and surrounded by the orbital M25 motorway, London has natural borders against the home counties. It has modern infrastructure, an entrepreneurial spirit, and boroughs that would ensure local democracy. All in all, London would, most likely, make it on its own.

However, as Stephens points out, London is also different from the rest of the country in the way that capitals often are – through its inhabitants, their values, and their political inclinations. While surrounded by UKIP strongholds, London itself thrives on immigration. Although places such as Windsor and Cambridge are only an hour’s drive from London, spiritually they couldn’t be farther away. And isn’t some sort of sense of shared values and identity considered one of the most crucial building blocks of nationality?

If London were to break away from the UK, what would its new capital be? Manchester would be a strong contender for the role as the next-largest city with its nearly three million inhabitants and an impressive industrial history, and would undoubtedly bring a fresh new focus to North West England. Or, perhaps the country could take an even more revolutionary approach and decentralise its institutions into multiple locations. It would almost certainly help distribute national wealth more evenly and generate a stronger feeling of social cohesion. Surely a win-win situation for all.

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories are from the British Library’s “Digital Conversations: Cultural Heritage Institutions and Videogame Technologies” panel held on the 8th of December and have been chosen by the Institute’s Maria Pirkkalainen.

Minecrafting the British Museum

Putting together the world famous game Minecraft and the even more legendary British Museum might not sound like the most logical pair at first glance. However, like Nick Harris from the British Museum’s Museum of the future project pointed out at the Digital Conversations panel discussion, the mix of these two has proved out to be very fruitful to both parties.

Initiated and managed by Mr Harris, the crowdsourcing project Museumcraft aims to give anyone interested in the Museum or Minecraft the opportunity to engage with the Museum’s spaces by working together to build the Museum in Minecraft. Engaging the interested audience first via a post on Reddit, the project provides Minecraft users the chance to personalise and modify the Museum according to their wishes. The building will be freely available to download after its completion, and it is also planned to be used as an educational tool.

The idea behind the project is to give the museum and the general public a chance to think together how, for example, the museum space could be customized. Would the people want to build the museum themselves? Judging from the enthusiastic feedback and interest that Museumcraft has generated, the answer seems to be a strong yes.

Victoria and Albert Museum’s Games Designer in Residence

The world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, the Victoria and Albert Museum took another step forward when it introduced its new initiative of a games designer residency in 2013. The museum’s first chosen games designer Sophia George completed her yearlong residency in the fall of 2014, and the V&A’s Team Leader for Digital Programmes, Alex Flowers, discussed some of the achievements and results of their collaboration at the Digital Conversations panel discussion.

Before her residency, BAFTA winner and Chair of Swallowtail Games Sophia George was known, for example, for her family-friendly puzzle game Tick Tock Toys. Organized as a partnership between the V&A, V&A at Dundee and the University of Abertay Dundee, Ms George spent the first half of the residency in London and the other half in Dundee.

The residency aimed to find new interpretations and ways of use for the museum’s large collection of British heritage. The final product of the residency was therefore a free iPad game called Strawberry Thief. The game was inspired by a historical William Morris textile piece in V&A’s Britain 1500-1900 galleries.

Besides working and producing the game in question, the games designer’s residency tasks included working on public engagement, workshops and being active in calling for more women to enter the games industry. The museum’s focus on video games will also be seen at their upcoming video games exhibition in 2016.

World’s first cultural centre for gaming to open in the UK

GameCity is a British institution that celebrates the artistry and creativity of video games and has held the annual GameCity festival each year ever since 2006. And as the company’s Director Iain Simons told at the event, starting from March 2015, GameCity will also be the main party behind the world’s first cultural centre for gaming; the National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham, United Kingdom.

The 2.5 million pound centre aims to promote video gaming as an art form as important as for example film and theatre. With five floors, video game exhibitions and a permanent display of gaming world objects, the centre is sure to answer a need for an important area of the creative culture and economy.

British Library’s annual quest for finding inspiring video games

Besides engaging professionals from the cultural heritage and academic videogame design sectors, the British Library’s Digital Conversations event also introduced the third edition of the Library’s and GameCity’s annual video game competition Off the Map. The competition’s co-curator Helen Melody explained how the theme of the next Off the Map coincides with the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – or as originally known, Alice’s Adventures Underground. 2015 also marks the year when British Library will celebrate the anniversary with an exhibition.

