Art & Photography

37 Things You Need To Know About Modern Britain

Pop culture – it’s worthy of discussions explains former ICA director and BUG co-founder of Ekow Eshun, ahead of the quarterly talk series for journalist, writers and business thinkers

Ekow Eshun

Stemming from the idea that not enough consideration or discussion is stimulated around our immediate popular culture BUG, a London-based cultural consultancy consisting of journalists, writers and business thinkers, have devised a quarterly talk series cleverly titled 37 Things you need to know about Modern Britain. Each lecture will feature various experts posing questions, ideas, and debates in order to discover what it tells us about modern Britain.

First up is The Secret Meaning of Shoes, a footwear discussion featuring shoe designer Marc Hare and journalists Charlie Porter and BUG’s Miranda Sawyer. Teaming up with Soho charity for the homeless, The House of St Barnabas, 37 Things… was brought about by their mutual desire to effect positive social change through provocative conversations about the everyday.

Port caught up with the former ICA director and co-founder of BUG, Ekow Eshun, to learn more about the event.

How did the event come about, what’s the purpose of it?

The series was conceived by BUG as a way of kick-starting discussions about the often overlooked things that affect the way we live and think today. We spend our time looking at how small changes in lifestyle and taste– where we go, how we spend our money, who we talk to and what about – reveal larger shifts in culture and society. 37 Things You Need To Know About Modern Britain is designed to get people together in a debate and discussion. That way we get to spread our ideas around, think about other people’s concepts, and argue and puzzle over today’s culture.

How did you come up with “37 Things”, why that specific number?

It’s the random number most people think of when asked to pick a number between 1 and 100. It also happens to be a prime number, and the number of plays that Shakespeare wrote.

How did you come to work with The House of Barnabas as your charity for this event?

The House of St Barnabas is a fantastic, forward-thinking charity for the homeless based in a beautiful 19th century town house in Soho. We chose each other really, not least because we seemed to share such similar values. From our very first discussion, we discovered a shared interest in examining society and asking questions about life as we live it today and how it might be improved. Starting these public talks seemed a great way for all of us to explore those aims. Plus, they’re great people to work with and we really admire what they’re doing.

What other topics can we look forward to?

Amongst others, how loyalty cards can save broken communities, why children will be fashion’s new frontier, photography in the age of the smart phone, and why mobile phone shops, estate agents and chicken shops are the only shops left on the block.

Marc Hare, Shoe Designer
Marc Hare, Shoe Designer

In regards to tonight’s opening lecture – The Secret Meaning of Shoes – what are your personal comments?

Shoes are universal – everyone wears them. But they’re also deeply personal; we spend a lot of time choosing them and they can reveal a surprising amount about our hopes, aspirations, tastes and vanities. I’m sure I’m not alone in looking down to check someone’s footwear when I first meet them. That’s not a judgmental thing. I’m really interested in how people construct themselves – who they want to be and how they want other people to see them. And shoes, I think, can tell you a lot about a person.

Obviously the question I ask myself in advance of this talk is what do my own shoes say about me? My two currently most worn pairs are: a pair of Redwing boots and a pair of Grenson brogues – both of which you could probably classify as high-end heritage-wear, worn by 30-40 something urban men who’ve grown out of trainers and are looking to signify their independence from name brands, and the consumerist values they represent. An attempt at individuality and authenticity in other words, although one doomed to limited success given the relative popularity of both those brands.

Do you believe there is enough public reflection and discussion regarding life today?

Certainly not. And certainly not about the everyday things around us, like shoes and phones and loyalty cards, which can be so revealing about who we are and how we live as a society in the early 21st century. As Socrates put it, “The unexamined life is not worth living”.

Ekow Eshun will chair The Secret Meaning of Shoes tonight at House of Barnabas, 1 Greek Street, London, W1D 4NQ, as part of the Spring Culture Series. For more information visit