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Unseen Narratives: The TEDSalon in London

unseen narratives TEDSalon May 2012

Books, film, art, food — and science and social issues — were at the center of the talks at the sixth TEDSalon in London. Frog partnered with TED to co-host the salon on May 10 in a packed Unicorn Theater.

"Our bodies are made of atoms, but our lives are made of stories”, host and TEDGlobal curator Bruno Giussani said, introducing the event’s theme: “Unseen Narratives.” We are our stories, he suggested, our memories, desires, passions, dramas. Stories are what our imagination projects, what our creativity produces, what helps us to make sense of the world and relate to others. And an eclectic set of little-known stories the Salon presented.

We’ve chosen some excerpts from TED’s Caitlin Kraft Buchman fabulous reporting from the festive night (you can read the post in its entirety over at TED)

Choreographer Jasmin Vardimon, whose eponymous company is in residence at contemporary dance powerhouse Sadler’s Wells in London, brought a sequence of her piece “Yesterday” to the Salon. In it dancer Aoi Nakamura, tracked by a camera, simply and hauntingly traced maps on her skin, representing the physical memories that are stored in our bodies rather than in our minds.

Stem cell pioneer Pete Coffey was next, leader of the London Project. Fifteen years after stem cells were isolated for the first time, the first real clinical trials using stem cells are now taking place. Research carried out by Coffey and his team has shown that stem-cell therapy can halt the course of a common form of blindness (AMD, or age-related macular degeneration) and possibly restore sight. Coffey made both a scientifically and economically convincing case for this therapy.

Communication entrepreneur Laura Galloway told a tale of “genetic tourism”: presented with a DNA test kit, she found to her surprise that she’s genetically related to the Sami people, the last remaining indigenous people of Northern Europe, who inhabit large portions of northern Sweden, Norway, Finland and a corner of Russia. Galloway’s experience with Arctic farmers’ markets, festivals and the Sami led her to suggest that genetics may bring us increasingly in contact with our “original sources.” “Everyone belongs somewhere,” she said. “You have a tribe. DNA is your birthright.”

The first session was closed by three science comedians. The Festival of the Spoken Nerd, comprising Helen Arney, Matt Parker and Steve Mould (it’s them in the photo), examined the ubiquitous barcode — a hilarious and informative story of lasers and math and of a piece of technology that’s so embedded in our lives that we don’t notice it anymore.


Health practitioner, former Buddhist monk, and talented juggler Andy Puddicombe, the go-to meditation teacher for British politicians, executives and celebrities, was challenged to change the audience’s minds about meditation in 10 minutes. “When is the last time you took 10 minutes to do nothing?” he asked. He dispelled the idea that meditation involves seating in awkward positions for long periods of time, and invited to take care of our mind, 10 minutes a day. “Our mind, the one that needs to be focused, creative and spontaneous for your to thrive, needs to be taken care of.”

Norwegian historian and economist Sturla Ellingvag told a story of pressure, transparency and dialogue. When a young Norwegian woman was brutally killed in London and her presumed murderer escaped to Yemen where he lives free, protected by his father’s wealth and connections, Ellingvag and others started a Facebook group to put pressure on multinationals to cancel their contracts with the father. 53,000 signed up, and at the end several companies withdrew their business connections with the father, because of the family’s refusal to let their son stand trial.

The closing speaker, Pam Warhurst, raised the roof of the theatre with the story of Incredible Edible. This is the story of the transformation of a “normal” market town, Todmorden, 15,000 inhabitants in the north of England, around the narrative of food. By focusing on community (turning plots of unused land into communal vegetable gardens), learning (teaching food in schools and more) and business (promoting local food), the entire town was brought into the movement, with the inclusive motto “If you eat, you are in.” It’s a powerful, inspiring story of the (real) power of small actions. Edible landscapes are now being replicated in England and around the world, from New Zealand to Chile. Bringing the Salon to an end was a showing of a 360-degree photo of the speakers and of the audience listening, taken by British photographer Thomas Mills, adding to further impressions of the event.


Attendees left with copies of Andy Puddicombe’s book Get Some Headspace and of frog’s design mind magazine, whose current issue is devoted to the theme of “Passion.” A group of TED translators was in the audience and wrote their own take, while TEDster Nesta Morgan turned the event into art sketches.