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Yesterday, there was a news item on Flemish Television on the upcoming opera performance of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly”, that will be performed at the Brussels Federal Opera House De Munt / La Monnaie (31 Jan – 14 Feb 2017).

What touched me was that Madame Butterfly was played by a puppet, directed by three puppet players (visible in black). The effect is mystical. Check out the end of this video (comments in Dutch, but that should not spoil the experience).

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Opera Madame Butterfly - De Munt - As from 31 Jan 2017

It made me think about a passage in David Byrne’s wonderful book “How music works” (Amazon Affiliates link). I am reading it in the context of my performance for Petervan Productions.

how-music-works

At a certain moment, David Byrne describes how his thinking about a show – a performance – was influenced by traditional Japanese theater forms such as Kabuki, Noh, and Bunraku.

Example of Japanese Kabuki theatre

 

“The tour eventually took us to Japan, where I went to see their traditional theater forms: Kabuki, Noh, and Bunraku. These were, compared to Western theater, highly stylized; presentational is the word that is sometimes used, as opposed to the pseudo-naturalistic theater we in the west are more used to.” 

“The character had in effect been so fragmented that the words they spoke didn’t come from close to or even behind that puppet. You had to reassemble the character in your head.

As in Japanese theater, the performers often wore masks and extreme makeup; their movements, too, were stylized and “unnatural.” It began to sink in that this kind of “presentational” theater had more in common with certain kinds of pop-music performance than traditional Western theater.”

“There was no attempt to formally separate the ritual and the show from the audience. I quickly absorbed that it was all right to make a show that didn’t pretend to be “natural.” To further complicate matters, I decided to make the show completely transparent. I would show how everything was done and how it had been put together.”

Check out the video footage of the resulting “Stop making sense” Tour. The show starts with a heavenly version of the song “Heaven” on an empty stage. At minute 2:30 you will see the first elements of the stage being rolled in.

The whole show is super enjoyable, and if you want to know what “playing tight” means, check this awesome version of “Breaking down the house”, which does exactly what you would expect.

 

Sometimes I think I have to stop trying to “make sense”. Better would be to “make meaning”.

All these reflections are related to my upcoming performance “Tin Drum is Back” (subtitle: “what is/what could be”): the performance design is evolving well, with detailed script being written as we speak.

Part of the story is looking back into ones youth (5-10 years old), look at what was forbidden then: for some people that is an area of talent they have neglected to develop. In my case, it was a tin drum I got when I was 6 years old, and the story of rhythms in my life and in my work. As the script develops, the narrative arc seems to be about evolving archetypes and levels of maturity.

Scripting is not “only” the storyline, but also the staging, transition, props, lighting, etc… And all visuals, sounds, and word are self-composed, self-created. Should be ready around March, although I may pick up some delay.

It starts feeling like theatre by an amateur 😉 So, performing “tight”, in some theatrical form, with costumes, masks, props, and stage being build-up as the show moves along, is certainly inspirational.

I see “Tin Drum…” as a teaser for a bigger story on multi-media corporate narratives, where – who knows – I create commissioned performances on less tangible topics (less tangible than “what problem are you trying to solve?”). I indeed think that a lot of the work I am preparing is steering away from the problem-solving orientation, and give more room to the creative orientation of “what do I want?”

What do you think? BS? Did I smoke too much ? 😉 Please don’t hesitate to share resources and serendipities that this post may generate.

More general Jan 2017 update here:  https://petervan.wordpress.com/2017/01/08/petervan-productions-jan-2017-update/

Rebelliously yours,

 

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As many of you know, since begin November I am trying to create my own thing called “Petervan Productions”.

The scaffolding is already in the works for many years, and I am still hesitating whether I will once publish the 100+ page reflections on the intentions of all this, what I think this enables, and then working down the tactics such as outcomes and deliverables.

