First of two pieces on a day trip to London covering events related to digital arts. This one is about the Digital Revolution exhibition at the Barbican.
This was certainly an exhibition I had been looking forward to, being as it is on a subject close to this blog’s heart. The UK needed an exhibit like this, and it makes a refreshing change than the usual summer art shows of Modernist collections and big name retrospectives. Below I will put down some impressions, but in case this is TL;DR for some, the short answer is yes, it’s definately worth going if you are considering it, and generally works.
The first room is the Digital Archaelogy space (as you can see in the top GIF above). A spectacle of screens and old computing technology, it certainly had an old video arcade vibe to it. Computers from the 1970s onwards, most which you can play with (even an original Pac-Man machine, but did not catch any sighting of Space Invaders). A very good coverage of the last 40 years of popular digital culture, but incredibly dense in information - you would have to be patient to follow the content on the video screens high on the wall - it maybe familiar to the literate yet difficult to absorb there and then. Some very early computer art works, such as Ken Knowlton’s Nude or pieces by Georg Nees (2nd GIF above) could easily be missed (being just inside the wall at the entrance by some steps, and lacked contextual explanation). Personally I felt works like this do need further exposure which the show didn’t really accomodate. Of course, this is a logistical issue, but the subject of space and presentation, fitting everything into the allocated areas, was something noticeable throughout the rest of the show.
The show continued into areas of digital creativity, the computer as tool and medium. There are various monitors showing 3D animations by various creatives. All abstract and pretty, but shown on monitors about the size of the average familiar television screen - the works would have benefitted with larger presentation to impress. There are two installations showcasing computer effects of cinema: one based on the large scale city folding scene from Inception which the observer could interact with, and the other a flashy deconstruction of special effects made for Gravity. Great additions and relevant, yet made artworks nearby smaller. These pieces were very successful in getting your attention. A great inclusion to this section was CLOUDS, an interactive documentary featuring interviews captured with a Kinect, featuring many important artists and commentators of the current digital art community. Music videos were reduced to a quiet monitor wall with various examples but no insight, sadly.
Next were examples of interactive art - for the sake of brevity I would say they were fine examples, yet very safe and inoffensive. The show has taken a populist approach with their choices which is probably wise. A good sign of whether a show can be fun, though, is how children would react to the works, but I get a sense that most of the works are callibrated for adult frames - a missed opportunity for playfulness.
This all then leads to the closing of the main section, featuring a couple of examples of fashion tech (one piece worn by Lady Gaga, another with fitted LED lights), plus a few artifacts that wouldn’t fit elsewhere. There were two more sections (a room that looks like an internet cafe, with indie games to play, and an interactive darkroom of laser projected forms on the floor), but sadly these feel like satelitte afterthoughts which do not flow from the experience of the main exhibit (plus they were not easily locatable).
Which brings me to a point I brought up earlier. The exhibition could easily have been twice the size than what it currently is - it aimed to cover as many points on the Digital Revolution subject as it possibly could, but I felt that it touched rather than delved into it. Maybe I had some unreasonable high expectations where all the different areas could be given enough space for insight and showcasing (the accompanying book certainly expands areas the actual show didn’t, particularly the fashion area which could have been a fantastic extended section).
However, this show is a great primer for the unfamiliar, unintimidating, and fun most importantly, certainly not a show you could be easily bored by. I did enjoy it, and certainly will attend again (especially that a guerrilla augmented reality virtual exhibition, Hack The Art World, which lets you see hidden works planted by GPS location with a mobile device, has been unofficially created within this space!)
To find out more about the show, you can visit the Barbican’s website here