TEDxYouth @ Sydney Opera House 25/05/16 (Live Review)

First seen on Amnplify here

TEDxSydney and TEDxYouth are events held in tandem, occupying the Concert Hall and the Joan Sutherland theatre respectively at Sydney Opera House. The mission for any TEDx event is to nurture and spread powerful ideas. These ideas can take on many forms, most noteably speeches but also performances, music, food and so on. TEDxSydney 2016 is the largest TEDx event to-date with an estimated 4,500 people in attendance and more than 500 people on the ground and working behind the scenes to make it happen. TEDx lacks political, economical or religious agenda and no TEDx event is the same as they are all community-driven and independently developed under a free license. This year’s event theme was that of “together”; Edwina Throsby, Head of Curation and host for the first session cited the best ideas as “products of conversation and collaboration”.
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Photo: Katie Barget | TEDxSydney

Photo: Katie Barget | TEDxSydney

Each event borrowed from the other (TEDxYouth relying perhaps more heavily on TEDxSydney) by simulcasting a live stream of the speakers from each hall. One of the ten films from the 2016 TEDxSydney Film Program punctuated each speech transition. This year, TEDxYouth@Sydney upgraded from the Opera House’s Drama Theatre to the Joan Sutherland theatre, making up an audience of about 2,500 young minds. Created by young people and intended for young people’s ears and eyes, TEDxYouth brings together bright young thinkers and big new ideas to inspire the next generation.
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Photo: Katie Barget | TEDxSydney | Tralala Blip

Photo: Katie Barget | TEDxSydney

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As always, the event began with acknowledging the traditional custodians of Sydney Harbour: the Birrabirragal band of the Eora people. TEDxSydney went one further with a performance from Matthew Doyle welcoming the audience to this country. The first session, which kicked off with a performance from Tralala Blip. This five piece electronic outfit comprised of three members with intellectual disabilities who contribute every bit as much as their fellow musicians. Backed by gorgeous graphics on the screen behind them, Tralala Blip delicately and passionately expressed themselves through their most recent singles, Title and Title. They make a wonderful example of collaboration and it’s refreshing to hear from voices that are usually silenced, literally.
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Photo: Gary Compton | TEDxSydney | Tara Winkler | Cambodian Children's Trust

Photo: Gary Compton | TEDxSydney

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The first speaker was Tara Winkler, founder of Cambodian Children’s Trust. In her speech she fervently detailed the painful realisations about residential housing institutions around the world, specifically that of children’s orphanages in Cambodia (outlawed in Australia, the UK and USA). Tara persuaded both audiences through a retelling of her experiences – of the orphanage she volunteered at as a tourist in 2006(?), of discovering its corruptions within, of finding that most of the children weren’t in fact orphans and that voluntourism is a hideous industry fuelled by the very people who think they are helping it. The Cambodian Children’s Trust is her solution. It aims to reunite children with their families, finding them stable income and support to raise them, or finding foster families for the true orphans in Cambodia.

Jordan Nguyen followed in the simulcast from the Concert Hall. He’s doing some fascinating work with his social business Psykinetic teaming with Humense to create virtual reality copies of people. These copies have profound implications: being able to copy some of the greatest minds – Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk were examples he cited – or loved ones. He seriously considered the possibility of copying his grandfather, who passed away when he was still a child, if the technology had been available then. After presenting this potentiality to his mother, Jordan was faced with the ethical dilemma of these copies effectively forcing people to relive the loss. Evidently there is more research to be done on the subject. The first short film, a documentary on Being a Robot Usher by Ian Williamson and Russ Tucker, followed this speech. This short film was a standout to me, showing how technology might shape the experience of going to a live event. The film was both poignant and humorous, with clips showing interviews with human ushers we could recognise from outside.

