TEDx, spreading worthwhile ideas in Bordeaux

Bordeaux Expats was among the select bunch of discerning blogs given premium access to the 2012 TEDx conference in Bordeaux on December 1st at TnBA (Théâtre national de Bordeaux en Aquitaine). It proved to be a rollercoaster ride of thought-provoking topics for the several-hundred people present, as well as for those watching via live video feeds in libraries, cultural centres and bookshops throughout the region and beyond.  

Eight months in the making and lovingly handcrafted by a core team of digital multimedia movers and shakers from in and around Bordeaux (the Aquinum network), this year’s TEDx event was the second to be held in the city. The format is a local take on the TED (for Technology – Entertainment – Design) concept initiated in the 1980s in the US: a series of short, dynamic keynote talks about “ideas worth spreading”. TED-branded events combine live speakers and video presentations to “spark deep discussion and connection” according to the official literature. The locally-organised “TEDx” events are independently-run while adhering to worldwide TED guidelines.

Territory and history

This year’s theme in Bordeaux was “Terr(hist)oires”, a pun on the notion of territory and history, forming the backdrop for a wide spectrum of subjects ranging from the weird (anyone for biohacking, biomimetics or geobiology?) to the wonderful (are there many events where beatboxing and oceanography are on the same bill?).
This comfy red armchair on stage
was used precisely once.

It feels almost unfair to single out specific highlights, but in order to keep this article to a manageable length, we’re going to have to do just that! Opening speaker Irina Dobre, a Romanian expert in intercultural issues, presented excerpts from her film “
Acasă” (“at home” in Romanian). The film has been inspired by her own quest for identity resulting from her move to France in 1999 and her realisation that she soon considered herself as a foreigner in both her home and host countries… until she realised that, in actual fact, she was now at home everywhere. Her keynote finished with an open question for the audience, the very question she had put to a number of interviewees for her film: where is your home?

Dominique Careil has spent a decade working in close conjunction with traveller communities in Gironde. On the basis of what he has learned over the years, he shared observations about the community’s attitudes to work, money, possessions, healthcare and death, singling out how theirs differed from the approach of sedentary populations in the area. His aim was to provide a valuable glimpse into their culture with a view to better understanding them, in the hope that this improved understanding would instil more respect and a greater ability to live together.

Halim Mahdi shared the experience he has gained over the years in the field of biohacking, using non-institutional scientific practices and techniques to remould the performance of his body and mind. When tweaking the dials on his nutritional makeup he has dabbled in excessive consumption of eggs, great blocks of butter in his morning coffee and full weeks spent fasting. The diet he has settled on over the past two years has seen him cancel out seed-based food, vegetables and dairy produce! He looks good and comes across as healthy – and certainly light-years from the obese child in the old family photos he showed – but the audience was in equal parts inspired and mystified by his talk promoting his quest for an "augmented life"! 

Above left: a deserved standing ovation for the organisers. Top right, lead organiser François-Xavier Bodin opens proceedings. Bottom right: a shower of red X's rain down on keynote speaker Sandrine Pacitto Mathou.

Revitalising an economy

Arguably the best-received talk was that of the youthful engineer and modern-day adventurer Corentin de Chatelperron. The Frenchman relocated to Bangladesh a few years ago to work on shipbuilding projects but was struck by the country’s ailing jute fibre industry, which in the past had been the primary material used the world over for postal and potato sacks. Corentin believed a jute fibre-based eco-material, known as pàt, could be adapted to local shipbuilding practices, to replace the use of imported fibre glass. To put his theory to the test, he built a boat out of a combination of fibre glass and jute fibre, the Tara Tari, which he set about sailing from Bangladesh to France during a six-month, 14,000km voyage that took the inexperienced sailor through choppy seas, pirate-infested waters, the administrative nightmare of the Suez Canal and much, much more. The boat made it, proving the durable qualities of jute fibre, and is now set to cross the Atlantic with a fellow sailor at the helm. Meanwhile, Corentin has obtained funding and set up an R&D centre in Bangladesh where a team of engineers are pursuing the innovative Gold of Bengal project to further develop the revitalised use of jute fibre/pàt
, which looks set to have a substantial social and economic impact on the country.  
Beatboxer Beasty raising the roof.
Finally, the most electrifying contribution was that of local luminary Beasty, regarded as one of the most talented human beatboxes in the world. During his slot, which used live samples of his eclectic palette of vocal sounds to illustrate the history of hip-hop and beatboxing, the audience was on its feet and for a few minutes the lecture theatre became an urban concert venue. Take time out to check out videos of Beasty's beatboxing skills on the internet. If you can hook up the sound to industrial-sized speakers and invite a few hundred friends along to holler and clap along, then you’ll have an idea of the incredible atmosphere that took hold of the TEDx crowd.
A unique experience

The twelve live talks and three video features that made up the five-hour event formed a varied beast that oscillated constantly between earnest and humorous, cerebral and moving, and the audience went home feeling they had experienced something unique. In Irina Dobre’s film, one of the interviewees observed that “Home is where the key fits the lock”. On December 1st, the TEDx organisers most definitely had the right key for the lock and those present felt very much at home. 

  • Full information about the event at www.tedxbordeaux.com, where videos of the talks will be posted in the coming days.  

About the author: Tim Pike, whose day job is corporate journalism in the aerospace sector, is an Englishman who runs Invisible Bordeaux, a website which lifts the lid on many of the lesser-known sights and stories in and around the city, touching on local history, architecture, infrastructure and customs. He can also be found on Twitter.

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