10 October 2009


WHAT IF… has opened at the Science Gallery in Dublin and runs until 13th December. Curated by Dunne & Raby with the venue’s director Michael John Gorman, the exhibition features 29 projects from 23 designers.

The exhibition has a speculative focus, taking emerging technologies and new materials as a source for hypothetical and idiosyncratic designs which aim to ask questions rather than provide answers. This ambition is reflected curatorially, with each project framed by a question. These are listed on this Science Gallery web-page, and are also present in the exhibition space, with the texts laser-cut from plastic, and running around the edges of the installations.

There are some projects here that originated in Material Beliefs, including Soares’ Vegitarian Tooth and Auger, Loizeau and Zivanovic’s Carnivorous Domestic Entertainment Robots. Biojewellery is there, which I collaborated on with Nikki Stott and Ian Thompson, as well as Caccavales’ Utility Pets, which are relatively old projects compared to Thomas Thwaites Toaster Project or Zoe Papadopoulou and Cathrine Kramer’s Cloud Project which both featured in the 2009 Royal College of Art graduation show. Indeed WHAT IF… could be seen as a retrospective of speculative design’s association with science, albeit a family of such work, rather than a thematic survey. For – with the exception of Mathieu Lehanneur’s Local River – all these projects are the work of staff and former students of Design Interaction department at the RCA.

The Science Gallery opened in 2008, a glass segment facing outwards on to Pearse Street on the north-eastern edge of Trinity College campus. The transparency and accessibility of the gallery space perhaps relates to it’s role as an “interface between research and the city“, and I was told that as the Trinity campus expanded and grew, it bricked up the windows on its outer edges, turning its back to the life of the city. To me it seemed that the Science Gallery takes its corrective role seriously, and I’ll mention a couple of details. I was struck by Gorman’s insistence at the opening that the exhibitors should stand with their work, and chat about it with attendees, rather than drift to the bar. There was mention that the Gallery’s demonstrators, who following the hubris of the opening are on hand to discuss the exhibits, could do a better job of this than the designers who made the work. And it was one of those designers who said this.

While I’m continuing to try and assemble my PhD thesis, I tend to give myself a fairly hard time about the claims I make about the way my work ‘opens up’ technology. I have also developed a healthy scepticism about the composition and ambition of the field of public engagement of science and technology, in which I consider my work to sit. I’ll continue to wrestle with my own doubts, and in the meantime it is experiences like WHAT IF…, with its enthusiastic and lovely visitors, staff and exhibitors that cut through these academic troubles.

Science Gallery opening
Science Gallery WHAT IF… opening day

Biojewellery archive
Documents and prototypes from the Biojewellery archive

23 July 2009

BIG Event 2009

The British Interactive Group are having their annual BIG event on 22-24 July at the Royal Institution, London. Material Beliefs is helping with as session called “Creativity, Collaboration and Science Communication”, where I’ll be joining Claire Rocks (who’ll be presenting Heart Robot), Emily Dawson and Sarah Jenkins.

A full schedule is available here, and the event is being blogged here.

BIG Event opening
Noel Jackson opening BIG Event 2009 (image from Jonathan S blog)

07 July 2009

Tweak festival

So, “Tweak is an interactive art and live electronic music festival taking place in Limerick City between the 21st and 26th of September 2009. Its aim is to promote understanding of the use of technology within our culture and to explore contemporary issues (social, economic, psychological, aesthetic and functional).”

There is a call for participation that closes on July 20th. Proposals are invited from artists and designers within the categories of Exhibition, Workshops, Live Electronic Performance, Cinematic Works and Listening Post.

I’ll be contributing to a workshop on Wednesday 23rd, which is about “Open-Ended Technology Design”. It will be interesting to see how some of the practices from Material Beliefs will fit here. There are some direct links to the Arduino platform that Massimo Banzi is likely to bring to the table – this hardware was used in some of the Material Beliefs Prototypes. I’m also looking forward to hear more about John McCarthy’s research at UCC, and Rob van Kranenburg’s work following his Internet of Things.
Tweak logo

23 May 2009

“Science and the Nation” at E:vent

Science and the Nation is an evening of science by non-scientists, taking place at E:vent on Friday 29 May, 7–11pm,

Speakers: Revital Cohen, Martin Conreen, Emily Dawson, Anna Dumitriu, Ben Johnson, Kira O’Reilly & Janet Smith, Rob La Frenais, Brendan Walker

Guest curated by Tobie Kerridge & Elio Caccavale as a part of Colm Lally’s programme, more details and directions online at E:vent.

