Coney at Playful 2012: Ce ci n'est pas a talk

Playful is a conference all about ideas, games, people, fun and (of course) play. One day, 13 talks, loads of interesting people, gallons and gallons of tea, and many beards. This year it fell on Friday 19th October and the final of those 13 talks was to be given by Coney Co-Director Annette Mees and Ian Williamson. They decided to give a talk with a twist- no talking, by them anyway- and instead created a  framework for a presentation into which conversations, data, ideas and images caught during the day could be dropped into. As one of the slides said it was going to be ‘risky, but fun’.

The very talented Mark Boxall was designated film maker for the day and I was there to mop brows, dispense paper aeroplanes and help Ian with pulling together information. Of course we missed every single talk whilst capturing the conversations in between, but it was a great way to experience Playful. Despite a slight fluff in the middle of the presentation where we appeared to reveal that 415,541 doughnuts were consumed and an audience of 82 were reached on Twitter, I think it went well and the multi-coloured cloud of paper aeroplanes in the final minute was a beautiful end to the day.


Photo by Utku Can

Ian has written a blogpost on the creative thought process he and Annette went through prior to the day, which is re-posted below (edited slightly for length). You can read the full original post here.

Thanks to Mudlark for having us and all of those who shared their thoughts with us!

More blogposts about Playful:


Einar Sneve Martinussen:

Dan Williams:



Alex Rowse




For the previous two weeks (in the evenings, mostly) myself and Annette worked on a presentation concept appropriate for playful that would reflect the work of Coney and of our shared interest in collaboration, everyday myth, and creative play. The starting point of our talk was simple; neither of us like the overly formalised, classroom-like, configuration of a “talk”. In a conference called Playful we felt something more interactive was fitting and so we titled our presentation Ce ci n’est pas a talk.

Through our discussion three main themes became prevalent around the notion of collective engagement in creative practice and the supporting myth or narratives that often attend.

Reflecting Back What’s There (the daily theatre)
Collaboration is always surprising

A snapshot, a polaroid of the story in flux – dynamism
Explore, reflect, & model social systems 


Twisted Mirror (distortions)
Many voices permit comfortable contradiction
Tolerating high levels of uncertainty
The honesty of a fictional account


Myth vs The Account (useful fiction)
Static vs responsive

Creating unfinished stories – finished by the audience
Officially this part of the conference never happened
Through dialogue/consensus/rejection we define the borders of your identity



Photo by Mudlark


The entanglements and controversies present within these themes are the kind of stuff that drives a Coney project. Coney create spaces for the audience to enter into and from this collaborative space strange and surprising things can emerge. This characteristic of the whole as greater than a sum of it parts is just as evident in a conference platform like playful. A conference is a building with furniture, a collection of technologies, a group of organisers, a selection of speakers, and an audience of people. But it’s once these things start to interact that something organic and emerges.

Consider that conferences will often live cast talks globally as they happen, others will record talks and provide them as an archive. So why do people regularly travel great distances to attend an event? It’s for the in-between spaces composed of people, ideas, and interactions. And both Annette and I really like in-between spaces where things overlap. Like the spaces that Coney makes for their audience these in-between spaces are sites for collective controversies which can lead to creative output. In effect the speakers at an event act as the cut-scenes, there to set up the emergent interactions that will happen during the coffee and lunch breaks.

Without speaking at all we tried to reflect the more elusive aspects of the conference. Mark’s beautifully shot short video on the ideas spawned from each talk [above] acted as a centerpiece surrounded by live feed shots of the audience, audio recording vox pops and reflections from twitter. The culmination of the talk was a grand gesture masterminded by Annette.  On the count of one, two, three… multi-coloured paper airplanes made by the audience were sent forth to fly together in the airspace above the main hall. The above picture does no justice to the live spectacle. We hoped that this gesture would reflect physically the more conceptual collective engagement that had gone all day.

In it simplest form the idea we tried to present is that myth is different from fact. No less or more useful just appropriate in different ways and quite possibly more conducive to supporting creative collaboration. I think there is a fledgling of an idea here but there are a lot of issues to resolve. It is interesting to consider how digital technologies can capture a mythic account, live, in a way that permits the account to continue evolving.

Ian Williamson


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