the Barbican’s spectacular Digital Revolution (Wired UK)

Digital Revolution, Barbican
Digital Revolution, BarbicanMatthew G Lloyd

The Barbican is pitching its
summer exhibition Digital
, opening today (3 July), as “the most comprehensive
presentation of digital creativity ever to be staged in the UK”.
It’s certainly ambitious in scope: across its 14 different rooms
the event includes everything from games to music, filmmaking,
design, fashion and art, in a vibrant celebration of digital

The first space, Digital Archeology, spans the history of
digital culture from early computers to the first version of Tim
Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web. The attraction for most visitors,
however, is likely to be the history of video games, in which
visitors can play through a treasure-trove of classics from
Pong and Pac-Man up to more recent titles like
Angry Birds. It’s a brilliant space to indulge in some
nostalgia (Wired could happily have spent our whole stay
reminiscing on the original Tomb Raider on PS1).

The exhibit then moves on to a space dedicated to the more
recent trend of user-created content and interactive web art –
highlights range from playable Minecraft (expect a queue
of children) to web-based art projects like Chris Milk and Aaron
Koblin’s Johnny
Cash Project
, to James George’s Clouds and Is This Good?‘s SMS-responsive
birds constructed from repurposed old phones.

There’s also a big focus on visual effects, and it’s fascinating
to see the progression of CGI, from ILM’s pioneering work on
Jurrasic Park to interactive walkthroughs of more recent
films, such as Double Negative’s work on Inception and the
lightbox developed by Framestore in the making of Gravity.
There are also individual spaces for indie gaming and innovations
in design, from eye-tracking technology to wearable tech from
British designers like CuteCircuit and The Unseen.

But the exhibition’s best moments are when the pieces escape the
confines of the screen or the display case and into the real world.
Pyramidi, a collaborative piece between Will.I.Am and
sound artist Yuri Suzuki, is a particular highlight: an enormous (and
slightly disconcerting) six-foot Egyptian-style floating 3D head
which sings a track specifically composed for the exhibition. The
ostentatious visuals distract slightly from the real focus of the
piece: the song itself is being performed by a trio of robotic
instruments — a drum kit, piano and guitar — in real time.
Downstairs in the Pit Theatre, another brand new piece,
Assemblance from London-based artist Usman Haque, allows
visitors to manipulate beams of light formed in clouds of smoke
using gestures. 

Other standouts include Chris Milk’s 2012 piece The Treasury Of The Sanctuary — a haunting visual art
piece in which your movement is transformed into a flock of
animated birds — and the Google DevArt space. The four new
commissions within the latter all include an interactive element:
Zach Lieberman’s Play The World is a piano that replaces
each note with a live web feed of a local radio station from around
the world. Karsten Schmidt’s De(Code) Factory 3D-prints a
new sculpture every day; the public can submit their own designs
online, which will become part of the exhibit. Particularly
charming is Les Metamorphoses De Mr Kali, a Kinect-based
interactive piece from Paris-based artists Beatrice + Cyril, in
which your movement is mapped into an animated story (a word of
warning: your waving around is also visible to every other visitor
in the room). 

Digital Revolution is an incredibly ambitious and remarkable
achievement, that manages to span decades and entirely separate art
forms while consistently being fascinating, engaging, and
refreshingly new. If we had to criticise, this breadth is also at
times its biggest drawback — in celebrating “digital creativity”,
the exhibit often lumps together wildly different art forms purely
down to the fact they’re made using a computer, which seems
anachronistic for 2014. Nonetheless, it’s well worth experiencing
— the word “seeing”, doesn’t do it justice — for

Digital Revolution runs until 14 September 2014 at
the Barbican. 

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