July 2012
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Day 07/07/2012

Rethinking the 17th century salon

How might we rethink the idea of the 17th century salon to fit the lifestyles and technologies of our contemporaries?

From the Agora to the Salon to the rethinkedLab

Since ancient times people have gathered together physically to discuss, share and collectively analyze and rethink ideas. This concept of a collective space in which to gather and deeply examine, and reimagine the human condition has been poignantly absent from our own experience of modern urban life. We live in a world saturated by data. We have unprecedented access to all sorts of information through myriad media: Internet, books, movies, television, radio, magazines, newspapers, billboards, text messages, phone calls etc. Yet as our ability to acquire and share data has expanded, it appears we have increasingly lost the spaces and time to collectively reflect on what all this information means and how it applies to our lives.

Where are the Agoras and salons of today? Where can we go to surround ourselves with other people who are aware of their need to discover, imagine, create and experience a meaningful life; a human centered life that provides value and a sense of inherent and authentic purpose and drive. How might we re-imagine those ancient spaces to fit the needs and lifestyles of our contemporaries? How might we structure that space so that it infuses all of its occupants with the inclinations of a particular shared mindset based on seeking wonder and connections between ideas; a mindset that respects and celebrates the human condition and aims to design behaviors and concepts that optimize it.

This is where rethinkedLab comes in. It is an experiment in rethinking and designing that space and special sense of time to optimize it to our contemporary lifestyles.

We are particularly drawn to the concept of the 17th century salon as a source of inspiration for our re-design of that collective space. We want to rethink and reimagine the salon, trim it of all its history of Marxist, feminist, cultural and other –ist studies that have been used to define its meaning and critique its aims, structures and politics. We want to take the salon back to its fundamentals and reimagine it from there.

What is the concept of the salon in its most minimalist form? It is a special place in time and space, which imbues a sense of wonder, and influences and fosters in its occupants an openness to the world of ideas, to others and to themselves. It induces a sort of ‘existential trance’ where participants can shed their daily worries, take a step back from the immediacy of their daily reality to reflect and observe what and how their lives are and how they might be.

The main participants in a salon are its guests and its host. The host is responsible for ensuring the quality, depth, and diversity of the conversation and the guests are responsible for bringing fresh and unique perspectives to various themes and ideas pertaining to culture and existence. While the host contributes her own ideas and perspective to the conversation, her true art lays in curating both her guests and the topics of conversation. The host is a master curator–the more imaginative, deep and unexpected the ideas and people she brings together, the better her salon.

We believe that curation is its own act of creation and we reject the opposing interpretation that it is the mere sharing and propagating of others’ ideas. We find the notion sophomoric and believe it is a result of a confusion between the relationship of originality and authenticity. Not all creations need to start by being original to be authentic. Assembling diverse ideas dispersed across all fields of thoughts and interpreted from a wide range of perspectives can lead to the emergence of truly imaginative, original, fruitful and useful new concepts and questions.

So how do we take the basic elements of a salon and reimagine them to better suit our contemporary lifestyles, technologies and other constraints on our time and attention?

We decided to start as simply as possible, with a blog. We think of it as a public and collective space, to which we invite people of all backgrounds, across disciplines and continents to read, write, share and participate. Like the salonnière of the 17th century, we aim to promote an authentic exchange of ideas across disciplines, hierarchies, systems, structures, cultures, geographies and theories. We aim to create a special space that imbues our visitors with a sense of wonder and a renewed and fostered appreciation, respect and awareness of the human condition and all the potential that it holds. Our blog is a palimpsest in which to record fragments of existence as it is and as it might be. It is a collage of ideas from books, movies, dreams, hopes, memories, discoveries, quotes, images, interviews, questions, doubts and obsessions. It is an attempt to record the potential and occurrences of compassion, authenticity, well-being, beauty, glory, design and humanity embedded in our every day.

The advantage of the blog as a virtual space—being able to access it from anywhere and at any time—can also become its weakness. Perhaps in the future we can try to make the blog analog and host physical public salons, but for now, the immediacy of our conversation is limited by the fact that we have to wait for people to join in to the conversation at different times. This constraint, like most, is actually a possibility, one for us to take a moment, breathe, reflect and have the time to really engage and analyze our ideas at our own pace before responding to other people’s ideas and perspectives.

We hope you will join in the conversation, help us collect and reflect on our shared experiences and re-envision, design and imagine what tomorrow may be like. At the very least we hope you leave our blog with a smile on your face and a renewed sense of wonder and possibility.

If you see anything that you think should be featured on rethinkedLab…* please email Elsa – elsa@rethinked.org No spam please.

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