Besides the artwork and the research bit of my activities, I spent quite some time in re-thinking what “events” could be like. And thinking of my customers as “guest”, not consumers. What I am trying to offer is a one-stop-shop for unique immersive learning expeditions in emotionally and physically right spaces for humans.

So anything that gets me back to my architectural roots of “right” spaces for human beings makes me a bit poetic. In this case this very nice article in Aeon about the French architect Jean Nouvel, all about light, geometry and symbolism to re-imagine culture.

The core of the article is a very nice video. As usual, I made the transcript of the video, and added some poetic highlights and typographic reflections by myself. I have stopped adding comments and trying to explain. My guests are smart enough to make up their own minds. Explaining would be an insult.

jean-nouvel1

 

Each project is an adventure, a passion

The biggest temptation

Is to jump into it

There are solutions that come to you

There are images that spontaneously appear

My method is rather to hold back as long as possible

To really imagine it spatially

So, to be sure that I have something to say

These moments where you understand somebody cared about something

That’s when you feel

 like “oh yes,

this is a human thing,

not some robot that

put something together”

Simply living there is a cultural act

Combine big bold shapes with intricacy and delicacy

The ability to be bold and delicate at the same time

jean-nouvel2

The relation between time and light

The sphere above,

the cupola

As spiritual space

“Perhaps we have to keep dust”

jean-nouvel3

Create a space, no inside, no outside…

jean-nouvel4

“We have principles, and these principles we have to nurture.

We nurture them.

We deepen them.

And with them,

we invent…

something else”

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Collection of artworks from my fellow students of the 2016 Art class

My good friend Alan Moore (@alansmlxl) from the flatlands of Cambridge recently published a great book on “Why beauty is key to everything” (Amazon Affiliates link).

Alan Moore book

It’s a great book, and as a teaser, here are some of my highlights out of the book:

Harmony, symmetry and maths all point to this atomic elegance.

A job well done is not based upon watching the clock or fighting time – but in giving oneself to the task

Their work transformed common objects into works of uncommon grace

I believe great work comes from a place of stillness where one’s focus is total on the action in hand, directed fully by the heart.

We need to open our senses to all that surrounds us

To be and to remain deeply intensely curious about our world is vital to original thinking, whereas the incurious face a rather dim future. To have a hungry heart and mind determines what it is we create

The interface with design is humanity

I don’t need to draw conclusions, I am happy for the thoughts to be half-formed but present

Do not work with people who don’t want beautiful, who wish to cut corners to increase profitability. Who, more dangerously, bring neither elegance nor grace to their work and their working environment, but the opposite.

The danger for the leader comes if you cannot truly love yourself. If you are at war with yourself then you will be unable to lead others with empathy and compassion. You may pretend – but you will always be found out

If you want more of this, Alan is organising on 27 Sep 2016 a workshop in London around the idea of, what would your business look like were it to be more beautiful?

Why should you come? You might be stuck in working out what direction to go in. Or seeking a more inspiring vision. Or trying to find new ways to make money. Or working out what your new technology can truly give to the world. You might be launching a precious new business, or working to rebuild an old one. Or a thousand other things besides. We will help you to:

  • See your work through a new lens
  • Get to grips with beautiful ways of making your business work better
  • Understand the value of beauty in designing experiences
  • See how beauty and utility can work together for success
  • Understand how great design is about the quality of your thinking, not the size of your wallet.

The gathering in a beautiful old church in Bishopsgate, London.  A remarkable space in the centre of skyscrapers.

seasonedjune323064

I read the book, and if the workshop is as good as the book, I strongly recommend it. More info about the event here. Enjoy

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End February, i had the opportunity to attend the “Socratic Design Workshop” in Cadaqués, 1 hour drive north of Barcelona, Spain.

From the Socrates website:

Socratic Design is a new learning method, incubating the generation of the best human future narratives by realising collective wisdom through the art of dialogue.

