Teaching Difficult History

I always thought it would be cool to be interviewed. Coming out of the Royal College of Art as an Interaction Designer, I thought it would be all designy and that cool people with cool glasses would be asking me about how awesome I am. It hasn't really worked out that way. It did happen though that people were somehow interested in what I have to say and have designed, and lo and behold I soon realise about a week ago that I have been getting my design time in the sun after all. However, people are interested in most about me and piles of dead bodies in the tiny, forgotten, country my parents fled.

Cumberland Lodge. The Duke of Marlborough used to party here, now I get to.

Cumberland Lodge. The Duke of Marlborough used to party here, now I get to.

I was invited to Cumberland Lodge, a stately manor, former royal residence type place where people get together to talk about history, in particular "difficult histories." If you ask me, most histories are difficult. But thrown in among the priest from Northern Ireland and the people doing work in Afghanistan and Rwanda, I spoke about the project I worked on a year or two ago called Spomenik - which was where we setup a mobile phone tour of a mass grave in rural Slovenia

Teaching Difficult Histories

I got to have lunch with an Ottomanist and dinner with a reporter from the LA Times who lived in Kabul and an Armenian and Soviet ex-diplomat. There was interesting talk and questioning all around, but all very academic. How it could not be is beyond me, but I can't wait to go to something like this that isn't all academic, but where people give a shit about how we treat our past and how it creates our present.

The best quote of the day, and have no idea who to credit it to was "Bad history makes bad politics." He could have furthered that quote with "and bad politics inevitably lead to a lot of needless suffering, inhumanity and death."

The Queen signed this. And then they put it in a glass case.
The Queen signed this. And then they put it in a glass case.

Brussels or Bust: Making it Happen

If you would have asked me just even a year ago if I would be addressing a public hearing in European Union Parliament, I wouldn't have even understood the question I don't think. To think that what basically began as an idea, and a not even a terribly well thought out one for that matter for a school project five years ago, would become more and more of a real thing is still quite unfathomable.

Rolf Wiesemes and I, at the invitation of our partners at the Study Centre for National Reconciliation in Slovenia and the Hungarian presidency of the EU, were invited to present our work with Spomenik and the Pervasive Monuments project. Surreal wasn't even the word for it, especially when I used the headphones like you see on TV while French flurried about periodically. Well it is Brussels after all.

Basically, this was way more interesting that any design conference ever could be, and I think its because of this idea of making things happen. Governments, believe it or not, make things happen. Businesses make things happen. If you're like Laszlo Tokes, you're used to making it happen. Before he was vice president of the EU, he was an ethnic Hungarian pastor in Romania who kicked off the revolution that got rid of Ceaușescu. You don't make plans for it and hope somebody sorts it out for you.

With design, no matter what anyone tells you about on-demand manufacturing this and 140 character instantaneity, things that matter don't happen overnight. They take long, hard slogs, countless hearings and subcommittee working groups on resolutions of condemnation and countless iterations. What most people would call design that I've done on this project has taken me about an hour in the past year. The rest of it has been everything from managing an international project, to hanging out with 80 year old ex-guerrillas looking at mass graves to spending years tracking down lists of dead people. I guess it's all design too in some way. Putting it all together, making it happen.

Magdalena Festival: “From A to B, From You to Me” (Day 8 – Finito)

Ooof. Well its all over and Sara, Helena, Nikola, Oleg and Josip did me proud. On top of managing to deal with an extremely hard brief (inventing a currency for instance) and not being allowed to use a slideshow for their final presenation, they really did it. The final presentation was great, a couple of nervous stumbled, but they really engaged everyone with a newscast, signage, a survival manual and great thinking holding it all together. Links to follow soon. IMG_0003