Lectures often get a bad rap: the word evokes a dry old professor droning at a hall full of bored college kids. But the Lost Lectures, to be hosted by art blog Hyperallergic at a secret location in Brooklyn this Friday, will be anything but the educational equivalent of eating your vegetables: this series of 15-minute talks by artists, musicians, techies, journalists, and urban explorers will be more like a cerebral variety show.
This year’s speakers include gonzo journalist Jon Ronson, author of The Psychopath Test and Men Who Stare at Goats; polarizing alt-lit author Tao Lin, who will do a “brain-dump of all the weird stuff that goes on in his head,” as series founder Julian Kosicki-Slawinski says; subway spelunker Steve Duncan; contemporary sculptor Diana Al-Hadid; and shoegaze/noise-pop giants Blonde Redhead, who will talk about their creative inspirations and songwriting process, and whose lead singer, Kazu Makino, is preparing a “special” performance piece.
“We created the Lost Lectures in 2012 as an antidote to boring, traditional nights out,” Kosicki-Slawinski says in a phone interview. “We were frustrated by having to go back to academic institutions and corporate conference centers, which seemed to be only places you could enjoy lectures. In a world where theater and cinema were becoming more immersive, lectures were left to the side.” They aimed for an audience of curious autodidacts, people who like learning for its own sake. Kosicki-Slawinski, who studied neuroscience at University College London, then went on to work in advertising for eight years before abandoning the industry to do something “more culturally relevant,” is one such person.
On top of featuring unconventional speakers from the fringes of many disciplines, the series aims to lively up the lecture format by getting out of the lecture hall and into weird, mysterious venues instead. In three and a half years, 20 lectures have been hosted around the world, “everywhere from ghost hotels to abandoned swimming pools in Berlin to an abandoned courtroom in London,” Kosicki-Slawinski says. They’ve taken over lighthouses, warehouses, and old Victorian theaters. “We’re trying to push the boundaries of the types of spaces you can visit on a night out.”
The series is also an antidote to massive, corporately-sponsored conferences like TED–it caters to a much younger and less mainstream audience. “We see ourselves as a challenger to TED,” Kosicki-Slawinski says. “TED is getting a little holier-than-thou. They’re trying to change the world, getting world-class speakers, and you feel like you’re being talked down to a bit.” At Lost Lectures, “everyone’s an equal. You don’t walk into this ivory tower where you feel vulnerable.” Instead, audience members are given the opportunity to talk to the speakers, and some of the lectures involve audience participation.
Lost also aims to get the intellectual debates raging daily online into the real world. “There are tons of blogs online, but it felt like there was a lack of connection in real world that brought together disparate ideas and interest groups,” Kosicki-Slawinski says. Another way the series makes lectures less dry: an open bar.
Lost Lectures will announce its secret location–which is a short train ride away from Union Square and “not far from the water”–to ticket holders later today. Get tickets ($50) here.