Barbara Hepworth at Tate Britain

Let us begin, at least, with a glimmer of humour.

2015-06-22 12.04.00

There you are. That’s your lot by way of larfs, should you visit this truly gimlet-faced retrospective of the art of British modernist sculptor Barbara Hepworth.

Tate Britain’s show, which runs from 24 June to 25 October, is billed as the first major Barbara Hepworth exhibition in London for almost 50 years, and features some key sculptures in wood, stone and bronze. These, then, are the treasures which languish under insipid ersatz daylight, against walls painted in the sort of bluish neutrals you find in the toilets at Heathrow.

The first room is the worst, incarcerating Hepworth’s early torsoes under cheap plexiglass vitrines like so much pick-n-mix. But it is not the conspicuous lack of budget that disconcerts, so much as the way the show struggles to establish the young artist’s identity. Every artist operates in some sort of social fluid. Hepworth appears to have damn-near drowned in hers.

Hepworth and her lover Ben Nicholson together evolved an atelier identity, exhibiting together in 1932 at the gallery Arthur Tooth & Sons. Photographs of that show suggest an energy that’s wholly missing here. Nicholson and Hepworth got under each others’ artistic skins, but for reasons I don’t know enough to unpick, the image we’re left with in this show is not so much of Hepworth growing as an artist, so much as being easily led (by Nicholson, by Moore, by Laslo, by political affiliations of one sort or another).

It seems unfair to blame the subject of this show, but I did begin to wonder whether Hepworth herself ought to take some responsibility for what’s gone wrong here. The wall texts several times refer to her determination to control her own image, and I wonder if there isn’t some curatorial frustration peeking through here. What do you do, after all, with an artist who parlayed her way into a most insipid type of celebrity, who fashioned art innocuous enough to grace the UN, and counted its director general Dag Hamarskjold as a friend: arguably the least interesting famous man in history?

Something has failed here; it could well be me. I took a couple of snaps. The photographs aren’t up to much, but just look at the work. That has to be worth a visit, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? How is it my iPhone had a better time than I did?

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New Scientist and SCI FI LONDON present…


With a keynote by multi-award winning science-fiction writer ALASTAIR REYNOLDS, this packed afternoon of short films and discussions explores how science fiction is guiding us towards an uncertain tomorrow.


Saturday May 30


Blue Room, mezzanine level
BFI Southbank, Belvedere Road
London SE1 8XT

A free drop-in event
(Help us keep track of numbers by registering at Eventbrite)


12.30 Screenings


Building and testing a Paul-III drawing robot

Patrick Tresset, 2014 (1’ 30)

Patrick Tresset is a French artist who uses robotics to create cybernetic representations of the artist. His robots incorporate research findings from computer vision, artificial intelligence and cognitive computing. @patricktresset

The Willful Marionette

Lilla LoCurto & Bill Outcault, 2014 (2’ 46)

Created during a residency with the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, the marionette is 3D-printed from the scanned image of a human figure and responds in real time to spontaneous human gestures. Their intention was not to create a perfectly functioning robot, but to imbue an obviously mechanical marionette with the ability to solicit a physical and emotional dialogue.

Strandbeest (compilation)

Theo Jansen, 2014 (3’ 55)

In 1990 the Dutch artist Theo Jansen began building large self-actuating mechanisms out of PVC. He strives to equip his creations with their own artificial intelligence so they can avoid obstacles, such as the sea itself, by changing course. @StrandBeests

The Afronauts

Cristina De Middel, 2013 (4’ 30)

In 1964, still living the dream of their recently gained independence, Zambia started a space program that would put the first African on the moon. The project was founded and led by Edward Makuka, a school teacher. The United Nations declined their support. Photojournalist Cristina De Middel assembled surviving documents from the project and integrated them with her own imagery. @lademiddel

The Moon (Luna, excerpt)

Pavel Klushantsev, 1965 (2’ 00)

Concluding scenes from a visionary documentary describing how the moon will be developed, from the first lunar mission to the construction of lunar cities and laboratories.

Reactvertising™ R&D

John St., 2014 (0’ 56)

John Street is a Canadian creative agency. @thetweetsofjohn

13:00 Introduction

Simon Ings


13:10 Keynote: “On the Steel Breeze”

Alastair Reynolds


Marrying human concerns to monstrously scaled backdrops, Alastair Reynolds is one of our finest writers of science fiction. He spent twelve years within the European Space Agency, designing and building the S-Cam, the world’s most advanced optical camera, before returning to his native Wales in 2008. His most recent novel, appearing in September 2013, is On the Steel Breeze, a sequel to Blue Remembered Earth.

