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February 26, 2014

The Gathering

Tilda Swinton and Sandro Kopp Host a Star-Studded Cultural Festival in the Maldives

A community of playful souls spent five days at Tilda Swinton and painter Sandro Kopp’s most recent gathering, which marooned 20 mercurial figures on an archipelago in the Indian Ocean in December of last year. Guests included Michael Stipe, Natasha Khan, Haider Ackermann, Waris Ahluwalia, Ryan McGinley and Buzz Aldrin, who were treated to a programme of film screenings, discussions and performances that were captured by photographer Ruediger Glatz. Check the picture credits for some diaristic insights, while below Swinton writes exclusively for NOWNESS of the inspiration behind the event in Soneva Fushi, Maldives

In Ayurvedic teaching there are five elements; air, fire, water, earth and SPACE. Space, not just the gap between other things, the cement between the bricks in life, is a brick in its own right, and an essential one. This concept was only brought to my attention recently, although I realize I have been feeling my way towards it for a while.

Since 2008, I have been proud to be involved—with a variety of blessed collaborators—in setting up a series of events, two in the Highlands of Scotland where I live, one in Beijing and also one in Thailand. Each one is preemptively unique and intended to be unrepeated. Happenings, drawing together elements—either randomly by setting an open invitation or by curating a specific group of participants—to inspire a particular kind of atmosphere conducive to tickling up the kind of space we otherwise find it difficult to catch.
I recognize that these events are somehow chapters in one long rambling experiment spilling out of my own head, happily met by my playmates—principally and throughout, my sweetheart Sandro Kopp, in Scotland and China, my pal Mark Cousins and the wonderful Apichatpong Weerasethakul for our Film on the Rocks adventure on Yao Noi in 2011.

What started with the idea of a film festival in Nairn, with the Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams—free entrance for home-baking and costume appropriate to the film, bean bags and deck chairs, pre-screening rock-out dancing—became within the course of one baptismal day a community project, a social intervention, something more about the collaborative experience than the programming of a few film titles could ever hope to reach. The following year, A Pilgrimage involved forty dedicated ‘Pilgrims’—and many more along the road—pulling our 43-ton mobile cinema across the Highlands and forging the joy experiment further.
Curating the latest adventure in this line this last December, our Gathering on Soneva Fushi was primarily a curation of people, and laying on a treasure hunt. Putting down a trail of breadcrumbs in the forest, the first of which was the letter of invitation we sent them, suggesting a long journey to a pocket idyll, we invited a group of 20 fellow artists to gather on this magical island in the Maldives to kick back, show films, shoot the breeze, make new alliances, create a piece of work together, be barefoot, snorkel, explore, discover, sleep, eat and dance. Nothing was asked of participants but that they come with open hearts and minds bring with them one item—their ‘Message in a Bottle’—a film, a book, a poem, a song, a drawing, a story, an object to share with the group and leave as a gift to the island when they go.
Each day had an elemental theme as a basic guiding principle for this unfolding treasure hunt: Space, Land, Us, Sea and Air. Over the course of these days we completed the specially designed ‘Eye’ mosaic at the heart of the cinema, as an exercise in communal creation for the group and as a permanent gift to the island from the artists. There were discussions, exchanges of ideas, drawing on the refreshment of shared experience. We were treated to a presentation by Buzz Aldrin and a tour of Soneva Fushi’s eco centre: an extraordinary example of effective waste management and the resort’s pioneering work in the field of responsible tourism. All of us being participants meant that we shared the curation of our nightly cinema screenings.

Our Gathering only existed because Soneva Fushi, created by the truly generous and inspired hands of Sonu Shivdasani and Eva Malström, is a territory specifically designed according to the precepts of slow life, providing the greatest and simplest of all modern luxuries: peace, ease, communion, awareness, responsibility, joy.