The exponential technological revolution cannot be incorporated in the old narratives build on coal and steel ideas. Centrality, hierarchy, ownership, secret information and monopolies are no longer guarded in this new tech culture.

The exponential technology era challenges our human creativity in an unseen way. We can only approach this huge potential of power with next level humanity awareness.

We need to reflect profoundly on our values, on our strong and weak points and above all on our implicit and hidden dreams of a human good life; safeguarded in hundreds years of literature, philosophy, human experiences, religions and other narratives.

We can only perform this if we leave behind our old school atomic thinking, using the strength of intense socratic dialogue, using personal experiences, reaching collective intelligence to jump into new frontier of thinking: exponential humanity.

One of the first exercises was to describe your “perfect day” ten years from now. That exercise was more confronting than i thought at first sight. Here is what i came up with. I deleted the detailed daily hour-by-hour agenda of the perfect day, in order not to bother you with too much tactical detail.

 

In 10 years time…

I will almost be 70

My wife almost 60

My daughter almost 20

Our parents will be gone

 

I have become a full time artist – creator – sensemaker

I sell my art, creations, sense-makings, and curations

I curate, selectively, choose my clients/guests

I only select/accept commissions that meet my quality standards of intention and intensity and ethics

 

I am connecting with the experts, the musicians, and artists of all kinds, to bring out the very best in them. I love to work & live with them, to show personal intent and integrity, so that others want to join my projects too.

 

My work has given room to a Foundation for better work (essence of work and deep change)

My work leads to delight, enjoyment, joy, pleasance, elegance, and maybe epicurism.

 

Enjoying the silence of the house and the morning

Writing, researching, and sense-making

Creating, scripting, painting, making sound- and word-scapes

Performing, Architecting rythms and connections

Good food and wine

Family time

Reading and sleeping

 

I am completely disconnected

Only take mails if announced by phone

My mobile can only take calls and sms

I have stopped tweeting, FB-ing,

Enjoying the physical and emotional silence

 

What I do does not scale

I focus on uniqueness, excellence

The beauty is in the perfection

 

I live in another house, with plenty of space, and annex atelier, maybe art gallery

On the country side, the humid heavy earth of Flanders,

Or in Spain, Toledo, Sevilla, in the middle of the heat of the plain fields

The crack in me, Dries van Noten, the tones of a Spanish Guitar, the dry hot summer heat and the shadow and olive trees

 

I have become a hermit

Nothing should or must

There is no time pressure whatsoever

I am in flow

Nothing needs to be proven

 

I am freed from desire

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From time to time, I am invited to give a keynote presentation. More and more i am adding multimedia elements to that: video, audio, even silence. This transmedia approach is also something that keeps inspiring me when doing my day job, where i am architect and content curator of “events”. I always say that i am not in the “events” business but in the business of creating high quality feedback loops to enable immersive learning experiences. That’s quite a different ballgame.

Some fans believe that what I do with our flagship Innotribe@Sibos is where i put the bar. It is not.

It is my starting point.

I really would like to go much further in touching my audience at another, additional level than purely the cognitive level. That’s why i believe a multi-sensory, more intimate, even business romantic experience is needed.

That’s why i love so much the work of Tim Leberecht, here in a recent talk at TEDxIstanbul:

I strongly recommend you watch this talk for the full 18 minutes. And read the book it is based on.

Tim Leberecht, author of the book The Business Romantic and chief marketing officer of global design firm NBBJ and, worries that big data, algorithms, and self-tracking technologies are engineering the romance out of our lives. He argues that we can find and create more meaning, and even magic, by designing experiences that connect us with something greater than ourselves. He contends that we all long for moments that are powerful precisely because they are inexplicable, such as acts of collective generosity, random digressions, and exuberant passions, and even the beauty of losing control.

He is referring to “Unexpected moments of beauty, awe and wonders, the detours and digressions, the cracks of imperfection, that make a heart speed faster, adrenaline rush, moments in which we loose control, and fall in love with everything.”