13.30 Screenings


The Centrifuge Brain Project

Till Nowak, 2012 (6’ 35) Many thanks to ShortFilmAgency Hamburg,

A portrait of the science behind seven experimental fun park rides. Humans are constantly looking for bigger, better, faster solutions to satisfy their desires, but they never arrive at a limit – it’s an endless search. @TillNowak

SEFT–1 Abandoned Railways Exploration Probe

Ivan Puig and Andrés Padilla Domene, 2014 (3’ 05)

Puig and Domene (Los Ferronautas) built their striking silver road-rail vehicle to explore the abandoned passenger railways of Mexico and Ecuador, an iconic infrastructure now lying in ruins, much of it abandoned due to the privatisation of the railway system in 1995, when many passenger trains were withdrawn, lines cut off and communities isolated. The artists’ journeys, captured in videos, photographs and collected objects, establish a notion of modern ruins.

Growth Assembly

Daisy Ginsberg & Sacha Pohflepp, 2009 (3’ 33)

A collection, illustrated by Sion Ap Tomos, of seven plants that have been genetically engineered to grow objects. Once assembled, parts from the seven plants form a herbicide sprayer – an essential commodity used to protect these delicate, engineered horticultural machines from an older, more established nature. @alexandradaisy | @plugimi

Hair Highway

Juriaan Booij, 2014 (4’ 28)

A contemporary take on the ancient Silk Road. As the world’s population continues to increase, human hair has been re-imagined as an abundant and renewable material, with China its biggest exporter. Studio Swine explores how the booming production of hair extensions can be expanded beyond the beauty industry to make desirable, Shanghai-deco style products. @StudioSwine

Magnetic Movie

Semiconductor, 2007 (4’ 47)

Artists Ruth Jarman & Joe Gerhardt (Semiconductor) reveal the secret lives of magnetic fields around NASA’s Space Sciences Laboratories, UC Berkeley, to recordings of space scientists describing their discoveries. Are we observing a series of scientific experiments, or a documentary of a fictional world? @Semiconducting

14:00 Panel: “Unreliable evidence”

Museums and galleries are using mocked-up objects, films and documents to entertain, baffle and provoke us — but what happens when we can no longer tell the difference between them and the real thing?

Alec Steadman, formerly of The Hut Project, joined the arts-science hub The Arts Catalyst as Curator in April 2015.

A curator, producer and artists’ agent, Robert Devcic uses objects to challenge, inform and deepen our ideas of the real world. Through his gallery GV Art, he pioneers work that erases the boundary between art and science, fact and fiction.

Cher Potter is a senior editor at the fashion forecasting company WGSN. She analyses social, political and cultural trends and their potential impact on the fashion industry. She is part of the curatorial team for a forthcoming exhibition at the V&A Museum titled The Future: A History.

Deputy keeper of technologies and engineering at the Science Museum, Doug Millard has just completed work on a major exhibition of Russian space exploration to be staged at the Science Museum in September 2015.

@TheArtsCatalyst | @GV_Art

Lost in Fathoms
Anaïs Tondeur & Jean-Marc Chomaz, 2014 (3′ 27)

14:45 screenings


Big Dog Overview

Boston Dynamics, 2010 (3’ 24)

BigDog is a rough-terrain robot that walks, runs, climbs and carries heavy loads. BigDog’s four legs are articulated like an animal’s, with compliant elements to absorb shock and recycle energy from one step to the next. @BostonDynamics

Farmer’s Pet

Joshua Allen Harris, 2008 (2’ 17)

US street artist Joshua Allen Harris uses ordinary black garbage and shopping bags to make his pieces, tying them down to subway grates with tape in the hope the strong gusts from the trains will be strong enough to inflate his characters and animate them. @tweetsbyjosh

Shrink (performance at Brucknerhaus, Linz, Austria)

Lawrence Malstaf, 2009 (4’ 25)

Belgian artist Lawrence Malstaf develops installation and performance art dealing with space and orientation. His projects frequently involve advanced technology and the participation of visitors.