What started seven years ago as a cinema-centered concept has grown through the looking glass into a transformative kind of magic carpet ride: anchored not in the virtual, but in the lived experience, shared and authentic and present. Ramshackle rocks to ramshackle rolls, via a slow boat to China to the barefoot tropical island paradise. Onwards. Watch this Space. Keep looking up. Mind the gap.
Tilda Swinton, Scotland, January 2014

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Tech Hotels: Destination Future

Tablet Co-Founder Laurent Vernhes Picks His Top Tech-Savvy Hospitality Innovations

Illustrator Masha Rumyantseva’s futurist-inspired collages give a surrealist spin to nomadic hotel aficionado Laurent Vernhes’s guide to the gadgets and technology changing our travel experiences. Having lived in seven countries and visited over 90, Vernhes co-founded Tablet Hotels, a tech-orientated, chic online platform to help uncompromising travellers find the perfect lodgings. “I can’t be the only one who finds it increasingly difficult to figure out how to turn on the television in a hotel room,” says Vernhes. “But some hotels are embracing technology in meaningful ways.” Here the design hotel guru offers his top tech features and where to find them.

Energy and Environmental Design ratings
It’s a lot more than just re-using towels or switching off extra lights—a good Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification requires cutting-edge technology. Hotels are embracing it all over the world. What this means to guests varies from hotel to hotel, and the effect is subtle. URBN Shanghai, for example, uses reclaimed rainwater in its heating and cooling system, and the hotel was largely built from reclaimed or salvaged materials. None of this is as tangible as an in-room iPad, but it’s visible if you know where to look. And it’s a good feeling knowing that a hotel stay no longer has to be an inherently wasteful experience. 

Toilet technology
The golden age of Japanese gadgetry might have been eclipsed by the rise of Apple, but there’s no competition when it comes to the Toto washlet. They come with countless options––some even play music. They are everywhere in Japan. Once you try it, you’ll never go back. I have one at home. Check out the Hotel Okura or Claska in Tokyo for a memorable experience.

Hotel applications 
Altapura, a ski hotel in the French Alps, uses technology to establish a social atmosphere. Guests chat with each other on the in-room Mac Minis, and they can share photos of their various exploits with everyone in the hotel, either one-to-one or on the monitors in the public areas. And Berns Hotel in Stockholm has embraced the mobile internet in a big way. You can use their iPhone app to make restaurant reservations, place a room service order, check the nightlife calendar, or book a room for your next stay.

Mobile internet
By now wi-fi in rooms and public spaces is standard pretty much everywhere. The Park Hyatt Tokyo will let a guest connect from anywhere in the country at the same price with an E-Mobile portable wi-fi service. Yet another way that Japan, technologically speaking, is years ahead of the rest of us.

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John Roberts: Eternal Tour

The Musician and Editor of The Travel Almanac Considers Sounds for the Itinerant Holiday Season

As many of us set off on journeys to see loved ones this winter, editor and creator of moody house tracks John Roberts reflects on the relationship between music and wunderlust, creating an exclusive NOWNESS mix that features Arthur Russell, Shintaro Sakamoto and The Smiths, and curating a selection of images from the first four issues of The Travel Almanac. Co-founded in 2011 by Roberts and his Dial Records label-mate Paul Kominek, aka Pawel, the publication focuses on the intimacies of the journey—the planes, trains, hotels and sites—seen through the eyes of such cultural icons as Will Oldham, David Lynch and Rinko Kawauchi. “Physical destinations, and the trips we take to get to them, often find their natural extension in a soundtrack,” says Roberts. “Certain songs seem to almost brand the mind with the distinctions of previously visited locations. The beauty of this is that after becoming conscious of song and place associations, it becomes possible to mentally travel to a desired destination. This can be as rewarding as a physical visit, due to the mind's tendency to bolster its contents with minor works of fiction, plastering over the holes of forgotten or unnoticed specificities. Some pieces of music are so evocative in their aural complexity that they may even allow temporary transportation to places untraversed in the physical world. It should come as no surprise then that these records are usually the ones worth holding on to.” Click here for Roberts' sonic itinerary.

The fourth issue of The Travel Almanac is out now. John Roberts’ second full-length album, “Fences Editions”, will come out on Dial Records in April, 2013. 

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