When was the last moment in your professional life when you had an experience like that?

It seems that only the measured life is a good life. Optimized by algorithms. I don’t believe in that anymore. There must be something better, more intimate, more unique, more transient, less about scaling and optimizing.

There is another great new book by Matthew Crawford, called “The World Beyond Your Head: How to Flourish in an Age of Distraction”

World beyond your head

It’s not an easy read, but Oliver Burkeman from The Guardian reviews: “Crawford has a point … adverts are everywhere, so much so you have to pay to escape. There are real benefits to silence. No great book, or idea comes without a degree of silence. Independent thinking is not possible without it. Perhaps this is why so many corporations and institutions demand our attention – and why we should protect it Scotsman Incisive. It’s philosophy as an intervention in issues of the day.”

And The Chronicle of Higher Education raves: “The most cogent and incisive book of social criticism I’ve read in a long time: accessible, demanding, and rewarding. Reading it is like putting on a pair of perfectly suited prescription glasses after a long period of squinting one’s way through life”

The book describes the big disconnect between our agency (or the illusion of it, by seemingly being in control by clicking some buttons on an app) and the result of our agency, the work, the piece of craftsmanship, that piece of art.

That’s why i deeply refuse to see my work “as a job”. Work should equal meaning should equal passion should equal Art. The artist’s way…

That’s why i subscribed again to Art School last year, and i just registered again for the 2015-2016 season. Last year was about drawing, next year will be about painting.

IMG_4936

Own artwork @petervan 2015 - pencil on paper and some water diluted black chinese ink

That’s why i carved out some quality time for myself on Fridays, when i experiment with art, sound and poetry. And i installed a small studio in my atelier at home, with a MIDI keyboard attached to my Mac, running Garageband and Ableton Software. I also got myself a “Push”, a special hardware device to play music and create sound landscapes in Ableton.

Puch

So i started thinking about what it would take to evolve my presentations into some sort of performance, where i only use my own artwork, my own self-composed sound landscapes and my self-written poetry. And do it LIVE! Standing in full vulnerability.

And what would a trailer for such a live performance look like? Here is a little experiment… The trailer is just an existing iMovie template tweaked with my own artwork.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/132009275″>The Spooky World of @Petervan</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user29570471″>Peter Vander Auwer</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

I showed it to some friends, and i was surprised how much a little thingie like this can create emotional reactions. Somebody else wanted me to do some commissioned work to create an immersive learning performance for a marketing event in 2016. Yet somebody else wants me to completely re-invent their executive off-sites to move them away from the boring flipcharts, whiteboards, post-its, scribing, and gamification tricks. And move them into deep intimate and almost zen-like retreats with tailer made, unique and transient multi-sensory experiences to create high quality connections of human beings on a mission for genuine and positive impact.

All these formats create a new type of scarcity, experiences that we can’t fully posses, experiences that don’t last, experiences that we don’t fully comprehend. They restore friction and doubt in a world of certainty, knowledge, and seamlessness-ness.

Formats where it is not about rapid prototyping, nor about fast iteration tracks to find a solution for a problem. We have to get out of problem solving mode. We already do that the whole year long. I believe we are hungry for a higher quality of being truly present. What Tim Leberecht calls:

“Being Thickly Present”

Maybe i am onto something that may lead to another level of awareness and articulation of corporate narratives beyond the hollow mission statements. Entering a new age of enchantment, in search for something bigger and more valuable than all that what can be measured. The beauty of things that don’t scale. Beauty keeps on chasing me. I wrote about it in “Confused by Beauty” and “The Battle for Beauty” featuring once more The Business Romantic.

What do you think? Let’s have a conversation 😉

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Artwork Petervan 2015 - Thinking Man - Pencil and watercolour

Since a couple of months, I am chewing on a couple of themes that feel interrelated. Themes like scale, uniqueness, and beauty, eternal, ephemeral, one-ness, and only-ness.