Big Dog Beta: – early Big Dog quadruped robot testing (excerpt)

Seedwell, 2011 (0’ 48)

The somewhat flawed predecessor to Boston Dynamics’ Big Dog robot. Camera by Dana Kruse. @seedwell

First on the Moon (excerpt)

Aleksei Fedorchenko, 2005 (1’ 30)

Soviet scientists and military authorities managed to launch the first spacecraft 23 years prior to Yuri Gagarin’s flight. Fedorchenko’s first feature tells about everyday life, heroic deeds and tragedy of the first group of the Soviet cosmonauts.

15:00 Panel: “We’re making this up as we go along”

Can we ever ready ourselves for the unexpected? And might the games we play now lead us into making the wrong choices in the future?

Funny and uneasy by turns, Pat Kane’s annual FutureFest festival for the innovation charity NESTA reflected his belief in the importance of play. A musician, writer and political activist, Kane (appearing via Skype) was also one of the founding editors of the Sunday Herald newspaper.

Rob Morgan develops VR titles, including shooters, thrillers and action/comedies, for major game studios, charities, publishers and indies. He was a contributor to the award-winning browser game Samsara and the ARG Unreal City, collaborated with J K Rowling on Pottermore, and has just finished writing the script for the upcoming The Assembly for Morpheus & Oculus Rift.

Andy Franzkowiak has flooded Edinburgh with zombies, sent Siemens’ urban museum The Crystal to 2050, and built the solar system in Deptford. He has previously worked with Punchdrunk, the Southbank Centre and the BBC. Mary Jane Edwards, who develops projects focused on cultural regeneration, social policy and social finance, is his new partner in crime in attempts to blur the distinction between art, education and science.


@theplayethic | @AboutThisLater | @shrinking_space

Afrogalactica: a short history of the future
(performance excerpt)
Kapwani Kiwanga, 2011 (4′ 50)

15:45 screenings


Corner Convenience: “Hoodie”

Near Future Laboratory, 2012, (1’ 40)

Near Future Laboratory’s design-fiction workshop used print and film to explore the future as a place we will, inevitably, take for granted. Its ruling assumption was that the trajectory of all great innovations is to trend towards the counter of your corner convenience store, grocer, 7–11 or petrol station. @nearfuturelab


John St., 2014 (3’ 12)


New Mumbai

Tobias Revell, 2012 (9’ 17)

During the Indian Civil War the Dharavi slums of Mumbai were flooded with refugees. Sometime later a cache of biological samples appeared through the criminal networks of Mumbai. Revell explains how a refugee community managed to turn these genetically-engineered narcotics into a new type of infrastructure. @tobias_revell

Tender – it’s how people meat

Marcello Gómez Maureira, 2015 (0’ 52)

Tender is the easy way to connect with new and interesting meat around you. @dandymaro

Aurora, the Aura City (excerpt)

Urban IxD, 2013 (3’ 25)

A design fiction created during the Urban IxD summer school in Split, Croatia during August 2013, and led by Tobias Revell and Sara Bozanic. It is 2113. Cities have undergone profound change. A sharing economy holds sway, but the desire for efficiency and optimization has led to the development of highly sophisticated sharing systems that preclude social interaction. The streets have emptied… @tobias_revell | @me_transmedia

Corner Convenience: “Drunk”

Near Future Laboratory, 2012, (1’ 50)


16:00 presentations

Rachel Armstrong creates new materials that possess some of the properties of living systems, and can be manipulated to “grow” architecture. Through extensive collaboration, she builds and develops prototypes of sustainable and self-sustaining metabolic buildings.


Lydia Nicholas, is a researcher in collective intelligence at Nesta and founding member of the Future Anthropologies Network. She speaks at conferences about bodies and biology and numbers and making in various combinations. Her favourite bacteria is Paenibacillus vortex.


16:15 panel: “This is not a drill”

Rachel Armstrong and Lydia Nicholas join Georgina Voss, Paul Graham Raven and Regina Peldszus to explore how mock-ups, simulations and rehearsals are shaping the real world.

Georgina Voss co-wrote the “Better Made Up” report from NESTA examining the co-influence of science fiction and innovation, and is currently is a resident at Lighthouse Arts, using 3D print technology to promote women’s health in remote regions.

Paul Graham Raven is a postgraduate researcher in infrastructure futures and theory at the University of Sheffield. He is also a science fiction writer, literary critic and essayist.

Via Skype, Regina Peldszus explores how humans and technology interact. She was an Internal Research Fellow with the European Space Agency in Darmstadt, Germany. She is now at Leuphana University of Lüneburg, researching the ethics of simulation.

