At the age of ten, and inspired by Doctor Who, I worked for hours on my first tin-can robot, fascinated by the idea that you could make a machine with ‘human’ properties. The farthest I got was a delicately made hand – with moving joints and tiny lengths of wire running through loops of metal, all brought together with a set of five electric solenoids – to try and imitate the grace of hand movement. It didn’t work, but I wasn’t actually disappointed. I realised it was the making – and the appearance – of it that was so exciting, and the images I’ve seen of the exhibits that make up Our Cyborg Futures: Me or Machine? appear to share this ‘journey rather than destination’ approach. Approximately 40 exhibits have been pulled together from all sorts of areas, helping to make this a fascinating show. From Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robots designed to go where humans won’t, to a dress by Hussein Chalayan that moves and changes shape while you’re wearing it and a T-shirt that hugs you, the exhibition is diverse. There are no internal ‘below the skin’ technologies on show, which I did find surprising. So no Terminator-type electronic eyes, artificial hearts, hip joints or developments in nanotechnology. But this means that what you see is a bit less medical and probably a bit more stylish. A heart pump is extremely clever, but a pump nonetheless, whereas this exhibition reflects a wish to put people back at the centre of what technology is all about, rather than being about technology.
Our Cyborg Futures: Me or Machine?, part of the Design Council’s Dott 07 festival, runs from 10 August to 27 October at the Discovery Museum, Blandford Square, Newcastle NE1 4JA