This week's blog is written by our EUSA president, Jonny Ross-Tatam. He first wrote his post in November, following our Ideas Spotlight event at Mash House. Find the original post here .
The other week I was at the TEDx University of Edinburgh event at the Mash House. There were 15, sometimes inspirational, sometimes ingenious, three-minute talks on the topic of ‘How Does It Start?’ (appropriately vague for TEDx of course!) There were, some seasoned TEDx performers – like Johanna Holtan, serial social entrepreneur and founder of both TEDx UoE and Portobello. But most of the speakers were just people sitting in the audience, students who took the courage to put their names in the hat, ready to share their ideas, stories and passions for three-minutes in front of over 100 complete strangers.
Most were slightly nervous when stepping on to the stage, staring into the blinding white light and the slightly intimidating TEDx logo perched behind them. Who wouldn’t be? But after about 30 seconds, all of them got into their stride and found their rhythm and delivered punchy and insightful talks. None of them failed to bring the audience to their feet and make them whoop loudly in appreciation.
All of them did something very special that evening. They took a step out of their comfort zone and overcame whatever fear they had. One student speaker said emphatically after coming onto the stage, ‘I’m s******g myself guys…not gonna lie’. But afterwards I caught up with her, and she said ‘wow that was amazing…I’m never going to be as nervous speaking in front of people again’. She, and all the other students, gave it a go last night and that is what EUSA’s ‘Give It a Go’ campaign over the next two weeks is all about. Between 7 – 22 of November, societies, volunteering groups and sports clubs are putting on free taster sessions for any student to try out.
The TEDx event was hosted by comedy duo and Improverts (Edinburgh’s improvised comedy group), Pedro and Caroline. They told their story about how they ended up doing improvised comedy. Pedro’s started in the slightly more gloomy days of 1st year, when he was stuck in a cycle of (his words) ‘going to the Big Cheese, crying and snogging’. So he went along to a workshop with the Improverts at Bedlam Theatre and found that he had a love for this style of comedy. Both Pedro and Caroline said that this is where they have met many of their best friends and built a home away from home. ‘That’s important in a uni that’s so big and so easy to feel lost in’.
There are stories like this all around the University. People following their instincts, trying something new and developing a passion for something outside of their degree. Whether you have a hidden passion for public speaking, improvised comedy, drumming, and any kind of modern dance, yoga or anything else – take a step out of your comfort zone, try something new, it could be the best decision you ever make.
I made illustrations for each of the TEDx speaker’s topics in order to represent the content on a screen and online.
Before creating these visual images with a pencil and computer software, I researched each topic and provided both visual and written references. We illustrators usually follow this process before making works due to two reasons:
1) to familiarise ourselves with each topic in order to develop our visual language.
2) to avoid making inappropriate images.
Illustrators not only dedicate ourselves to convey aesthetic practices every day, there is usually a lot of research also behind a single piece of illustration. In the TEDx project in November, I used my time for roughly 70% of research and 30% of practice because many topics included controversial, sensitive and subject-specific content.
For example, Ankit Sonkar, who studies in Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science, gave his talk about how we can manage AI without losing our control over it. There are a lot of sci-fi films and graphic images which illustrate our possible future, overcome by intelligent robots. These are related to his topic and eye-catching but unsatisfactory to represent the essence of his contents. His talk promotes a consideration of our own intellect while asking the question, ‘what is AI?’ Therefore, a visual language based on the AI which is in ‘The Terminator’ is not appropriate, (though I love the scene where Schwaltzenegger lowers himself in to melt in the end of the 2nd film.) Instead, I make visual references from illustrations of business magazines, science articles and website of other TED talks, whose graphics are much closer to his contents.
In terms of avoiding inappropriate images, the research for Ankit Sonker’s topic also helps me to consider visual literacy and illustration which I should not provide. There are some failed cases related to inappropriate images for academic situations. The illustration of JSAI is one of the examples.
I believe that their robot girl illustration does not intend to be sexist at all, but it is a shame that nobody realised that it is not a suitable image for the academic journal until it is published. It could be avoided if there was someone who were familiar with visual literacy. It actually requires training to see works of illustration, as well creating them.
Professional illustrators study not only technique for aesthetic practice, but also a substantial amount of knowledge related to our subjects. There are always some tensions for illustrators to visually represent someone, especially if they are vulnerable or minority. While we provide artworks for communication purposes, these can sometimes harm someone if we make them carelessly.
Ignorance is sin for us.
By Chiho Nishiwaka
(See our News page for more of Chiho's illustrations and her website here).
Plans for our 2016 conference are well underway. We have decided to produce a blog in the New Year to reflect on our progress as a committee and community so far. We plan to post from early January and leading up to our conference in mid-February. Keep an eye out for our first post!
- TEDxUofE 2015/2016 Committee -