Eno dodges questions
Dec 05, 2006 04:04 PST
Last night (Dec 4) at London's ICA was a very interesting evening, but not
exactly as billed. Brian Eno was indeed in conversation with Steven Johnson, US
academic and author of the newly published "The Ghost Map: A Street, an
Epidemic and the Two Men Who Battled to Save Victorian London". And the opening
20 mins or so were indeed about cholera epidemics in the capital 150 years ago
and how they might influence our future dealings with cholera around the
globe, this part a monologue by Johnson.
Then Brian Eno, who listened attentively and even took notes, moved the
discussion forward to raise and discuss recent statistics that, for the first
time, more than 50% of the world's population now live in cities and that we now
have more people (2.5bn) living without clean water than ever before in
history. He, of course, mentioned his oft-quoted statistic that the water problem
could be solved by spending a fifth of the cost of the Bush/Blair invasion of
Iraq, although he now claims this would be only around one fifteenth of that
He name-dropped more books than one man should decently have the time to
read in a lifetime and a recent list in a magazine of all the cities in China
that have populations of more than 1 million. Eno said that he was amazed to see
"over 300 names of major cities that I'd never heard of". Johnson joked "But
you knew the other 700? Impressive!"
And, before we knew it, Eno had moved on again to discuss his new favourite
hobby horse, that of Second Life. For those who don't yet know, this is the
facility online for people to reinvent themselves (Bowie is doubtless a lead
player) and live a second, third or fourth life (a glorified version of the
Sims) and mount experimental models of how life might be in the future and see
if other players buy into it or whether it falls and fails without
endangering whole populations (other than the virtual ones).
He quoted a recent example where a player was buying up real estate in
infinitely thin stretches of land next to land where richer players have bought
and developed property with beautiful scenic views of virtual sunsets. On these
infinitely thin stretches of land, he then built infinitely tall skyscrapers
and daubed on the wall anti-Bush slogans (could this player have been Brian
Eno?, one was forced to ask) and impose extortionate prices on the neighbours
who wanted to do away with the skyscrapers.
Actually, one member of the audience was forced to ask what did
high-falluting virtual world games for the metropolitan elite have to do with the subject
of the evening: namely, how we deal with cholera in the first world and
developing world countries? This query elicited applause from one lady in the
audience and many more must have felt like following suit.
Brian Eno defended the swerve in topic by protesting that Second Life boasts
an evenly distributed gender split, that older players spend more time on
the games than younger players and that there is no elitism involved. But he
dodged the supplementary question about cholera and socio-economics and then
went on to the next person with arm aloft.
Later, another member of the audience asked a complex question (which could
have used sub-titles) of Eno and a simple question about the new book of
author Steven Johnson. The latter leapt in and offered Eno thinking time while he
answered the more straight-forward question. When he had finished, Eno said
"On the basis that you have now already had one question answered, we ought to
move on to someone who hasn't". As baldly as that. Ahem.
In true Dimbleby style, he then moved to the "...Lady at the back. Oh sorry,
you're a man. I just saw the hair and presumed...don't worry, that happened
to me a lot when I was younger, it doesn't happen anymore".
At the end of the 90 minutes allocated, Eno (always a man with somewhere
else he needs to be, people to see) called a halt. But he said Johnson would
gladly sign copies of the new book and "if anyone wishes to buy either of two
copies of my latest release '77 Million Paintings' stocked by the ICA , I'd be
happy to sign those, too".
Brian Eno did of course sign other artefacts, but was loathe to get caught
up in any post-event discussion, such was his hurry to leave, until he reached
the foyer and, in a moment eerily reminiscent of the summer event at the
Royal Academy (and Bernd will know what I mean), he met two middle-aged ladies
who giggled girlishly and looked down at him (one forgets just how short Eno
is) with wide-eyed awe and admiration. Eno decided to stay a while.
Not a great evening for democracy, successful product placement or even
straight answering of questions, but not without incident or entertainment.
PS Brian wore black, but for his black and white dogtooth check zip-up
woollen jacket ;-)