Dr Mitra Memarzia – Digital Explorer & Artist

Mitra is an artist, educator and consultant working across the cultural, educational and digital landscape. These various approaches all culminate in a passion and drive for great ideas, people and collaborations. Her art practice is highly interactive and often focuses on creating spaces for ‘dialogue and exchange’, through immersive installations. Her recent focus is around creating experiences that merge digital and physical together in compelling ways.

What does design mean to you?

There is design in everything, whether its natural or man-made; it is as loaded as the word art, and it means different things to different folk. We certainly know when something is badly designed; it can be dangerous, uncomfortable, ugly, useless and so on. We feel bad design even if we can’t quite put our finger on it. Great design can save lives, convenience, beauty and can delight a multitude of senses triggering emotions, it can also be invisible, perhaps because it’s perfect! I feel the same about design as I do about art, it’s meaning changes in context and it will always be a huge fascination and source of inspiration for me.

What inspires you?

My motto is to always strive to be where I’m lease expected. I get inspired by all sorts of things; It is about being in the moment and trying not to become complacent about my environment. There is potential to be inspired by everything; I try to cultivate a hungry attitude and drive to see the ‘new’ in the familiar.  As the author Mark Twain once said: “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations”. On the other side of the scale, [I believe in striving for equilibrium] I also think it’s important to go through uninspired and jaded phases, where everything becomes familiar [the I’ve seen this a billion times before attitude] and you start to panic as you question whether you will ever feel inspired again. Will I ever create anything good again? You ask yourself… and just then, in the deepest darkest crevices, a little green shoot appears and [warning… I’m going to get a little lyrical here] the drought has indeed yielded and nurtured the little seed of an idea, which you had planted and forgotten about is flourishing, because the conditions are just right. Sometimes inspiration needs time out and indeed timing is a key component to great ideas.  The important thing is not giving up and knowing that inspiration is always just waiting to be plucked! [Goodness! What was in the tea I drank?]

What is your ideal collaboration?

My ideal collaboration is when ideas flow and you don’t know which bits are your ideas and which bits are your collaborator’s. Where a vision is given space to breathe and is fed by multiple expertise from seemingly disparate fields of work. The best collaborations I have taken part in have been with the most unlikely partners. I have been fortunate enough to work with a huge range of people, from all walks of life; young people who have behavioral issues, old people who have stories to tell, I have worked with counter terrorism experts, game developers, musicians, animators, architects, performers, civil servants and the list continues to grow. One thing which remains a constant, is that the success of a project solely relies on the collective vision and respect for each individual and the key ingredients which they bring.

How do you think digital technologies and social media effect the creative industries?

I think there is an entire thesis on this! There are so many aspects to how digital technologies and social media have had a profound effect on the creative industries. There is the ideation process, to creation, to collaboration and digital hardware and software tools, all affecting the creative industries across the board. I have to admit that I am old enough to have gone through the digital revolution. I have gone from making films on super 8 and splicing them, to filming on my iPhone, editing it on the spot, and posting it to YouTube within minutes. Being able to use social media sites such as Pinterest and have access 30 billion pins instantly, as oppose to heading to the local library and sifting through magazines and books, making photocopies and sticking them into a scrap book. In my role as a digital consultant, I get to see and experience cutting edge tech in real time, by some of the most talented people and companies and the most important consideration across all industries is User Experience. The creative industries have always had user experience, or user centered design in sharp focus. So I guess, to bring this potentially long answer to an abrupt stop; digital technologies are made by us (humans) they are yet another tool amidst all the other tools that revolutionised industries. The creative industries will continue to use, hack and develop new technologies to create, inspire and even save lives!

What has been your biggest learning whilst working with the creative industries?

I continue to learn… but a key learning has been to engage with those outside of the creative industries, and not become consumed by the bubble. True innovation happens when disciplines merge, that is why there are concentrations of creative talent in places like Shoreditch and Tech City or Silicon Roundabout (where I spend most of my days) is the world’s third largest tech cluster outside of San Francisco and New York.  Like attracts like and so to does talent attract talent, and with that the bar is raised and quality booms. Artists rub shoulders with designers, developers and entrepreneurs, through constant physical meet-ups and drinkabouts, creating those all important connections that lead to great collaborations. However, In certain pockets, it can be fickle, cliquey, self-centered and sometimes down right arrogant, so keeping humble and grounded is also very important.

What are the different challenges you face working with corporate or private partners,  designers sponsors or clients?

I don’t see any difference between corporate, private, sponsors or clients, Its always about the individual you work with. We invest in people, not companies. For me, it’s about creating a level playing field, nurturing mutual respect and finding the sweet spot where we are in synch and essentially wanting the same thing, even if it is from completely different perspectives.

How do you adapt to working globally- what are the biggest challenges- specifically with different cultures?

I have only worked on a handful of international projects, and I would say that the key challenge comes down to managing expectations, understanding different nuances in working habits. If physical meetings are not possible due to geographic distances, using skype and conference calls is absolutely crucial to ensure there are no misunderstandings and you continue to develop a more authentic relationship with your collaborators and clients.

What projects are you looking forward to working on (seeing) this year?

I am very much looking forward to developing MEMARZIA: a new venture with my cousin and partner in digital artistry Emily. MEMARZIA is a digital experience company that brings together the brightest minds and most innovative technologies on a project-to-project basis; to co-produce cutting-edge, unexpected and unseen digital experiences, interventions and installations. Our recent piece SCENTIMENT, is an installation in collaboration with David Tidman (Kerve) and Odette Toilette, turning tweets into scent. The world’s first smelly tweets, features at Digital Shoreditch, Social Media Week, Lost Lectures and more recently The Wearable Tech Show. We’re currently developing it in collaboration with a prominent scent company. Watch this space as we create new digital delights to enliven your senses! Get in touch if you want to collaborate with us.

I’m also really looking forward to LIFT festival and Digital Revolution Exhibition at the Barbican which is going to be absolutely out of this world. Not to be missed!


To find out more about MItra visit memarzia.org.