I’ve just heard that, over in Amsterdam, Rene Eller is having a “Baby”. The news is truly inspiring. Why? Well, Rene is a man for a start and, highly amusing as a biological miracle would be, Rene’s “brain child” isn’t that sort of baby.
Some time last summer Rene called, out of the blue, and invited me over to his Soho loft apartment for a chat. One of those unfeasibly tall Dutch men, Rene is a director/ producer of pop promos and ads whose company, Czar Films, regularly sweeps the board at those international awards ceremonies which make the D&AD party look about as sophisticated as parish bingo. He’s also achingly trendy, but as totally unpretentious as only the Dutch can be.
After Rene’s extraordinarily beautiful girlfriend served me tea in a glass and, with one eye on his PowerBook, we sat in front of a TV tuned to news (it was just a little like The Man who Fell to Earth), and he told me about Baby, and even though it didn’t then have a name, it did have the blessing of a church.
Baby is a new kind of club for what Rene calls “creative” professionals. Housed in a minimally-renovated church in central Amsterdam, it’s modelled on the idea (but thankfully not the reality) of an English gentleman’s club. So there are loads of comfortable armchairs, quiet corners where you can doze and nice food (got to be better than The Groucho) for leisurely lunching or busy snacking.
The big plus is space – blank walls, empty shelves and devoid filing cabinets – which is actually the most important element. Because, unlike our Great British clubs which are places where the privileged switch off, Baby intends to be the place where creative types turn on, tune in and experience the penny dropping. Because space is busy being filled (and constantly refilled) with all manner of swotting material. This is a “crammer” for the inspiration-hunter. Books, magazines, CDs, CD-ROMs, videos, portfolios, slides are all here for the browsing; satellite-tuned TVs and Internet-linked computers are here for your perusal. Add a programme of exhibitions, events, talks and parties and you’d be excused for never wanting to leave. Safe-guarding the unsuspecting from information overload, however, is a crew of incredibly sussed “curators” undertaking the mammoth, but intriguing task of trawling the world’s media in order to keep that space humming with newness.
The hope is that those creative types who need to know, for example, who is top of the pops in Taiwan, or how they’re doing their hair in Rio, or which campaign Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior is currently embroiled in, or what the exiled Dalai Lama is up to (hanging with the Beastie Boys apparently), will become members of Baby.
Of course, getting it on a plate can’t compare to the thrill of discovering that fascinating latest “thing” during a fact-finding mission to a remote corner of the globe. But as Baby is a club of striving individuals, the idea is that members feed it and help it grow, so that rather than being a one-track-minded creature, the collection reflects the obsessions and observations of all those involved.
My only problem with the whole escapade is that it’s over there. Why can’t it be on my doorstep, now? It’s not fair!
Of course, there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be a whole tribe of sibling Babies in the future, dotted around the place, or why “country” members in far-flung locations couldn’t access all that data via ISDN links, and double as professional “tourists”. With instantaneous communications devices being made smaller, cheaper and more portable, such roving data-retrieval experts could be constantly down-loading to the mother ship. Two years ago that would have sounded like a William Gibson fantasy, now we know it’s for real.
But there is a danger of being swamped, unable to see the wood for the trees. It’s a diversion tactic I love to adopt when writing. Keep on researching… it’s relatively painless and staves off the inevitable; the moment when you have to think, assess, crunch all that information, turn it into knowledge, and actually formulate an opinion, your opinion. Likewise, attempting to innovate from such an informed position – as a member of Baby – constitutes a challenge. But will we ever know how creativity transforms inspiration into ideas?
Meanwhile what better way to ground all that ethereal, digitised data than with comfortable armchairs and nice big cushions. Good one.