The Semiofest Experience

Semiofest 2017, with that Canadian flair

by Gabriela Pedranti.

Last week we attended Semiofest 2017, in its first edition held in North America. As you may know, the city that won the bid was Toronto and there, a fantastic team (Sarah Johnson, Jeff HeckerCharles LeechJamin Pelkey and Stéphanie Walsh Matthews, plus young and hard-working OliviaMichael and Sari) put up a great event, full of ideas and energy, in a fantastic location with both a long history and story: The Gladstone Hotel. When we told people that we were attending a conference in the city, they inevitably asked ‘At the convention center?’ When we answered ‘No, at the Gladstone hotel’, they immediately showed their approval and said: ‘Are you artists?’ (!!) When we finally went there, we understood why…

As Chris Arning has already published a detailed article about Semiofest 2017 that you can read here, I will just add some comments about this applied semiotics (and so much more) event that keeps growing (in many aspects) every year.

It´s quite clear for those that have been following Semiofest from its first edition (London, 2012), that last year’s event in Tallinn and the recent one in Toronto started a new phase in the annual celebration of semiotic thinking. It´s not only because of the impeccable organization, but also for the quality of content and the diversity of proposals and formats. For example, having a Triangulation workshop in Toronto (in which we put in practice different approaches to give interesting recommendations for two brands) and a panel with clients who loved and (almost) hated semiotics was really inspiring: it gave us direct insights about what we do and how it´s understood (or not) by our potential customers. It was stimulating to listen about many areas in which semiotic thinking is currently being applied: big data, politics (one of my favourite blocks this year: we got inspiring ideas and reflections about Donald Trump, Justin Trudeau and Narendra Modi), social media, literature (once again, I have to recommend this book to our fellow semioticians), emoji, anthropology, music, tatoos, coffee machines, trends research…

Moreover, having been around many conferences (both academic and more inspiring-practical ones), I find something at Semiofest that I don´t find anywhere else: the spirit of collaboration and peer learning that makes this unconference unique. You can sit and talk with some of the most important people in the (applied) semiotics area, and you feel as you’ve known them for a long time; nobody shows off and everybody is willing to share their ideas, research and practical views. Isn´t this something really unique?


PS: They also celebrated my birthday, with The Semiotones (student band led by professor Marcel Danesi) and a huuuuge cake, so what else can I ask for?

PS 2: You should check these great extras: Hilobrow by Josh Glenn; the fantastic Word as image animated booktrailer; McLuhan’s birthday doodle (which was July 21st, while we were celebrating an edition of Semiofest inspired in this thinking…)

PS 3: Here you have some images of the event and a short piece of advice: you should seriously consider attending next year (who knows where it will be, we’ll have to wait for the call for bids…):

SemioticaStudio “dynamic duo” ready to go!

Charles Leech, Sarah Johnson, Jeff Hecker.

Ximena and Sarah having a good laugh!

Amazing Thierry Mortier, describing our identity (and the world!) with a ‘simple’ formula (!)

The Semiotones in action!

Best birthday cake EVER

The talks go on and on… Here, with Hamsini Shimakuvar.

Starting the Kensington market tour.