I started wondering:

  • What if scale is not the answer?
  • What if I would start focusing on my uniqueness?
  • What if beauty becomes more important than function?

I was on a track where I believed that scale and uniqueness where opposites, and I only wanted to do things that were unique, one-time, never repeating, and NOT trying to create efficiencies. NOT trying to create economies of scale and/or scope.

I spoke to many people about this, and every time I saw their eyes glazing, wondering what world I was living in, and whether I was completely disconnected from business reality, or from reality full stop.

I was more or less told to conform, to behave, to try to do what everybody else was doing: running around at being very busy and being hyper-efficient in doing and scaling things that in my mind were not very meaningful.

During a walk-n-talk months ago with Nilofer, she hinted that uniqueness and scale are in different categories.

Some others hinted me at the concept of doing something that is NOT designed to repeat and permanence made them also think about the opposite, when one created with the objective of only happening once, designed to be ephemeral. Like making a drawing on the beach that is washed away by the waves. If you were not there, you have not seen it. At best it’s documented on video. But the performance itself was unique, only happened once.

Like the snow Art by Simon Beck: working hours on one snow drawing, enjoying the ephemeral beauty of it, but with the certainty that it will be gone with the new thaw of the next snowstorm

Snow Art

I took all the advice, and kept thinking.

I thought I landed on something named

Un-Scale

But that started smelling too fast like slow food or some other sort of new fashion. It was also a different “unscale” than Hemant Teneja’s https://hbr.org/2013/10/economies-of-unscale-why-business-has-never-been-easier-for-the-little-guy/ .

It was also a different “ephemeral”, different from the ephemeral messaging like Snapchat who were just valued at 10B USD.

Doctorow

I was reading Amanda Palmer’s foreword in Cory Doctorow’s latest “Information does NOT want to be free”, where she mentioned there will always only be one Grateful Dead.

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They realize that companies won’t be manufacturing millions of identical things, but will need to make hundreds, perhaps thousands, of slightly different things

Learning how to do that—how to make an evening interesting for an audience, with just me and a stage and things I’d written, partly because it seemed to me that one day it might not be as easy to make money from selling stories in the traditional way

Many of us became authors in order to avoid getting up on stages in the first place

I started looking in to the concept of “One-Ness”, which is about integrated meditative consumption, unity, even Greek mysticism.

I started reading some of Nilofer’s first articulations of “Only-Ness” http://nilofermerchant.com/2013/01/17/onlyness-the-topic-and-the-talk-at-tedxhouston/

Onlyness is that thing that only that one individual can bring to a situation. It includes the journey and passions of each human. Onlyness is fundamentally about honoring each person: first as we view ourselves and second as we are valued. Each of us is standing in a spot that no one else occupies. That unique point of view is born of our accumulated experience, perspective, and vision. Some of those experiences are not as “perfect” as we might want, but even those experiences are a source for what you create. For example, the person whose younger sibling has a disease might grow up to work in medicine to find the cure. The person who is obsessed with beautiful details might end up caring about industrial design and reinvent how we all use technology. The person who has grown up under oppression might end up advocating for freedom of speech and thus advance the condition of his country. This individual onlyness is the fuel of vast creativity, innovations, and adaptability.

Embracing onlyness means that, as contributors, we must embrace our history, not deny it. This includes both our “dark” and our “light” sides.

Each onlyness is essential for solving new problems, as well as for finding new solutions to old problems. Without it, people are simply cogs in a machine – dispensable and undervalued – and we’re back to the 800-pound gorilla approach in organizations (and our economy). With it, gazelles [employees, community members, and partners] are singularly unique and able to contribute meaningfully.

And then it suddenly dawned on me: I was mixing up several dimensions.

