Hack the Barbican

Today, we’ve seen money defaced, been privy to a Kubrick-style data collection experiment and strolled through the shell of an exclusive apartment, scaled down to half-size.

Comedy Lab - Human vs Robot. A session at Hack The Barbican By Tiernan Douieb, Andrew O'Neill and RoboThespian
Comedy Lab – Human vs Robot. A session at Hack The Barbican By Tiernan Douieb, Andrew O’Neill and RoboThespian

These rather surreal happenings are just a few of the odd and brilliant installations and interventions taking part as part of Hack the Barbican, a month-long design, arts and technology programme that will see the centre taken over by around 300 designers, artists, technologists and entrepreneurs.

An installation in the foyer near the Curve Gallery entrance.
An installation in the foyer near the Curve Gallery entrance.

Produced by London-based social enterprise The Trampery and the Barbican, Hack the Barbican will feature 100 installations, performances, workshops and discussions, which according to organisers, will form ‘London’s biggest ever experiment in cross-disciplinary collaboration.’

Many of these will be site-specific pieces, using areas of the Barbican’s cavernous, Brutalist interiors and transforming them into installations, games and performances through disciplines ranging from coding and hardware-hacking to music, painting and sculpture.

While each day will see different events taking place, our highlight from this afternoon was the strange, cinematic Ministry of Measurement installation by sound art collective thickear.

The group has taken over the Barbican’s lower level cloakroom, creating an interactive piece/performance that examines the subjectivity of measurement and data processing.

thickear manning the Ministry of Measurement installation.
thickear manning the Ministry of Measurement installation.

Manned by ‘robot-like’(at least when in character) men in white lab clothes, visitors are given a ‘data collection’ sheet, and tasked with measuring sections of the site through means such as ‘hops’, ‘shuffles’ or ‘body lengths’. Their findings are then fed into a hilarious processing machine, which triggers a series of light and sound interventions throughout the cloakroom space, finally producing a ludicrously convoluted series data print-out. It’s odd, it’s cinematic and it’s charmingly engaging.

Data from Ministry of Measurement by thickear
Data from Ministry of Measurement by thickear

‘We’re really into site specific stuff’, thickear tells us, through reams of incomprehensible data-laden paper. ‘We see what we can do with the space, not what the space can do for us’.

A simpler piece has been created by artist Ian Willey, whose little Barbicoin stand sees people (in this case, some articulate and creative children) hacking two pence pieces, using stickers and ketchup. Their rudimentary mint is slowly churning out a hyper-local currency, where each coin is totally unique.

Barbicoin stand for hacking two pence pieces
Barbicoin stand for hacking two pence pieces

Elsewhere, designer and artist Lawrence Lek has created Penthouse 4C in the central foyer – a half-size replica of the Barbican Estate¹s largest apartment; while James Bridle’s Unmoored piece uses weather data collected from the Barbican’s roof to drive a virtual airship.

Penthouse 4C
Penthouse 4C

The entire programme has been devised without any central curation, taking its cues from hacker culture and leaving it up to the participants themselves about how they choose to work, who with and how they procure the skills and materials they need for their pieces.

Charles Armstrong (centre), director of The Trampery at the Barbican Centre.
Charles Armstrong (centre), director of The Trampery at the Barbican Centre.

Charles Armstrong, director of The Trampery, says, ‘With the landscape for culture and the arts undergoing its greatest change for a century we have a historic opportunity to pioneer new models.’

He adds, ‘Hack the Barbican is a taste of what can happen when we unleash the entrepreneurial energy of a new generation of artists and innovators.’

Comedy Lab - Human vs Robot. A session at Hack The Barbican By Tiernan Douieb, Andrew O’Neill and RoboThespian
Comedy Lab – Human vs Robot. A session at Hack The Barbican By Tiernan Douieb, Andrew O’Neill and RoboThespian

 Hack the Barbican runs until 31 August at the Barbican, Silk St, London EC2Y. For full programme information click here or visit http://hackthebarbican.org/

Who will win? Human comedian or robot?
Who will win? Human comedian or robot?

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