UVA – Speed of light

Virgin Media has commissioned UVA to ‘explore the themes of communication and modernity’ as part of their 10th year celebrations of broadband. As a concept, UVA explored the material of optical fibre and stripped back – it is essentially a beam of light.

The response to the brief is a series of installations set across six rooms and four floors of a raw industrial space behind the OXO tower in London.

As you enter the space, you are posed a question. You speak your answer into a microphone and your voice is amplified and distorted as it is played back to you. Slightly amused and curious, you climb the stairs into the darkness.

As your eyes adjust, flashes of red laser light race round the edges of the room to create hard edged forms. It’s an impressive visual mixed with sporadic snippets of voices, and you quickly pass to see the same effect in a smaller room outlining a TV, table and a sofa.

The next room appears to have a long reflective channel down the middle, maybe 10 metres long. Red, green and blue lasers at either end are mixed together to form white light and then this light is reflected and scattered back down the length of the installation. All the time snatches of voices (which you now realise are the responses to the earlier question) are syncopated into a heavy bass track and perfectly matched in time with the laser sequences.

It’s mesmerising, thrilling and the sense of the world of conversation passing through light is beautifully represented. My photos do not do this justice in any way.

The next room appears to have a ‘smiley’ face and the concept wasn’t apparent.

The last room is in the loft of the building is a sequence where lasers from different parts of the room converge on single points as they move. Snippets of news and other sounds are mixed together and this piece (although very beautiful) felt more of a showcase for effects than the strong narrative that was represented earlier in the show.

Overall a stunning achievement – technically and in terms of drama and narrative.

The behind the scenes videos are a lovely touch into the revealing processes involved in creating this type of work.

The exhibition is open till April 19th.

More high quality photographs on the Creative Review blog.

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Digital Pioneers

The V&A museum in London is running the excellent Decode exhibition but tucked away from the crowds is the rather lovely Digital Pioneers exhibition. As you can imagine, it starts to outline how computer art has progressed – from it’s inception to the mid 80’s.

The background to the exhibition is that the V&A acquired two very large collections of computer art (one from Patric Prince) as they are the only museum building an archive of work. This is a startling admission and great work to the V&A for recognising that computers can make art not just be used to make art.

The collection from Patric Prince has a brilliant backstory. Patric was the wife of Robert Holzman who worked at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab in the 70’s. You wouldn’t associate NASA and computer art, but back in the 60’s and 70’s computers were enormous number crunching machines housed mainly in Universities and specialised businesses. The story goes that at the NASA jet propulsion lab, some of the research involved pioneering computer graphics and this grew into the lab having a dedicated computer artist (David Em). Many artists would use the machines to generate their art and there were times where Patric was picking up discarded pieces of work from the floor to file and keep.

People might regard many of the works as primitive in execution, but many of the artworks were created through incredibly crude, laborious and almost ‘blind’ processes. Other artists modified equipment for their own needs and Desmond Paul Henry actually used old WWII mechanical bombsight computers to create his works.

Here are some highlights.

Charles Csuri – ‘Random War’ – 1967

Paul Brown – ‘A-B Modulars’ – 1977

Leon Harmon and Ken Knowlton – ‘Studies in Perception’ – 1997

The digital pioneers exhibition runs till April 25th at the V&A London.

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