The idea of the contest is to challenge video game designers with the task of using the British Library’s collections as an inspiration to create new digital media – and in new creative ways. The competition will have three entry categories in 2015; the games should be submitted as either 3D, 2D or Interactive Text. On top of this, the competitors should search for inspiration from three particular themes: Oxford, underground and gardens. Taking into account the interest generated by the previous years’ competitions and the forthcoming anniversary of the legendary book, this will no doubt be another successful year for bridging together the gap between cultural heritage institutions and new digi-savvy audiences.

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Taina Cooke.

A fairer year of 2015 – the new transparency law for oil, gas and mining companies

A miracle has happened! All the UK oil, gas and mining companies woke up on Monday with a newfound social conscience and thought that maybe they should exploit the developing countries a bit less. As a New Year’s resolution they have decided to end the shadiness of global trade and start publishing details of the payments they make to different governments across the world for access to natural resources. The 1st of January 2015 will mark the beginning of an era characterised by more trust, more transparency and less corruption!
Okay, the UK government might have helped them a bit. Or a lot, to be more precise. The Parliament, you see, passed a historic transparency law for oil, gas and mining companies which helps to fight poverty and corruption in resource-rich but poor countries. The new law brings hundreds of billions of pounds worth of taxes, licence fees and royalties available to public scrutiny making it more difficult for companies and governments to make shady deals behind closed doors. Companies failing to report truthfully and accurately could face criminal prosecution.

UK is the first EU member state to fulfill the requirements of the EU Accounting Directive by passing the transparency law. All 28 EU countries are required to implement the directive by July 2015 and Finland, alongside five other countries, has publicly committed to early adoption. Passage of the law in Europe sends a strong signal to the US and Canada too encouraging them to join the fight against corruption and the “resource curse”. Fingers crossed, in 2015 an increasing number of governments will help the oil, gas and mining companies to wake up their sleeping consciences and start acting in a more open, more honest and more responsible way.  

Labour’s plan to strip private schools’ tax privileges causes mayhem

The class war is back on. The Labour party and Tories are fiercely fighting over private schools’ tax privileges and the troublemaker at the frontline seems to be Labour’s Shadow Secretary of Education, Tristram Hunt. Or this is the picture painted for us by newspapers such as The Telegraph. In reality, Mr Hunt has acted on a concern raised by many: why do private schools receive tax reliefs based on their charity status when so many of them do so little to earn it?

Mr Hunt has announced that a Labour government would remove business rates relief worth £165m a year from private schools that were not doing enough to help neighbouring state schools. According to Mr Hunt, in order to justify their charitable status private schools should, for example, run more summer schools, sponsor academies and support teacher training. Several advocates of the current tax relief system, however, suggest that removing the reliefs would result in increased fees or severe cut backs on some areas.

Tristram Hunt, as you might have guessed already, comes from a wealthy background and is privately educated himself. He’s been criticised for threatening private schools and effectively trying to deny children the same privilege he enjoyed. On the other hand, having in-depth knowledge about the system in practise hardly invalidates the criticism made of it. Also, if Labour’s suggestion about the relief removal being equivalent to just over 2 per cent of the private school’s fee income is correct, there certainly is room for some well grounded cuts.  

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the  worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Maria Pirkkalainen.

Vinyl strikes back

Good news for the UK’s music industry: 2014 marks a record-breaking year for vinyl sales. Over 1 million LP records have already been sold this year, making vinyl a 20 million pounds a year business. Just five years ago that number was 3 million.

An article in The Guardian remarks on how the vinyl sales have been accelerated in part by new British albums. Pink Floyd’s long-awaited The Endless River and AM by Arctic Monkeys have both been big sellers. Other local successes have been, for example, the new albums by Royal Blood and Oasis.

What is making the vinyl such a success story of the early 21st century? With online streaming becoming the most popular way of listening to music in the UK and CD sales steadily declining, vinyl is gaining new popularity with customers wanting to own an actual object, not just a dozen of MP3s. The article also points out how Record Store Day, held every April, has done wonders for boosting and promoting vinyl sales as well.

