Art Review: You Say You Want a (Digital) Revolution


Note: this article was also published on

Digital Revolution, curated by the Barbican Centre: seen July 2, 2014

Showcasing the past, present, and future of the world of computers, gaming, and the virtual world, the Barbican Centre’s art exhibit Digital Revolution gives you an idea just how far we’ve come in so short a time. Presented as an exploration of the digital world and how it has impacted our culture and creative, the exhibit takes the concept of ‘interactive’ to a whole new level.

The exhibit first starts out with “Digital Archaeology”, an enlightening — if not a touch disconcerting — exhibit showing some of the earlier digital worlds and creations. Everything from a Pong game that you can actually play to a re-enactment of what the World Wide Web looked like when it was in its earliest days; it’s a blast from the past with some smexy artifacts such as an Altair 8800 computer on display.

But then, the exhibit delves into the increasing merger between the digital and art worlds. Beginning with “We Create”, it shows the shift to user-generated content such as the Johnny Cash Project and the takeoff of Minecraft as not only a game but an art form.

“Creative Spaces” explores how the digital world has currently impacted film and online projects. This includes How to Train Your Dragon (showing how far we’ve come just between the first movie and the subsequent sequel in digital animation), Gravity (and how much of the movie actually was digital), and websites such as Dronestagram, which uploads photos from various government drones to Instagram as a commentary on our loss of privacy.

The digital world is also merging with the art world through the visualization of music. The text accompanying the “Sound & Vision” area states, “The explosion of imagining technologies has come to influence not only the sounds we hear, but also the style in which we see them, changing the look and feel of music forever.” It highlights new concepts in music such as Arcade Fire’s “The Wilderness Downtown”, which uses Google Map images in the creation of a personalized video. It also presents several songs that use the digital world in new ways, including Squarepusher’s “Composition for Robots” – a piece of music that can only be played by robots.

Petting Zoo, 2013. Minimaforms, Theodore and Stephen Spyropoulos. Photo by Apostolos Despotidis, and courtesy the Barbican Centre.

The true highlight of the exhibit for me, however, was “State of Play” – which had several pieces of digital art that – as hinted at above – were truly interactive, meaning the art doesn’t exist without you there to interact with it. “Treachery of Sanctuary” (the video linked above) is a triptych piece where your shadow becomes part of the art, and your movement triggers the next step.

Another piece, not part of this section but still using the same idea, is hidden in the basement of the Barbican: Umbrellium’s Assemblance uses lasers in such a way that it feels like the light has weight, letting you interact and manipulate the beams, and if you move them in certain ways, it will trigger certain aspects of the exhibit.

Finally, the section also focused on the future of the digital world. Everything from challenging what code and art can be, it presents things such as wearable solar clothes that let you charge your phone to digital graffiti. There’s also an indie game area, presenting some of the computer games that are being developed by independent publishers.

If you are at all interested in the digital world, are fascinated by how much our culture is being influenced by computers, and are anywhere near London, you should check this exhibit out. You’ll walk away with a whole new appreciation for how much our world has been changed – and influenced – by the digital revolution.

Digital Revolution runs at the Barbican until September 14, 2014. More information can be found on the Barbican’s website, and you can see photos from my trip there on my Flickr.