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  • Author Matthew Higgs
  • Published July 28, 2014

Reliving the tech of future’s past: exhibition

How would you go about showcasing the entire digital age in 14 rooms? Where would you start? The Digital Revolution exhibition doors opened earlier this month – a busy tour of all things tech; an interactive way of saying: “My word, look what’s been created.” Matthew Higgs explores…


How would you go about showcasing the entire digital age in 14 rooms? Where would you start? It’s a challenge that the Barbican Centre in London took on in 2012. Earlier this month the Digital Revolution exhibition doors finally opened. It’s a busy tour of all things tech without being too the domain of the geek – an interactive way of saying: “My word, look what’s been created.”


The exhibition starts with early computers and arcade games from the 1970s and they are not all behind glass. Pac-Man, Super Mario, Tetris and Game Boys are all there and you can use them – a great excuse to become 10 again. The exhibition is set in the dark with the only lights the ones pointed on the technology or coming from wall projections – the tech lights up the room.


Interaction what’s you need
You can waste hours here exploring and playing with the tech on show. According to assistant curator, Sunny Cheung, interactivity is an important aspect of the show: “That’s what [the exhibits] were made for. Things like arcade machines were built to be played on and it would seem a shame to just encase them behind glass.”


Take the Johnny Cash Project, where visitors can draw a frame in the music video of his last recording (‘Ain’t No Grave’, 2010). You can check out my rather shaky effort below (don’t judge).




Other head-turning exhibits include Escape III (which turns mobile phones into bird artwork) and Pinokio (a robotic lamp like Pixar’s Luxo Jr). There are displays from the multi award-winning films Gravity and Inception too, showing the special effects and features from iconic scenes.


Star turns
Animation meets music courtesy of will.i.am and Yuri Suzuki: the musician’s head is projected onto the wall with Egyptian-style animation around. But this concave projection can be seen from any corner of the room, no matter what angle you’re standing.


“He [will.i.am] was invited to come and be an exhibition advisor,” said Dani Admiss, also an assistant curator. “He was really enthusiastic about that and later down the line came back and said ‘actually I really want to do my first artwork in a gallery’. He had lots of really interesting people he wanted to collaborate with, and that’s how it happened.”


Even the smaller-scale exhibits are entertaining. The Subservient Chicken lets users type commands into a program for a giant chicken to act out on screen. Totally pointless (and it loses marks for not being able to twerk on request).


There’s a series of tech-meets-fashion pieces, too – including one that responds to the weather patterns in outer space (yes, really), the Parametric Sculpture Dress worn by Lady Gaga (think a Darth Vader suit with giant cysts) and the iMiniskirt worn by Katy Perry (it displays videos, tweets and animations).




“We were definitely looking for big cultural watersheds, pivotal moments or projects that created mass interest – anything that moved things forward,” said Admiss. “This show’s really ambitious. In a way it’s a first because it’s a cultural survey and I don’t think anything has happened on this scale in London.”


Laser beams. Not attached to sharks’ heads
The undisputed highlight is the Umbrellium exhibit. You queue up in a dark corridor, with black lights on the walls amusing people while they wait. Enter the room and you’re met by a 3D laser light field where the lasers respond to your movement. You can push the lasers away, hold them, move them about and split them.


“The show was always devised to be as wide-ranging as possible,” says Cheung. “I would love it if a kid became inspired and, just travelling through the show, thought ‘how do these things work?’ and ‘how can I be a part of this?’. I would love if that message spread out from across London and actually further out.”


The Digital Revolution exhibition runs until 14 September 2014 before it moves on to Sweden later this year.


This year’s tech innovations are coming from LG: see LG’s OLED TVs – seriously amazing screen quality and colours. Find out more here >>>



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