NDF: Doing good sh*t, and other things I learnt.

There are two conferences that I aspire to speak at/participate in: NDF and Webstock. I put in an abstract with a wish and a prayer for NDF earlier this year, and miracle of miracles, I was invited to speak. Looking at the calibre of the others I was presenting alongside, I am still humbled at my selection as I was nowhere near as good as they were. But oh, I learnt so much.

NDF is what a conference ought to be. Are you listening, LIANZA? It was positive, collaborative, enthusiastic, and with no clique-y politics in sight. As a GLAM event, it was clear that communication only within each individual sector does not work when the problems faced and innovations made apply across the board. In short, it was absolutely nirvana to be in a place with people who all speak the same language and understand the context of the problems faced. And while I really was depressed when the conference finished and everybody went their separate ways, we all left in excellent spirits and with a great deal more to think about.

The keynote recordings can be found here, and I recommend at least a dip into some of them, but the one that I am still mulling over belongs to Courtney Johnston, the new director of The Dowse Art Museum. Her talk can be found here. Watch it, I beg of you.

It was enlightening, inspirational, and moving. If her future work is anything like her ideas and raw passion about art and life, then the Dowse is in for a golden age. I, and many other conference attendees were in tears with her by the end, and the journey that she took us all on was profound. It really is how all our institutes, across all sectors should be thinking about developing and engaging. Last year, we were told, Courtney’s catchphrase was “Do good sh*t” – this year, she was talking about bringing emotion back into the gallery.

She told about about the fun she was having with DigitalNZ‘s photo sets, and described a picture from her private set that “spoke to her”. It reminded her, she said, of a poem by Richard Brautigan called “The Castle of Cormorants” and recited it to us, with the amazing Deaf Radio signing out the poem for us. It was beautiful, and as I said, we were all crying by the end.

Hamlet with
a cormorant
under his arm
married Ophelia.
She was still
wet from drowning.
She looked like
a white flower
that had been
left in the
rain too long.
I love you,
said Ophelia,
and I love
that dark
bird you
hold in
your arms.

Big Sur
February 1958

There are few poems that have caught me like that – but the only other is that vein comes from Anne Carson. It was introduced to me by the lovely Jenn, around the same time she introduced me to Knitty and taking knitting seriously. The Carson poem, is from Plainwater : The Life of Towns

But you
love I
knew by

I had written on a post-it note, and on my office wall throughout my postgrad career. It, a drawing of a stick witch/Wyrd Sister from Macbeth, a copy of the Anglo-Saxon fragment of The Ruin, and Captain Wentworth’s letter from the end of Persuasion (the most romantic letter ever written). These little pieces spoke to me, much as Courtney’s pieces speak to her, and I find myself wanting to leaf through my box of knick knacks from my office at ANU to see if I can still find them and bring them back with me.

Courtney’s talk was about engaging through the evocation of emotion – not just the five senses. Emotion stirs the senses and the recall and impact lasts far after the experience (case in point, this keynote that I’m still reeling from, a week and a half later). It is something that we who deal with people, and presenting information of all types and formats, need to be thinking about.*

I’ve been mulling over this for a while now, and walking back from enjoying my solitude-in-a-crowd, I decided it was time to try and articulate the links, for me at least, of why this talk rattled me so much (in a good way). I’m sure there will be more to think about, talk about and write about as I draw together the last threads of this year and my adventures in it. But for now, just go and watch this talk – please.

Until next time.

*(Speaking of this, whoever decided to call the National Library of New Zealand’s new exhibition Big Data needs to be dragged out before a firing squad and publicly shot. We have enough trouble trying to define and explain big data in plain, everyday speak, we don’t need people who can’t comprehend it to muddy the waters. It’s embarrassing, really, using buzzwords out of context. They’re going to be dealing with true big data soon enough, no need to mis-educate the public – however flashy the term may be).


1 Comment

  1. there is nothing better than a conference that actually does what its meant to, get the brain stirring with new ideas. so glad you had a good time!

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