TEDxYouth was then treated to yet another live stream, this time a performance from Kirin J Callinan. The first song was a surprising clash of electronic and guitar with Kirin shouting incongruous lyrics, the only stand out of which was, “in China!” The guitar work was intricate and transfixing, even if there was a little unnecessary use of effects pedals. The next song Kirin traded his electric guitar for an acoustic, which he failed to plug in. Kirin proceeded to serenade the Concert Hall away from any semblance of mic. Much of his performance was utterly lost on the TEDxYouth audience who was plunged into utter silence (soon filled with awkward laughter). This song devolved into what could only have been a skit. Part of the acoustic guitar was lost inside its body and Kirin, soon aided by first one then another stagehand, would shake the guitar overhead vigorously. This lasted for the remainder of his allotted time on stage (we could see the clock ticking away) and then exactly as the clock ran out the guitar part was found and Kirin left the stage, somewhat put out.
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Photo: Gary Compton | TEDxSydney | Kirin J Callinan

Photo: Gary Compton | TEDxSydney

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I have no idea what kind of point he was trying to make but, in keeping with TEDxSydney’s theme, he brought together three people briefly on stage and united two audiences in laughter at his antics.

The next speaker, also simulcast from the Concert Hall, was Kelli Jean Drinkwater, an artist, supermodel and “fat activist”. Her speech was one of the most resonant of the day, inspiring a huge reaction on social media and in the audiences. Highlights for me included her notion of “claiming space for [her]self” and her retelling of her artist’s practice. Kelli engages in activities typically thought to be “non-fat”, inviting other fat people to join her and then making art about it. (Pictures of some of her sculptures and photographs were shown overhead while she spoke.) A noteworthy activity she participated in was a “fat” ballet called Nothing to Lose! Kerri’s main message was to stop the moral panic associated with fear of fat; the diet industry prevents people’s ability to “make peace” with their bodies.

For the first time in this daylong event, a person finally addressed the TEDxYouth audience on the stage of the Joan Sutherland theatre. Jenny Anagnostopolous from the curation team officially welcomed us and introduced speaker Jodi Rowley. Jodi is a conservation biologist at the Australian Museum with a passion for amphibians. She detailed the impact of losing frogs on their surrounding ecosystems and the environment at large. Jodi led a team in Cambodia to discover and name 29 new species of frogs. She implored us to save the frogs however provided very little instruction for how to do that.

The second live speaker for TEDxYouth was cross-disciplinary artist Emily Parsons-Lord. Emily told us all about her practice, which focuses on air in a way that allows herself and her audience to “picture” it in its plurality: from a small breath to something as big as the whole planet. She has recreated air from various long ago time periods as well as “future” air; a human-made combination of gases that is much heavier than the air we currently breathe and has many implications on the future as far as climate change is concerned. Emily’s speech inspired me to consider this basic phenomenon that facilitates life, and the ways in which we take it for granted.

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Photo: Saidie Daher | TEDxSydney | WAFIA

Photo: Saidie Daher | TEDxSydney

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Session One closed with a two-track performance from Arab-Australian singer, WAFIA, to my absolute delight. Supported by Thomas Dean on a gorgeous grand piano, WAFIA sang her hit single Heartburn in a beautiful contra-alto. Stripped of its usual electronic enhancements, the song was an intimate new experience throwing emphasis on the sincerity to her voice. She then debuted a collab called Window Seat with Thomas, who leant his voice to the second verse. Their harmonies on the second chorus were an irresistible blend of rich tenor and light, girlish notes.

Other standout speakers include Stanislava Pinchuk (proposed the idea of trading custom tattoos for independently determined value like clothes, dinner out or a roadtrip) and Sandra Garrido (explored the reason why we listen to sad music from a psychological perspective).

TEDxYouth is an action-packed day full of huge ideas, good music and humour. Sydney Opera House is a splendid venue to host such a program both in the size of the ideas presented and the capacity of people there to witness these ideas. Next year I recommend going to the TEDxSydney program just to minimise the amount of time watching people present on a simulcast. You can catch the full program of speakers and films on the TEDxSydney YouTube channel!
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Connect with TEDxYouth!
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Official Website
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Facebook
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Instagram
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Snapchat: @tedxyouthsydney

All images sourced from the official TEDxSydney Flickr account under a Creative Commons license.

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