Andy Puddicombe speaking at the TED Salon, 10 May 2012, London.
Andy Puddicombe speaking at the TED Salon, 10 May 2012, London.

TED Salon: Unseen Narratives


17 June 2015

TED, the people who organise everyone's favourite talks, hold TED Salons in London every year, offering invited guests a taste of the TED Conference. We were lucky enough to be at the last one. By Honor Harger

Bruno Guisanni, European Director of TED, TED Salon, London.
Bruno Guisanni, European Director of TED, TED Salon, London.

The latest TED Salon, held at the Unicorn Theatre in London was perhaps the most inspiring of the three I’ve been to, and considering how brilliant the last two were, this is really saying something. Curated by TED European Director, Bruno Guisanni, TED Salons are a heady mix of talks, performances and networking sessions, that bring together some of the brightest minds around. The latest was titled, “Unseen Narratives”, and it was all about how our lives are made of stories. Sixteen speakers, dancers, musicians and comedians explored the narratives and tales we tell ourselves from a dizzying array of angles.

Georgette Mulheir of charity, Lumos began the session with a gripping and sobering account of vast orphanages in Eastern Europe, and the disastrous impact institutionalisation has on a child’s life.

Filmmaker Beeban Kidron who has been a Guiding Lights mentor, was up next with a beautifully told story about Film Club, an after-school club which engages children in watching and critiquing film. Accompanied by scenes from the films the children have watched, Kidron related anecdotes of how films like Mr Smith Goes to Washington and Hotel Rwanda have awakened children’s social consciences, sparked new interest in politics and even transformed their attitude to education. It was a wonderful talk, one I hope TED will put online, as it deserves to be seen by more people.

On of the highlights of the Salon was by stem-cell scientist, Peter Coffrey, who is attempting to use human embryonic stem cells to cure a particular form of blindness. Coffrey runs The London Project, a research facility that has been experimenting with the use of stems cells to treat a form of blindness known as “Age-Related Macular Degeneration”. Their results with patients so far have been nothing short of extraordinary, and give us a clear signal of just how revolutionary the potential of regenerative medicine is.

The first part of the Salon came to a close with an entertaining performance by comedy trio, Festival of the Spoken Nerd. The Nerds have been demystifying the science of the everyday the length and breadth of the country, and last night they took on the humble barcode. As Helen Arney narrated, Steve Mould explained how barcode scanners work by making one live on stage, and Matt Parker performed one of his customary gymnastic leaps of mathematical genius, by calculating the formula of a barcode in his head live and almost instantaneously. Seriously impressive.

After the break came six talks that were all equally captivating. The first was by Tracy Chevalier, author of The Girl with the Pearl Earring, who talked about how she unlocks the stories behind the paintings she loves. Using three portraits – including the Vermeer classic which inspired her most well known novel – as a starting point, she delved into the lives of the people the artists had painted, giving them invented back-stories filled with intrigue, romance and even a hint of scandal.

Continuing the art theme, Amanda Renshaw presented Phaidon’s extraordinary book, The Art Museum, which aims to be an imaginary museum housing the finest art collection ever assembled.

Andy Puddicombe spoke passionately about the importance of mindfulness, and demystified meditation in a presentation that was part talk, and part mesmerising juggling act.

Norwegian economist, Sturla Ellingvåg, gave a harrowing and yet vivifying account of his attempt to seek justice for a friend’s daughter who was brutally murdered, by a man who is now being sequestered by his wealthy family in Yemen.

The charismatic Tristram Stuart, author of the book Waste, lifted the lid on just how severe the problem of food waste is, in an informative and somewhat chilling presentation.

And in a lovely piece of curation, the final talk was about a project that could be a solution for the ills Stuart spoke of. Pam Warhurst from Incredible Edible brought the house down with a great talk that spoke about the transformative power of community action. Warhurst and her fellow residents from the small English town of Todmorden have used guerilla gardening to completely change their town’s attitude to food and the environment. Their example has created a growing global movement of urban vegetable growing, which extends as far as New Zealand, where Incredible Edible vegetable patches have popped up in earthquake devastated Christchurch. It was a rousing end to a brilliant evening, and Warhurst was rewarded with a rare and deserved standing ovation.

A big thanks to Bruno Guisanni for curating an great event, and to Caitlin Kraft Buchman at TED for her role in making it happen. Thanks too to Andrea Bebber, Tim Leberecht, Till Grusche and the whole team at Frog Design who help produce the TED Salons.


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