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Interview with Drew Hemment, Founder of Future Everything

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Interview with Drew Hemment, Founder of Future Everything

Technology, Art & Biology collide 

Future Everything’s Festival of Digital Culture brings Hello Lamp Post and The Chronarium Sleep Lab to Singapore  

For one week only you can have a chat with Singapore’s lamp posts and mailboxes. It’s fun, quirky and has a deeper mission. I sat down with Founder and CEO of Future Everything, Drew Hemment, to find out more.

Future Everything is a festival of digital culture. What does digital culture mean to you?

The artistic exploration of digital technology and its social implications. We are part of a community of people looking at digital technology through a different lens, with creativity at the forefront of that. It is not all about gadgets! 
20 years ago when I started Future Everything, New Media Art was a niche. Now, digital impacts everything and as a cultural movement it has much broader concerns. Digital technology is so ubiquitous now and a much broader spread of artists use digital tools in their work but don’t define their work as “digital”.

  
So digital is the new normal for many artists? 

Yes.  The space we work in now is both huge, and everywhere, and much harder to pin down to a group or community. There is still a sense of an artistic tradition as there is a canon of work and a set of interests which focus on a critical engagement with technology and its social impact.  It is still possible to talk about New Media Art as a canon of art. There is a coherent group of artists working in this area. 


Are you familiar with any Singaporean artists who work within the digital culture sphere?

Yes, Debbie Ding, Jennifer Teo and Lin Hsin Hsin work on art, urban issues, land issues, psycho-geographical issues, inventions and combine this with mathematics and technology. Their work is clearly located in the canon of New Media Art and digital culture. Lin Hsin Hsin has been a leader in this field since 1994.  


What is your mission here in Singapore? 

Our festival is here for only one week, so we can’t change the world. One area we would like to develop is the connection between society, culture and technology. Bridging these domains is what motivates us and we would like to foster this in Singapore amongst the incredibly sophisticated arts and technology scenes. Our ambition is to create a lasting link between those two spaces for the betterment of both. 


What is the curatorial idea behind the art works you are bringing to Singapore for the festival?

Because of our social focus, we work differently from other curators. We try to understand the local context. We looked at the urban life, artistic life and technological life of Singapore. We identified the Smart Nation as a central vision for the Singaporean government so we asked ourselves “How can we generate new thinking and possibilities around the Smart Nation?” 
We looked at the specifics of Singapore and one that stuck out was the fast pace of life. The British Council published a report that surveyed 40 cities and claimed that Singaporeans are the world’s fastest walkers! I read the research and it focused on how walking is intrinsically linked to quality of life. 
Both art projects are designed to create moments for play and contemplation. 


So the art works act as a pause button for all of us living in Singapore? 

Yes. The two projects are called Hello Lamp Post and The Chronarium Sleep Lab.  

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Hello Lamp Post allows you to send text messages to lamp posts and other street furniture and engage them in a conversation.  It is quite playful and whimsical and there is a serious point to it too, as it says, let’s stop and think. Algorithms make our decisions for us these days. They feed us our music, book, film, friend and news choices so we wanted to let people stop and think for themselves. The idea of street furniture talking to you is not far-fetched, it is a very plausible as a near future event!
We are going to engage Singaporeans in a conversation about their hopes and dreams for their city. We have scripted hundreds of conversation starters and dialogue. The questions include “Has your phone made a more or less sociable person?” “What would you think of a robot nanny for your kids?” “Do you have any friends you have never met in real life?”  The artists developed Software to analyze the questions and provide an appropriate response. At the end of the week, data scientists will examine this data and present a report to the panel at our conference on Saturday 17 October in a session called “Singapore Speaks” at the Art Science Museum. 

Click here for video instructions to the Hello Lampost. Hello Lampost is active from tomorrow until Sunday 18th October from 10am to 10pm

The Chronarium Sleep Lab by Loop.Ph  

brings together architecture, visual art, aesthetics, technology and biology. These different dimensions are really exciting. This project invites people to have a short nap in a smart sleep pod. It responds to the same issue, the pace of urban life. It is an architectural space designed to enclose and cloak the individual. It shields visual and aural stimuli and your wear headphones and an EEG device and examines how Smart Cities can create respite for health and well-being. 


Find a sleep pod at The Cathay, 2 Handy Road from tomorrow until Thursday. You can take a nap from 10am – 10pm

We will be talking to Loop.pH next week, so watch this space. 

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Do you hope that your work with digital culture will lead to the practical transformation of cities? 

We work on two levels in cities. Firstly, our annual festivals create public cultural events and opportunities to challenge thinking. Secondly, through grassroots innovation with local communities we bring creative skills to work on civic and social innovation. At a grassroots level in Singapore, this manifests itself in something like the One Maker Group. 

We are running our Innovation Lab this week -  it is a workshop for a range of experts in design, architecture, urban planning, environmental awareness, art and food. They will work on ideas for Singapore as a Smart City. At the end of the week the best idea will be chosen and Future Everything will give SGD 40,000 to make it a reality and then transport it around the world to other Future Everything festivals. 

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If the Festival generates a practical new urban scheme, would you work with the Singapore government to make it happen? 

We are very excited and privileged to be commissioned by the Singapore government. We were commissioned by the IDA and it is the first time the IDA has worked with a cultural organisation to advance its technology development goals. We hope that some of the outcomes of the festival will have practical implications which increase the well-being of Singaporeans. 
We are motivated to bring about change in the world. In fact, after one of our festivals in 2009, the Manchester Data Store was set up which made open local government a reality. It has been replicated in other cities and was the first time an arts organization led government policy on digital infrastructure. It has been held up as an exemplar by the UK government. Real lasting change came about of the festival.

Increasingly researchers say that curiosity is a starting point to creativity. What are you curious about right now? 

I’m really curious about what Singaporeans think. 

Thanks you very much for your time. We look forward to the results of Hello Lampost being presented on Saturday 17th October at the Future Everything Conference at the Art Science Museum. 

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The Artling is proud to support Future Everything’s Festival of Digital Culture in partnership with the IDA which opens in Singapore tomorrow.  

Images courtesy of Future Everything. 


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