And this isn’t all. The numbers don’t even include the up-coming Christmas sales yet. The article speculates how the sales could actually go up to 1.2 million by the end of the year. That would mean a major increase from the 780.000 sold copies in 2013. It looks to be just a matter of time until vinyl breaks an even larger cut of the overall music market in the UK than just the quite modest 2 percent it has now.

From ruins to art and culture

Voted in 2005 as Scotland’s greatest post-WWII building by the architecture magazine Prospect, St. Peter’s Catholic Seminary has stood in the wildlands of Cardross ever since 1966. But for the past quarter of a century, as abandoned.

Originally designed in 1966 by Gillespie, Kidd and Coia as a part of the Brutalist architectural movement, the monumental seminary building initially closed its doors in the late 80s. However, news broke out in November for example in Scotland Herald and Dezeen that a full design team has been appointed to convert the ruins into a major venue for art and culture. To be more precise, the seminary building will be transformed to accommodate a 600-seat performance venue, exhibition galleries and teaching spaces. Scotland Herald adds how for the first five years it is hoped to become a base for artists, teachers, students and audiences.

According to the articles, the architectural firms included in the renovation are Avanti Architects, ERZ Landscape Architects and NORD Architecture. The budget of 7.3 million pounds will be acquired by Scottish cultural charity and environmental arts organisation NVA. The major sources of funding for the project include, for example, Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland, Creative Scotland and private donors. The entire site has been conditionally agreed to be donated for the public good by the Archdiocese of Glasgow in 2016. According to Scotland Herald, the original budget is still short of 1.8 million pounds and currently seeks additional funding.

An interesting remark in the article by Dezeen is that the plan isn’t just to restore the listed building. The initial idea is to build something new out of the abandoned seminary, while keeping its architectural structure and taking its ruined state as a major inspiration.  The restoration is due to begin in 2015, with the building being formally reopened in the summer of 2017.

Without a doubt, this is one of the major architectural restoration news of the year in Scotland. It also fits well with the public’s newfound respect for the once deprived, abandoned and aggressively demolished Brutalist buildings. More about the new era of the Brutalism movement can be read from the Institute’s In the Media blog post from September 2014.

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Taina Cooke.
The universal language of money – Express visa service for big spenders to be expanded
Immigration and its effects get a lot of coverage in the news. Generally it is the cons that dominate the headlines: immigrants are without a doubt too many, they are too foreign, too criminal and way too unemployed. The numerous pros introduced by foreign nationals are often dismissed when politicians concentrate on making it more and more difficult for people to enter the country. Outsider swarming into the UK is bad, is the message – unless, of course, there is a flow of cash involved.

David Cameron wants to expand the speedy visa service for wealthy visitors, according to last week’s Financial Times. The prime minister seeks to make the UK more attractive to big spenders from overseas by extending the 24-hour visa service to seven more countries. Currently the visa service, which ensures a decision on application within just one day, is available in China and India and costs a mere £600 per application – that is in addition to the standard visa fee, of course. If and when the plan is brought about, rich people coming also from Turkey, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Thailand and visa processing centres in New York and Paris are welcomed with open arms.
It is somewhat peculiar how a big enough pile of money can fade out the otherwise often  overly highlighted borders of different countries. Unlike people, money clearly isn’t discriminated based on its birthplace or origins. Money talks loudly and the heavier the wallet, the easier and less time-consuming the bureaucratic process clearly becomes. The message to outsiders is clear: you are welcome in as long as you spend money, spend it like it’s seriously going out of style.
A look into your fridge can reveal your political orientation – YouGov launched a profiling app
We at the Finnish Institute have for long been interested in the many possibilities of open knowledge and Big Data. There are numerous ways in which the freedom of information can benefit our lives and make us more aware of matters, facts and figures surrounding us. Open data can be utilised in many ways and one of the freshest examples has been offered by the market research company YouGov.
YouGov collected data from its 200,000 active panellists and created a website that allows anyone to access profiles of people showing their different likes and personal preferences. According to Guardian, the site is intended mainly for commercial purposes and it is broken down by demographics based on age, political preferences, earning and multiple niche interests and hobbies. You can type in one of the 30,000 search terms and compare, for example, what Justin Bieber fans have in common. The results can prove to be somewhat amusing.
The profile tool tells us, for example, that Miliband’s fans enjoy mushroom stroganoff and admire Pete Seeger. Nick Clegg’s followers are fans of the Eurovision song contest whereas Cameron’s fans listen to Dolly Parton, watch Les Miserables and have a pet fish. The more rightwing you are the more you like sweetcorn and musicians such as Cliff Richard. On the other hand, if you are fond of Kate Bush the chances are you’re also a Guardian-reading male over the age of 40 and work in IT.
As you might suspect, the profile tool is not exactly the all-knowing crystal ball with its relatively small and statistically biased sample size. One can, however, easily spend a considerably long period of time typing in different search words just for his/hers own amusement. While doing that one spots, for example, that those British people who have special interest in Finland (307 people) often also play some instrument and have a cat. Those interested in Finland are likely to be females between the ages of 25 and 39 who live in central Scotland and value ethically produced goods and organic food. Those panellists who have a soft spot for Finland also tend to bank with Co-op and spend less than one hour a week watching TV. All this sounds rather fascinating and even if the profile tool can’t be described as statistically sound, it for sure is entertaining.

