digital revolution

6th November 2014

Walking through the Barbican’s ‘Digital Revolution’ exhibition, I was overwhelmed with a sensorial and memorable experience, topped off by a sense of optimism for the future of the digital medium. My experience was like stepping into a digital fantasyland that provoked all of my senses and left me enthused by the potential for more… more of this technological and digital acumen!

I’ll stop rambling now and get to the details but, as you can tell, I had a positive experience and would recommend that you attend and discover the rise of digital creativity across the arts, spanning three rooms of film, music, interaction, games and art.

digital archaeology

The main room of the exhibition comprises a number of different themed sections. The first, Digital Archaeology, feels like stepping into an arcade of the future’s retro room – a delightful cacophony of audio and giant displays overhead, repeating snippets of footage from various digital works.

Scores of people were bursting with nostalgic joy to play old classics such as Pong, Pac Man, Space Invaders, Super Mario Bros. and Tomb Raider. A personal standout piece was the ZX Spectrum, taking me right back to fond memories of rewinding cassettes and rainbow loading screens before playing games like Moonstrike.

digital revolution

Moving quickly through the history of personal computing from the first Mac, to MS Paint, to Angry Birds, we arrive into the second area of the exhibition and observe the birth of the mainstream 3D virtual world through the likes of Grand Theft Auto 3.

The advancing visual power of computers and its use in VFX heavy motion pictures is showcased through pioneer films such as Jurassic Park and The Matrix. 

An interesting experience was the ability to visualize the deconstruction of how visual effects are created. An immersive cube of interlocking displays showcased the visual effects of Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity. While you are also able to interact with the VFX footage of Christopher Nolan’s Inception using a leap motion controller, fulfilling the dream of Minority Report’s vision of user interaction in the future. Also on show and worth a special mention is Factory Fifteen’s fantastic CGI movies.

 sound and vision

The Sound & Vision section in the main room features a multitude of work by various performing artists including Bjork, Will-i-am and James Frost (Radiohead).

state of play

The State of Play area of the exhibition features the stunning work by Chris Milk, The Treachery of Sanctuary, which is a giant triptych that takes users through three stages of flight by the use of Kinect controllers and infrared sensors. The piece consists of three monolithic white frames towering above a still reflecting pool. Standing before each of the three towers presents a different interaction with your silhouette. You can watch your body dissolve into a flock of birds, or, rather, swing your arms up and you are bestowed with massive pair of wings. Coupled with a dreamy audio accompaniment, it is a beautiful spectacle to behold.


The final space in the main gallery is a co-commission with Google called DevArt, which is a celebration of art made with code. The highlight for me was the Wishing Wall by artists Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet – an interactive installation where you can make a wish and see it transformed into a butterfly, which rests gently on your hand and then takes flight.

indie game developers

The retro theme, which pervaded the main room, was also prevalent in the second room with many indie games seemingly rooted in old school game mechanics with fresh modern twists. An example of this was Bit.Trip Beat an incredibly fun and addictive mash up of Pong and music production. Another example is the recently launched game Fez, which is set to be future classic and thatgamecompany’s brilliant computer game called Journey.

The final room of the exhibition was Umbrellium’s Assemblance. This immersive, interactive experience takes place in the Pit Theatre – a dark room housing a forest of light that can be moulded, built and bounced using gesture and movement, with a focus on collaboration and working together. The delicate structures resembling fabric can be interacted with by carefully folding them back, or bouncing them between each other. The most delightful moment was the discovery that your mind generates feelings in your hands like you are actually touching the field of light as if it were a physical piece of cloth. A wonderful experience.

Digital Revolution at the Barbican Centre is a huge collection of work. There is a vast amount to see and be amazed by, much more than I have mentioned here. From the humble beginnings of Pong in 1792 to the immersive magic of Umbrellium in 2014, it’s amazing to see the evolution and transformation of digital content in just over four decades. It gives such a sense of optimism for the digital medium in the future. Exciting times lie ahead.

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