Lucy's thoughts on SXSW and Texas

Having touched down in Houston and breathed our first American air, Barney and I had the perfect welcome from the immigration officer who checked our passports. Far from the quick glance and curt nod UK-style, he wanted to know all the details about where we were going and what we were doing. “Platforms for Hunting?” he said after I told him about my SXSW panel, “we love hunting in Texas. If it moves, we shoot it!”

As a group, we did consider switching topic from Haunting to Hunting, but decided it best to stick to what we had ‘planned’ as our SXSW contact Nathan had advised, in order not to ‘can’ it, as he so elegantly put it.

As a SXSW virgin on her first trip to the States, and without heaps of experience public speaking, I was a tad nervous, so very glad our panel fell on Saturday. This gave long enough to get over the worst of the jetlag, but plenty of time after to get immersed in the festival without constantly counting the furniture in each room or going over my presentation in my head!

On the day, I really enjoyed my part in our panel. We had a focused, engaged audience who asked some interesting, thought-provoking questions. I also found it really useful to have to articulate what I do in relation to Platforms for Haunting. This, combined with learning about where our work sits within the global interactive community via the other talks we attended, has really helped Barney and I to focus our work and place what we do in a wider context.

So, what is that context? In our talk, I described our work as a bridge between old technology and new technology. I talked about my love of old things and how important interaction with physical objects, documents and people is to me. I realized that one of the things we are trying to do in our work is to find ways of using digital technology to give us experiences that resemble analogue or physical processes. To use Theatre Jukebox as an example, this is a digital platform, which conceals the technology, so what you experience is a physical interaction with cards that has similarities to looking through an archive.

One talk, ‘Embracing Analogue: Why Physical is Hot’ gave us the stats to back up our suspicions. In a nutshell, that in our increasingly digital age, it is the 18-35year olds who are craving physical experiences and real things as much, if not more, than the over 70’s. Those who are using digital in their lives more than anyone ever are experiencing a hankering for nostalgia that sometimes even pre-dates their own memories. This is just an example of one talk that really helped to nail an idea that we have had but never been able to back up before.

We were immensely proud to have been nominated for a SXSW Arts Interactive award. It was a thrill to be at the awards ceremony and see our project flash up, and although we didn’t win our category (this went to Lost Arts, a Tate/Channel 4 collaboration), we were chuffed to receive recognition for Theatre Jukebox at such a prestigious event.

The conference has a mind-boggling amount of events, talks and parties to try and get in to. We decided fairly early on to take things as they came rather than stressing about missing things all the time. The two themes/trends that we picked up on via our personal overview of the festival were the idea of the importance of physical interactions as well as digital experiences, and that wearable computers, such as google glass, are set to be the next big thing we will all have before too long. I’m sure as rookies, we did miss out, but for us it was about so much more than just the talks.

Barney has been to New York before, but I’d never been to America, so just being there was a constant source of amusement and inspiration. I was surprised by how foreign it seemed, given that we know so much about America through film and TV. The way you cross the road and the size of everything – the cars, the streets, the portions. It sounds like such a cliché, but it was exactly those clichés, those moments of thinking you could be in a movie, that amazed me so much.

After Interactive and Film ended, we spent a few days out of Austin. We drove down to San Antonio via a small town called Lockhart, where you can get ‘the best BBQ in Texas’. This bears no resemblance to our half-cooked sausage over a gas fired thing on someone’s patio. ‘Smitty’ ain’t messing around. The grill is about 12 foot long and filled with great head-sized hunks of cow – brisket – and blacked humpback bridges of ribs. The whole shebang is heated by open log fires at either end, on the floor, indoors, so the walls are heavy with years of thick black soot. Suffice to say it’s quite warm in there as you queue up. When you get to the front you get your order of meat wrapped in brown paper with a choice of bread or crackers, and that’s it.

I’m glad to have sampled some of the real Texas as well as taking away the rich, cultural experience of SXSW and cosmopolitan Austin. Barney and I are already plotting our return to SXSW next year, but whether this is just the first or my only experience of the festival, I will certainly never forget it.

I would like to sign off by thanking Jo Lansdowne and REACT for inviting me to be part of the panel and John Troyer, Tim Cole and David Kirk for being such interesting co-panelists and general good guys.