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Hanna Heiskanen.
New technologies shaping art

Music, film, television, and literature have already found their way to your pocket, and now the iconic Globe Theatre has announced that its Shakespeare plays will be available on-demand for desktop computers, mobiles and tablets. Museums, too, are keenly exploring the possibilities that various online platforms, apps, and wearable technology offer for reaching new audiences. The ripple effects of change of medium in experiencing art are less well known, however, and are the subject of increasing interest. A recent article in the Guardian outlines some of the changes that mobile technology might bring in the field of visual art.

“The key driver in all these technologies is a rise in interaction and participation”, says Matt Adams of Blast Theory, a group of artists that specializes in using interactive media. Constant interaction is already second nature to the general public, and changes in how we communicate will inevitably influence how we want to experience art. Not only does modern technology make more art accessible to more people than ever before – you only need a camera phone and an Internet connection to instantly create art of your own and make it available for others. As a reflection of this interactive process, the traditionally passive role of the audience member is evolving into that of an active participator in a process that Mia Ridge and Danny Birchall of the Museums Computer Group describe as “user-centred” design.

At the same time entirely new, hybrid forms of art that combine different media and technologies are emerging. Day of the Figurines by Blast Theory took the form of a game, played by sending text messages. In Rider Spoke, participants cycled through London leaving hidden voice recordings on wireless networks to be discovered by other people. The mobile phone or tablet screen, just like the screens in cinema or television, has according to the Guardian the power to transform anything we see on it into art as well as the advantage of being a “private and intimate technology”, Adams says.
In another article published in the Guardian, digital editor of Prospect Magazine Serena Kutchinsky wonders whether technology has also changed our cultural taste. While the traditional experts of culture and art might be losing some of their authority as a result of increasing audience power and participation, the massive amount of cultural content online has created a need for online curators such as bloggers and vloggers. Kutchinsky concludes by noting that new forms of media have, from newspapers to television, always caused initial concern, and instead of shaping our taste per se, technology only provides the tools while society is still in charge of shaping out taste.

Sarniegate rocks Britain

This week’s media outrage focused on a rather unlikely topic: the sandwich. “Is there no one left in Britain who can make a sandwich?” asked the dramatic Daily Mail headline on Monday after the UK’s largest sandwich making company Greencore Group decided to recruit staff for its new factory from Hungary as local Northamptonians expressed little interest in the vacancies. For anyone less familiar with British culture such a strong reaction to mere slices of bread with some ham or cheese in-between might be difficult to understand. To draw an illuminating parallel, our Finnish readers might recall the boycotts that ensued when the production of a particular brand of mustard, traditionally manufactured in Turku and strongly associated with Finnishness, was moved to Sweden.

