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!