Ben Pacey at The Story 2014

The Story is a brilliant annual conference about stories that took place in February 2014. Artist and frequent Coney collaborator Ben Pacey went along and wrote a blogpost of highlights for us to share here (apologies for the delay folks, our fault)…

A last minute ticket to The Story came up through the Coney network. It’s an event I’d been to before, but not for a couple of years. The timing was good: I’d set the day aside to do some thinking about future plans… spending the day listening to a load of inspiring stuff – whilst reflecting on my own stuff – seemed ideal.

Gruff Rhys in a Wolf Hat

Gruff Rhys in a Wolf Hat

Fourteen people spoke at The Story, and although I don’t mention everyone, they all had excellent stuff to say, with eloquence. And here’s my highlights, framed around five themes which seemed to resonate throughout the day, for me.

Are we stuck in a bubble? Or, who’s it for and what’ll it do?

Here we are. Conway Hall on a Friday morning. The anticipation builds, my ears are pricked, the coffee I stopped off for as I walked over here from the station is finished. The hall is busy. It’s also predominantly filled with white middle class creative types. Like me. I’m reassured that I’m still at the younger end of the demographic. But I do experience a few moments of doubt. Are we just in a little self-serving bubble of creative pointlessness?

Uncannily, the first few speakers seem to know what I’m thinking…

Ben Payne from the Ministry of Stories talks to us about what they’ve been up to. MoS continues to do amazing work with children, from it’s monster-infested Hoxton base. In particular, they’ve made an album of songs written by participating kids, and recorded by professional musicians. There’s a nice shiny docu film of this. The kids they reach are from range of backgrounds which looks more representative of London 2014. Brilliant.

Next up, Bryony Kimmings tells us about her work (alongside her 9 year old niece) creating, and being, Catherine Bennett. Google ‘Credible Likeable Superstar Rolemodel’ if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Her schools workshops look amazing and hilarious. And impactful, just like MoS. She knows who the work is for, and is gloriously ambitious about what she wants it to do. Even if no one else speaks today, my early doubts are, at least partly, disabused.

Later, Lisa Salem talks about her projects. including Walk LA With Me. It’s a response to her sense of disconnection and isolation whilst living in Los Angeles. She identifies this urban aloneness as a near universal experience for the modern city dweller. Her work attempts to slightly reconfigure the city to facilitate unexpected conversations between Lisa and members of the public. There’s a bit of “art” in the setup; there’s a lot of space in the conversations for her participants and their stories. I like the look of this a lot. She wonders what would be possible if more people “felt like they actually owned the world”?

Everyone loves “hyper-reality”

Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard talk to us about their work making the Nick Cave “rock doc” 20,000 Days on Earth. Ostensibly documenting a typical day-in-the-life, it’s really an elaborately curated construction, but one which, they hope, it true to an emotional, if not a factual, truth. We get to see a little clip: “It’s just shit..” says Nick Cave in the film “..important shit.”

Several other speakers touch on this stuff too. Foley artist Barnaby Smith doesn’t just talk about it, he demonstrates it. Now, I already know about some of the sonic fun you can have with celery, so that bit of the demo isn’t much of a revelation. But then he shows us a clip from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, three times: initially with just the actual sound from the take, then with the musical underscore added, and finally with his foley track which was used in the film. I had no idea that everything apart from the voices and the music is foley. Even the stuff which looks utterly natural. The man is walking down a gravel drive, so why have a foley artist artificially recreate the sound of a man walking down a gravel drive? Because if you do, it’s better than life.

Personal Projects vs. Commissioned Work

Bill Wasik accidentally invented the flash mob, sort of, although he also sort of didn’t. He just loves it when a casual-side-project goes viral. Philip Larkin (no, not that one) is loving vine. Making his 6 second comedy clips is useful simply as a creative practice, but they also build his network and his audience.

Kyle Bean makes (2D) illustration, by designing, making and photographing elaborate, beautiful and often witty 3D stuff… His practice is based on his indecision about whether to pursue product design or illustration. Instead, both, combined. I’m really into the detailed tactility of his 3D and it’s transformation to shiny 2D perfection. He shows us lots of big shiny media commissions, and some stuff made just for himself, for practise. This reiterates that personal projects can be reinvigorating; can lead to learning; can lead to whatever’s next. As a freelancer, this is a reminder that I sometimes really need.

Make Stuff

Ok, so this is obvious, right? But it’s implicit in nearly everything that’s said. Get on and make (or write) stuff they all say. It ain’t no good if you don’t actually do it.

Meg Rosoff tells a story involving writing, horses, and – is that the ghost of a German Shepherd dog? Well, no, but it is a German Shepherd dog which both her and her horse mutually hallucinated… A long story, but her point is that if you’re going to make stuff, or write stuff, go deep, go fierce, and make it resonate. If it doesn’t, it also ain’t no good.

Be Compelling

Tony Ageh starts by sitting down, and telling us that he hasn’t prepared anything, and doesn’t have anything important to say. And then he rambles about his career in media/management. Did I say rambles? Maybe, but he’s charming, and totally engaging. We’re all gripped. His twenty minutes fly.

Gruff Rhys doesn’t talk about telling stories, he just tells a story. A story about retracing a journey made by an ancestor of his, who tried to find a mythical tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans. He has his ancestor re-made in felt, the two of them set off together. It’s crazy and wonderful, and he sings us a song while dressed as a wolf. It’s been that kind of day.

By the time we disperse into the crisp blue afternoon my head is full and fizzing. Good fuel. Lots to think about. But right now, it’s time for a pint.
Ben Pacey

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