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East London 2012: MSA Visuals - Memo Akten

We speak to the visual artist, director and 'mad scientist' based in Hackney Wick about his memories of the area as part of our 'Is East London Dead?' project

In the May issue of Dazed & Confused, we asked 30 artists, designers, and creatives to join the debate of whether 'East London is dead' as it undergoes huge changes over the last 15 years. Here we speak to Memo Akten of MSA Visuals (Mega Super Awesome Visuals no-less) where he chats about his work and home life in Hackney Wick, east London, and his memories of the area.

Dazed Digital: Who are you and what do you do for a living?
Memo Akten: I'm a visual artist. I balance my time between personal projects, collaborations and commercial work. The latter I do through my company The Mega Super Awesome Visuals Company, and more recently I've set up Marshmallow Laser Feast with a couple of friends. My work ranges from video pieces, large-scale immersive interactive installations and live music/dance/theatre performances to music videos, online works and mobile applications. Usually the medium through which I create my work is computer programming. I often design and develop custom software for my projects. For larger projects I build teams of specialists, and I direct and manage them. Usually these are either my friends, or we become friends by the end of the project (actually, we probably hate each other by the end of the project, but we become friends after the dust has settled and the scars have healed). I also like to spend a lot of time researching and experimenting, and as a strong supporter of open source, I publish and document these on my blog. I'm also on the selection committee of ACM SIGGRAPH, and one of the developers of openFrameworks – an open-source C++ toolkit for creative coding.

DD: Where in east London are you based? 
Memo Akten: I live in Fish Island and my studio is a ten-minute walk away in Hackney Wick. I love it ­– a nice walk down the canal and I'm at my studio.

DD: What first attracted you to the area and how long have you been working here?
Memo Akten: I've been living and working here for nine years. To be honest, I originally moved to the east End because the clubs I was frequenting were there, and getting home at 6am was easier if I lived in the east too. I've now long since stopped going out, but I stay here because all my friends are here, my life is here. I also really like the aesthetics of the place. Lots of canals, really nice old warehouses, lots of parks, lots of good restaurants – and best of all I hardly ever need to commute into the City. I can't stand the tube, the traffic and hustle bustle of the City. 

DD: How has east London changed since you've been here?
Memo Akten: It's definitely a lot more crowded. I used to hang out around Brick Lane ten/12 years ago but I can't go there now – I'm not a big fan of shoulder-to-shoulder crowds. That's why I like Hackney Wick / Fish Island – it's still relatively quiet here, with a few points of congregation if and when you're in the mood for that. And a short bus or bike ride away you have your cinemas, pubs, and all other local amenities. I live right on the canal with a beautiful view: swans, coots, wagtails, cormorants. The other side of the canal used to be all trees, a mini-forest, but for the past four years those trees have been replaced by a massive and ugly construction site. And now, towering right in front of us, in their place is a giant Olympic stadium. Which, I have to say, isn't one of the nicest stadiums I've seen. The velodrome is quite nice, but I don't see that from my flat unfortunately, just the ugly massive one. 

DD: What is the most exciting part of your local creative community?
Memo Akten: All my friends are round here ­– the people I live with and work with. We work together in the day and go out in the evening together. (Actually we're usually working in the evenings too.) It feels like a small town, but with lots of good diverse restaurants too. 

DD: Has the area informed your creative work at all?
Memo Akten: Most definitely. I work with a lot of the people round here and I really like their work. So it's very normal that I would have been influenced by what they do, and not only influenced by, but learned from. And perhaps vice versa. 

DD: Is it possible to say ‘Silicon Roundabout’ aloud without laughing?
Memo Akten: I have never ever ever said that phrase, not even in my head. I've heard it only once or twice, not as much as you might think. I think it's marketing speak.

DD: What's your favourite East End hangout?
Memo Akten: I shouldn't name any places – wouldn’t that be advertising? I don't really have a regular place. The Hackney Pearl is just below my studio, and the Counter Cafe is just round the corner from where I live, so those are probably the places I frequent most often.

DD: Does anything annoy you about the area?
Memo Akten: Some places are getting too crowded, but it's not too hard to avoid those areas. It's getting really trendy everywhere so rent is going up and up and up, also influenced by the Olympics. In fact, we've been kindly asked by our landlord to leave the flat we were living in (renting) for the Olympic period. Which of course is very annoying, but actually it turned out OK because we ended up managing to buy a place. So all's well that ends well. Others might not be so lucky.

DD: What are you going to do during the Olympics – stay or flee?
Memo Akten: Flee for sure! I dread the traffic, crowds and noise that are coming this way!

DD: Is east London dead?
Memo Akten: Erm, I can't say that I really consider it dead, or alive for that matter. It has everything that I want except good weather, sandy beaches, rolling green pastures, rocky moors, snowy mountains and a plethora of wildlife. Other than that it has everything. 

Dazed Digital invites you to map your east London memories on our timeline, 'A Secret History of East London'. Get involved HERE!