@gsvoss | @PaulGrahamRaven

Forever Future
Sacha Pohflepp, 2010 (4′ 24)

17:00 Screening

Fugitive Futurist: A Q-riosity by “Q”

Gaston Quiribet, 1924 (12’ 00; silent)

An on-the-run inventor claims to have invented a camera which looks into the future, and reveals a grim destiny for London landmarks like Tower Bridge and Trafalgar Square.

17:15 Discussion and screenings


Public Tracks

Hubert Blanz, 2010 (1’ 25)

Excerpt from an audio/video installation. Over the last few years the importance of virtual social networks has greatly increased and has significantly changed the way we communicate.

Brilliant Noise
Semiconductor, 2006 (5’ 50)

After sifting through hundreds of thousands of computer files, made accessible via open access-archives, Semiconductor bring together some of the sun’s finest unseen moments. These images have been kept in their most raw form, revealing the activities of energetic particles. The soundtrack highlights the hidden forces at play upon the solar surface, by directly translating areas of intensity within the image brightness into layers of audio manipulation. @Semiconducting

Singular Occurrence of a Fall

Anaïs Tondeur & Jean-Marc Chomaz, 2014 (1’ 13)

Produced with PhD students during an art and science workshop at Cambridge University, this is one of a series of video pieces that reconstruct in the laboratory the effects of an earthquake on the lost island of Nuuk.


“I have nothing to say as an artist”

'Disrobe' (2013). Image ripped shamelessly from

‘Disrobe’ (2013). Image ripped shamelessly from

That, anyway, was the provocative start to my interview with Anish Kapoor the other day. He’s got a terrifying new show on at Lisson Gallery in London, all blood and sinew (well, latex…). Comparisons with Bacon are inevitable, though he says there’s something hysterical about Bacon’s work which he’s not entirely easy with.

Liz Else and I were talking to the sculptor for New Scientist. You can read the full interview here.

Creative. Interactive. Wrong.

People are by far the easiest animals to train. Whenever you try to get some bit of technology to work better, you can be sure that you are also training yourself. Steadily, day by day, we are changing our behaviours to better fit with the limitations of our digital environment. Whole books have been written about this, but we keep making the same mistakes. On 6 November 2014, at Human Interactive, a day-long conference on human-machine interaction at Goldsmith’s College in London, Rodolphe Gelin, the research director of robot-makers Aldebaran, screened a video starring Nao, the company’s charming educational robot. It took a while before someone in the audience (not me) spotted the film’s obvious flaw: how come the mother is sweating away in the kitchen while the robot is enjoying quality time with her child?

We still obsess over the “labour-saving” capacities of our machines, still hanker after more always-elusive “free time”, but we never think to rethink the value of labour itself. This is the risk we run: that we will save ourselves from the very labour that makes our lives worthwhile.

Organised by William Latham and Frederic Fol Leymarie, Human Interactive was calculated (quite deliberately, I expect) to stir unease.

Beyond the jolly, anecdotal presentations about the computer games industry from Creative Assembly’s Guy Davidson and game designer Jed Ashforth, there emerged a rather unflattering vision of how humans best interact with machines. The biophysicist Michael Sternberg, for instance, is harnessing the wisdom of crowds to gamify and thereby solve difficult problems in systems biology and bioinformatics. For Sternberg’s purposes, people are effectively interchangeable components in a kind of meat parallel-processing system. Individually, we do have some merit: we are good at recognising and classifying patterns. Thisat least makes us better than pigeons, but only at the things that pigeons are good at already.

Sternberg would be mortified to see his work described in such terms – but this is the point: human projects, fed through the digital mill, emerge with their humanity stripped away. It’s up to people at the receiving end of the milling process to put the humanity back in. I wasn’t sure, listening to Nilli Lavie’s presentation on attention, to what human benefit her studies would be put. The UCL neuroscientist’s key point is well taken – that people perform best when they are neither overloaded with information, nor deprived of sufficient stimulus. But what did she mean by her claim that wandering attention loses the US economy around two billion dollars a year? Were American minds to be perfectly focused, all the year round, would that usher in some sort of actuarial New Jerusalem? Or would it merely extinguish all American dreaming? Without a space for minds to wander in, where would a new idea – any new idea – actually come from?

Not that ideas will save us. Ideas, in fact, got us into this mess in the first place, by reminding us that the world as-is is less than it could be. We are very good at dreaming up scenarios that we are not currently experiencing. We are all too capable of imagining elusive “perfect” experiences. Digital media feed these yearnings. There is something magical about a balanced spreadsheet, a glitchless virtual surface, the beauty of a symmetrical avatar under perfect, unreal light.