The sandwich, which derives its English name from John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792), is a quintessential part of not just British cuisine but of the British way of life. From the packed school lunch, prepared by the parents for their children and typically consisting of sandwiches and crisps, to the workplace lunch, the BLT, coronation chicken, and cheese and pickle are the go-to choices when feeling peckish. The British Sandwich Association ensures that sandwiches around the country are prepared according to set technical standards, and hosts the annual Sandwich Awards.
This background combined with the ongoing heated debate on immigration might explain some of the reactions. Indeed, political parties were quick to jump on the news. The Conservative Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith blamed past Labour governments’ “open-door policy” on immigration on the surge in low-skilled migrant workers while the welfare state doesn’t encourage Britons to take on badly paid jobs. However, not everyone questioned non-British workers’ sandwich making skills: the current Earl of Sandwich, also named John Montagu, said on the BBC website that there was “no reason a migrant labourer can’t make as good or a better sandwich”. His favourite sandwich, by the way, has either beef or chicken in it.
The Guardian had a more positive take on the story. According to its article, the UK is “in the midst of a sandwich renaissance” with food chains such as EAT. and Pret á Manger concocting on-trend flavours (sriracha chili sauce) and restaurants experimenting with gourmet sarnies (grilled cheese with ham hock at the Common in Manchester). Here, too, however, the food writer interviewed, Tim Howard, argued that nothing can beat a classic shooter’s sandwich, dating back to the Edwardian times and consisting of a steak in a whole loaf of bread with sautéed mushrooms and shallots.
Incidentally, this week also saw The Londonist pick up a crowdsourcing effort to assemble the world’s largest sandwich in the British capital. The rough ingredients needed include 700 kg of bread, 1000 kg of cheese, and 1000 kg of ham, although “a little mayo and lettuce won’t have any harm” either. With only two weeks to go and just £2 of the £10,000 goal collected, we wish Alexander Waddington the best of luck in his endeavour!

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Taina Cooke.

Dangerously ignorant citizens – what are the real numbers behind the news?
Two wise sociologists famously noted a while ago that if people define situations as real, they are real in their consequences. This idea, which later came to be known as the Thomas Theorem, is extremely valid today as well when considering people’s views on social topics. A recent study highlights the differences between what you think happens in your country and what is actually taking place – and as last week’s Guardian bluntly put it, how you are probably wrong about almost everything.

The new report found that most people are not only wrong, but completely all at sea with some of the key facts about their home nation. Misconceptions are typical when it comes to estimating, for example, the proportion of immigrants, Muslims, teenage pregnancies and unemployment. According to the survey by Ipsos MORI, Britons thought that the percentage of Muslims in the UK was 21% when the actual number is 5%. Also, people estimated that only 39% of the British population was Christian when the correct figure is as high as 59%.  Furthermore, when asked how many people out of 100 are immigrants to this country, the average guess was 24 – which makes up about twice the actual proportion.

British people taking part in the questionnaire seem to have turned a blind eye on the news concerning the positive effects of migration. An example of such news reporting was featured in Wednesday’s Financial Times: EU migrants pay £20bn more in tax than they receive. The new study by academics at University College London showed that European immigrants have paid significantly more in taxes than they received in benefits in the UK over the last decade. Results of the research hopefully forces some of the laymen – as well as politicians – to rethink their critical attitudes towards the freedom of movement principle within the EU.

Britons are, however, by no means unique in their ignorance. Out of 14 countries surveyed Britain is actually the fifth least ignorant while Swedes were the best informed and Italians the most out of it. The phenomenon is alarming as it promotes misconceptions and influences political actions. The politicians, you see, most often aim to focus on voter perceptions, not on the factual data. It probably comes as a no surprise either that trust in politics goes hand in hand with being informed as Swedes seem to have a lot more faith in their country’s politics than Italians do (based on voter turnout at least).

People creating, and effectively also living in, these alternative realities is problematic. But it is when the politicians also enter these bubbles and start to feed the misconceptions that it becomes a real issue. Redefining the current misinformed situation rather than reinforcing it means we wouldn’t need to live with the possibly very ugly consequences.