Ben Johnson presents his new kitchen

14 May 2009

Project Publication

The Material Beliefs book pulls together two years of activity. The book accompanies the evaluation of the project by Emily Dawson, and is edited by Jacob Beaver and Sarah Pennington, designed by Hyperkit and published by Goldsmiths, University of London

hybrid sketch

This 160 page softback book is published as an edition of 1000, and includes essays by Mike Michael and Emily Dawson, and an interview with Tony Dunne. The book includes a DVD of documentary films, and will be available at the end of May 2009. More here.

13 May 2009

Evaluation published

Emily Dawson has written a report on Material Beliefs, which you can download here (PDF). This report was commissioned for the EPSRC (the project funder) and the project participants, and will be useful if you want to have a closer look at what the project aimed to do, and what it actually did.

Thanks to those who contributed, to the report and to the project. For those of us with short attention spans, some of the report features are summarised on the EPSRC grant page.

26 February 2009

CDER at Kinetica Art Fair

Carnivorous Domestic Entertainment Robots are at Kinetica Art Fair, opening this Friday 27th February. Here’s a link to the event website, where you can see a full list of exhibitors and more details about the event:

The Kinetica Art Fair will provide collectors, curators, museums and the public with a unique opportunity to view and purchase artworks from leading international galleries, artist’s collectives, curatorial groups and organisations specialising in kinetic, electronic and new media art.

CDER is a group of objects produced as a collaboration between Aleksandar Zivanovic, James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau, you can also read a pdf of the CDER page from the catalogue.

kinetica art fair 2009

23 December 2008

David says “Hello”

This post is to introduce myself, I’m David Muth, a musician, programmer and artist who lives and works in London.

I joined the Neural Animat team a couple of months ago, and have been working on algorithmic visualisations of neural activity. This project is of particular interest to me, as it touches on philosophical questions about consciousness and decision making.

The method of writing computer code in order to generate imagery in real time has been of relevance to quite a few of my projects. If you’d like to find out a little bit more, please have a look at my website.

04 November 2008

Crossing over: fusing science and art

This was an evening event at the Royal Institution of Great Britain providing a conversation between participants of the Crossing Over exhibition and members of the public.

Initiated by facilitator Mark Lythgoe, a start point was the separation of science and humanities, as argued by C. P. Snow in his Two Cultures lecture of 1959. A discussion of collaborations that tried to cross Snow’s fences, moved on to some thoughtful attendee comments about the requirements and expectations of role and institution, rather than essentialist differences between practitioner types.

In this light I was reminded that the potential value of sci-art is not to do with the inspiring effect of art’s lens upon science methods, nor the nourishment of art practice by science outcomes, but rather the value of collaborative practice as it provides the resources and the time for people to do things that they might not ordinarily do, with people they might not usually meet.

Additionally, if these collaborations are transparent, and performed amongst the public, they start to work upon divisions between specialists and non-specialists, which is perhaps a more relevant division within contemporary society than Snow’s two cultures.

Bonsai Cells
Above: the Bansai Cells project lets researchers discuss their work with different audiences

04 November 2008

The Role of the Arts in Democratic Policy Making

Material Beliefs showed three posters at the Arts & Technology symposium on October 14th at the National Theatre, organised by BioCentre. Here’s a quote from the BioCentre event page:

How can the arts conversation shape and develop public policy? Do the arts add to the hype or do they really help to inform the public of the truth about these issues? Can the arts and public policy arenas work more closely to further enrich the dialogue? If so, how? What can policy makers learn from the arts in this area?

Material Beliefs has been funded by a Partnerships for Public Engagement award, and is trying to do events that encourage a dialogue between biomedical researchers and members of the public. A key aim is to make labs permeable, to help researchers take their interests out into cultural contexts, and to use creative engagement to provide routes into labs for members of the publics.

The introductory poster shown at the BioCentre event talks about this aim in more detail. While attendees explored an exhibition at the National Theatre event, the poster contextualised two projects that have come out of the Material Beliefs collaborations, Vital Signs and Neuroscope.

Above: Matt James from BioCentre welcomes attendees to the National Theatre

Above: Material Beliefs posters


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