Henrietta Bowden-Jones, founder and director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic, is painfully aware of how digital media encourage our obessive and addictive behaviours. Games are hardly the new tobacco — at least, not yet — but psychologists are being hired to make them ever-more addictive; Bowden-Jones’s impressively understated presentation suggested that games may soon generate behavioral and social problems as acute as those thrown up by on-line gambling.

The day after the conference, Goldsmith’s College hosted Creative Machine, a week-long exhibition of machine creativity. In a church abutting the campus, robots sketched human skulls, balanced pendulums, and noodled around with evolutionary algorithms.I expected still more alienation, a surfeit of anxiety. In fact, Creative Machine left me feeling strangely reassured.

Those of us who play with computers, or know a little about science, harbour what amounts to a religious conviction: that that somewhere deep down, at the bottom of this messy reality, there is an order at work. Call it mathematics, or physics, or reason. Whichever way you cut it, we believe there’s a law. But this just isn’t true. Put a computer to work in the real world, and it messes up. More exciting still, it messes up in just the ways we would. Félix Luque Sánchez’s simple robots on rails shuttle backwards and forwards in a brave and ultimately futile attempt to balance a pendulum. Anyone who’s ever tried to balance a book on their head will recognise themselves in every move, every acceleration, every hesitation – every failure.


Even a robot who knows what it’s doing will get entangled. Patrick Tresset has programmed a robot called Paul with the rules of life drawing and draughtsmanship. Paul, presented with a still-life, follows these rules unthinkingly – and yet every picture it churns out is unique, shaped by tiny, unrepeatable fluctations in its environment (a snaggy biro, a heavy-footed passer-by, a cloud crossing the sun…).


If an emblem were needed for this show, then Cécile Babiole provides it. She has run the phrase “NE DOIS PAS COPIER” (literally: “one shouldn’t copy”) through a 3-D copier, over and over again, playing a familiar game of generational loss. And it’s the strangest thing: as they decay, her printed plastic letters take on organic form, become weeds, become coral, become limbs and organs. They lose their original meaning, only to acquire others. They do not become nothing, the way an over-photocopied picture becomes nothing. They become rich and strange.


Maths, rationality and science are magnificent tools with which to investigate the world. But we commit a massive and dangerous category error when we assume the world is built out of maths and reason.

With a conference to beat us, and an exhibition to entice us, Latham and Fol Leymarie have led us, without us ever really noticing, to a view of new kind of digital future. A future of approximations and mistakes and acts of bricolage. It is not a human future, particularly. But it is a future that accommodates us, and we should probably be grateful.

from HOW TO LIKE EVERYTHING by Paul Shepheard

For a hundred days, between July and October 2009, the empty fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square was occupied, an hour at a time, by selected members of the public. The author of this ruse was the artist Antony Gormley; he allowed his successful applicants to do anything they wanted while they were up there, and to take anything with them that they could carry unaided.

The other day, I came across this passage, from Paul Shepheard’s excellent crypto-Utopian novel How to Like Everything:


The real story was in the plinth itself. To stop this man and all the others hurting themselves a huge safety net supported on steel beams and painted grey like the ones they have on aircraft carriers to catch overshooting planes was attached to the plinth. I think that was the real sculpture, that net. It was made out of the problem of democracy – which is that it starts out as the means of collective action against oppression and then abruptly runs out of steam. Democracy has no value in itself, it is made of the will of the majority, whatever it is at the time. It is a way of dealing with everything, but it is a utility, not a vision. To think of it as a vision results in a thousand regulations surrounding every action, because ultimately democracy depends on the law. That safety net was an example of the art of the law.

Electric Shadows

From 12-14 October 2012, the Kontraste Festival – curated by Sonic Acts – reverberates across Krems, a pretty town on the Danube famous for its art galleries, staggeringly good white wine, and one of the world’s best preserved panopticon prisons. On Saturday I’ll be discussing how, adapted as we are to a rich visual world, we will have to learn to tolerate the limited colour palette and visual monotony of the rest of the universe. This is one of the more left-field contributions; for the most part the weekend is filled with a wild assortment of scientifically literate sound artists Playing with Our Brains. This sort of thing:


There’s also a film programme, like this:


with a touch of this:


If you can’t make it up the Danube, there’s always the book.