The Science Museum’s new exhibition opened in a (t)witty way

A historical episode took place two weeks ago when the Queen sent her first ever tweet while opening the Science Museum’s Information Age gallery. The royal tweet draw a lot of attention on a gallery dedicated to the history of information and communications technology. The new permanent exhibition covers the “six networks that changed our world” by displaying the changes in the cable, the telephone exchange, broadcast, the constellation, the cell and the web.

Accompanying the opening of the new gallery a conference titled “Interpreting the Information Age: new avenues for research and display” was held on 3–5 November at the Science Museum. A well-organized conference featured speakers from multiple universities and organizations from all over the nation and abroad. Themes such the appearance of pioneering information technologies, the security state and computing as well as time travelling were dealt with. Also the vast socio-cultural effects following the big technological changes were discussed about as were the museums’ challenges of collecting the material culture of intangible information. The participants were also taken on a tour around the new gallery, which definitely proved to be worth seeing. No wonder this was the venue of choice for the Queen to get her tweet wet in the social media scene.


In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Maria Pirkkalainen.

Spending the night at a bookstore or a museum

It only took one tweet – and thousands of responses. A Texan tourist found himself accidentally locked inside a Waterstones bookshop at Trafalgar Square in October. After trying to find a solution with the security company for two hours, he tweeted about it to Waterstones. He got out in no time after this, but the number of retweets and responses adoring the idea of a lock-in at a bookstore perhaps startled the bookstore even more.

Last Friday, Waterstones and Airbnb answered to these requests and organized a nocturnal sleepover in Europe’s biggest bookshop, the Waterstones store at Piccadilly. 19 lucky competition winners got to spend the night in a bookstore, wearing pyjamas while browsing books and having discussions with other literature afficiados. It had a lot to do with PR of course, but the event turned out to be an excellent marketing gimmick on its own.  It answered directly to the public’s needs and wishes of experiencing something very unusual in a public, ordinary space.

Sleepovers are not a strange phenomenon to London’s nightlife with many of the top museums – such as British Museum, Science Museum and National History Museum – all organizing them. However, these are mainly aimed towards children and schools. Organizing late night or nocturnal events for adult visitors as well is clearly something that the public wishes for.

A legendary institution already familiar with popular late night events is The British Library, located just around the corner from the Finnish Institute at King’s Cross. For example this Halloween, The British Library organizes a late night event at their premises called The Sorting. How would you feel about celebrating Halloween with DJs, live music, installations, bar and food in a library? The event walks hand in hand with the library’s current exhibition Wonder and Terror on Gothic imagination, which is also included in the ticket price.

Late night events for adults are also a part of the programme at Dublin Science Gallery, where Tuomas Olkku from Heureka in Finland has been working as part of his M0bius Fellowship during the autumn of 2014.  More from one of these events, the Dark and Stormy party in August 2014, can be read in Finnish from Olkku’s blog.

These are just a few examples of how the options for using public spaces are endless and can in the best case profit both the organizing parties as well as the crowds wanting to experience something new. And in a city as big as London where the work days and commutes are long, getting a few extra hours each day is an idea certainly worth experimenting with.

Well played for a historical skatepark

Dating back to 1978, the Rom skatepark in east London’s Hornchurch is still said to be as popular amongst skateboarders as it was back in its early days. This time the site also has an even bigger reason to be proud of: it was just granted Grade II status by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, meaning that it is now a protected heritage site in the UK.

But what makes this decision so important? An article in The Telegraph describes how Rom skatepark is of course the first skatepark to become a listed site in the UK, but also the first of its kind in Europe. All in all, there are currently only two skateparks in the world that have achieved listed status, with the other one being the Bro Bowl in Tampa, Florida.

Rom was one of the skateparks that were built in the 70s, when skateboarding surprised the Brits with its popularity. But due to the sport losing its momentum within the following years, many of the original concrete skateparks were demolished. Nowadays only around 6 or 7 original 70s skateparks are left, with Rom being the oldest and most important one.

The designation director at English Heritage, Mr. Roger Bowdler states in the article how the listing will give the whole meaning of heritage an extra twist. Skateboarding is surely something that is nowadays extremely popular, but it is still in many ways a youth subculture. Protecting a skate site in the UK is hopefully something that can help other countries knowledge the value of even the most common sites, such as historical skateparks.

