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  • If you happened to be in the town of Lubec, Maine

  • in July of 2016,

  • you may have seen something a little curious on the horizon

  • when you looked out across the bay.

  • In the distance,

  • on an otherwise uninhabited island,

  • loomed large black letters that spelled the word "FOREVER."

  • The sign was 15 feet tall and 50 feet wide,

  • large enough so that on a clear day, you really could see "FOREVER,"

  • the word perfectly visible and legible in the distance.

  • But on some days,

  • a thick white fog would roll in off the ocean,

  • erasing the word and the view altogether.

  • And sometimes, like in this video,

  • you could barely see "FOREVER" peeking out of the shifting fog,

  • accompanied only by the rhythmic warning sounds of fog horns.

  • (Sound of fog horn)

  • (Sound of fog horn)

  • It started out as a fairly simple idea,

  • albeit a little strange,

  • to put the word "FOREVER" in the landscape

  • so it could appear and disappear in the fog.

  • But it took over a year to plan and execute,

  • and it required the help of so many people,

  • like the lobster boat captain,

  • who helped transport all of the materials to the island.

  • And the volunteers, who helped carry thousands of pounds of wood and steel

  • to the top of the hill through waist-high shrubs.

  • And in the end,

  • "FOREVER" only lasted for three weeks.

  • (Laughter)

  • So if you're wondering why I did it at all,

  • as I often did during that process,

  • it might help for you to know a little bit more about me

  • and my upbringing.

  • I grew up in an evangelical Christian family.

  • And although I'm an atheist today,

  • I've realized that my religious upbringing

  • has played a really important role in shaping the person that I've become.

  • In 1986, when I was five years old,

  • my parents became missionaries to South Africa.

  • And that was during the last few years of the apartheid,

  • so we lived in an all-white neighborhood,

  • and I attended an all-white public school,

  • while my parents helped found a multiracial church

  • in downtown Cape Town.

  • Because I was so young,

  • it was impossible for me to understand

  • the magnitude of what was happening in South Africa at that time.

  • I witnessed the racism and oppression of people of color I knew and loved

  • on a daily basis,

  • but because of my own skin color,

  • there was no way I could fully comprehend it.

  • But I had the privilege to experience, firsthand,

  • one of the most influential social movements of the 20th century.

  • And the thing that left a long-lasting impression on me

  • was how the people I met in South Africa

  • could envision a better future for themselves and their country.

  • A future they really believed was possible.

  • And then they worked together, relentlessly, for decades,

  • until they achieved that extraordinary historic change.

  • I was there to see Nelson Mandela released from prison,

  • and I watched an entire country begin a major transformation.

  • And that transformed me as a person.

  • It instilled in me a sense of wonder and optimism

  • and possibility that permeates everything I create.

  • I make sculptures like "FOREVER"

  • as a way of giving physical, tangible forms to language and time.

  • Those powerful but invisible forces

  • that shape the way we perceive and experience our realities.

  • And in doing so, I try to give other people the opportunity

  • to reflect on their own perception of reality

  • and inspire them to wonder and imagine

  • what else might be possible.

  • I often use signs to do this,

  • because of how simply and effectively they're able to grab our attention

  • and communicate information.

  • They often point out things we would otherwise overlook,

  • like this sign on the side of the highway in Texas.

  • [TEMPTATIONS]

  • They can often signify things that we can't see at all,

  • like the distance to our destination.

  • Signs often help to orient us in the world

  • [You are on an island]

  • by telling us where we are now

  • and what's happening in the present moment,

  • but they can also help us zoom out,

  • shift our perspective

  • and get a glimpse of the bigger picture.

  • Imagine, for example,

  • you're walking down the street in Philadelphia.

  • A city in the US that contains so much history,

  • the birthplace of our constitution.

  • But imagine you're walking down the street

  • in an area that's undergoing a huge transformation

  • due to gentrification.

  • And as you walk down that street,

  • you notice something flashing up above you.

  • So you look up and you see this.

  • A flashing neon sign that says

  • "All the light you see is from the past,"

  • and then "All you see is past,"

  • before turning off completely for a brief moment.

  • It asks you to stop and notice

  • the history embedded in everything that you see.

  • And it reminds you

  • that because light takes time to travel across space,

  • even from just across the street or across the room,

  • everything you're seeing in the present moment

  • is technically an image of the past.

  • Signs influence the way we all navigate the world,

  • which means they have the ability to create

  • a collective experience or understanding.

  • My time in South Africa taught me

  • that when people are able to find common ground

  • and work together towards a mutual goal,

  • powerful things can happen and so much more becomes possible.

  • And I want to create more opportunities

  • for people to find that kind of common ground.

  • I want people to feel the power of collaboration,

  • sometimes quite literally.

  • A few years ago,

  • a friend of mine showed me

  • how our bodies can safely conduct small amounts of electricity.

  • And if you hold hands with another person,

  • a small electrical current can pass through your held hands

  • and become like a switch that can trigger something else to happen.

  • So last year, I used that form of human connection

  • to activate an inflatable sculpture.

  • I put two sensors on a platform far enough apart

  • so that one person can't make it work on their own.

  • But when two or more people work together

  • to complete that electrical circuit,

  • the inflatable comes to life.

  • And it begins to fill with air,

  • and the longer people hold hands, the larger it becomes,

  • expanding into the words "You are magic."

  • (Music, birds chirping)

  • I always love to see

  • how each group of people finds a different way

  • to bridge that physical and metaphorical divide.

  • But as soon as they release their hands and break that connection,

  • the words immediately begin to slouch and fall over

  • and eventually return to a lifeless pile of fabric on the ground.

  • (Applause)

  • At this moment in time, I think we could all agree

  • that the future feels pretty bleak and uncertain.

  • But maybe the hope

  • for a brighter, more sustainable, more equitable future

  • depends first on our ability to imagine it.

  • But after we imagine it,

  • we actually have to believe it's possible.

  • And then we have to find common ground

  • with people we would maybe otherwise disagree with

  • and work together towards that mutual goal.

  • And if we do that, I believe we have the capacity for magic.

  • So if you can humor me for one more minute,

  • I'm going to ask everyone in this theater to hold hands.

  • When was the last time you held hands with a stranger?

  • (Laughter)

  • And if you feel comfortable,

  • go ahead and make that metaphorical gesture

  • of reaching across the aisle.

  • And after you've held hands with people on either side of you,

  • if you feel comfortable, please close your eyes.

  • Now take a minute to imagine what you want,

  • what you want the future to look like.

  • And give yourself permission to be at least a little bit idealistic.

  • What do you want to see change or happen in your own life as an individual?

  • What do you want to see change or happen for everyone, for the planet?

  • Can you picture it?

  • And can you start to see how, if we all worked together,

  • it might actually be possible?

  • Now open your eyes,

  • and let's make it real.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

If you happened to be in the town of Lubec, Maine

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B1 TED fog south africa common ground people africa

Imaginative sculptures that explore how we perceive reality | Alicia Eggert

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/03/27
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