I tried to articulate my insights in a Powerpoint slide:

uniqueness and scale

There are 3 dimensions in this slide. I was balancing in the zone between uniqueness and ephemeral. But found it difficult to integrate the 3rd dimension of Scale/Scope. In fact, the slide was two-dimensional only. I needed a sphere. I decide to hand draw it:

Scale Unscale

Dimension-1: the spectrum from Permanent to Ephemeral

  • Permanence, the same tone as “Long Now”, “Many-Ness”, things that are designed to last
  • Ephemeral, the same tone as Short Now”, “One-Ness”, things that are designed to disappear, not to last, like the snow art

Dimension-2: the spectrum from Uniqueness to Commodity

  • Uniqueness, the same tone as Nilofer’s Only-Ness
  • Commodity, the same tone as “Multi-Ness”

Dimension-3: the spectrum from Scope to Scale

  • Scale: what everybody seems to focus on. Investors don’t invest if it does not have the potential to scale, to be viral. The tone of “economies of scale”. For some sort of efficiency game. Still don’t like it, even if I can imagine something when Only-ness starts to Scale
  • Scope: what seems to count when one thinks platform business or platform economics.

I don’t want to scale nor scope my Only-Ness, my Petervan-Ness.

I want to create unique performances, multi-media, trans-media experiences, where I touch my audience at another (additional) level than the pure cognitive. I’d love to resonate at a subconscious level, with very unique storytelling and narratives. All build up from my own writing, artwork and self-composed music, sound and light landscapes.

I am entering a period in my career of “multiple gigs”.

I have installed a small studio at home. Maybe the embryo of Petervan Productions. Trying to master new tools. Trying to have the first story ready for dry-runs by March 2015. And a first live performance around summer. For small audiences only. Not to scale but to un-scale my Only-Ness.

Let me know if you want to be part of one of the dry-runs.

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Every now and then, we are reminded that life is not eternal. I am typing this during a lazy Sunday afternoon: the first real day of spring after a way too long winter. Yesterday, it was still cold, windy and humid: i was attending the funeral of my uncle Gustave who passed away at the age of 82 after a long disease.

Death, birth and marriage are probably the only occasions i come into a church. Like at the funeral of my uncle Roger, the holy mass was sober, simple, and bringing back plenty of memories of my childhood.

gustave

My uncle Gustave was bold. He was about one head smaller than me. I remember how we had fun every time we met and I bended forward to kiss him hello on his bold forehead.

Gustave was a man of “Joie de vivre”, liked a good glass of wine or spirit, and could enjoy from time to time a good quality cigar. He got in love with France, Paris, the French Riviera, the Cote d’Azur, the big French chansonniers in the 60’ies. It was therefore no coincidence that his goodbye included this classic from Joe Dassin “Et si tu n”existais pas” (subtitles in French and English in below video)

I started dreaming away to this “Vive la Fête” and “Vive la Vie” crazy period. And could lively remember the scandal atmosphere of Saint-Tropez, Brigitte Bardot, Serge Gainsbourg, many others…

brigitte_bardot_medium map.of.riviera serge gainsbourg and brigitte bardot

Every of these memories reminds me that we only live once, and we should remember every day the “Carpe Diem” mantra. We plan and live as if there never comes an end to it. Until we are hit by a disease, accident, or one of our loved ones passes away.

But we should not wait until mourning knocks on our door. Every moment can be one of wonder and marvel. Even in the darkest winter times.

My 7 year old daughter reminds me everyday of the sparkling discoveries of life. She starts to play with words, at times feeling like poetry. Just a couple of weeks ago, winter had created a thick snow carpet in our garden; it was a bright sunny day, blue sky. She looked out of the window with he clear brown eyes, and whispered softly: “Look daddy, it’s white summer”. Wow! White Summer…

white summer

Seeing the white summer through darkness. I would like to be in that state of wonder every single moment of my life. Remind me when i don’t. It’s probably the best tribute to my uncle Gustave.

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