An interesting read close on the subject is also English Heritage’s Played in London book by Simon Inglis. The book describes London sites that are important to the heritage of sports culture, with Rom being one of them.

Designed in the 70s by two of the leading skatepark designers of their time, Adrian Rolt and G-Force, Rom skatepark also brings out what has truly mattered over time. Its design, modeled after the Californian skate bowls, is ageless and still attracts skateboarders – and nowadays also for example BMX drivers – every day after almost 40 years.

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Taina Cooke.
‘Mowing the lawn’ – What it means to you and what it means to a politician
Sometimes it’s difficult to talk about serious things. For politicians, it seems, talking about anything is often seriously difficult. In this week’s Guardian George Monbiot writes about the peculiarity of political rhetoric and how governments talk about human beings. According to Monbiot politicians don’t, for example, speak about ‘people’ or ‘killing’ because it would make it too difficult to do their job. Monbiot has made interesting observations about how the people in power use dehumanising language in order to detach themselves from the issues they are dealing with.
A recent example of a dehumanising euphemism was offered by Lord Freud, a minister in the UK’s Department of Work and Pensions. He was in the headlines for saying that disabled people are “not worth the full wage” and to make things even worse, according to the official parliamentary record he spoke of them as a “bulge of, effectively, stock”. Also, according to the British government, people who claim benefits live in ‘benefit units’ rather than ordinary families.
Another graphic example comes from the States where Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser Bruce Riedel used somewhat cryptic language when justifying the drone war in Pakistan. Riedel voiced: “you’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back.” The director of the CIA, on the other hand, chose a different approach and instead of gardening went with medical terms when claiming that with “surgical precision” his drones “eliminate the cancerous tumour called an al-Qaida terrorist while limiting damage to the tissue around it”. Those operating the drones considered their victims, in turn, as ‘bug splats’.
In addition to human beings, the surrounding living world is discussed in similar terms. Nature is ‘natural capital’ or ‘green infrastructure’ whereas wildlife and habitats are ‘asset classes’ in an ‘ecosystems market’. A Norwegian health trust combined the two, people and nature, in a delightful manner when it described the patients on its waiting list as ‘biomass’. Yes, biomass, which is more commonly known as “biological material derived from living, or recently living organisms, most often referring to plants or plant-based materials”.
In Finland the language used by politicians is unfortunately not that different. Earlier this month Merja Niilola wrote an article in Yle Uutiset about the complexity of political rhetoric. She interviewed a language expert Vesa Heikkinen, who raised concerns about jargon’s effect on democracy. Heikkinen was worried about the possibility that a vague and unclear language might result in overall confusion about what is actually going on in society.On the other hand, Heikkinen warns about the risk of taking rhetorics too far in the opposite direction. The rising populist movement has introduced us to a new kind of political language, that of pseudo frankness and honesty. As intriguing and fresh as this type of expression might at first seem, in reality it often oversimplifies complex issues.

Yet again, the key seems to be finding the famous middle ground. Using the correct terms when talking about human beings, nature, warfare and killing is crucial not only in order for the public to know what is going on but also for the politicians’ themselves. No citizen wants to be represented by an MP who escapes moral responsibility by denying the existence of living things. Also, oversimplifying is effectively undervaluing the public’s own intellectual capability and hence, shouldn’t be favoured. Let’s not talk about bad elite and good poor but please, please let’s not talk about biomass or mowing the lawn either.

The risky life of a two-wheeler

Bike thieves have it too easy. Hundreds and hundreds of unguarded bicycle racks offer an all-you-can-eat buffet for these nasty, bike-hungry criminals. Luckily, however, there is a new and simple way to track stolen bikes and control the skunks’ appetite.

