Hack the Barbican: a personal reflection

Hack the Barbican officially launched on Friday 9th August 2013, exactly a month since I first joined its Org Team. It continued to run until Saturday 31st August, making the remaining time almost as long as when I first had my hands on it till to date.

Organising Hack The Barbican was organising an event, not unlike putting together a stage performance, but it was so damn different, because there was space to breathe.

Artists talk about letting their work breathe. A writer should be brave of leaving his/her first draft and only come back a while later. In making art, “efficiency” is never a featured concept unless necessary which is normally related to time and financial circumstances.

What happens when there is no more efficiency in management? It becomes a fascinating process.

I vividly remember the first Org Team meeting I joined (it was open to anyone interested), the team was in a situation where a debate needed to happen as it related to integrity of HTB. To sidetrack a little: when I refer to the team, it really did not refer to a fixed list of people but rather referred to whoever was there at that point of time. Back to the story – I didn’t know or know of anyone. At the end of the meeting – despite how intense it was – I raised my hand and said I was happy to take on the responsibilities of doing X and Y, and so they were.

It was an immense act of trust and an unconditional sense of acceptance that I would not forget.

Further down the journey, one point, the dynamics of the team put me in an uncomfortable place. I felt that I wasn’t able to go ahead with doing my part well (in my standards) without the help of another team member who was under much more pressure than I did. Understandably I felt bad pestering him, but at the same time my perfectionist self had myself asking again and again. Yes, I was frustrated because it wasn’t good teamwork in my books, but I refrained from doing something unnecessary – showing the frustration.

It must have been one of the many times where we just had to believe that things would sort itself out – and I suppose it needed a certain degree of wisdom.

As the month went along, the things that needed doing were just as it sounds – things that really needed doing to keep the project going. The practical stuff that need people to get down and get their hands dirty and the number of people willing to do so was far and few – it drove us crazy.

When the month ended, I was beyond relieved. No more using one day as two, no need for explanations of why things were done so because they were set up in an unconventional way. I was exhausted, and I felt it was so for the rest of the people who spent a large chunk of August in the Barbican. The supposedly closing party performance was cancelled on the day and there were about 10 of us who turned up in the last two hours on the last day. We sat around a table and spoke a bit about our reflections, but the discussion did not take off – we ended up playing toy guns and a remote-controlled toy car that could breakdance instead. Just before I left, I wrote on the famous wall of HTB for the last time: “Goodbye #htb2013, we will miss you.”

In the later days and weeks, I tried to not use use the phrase “Hack The Barbican” as much as I can (it was instead I referred to it as “the thing at the Barbican” wherever possible). The only time I spoke to someone about it in its entirety was to a wise theatre producer friend. Even so, it was not a complete reflection. I talked about its organisation, what we did practically and how things could have been different if done another way; it wasn’t until now that I started to get an idea of the value of putting on HTB and placing it in a wider context.

The real value of Hack The Barbican lies in its chaotic nature. More importantly, to me, was the fact that there were no labels attached. When I first joined, I kept calling it a residency, based on the description that was given; at the end, it was referred to as a festival and in all honesty, I still don’t know how to refer to it.

Without labels, Hack The Barbican spoke to wide range of people. The number of people I met and found interesting in many different ways through the project was more than a handful. In a project, there normally is a something that binds all its participants together – an interest, a belief, an industry, age group, an end goal etc – and everyone is there for that particular reason. Hack The Barbican did not have that. We were there because of our individual reasons to be at this platform.

This particular takeaway for me continued way beyond the project itself.

Note: Hack the Barbican started way back in January 2013, so me joining at a very late stage meant I had already missed out a long, long journey. Whether there was a “neutral”, agreed-by-all definition of HTB, I am not sure. After this reflection was written, I learnt a little more about the background of the main initiators and I now try to consolidate what it was a little more and hopefully it makes a little more sense – HTB took a Hackspace approach, and it was an experiment of fostering a self-organising community in a short space of time. Will there be another HTB? How would it look like? We don’t know. After all, it is all self-organising i.e. for whoever who wants to do it, don’t wait for others, do it now.

Goodbye, August 2013

Here I am, at the Lakeside of Barbican, seated under the sun and thinking, it’s 31 August 2013, the last day of August, the last day of Hack The Barbican – the one event that took over my life in the past month in a few ways.

It started out as a fascination; then the pure joy of doing things and meeting inspiring people; growing friendships; taking ownership; overturning and reinforcing beliefs. My August had been of living and breathing HTB, where after work, I would go to the Barbican to hang out. For the first time, I squeezed two full days into one. Heaven knows how I managed to fit in all the other things around HTB – completing a project that bore significant meaning to me at work, quitting a gig, attending celebrations, insisting on exercising 30 minutes a day etc.

It made me happy, frustrated, fascinated, confused, upset, excited and grateful. It was chaos and exhaustion physically and mentally.

Then I dropped it and escaped to Scotland. The tranquility of waking up to the gentle sounds of the sea, the purest determination to face Mother Nature head to head and ride the waves, and the raw emotion of saying goodbye were altogether something else.

Summer is coming to an end, but every ending is just another beginning. As I stand at the tail of August and look into September, I don’t know what awaits. I have a direction, one that I chose but what will I find on the journey? I tried and tried to find an answer better than “I don’t know” but realised I simply lacked the necessary imagination. I just have to be at peace with the fact that I have to be a wide-eyed wanderer, and find the principles that make me stand strong.

So as I sat here and looked up to the blue, blue sky, I whispered, “Thank you, August 2013. You have brought me amazing friendships – old and new – and my soul to new places. I couldn’t have been more grateful.”

Being Brave

I started doing something new each month since May 2013. Each month, I started going to a new place and doing one thing new. It had been a wonderful experience so far, and more importantly, it felt like doing the right thing or fulfilling a promise (to myself?). Although, I didn’t know what that promise is exactly – it just gave the snug feeling of, “Yes, Jia Xuan, well done!!”

Upon reflection, it could be said that I am trying new things and making conscious decisions to face my fears.

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Signed up to Race For Life!

“Cancer, we’re coming to get you!” Race for Life, fundraising event by Cancer Research

I am doing my first run. First outdoor run and first something for charity.

Screenshot of Race For Life Sponsor Me page

You could say it was an impulsive act of mine (once again, just like skydiving) – I signed up last night i.e. 5 nights before the Race for Life at Hampstead Heath and intend to train for 3-4 days. My fundraising target was a mere £50.

“It’s my first 5k – it’d be fun,” I thought, “And surely I can find, in 4 days, 10 friends to donate £5 each?”

The fun factor was much more significant than the cause, but how life makes funny arrangements.

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Merrily We Roll Along

There was a time when we were young, when we believed that anything could happen, when we knew that we would change the world. And we missed that time so dearly. 

But at the same time, I know and want “that time” to be now. I wanted so much to be by your side, when we could hold each other’s hand and believe, with all our heart, that we would be great together,  and we were here to change the world, to “show’em, tell’em”.


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Contradiction: Technology and Dance

One of the contradictions I live – both personally and professionally – is technology and dance.

Dance is the most raw form of expression. It is an activity that makes you connect with the body/shell/thing that you live in, that gives the most direct shape to your soul. To dance is to be control of this thing, or to deliberately not be in control.

To move is primitive.

Technology, in the most simple terms, is systems or tools that solve human problems. It allows human imagination take shape in the most logical way. Imagination drives “progression” in the most direct way (though, whether it improves or worsen human condition is another debate).

Technology is the future.

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