Wednesday, September 10, 2014

birthday at the Barbican

It was a warm, sunny Sunday, the day before my birthday, and my friend J had the perfect present: tickets to the Digital Revolution exhibit at the Barbican Centre.  

The Barbican Centre is a stunning modernist complex split into several levels, with a cafe, a library, an exhibition space and several theatres. A lot of the free space was given to the Digital Revolution exhibit, with video game spaces, shops, and kinetic installations that responded to touch like these motion-sensitive robots.

Minimaforms' installation Petting Zoo
Read more about the Petting Zoo project,
and see a slideshow, here.

Before going into the exhibit proper, we had a bracing cappuccino and a good dose of sun out by the gorgeous water gardens, which was in our London green spaces post.

The first part of the exhibit was called Digital Archaeology, with pieces of vintage tech on display: childhood toys like Speak N' Spell, games of Pong and Space Invader, the first Macs. It started to get more interesting when we reached We Create and Creative Spaces.

There was a selective documentary that let you explore its content by selecting questions, and you could use a rotary phone to activate these cellphone 'birds' and set them calling and stretching their wings. See a closeup here.

Creative Spaces also exposed a lot of the process behind movies, showing concept art from independent short films, video games and How To Train Your Dragon 2.

The stars of the show were a screen showing the technology behind the mirrored folding cities in Inception, and a whole booth of screens that simulated the 'set' in Gravity and peeled back the layers of its Oscar-winning visual effects.

Numbered headphones hung in front of corresponding screens, so we could pick our audio experience.

We passed through artist's installation. A godlike avatar modelled on his face picked up our movements and turned to face us as an automated band of instruments played live music. and Yuri Suzuki, Pyramidi

State of Play and Google's DevArt were my favourite parts of the exhibit. It reminded me of San Francisco's Exploratorium: an immersive interactive space where the audience could play around with the inventions.

Daniel Rozin, Mirror No.10

A camera picked up our gestures and 'sketched' us as we moved. Three huge screens showed our shadows turning into birds, then being eaten, and finally (if we flapped our arms hard enough) growing wings and flying away.

An animated puppet imitated my movements, sprouting branches and birdhouses as I did a slow, silly dance. And another display directed us to speak our wish into a microphone. . . .

where it formed into words (imperfect words; I said 'emerge', and the program didn't seem to recognise names). . . .

the words spun into a ribbon, forming a chrysalis. . . .

that dropped away to reveal your wish, in the form of a glowing butterfly that flew up and away.

Wishing Wall, Varvara Gualjeva and Mar Canet

By the time we got out, we were ready for lunch, but not before one last stroll around the water gardens. The architecture of the Barbican is famously called 'brutalist', but I feel like its ponds and fountains soften the effect and give an air of comfort.

It was a great pre-birthday celebration. I'm looking forward to the next experience at the Centre, definitely sooner than my next birthday!

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