On Check That Bike website you can in many cases make sure that a second-hand bike you’re planning to buy is not of stolen origin. The site has a vast database of stolen bicycle frame numbers which allows the victims and potential buyers to cross check their data. When more and more data on bicycle crimes is open the theft hopefully decreases as criminals will find it more difficult to sell on the stolen bikes. The site depends heavily on open data and freedom of information request.
Making it more difficult for bike thieves to steal our two-wheeled friends is very much necessary, especially if you happen to live in Oxford, Cambridge or South East London where the bike theft rates are the highest in the country. According to The Telegraph these somewhat surprising locations are the biggest black holes for our green means of transportation. Checking ‘your’ new bike’s origin might lead to a happy reunion of two old friends and an unhappy end for the thief. Well worth it, I’d say.
P.S. On a positive note, it seems that London’s famous Boris bikes do not attract criminals. Since the scheme launched about four years ago, just 27 bikes out of a total of 11,000 have been reported stolen. That is an extremely low number, especially if you compare it to the annual 1,200 thefts of public Vélib’ bikes in Paris.

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Maria Pirkkalainen.

For the literary unity of the Commonwealth

When the Trustees of the Booker Prize Foundation announced in September 2013 that they would open up the Man Booker Prize for the first time for all authors writing in English, and not just to the citizens of the British Commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland, the rationale behind the decision was clear. Including all the literary works written in English for the first time could easily help the 46-year-old award to enhance its position as one of the most prestigious and admired literary fiction prizes in the world.

However the backlash and nuanced discussion that followed was perhaps something that the Trustees hadn’t seen coming or certainly hadn’t hoped for.  When the shortlist for the 2014 Prize was announced in September, two out of the six nominees, Joshua Ferris and Karen Joy Fowler, were American citizens. This was something that the British press – and the literary world – noticed quickly.

Australian author and two-time winner of the Booker prize Peter Carey was one of the most vocal opponents of the new rules. In an interview in the Guardian on October 13th, the established author criticized the change, because of the effect it could have on the real Commonwealth culture and Booker’s particular cultural flavour. Is globalization really the way to go for literary culture?

Another Australian writer had the honor of being awarded with the prize on Tuesday the 14th of October. The Man Booker Prize for 2014 was won by Richard Flanagan and his book The Narrow Road to the Deep North about an Australian prisoner-of-war working on the Burma death railway. The newly-appointed winner expressed his worries as well about the recent changes to the rules.

Image: fantasticfiction
The discussion behind Booker Prize’s globalization occurs at an interesting time. The Foundation had its ambitious reasons for changing the rules to include a broader set of contestants, but the arguments against the change are valid too. The unity of the commonwealth and the long history behind it have been brought to the table, but is there really such a thing as a unified culture of the commonwealth?

All in all, the annual Man Booker Prize of 50.000 British pounds, has been a great opportunity for writers from smaller, historically less acknowledged literary cultures. From this perspective, it’s easy to understand why some of the most vocal opponents have been Australian writers.

Peter Carey also noted that a change such as this to the Pulitzer prize, the most acclaimed literary prize for US writers, would be highly unlikely. In the end, does it all boil down to an issue of British people not thinking very highly of themselves? If this really is the case then that should be addressed in the future, just like the new Booker Prize winner Flanagan spelled it out in a recent interview.

The Tube of the Future

A morning tube ride in London would hardly be the same without the driver kindly announcing that the tube is being held at a red signal. Even when several announcements have been automatised, the presence of a driver on the London tube is definitely something that the commuters have been fond of in a public transportation system as hectic as this.

Last week the London design studio Priestman Goode announced the new design for the future London tubes. The news were featured in for example It’s Nice That and Dezeen. The new tubes will include Wi-Fi, air-conditioning and screens in the place of the traditional paper adverts. Even when the stylish, new design is receiving a lot of praise, one issue seems to have upset many Londoners. By the middle 2020s, these new tubes will be driverless and some trains will be automatized already before that.

Helsinki metro, the only metro in Finland,  is currently going through automatization as well. Though in a city a lot smaller than London – and with just one tube line -, the effects of getting rid of the drivers do not even start to compare to the consequences that could be faced in London. In London, the new driverless trains would transport passengers on four tube lines of the legendary underground system.

Another interesting part of the story is the designing process itself and the challenges it has faced. London underground is the oldest underground system in the world, which also means that the tunnels are small and this had to be taken into account with every step of the process. Also, with the amount of passengers commuting each day, the task of designing the new tube was neither quick nor easy.

The new tubes will be introduced in 2020 and at first with drivers. The designers noted that the new trains could be serving the London underground system for the next 40 years.
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