The Nature of History

A ground-breaking video and computer installation on the theme of evolution by Simon Robertshaw

This electronic interactive video and computer installation on the theme of evolution by artist Simon Robertshaw with photographer Sinclair Stammers was one of the earliest contemporary art commissions to be shown at the Natural History Museum in London and was specifically commissioned for that venue.

Featuring a vivid array of video, photographic and computer-generated images, which together form the centrepiece of a constantly-changing interactive environment, The Nature of History compared current and historical thinking on genetics and biological evolution - from Darwinian theories of natural selection to the latest developments in the rapidly-expanding field of artificial life. The interactive programme was created in collaboration with Dr Duncan Gillies, Imperial College.

Supported by:

The Nature of History was co-commissioned by Film & Video Umbrella and The Arts Catalyst.

Funded by Arts Council of England and the London Film & Video Development Agency, with generous sponsorship from AT&T

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Gravitation Off!

Short film documenting the projects of the "flying laboratory"

This short film documents the projects of the "flying laboratory" organised by The Arts Catalyst with Projekt Atol Flight Operations on parabolic zero gravity flights from Star City, Russia, between 2000 and 2003 (with the MIR Consortium, 2003).

To date, more than 20 artists have created artistic work in zero gravity environments, mostly facilitated by The Arts Catalyst. In the bizarre world of parabolic flight, the total accumulated time of all these artists' experiences in zero gravity is only a few hours at most.

Artists, scientists and others featured:

  • Ansuman Biswas
  • Alexei Blinov
  • Matturin Bolze (Kitsou Dubois Company)
  • Anthony Bull (Imperial College)
  • Annick Bureaud (Olats)
  • Ewen Chardronnet
  • Richard Couzins (Otolith Group)
  • Sasha Dall
  • Kitsou Dubois
  • Kodwo Eshun (Otolith Group)
  • Jem Finer
  • Vadim Fishkin
  • Kevin Fong (CASE, UCL)
  • Rebecca Forth (CASE, UCL)
  • Stefan Gec
  • Eddie George (Flow Motion)
  • Emma Jane Kirby
  • Andrew Kotting
  • Yuri Leiderman
  • Roger Malina (Leonardo)
  • Trevor Mattison (Flow Motion)
  • Susan McKenna-Lawlor
  • Jorg Muller (Kitsou Dubois Company)
  • Laura Nercy (Kitsou Dubois Company)
  • Marko Peljhan (Projekt Atol)
  • Anna Piva (Flow Motion)
  • Saso Podoresk
  • Marcelli Antunez Roca
  • Mikhail Ryklin
  • Anjalika Sagar (Otolith Group)
  • Mike Stubbs
  • Nicola Triscott (The Arts Catalyst)
  • Andrey & Julia Velikanov
  • Chris Welch
  • Morag Wightman
  • Louise K Wilson
  • Dragan Zivadinov
  • Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre Zero-G team

Edited by Rob La Frenais, Ewen Chardronnet and Rejeis Descoublet.

Commissioned for the 4th Art Outsiders Festival – space art exhibition, 1 Oct - 9 Nov 2003, Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris France

Also available, the publication Zero Gravity: A Cultural User's Guide, an Arts Catalyst publication surveying The Arts Catalyst's pioneering zero gravity projects. Essays by Eduardo Kac, Marina Benjamin, Rob La Frenais. Edited by Nicola Triscott & Rob La Frenais.


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Zero Genie

Short film of zero genies and zero gravity

On the surface, a playful attempt to perform feats ascribed to the genies and flying carpets of ancient myth, zero genie was conceived as a response to the structure and history of the space program over the last 50 years.
For millennia people have been travelling to the remotest regions of the cosmos using shamanistic technologies. Can we deride their experiences as being any less valid, any less real, than those of modern astronauts and cosmonauts? Who is to arbitrate on claims of yogic levitation, or persistent conspiracy theories suggesting that the American moon landings were
actually a hoax constructed in a film studio? Judgements of fantasy and reality are conditioned by relationships of power. The vast expanse of space is a political territory, colonised so far by the industrialized, affluent powers. Its exploration is a First World, high investment pursuit, beyond the orbit of all but the whitest, richest individuals.
Ansuman Biswas and Jem Finer, dressed in turbans, jewelled waistcoats, baggy pyjamas and curly toed sandals present a foil to the military industrial complex. In the belly of a plunging Soviet troop carrier, they attempt to smoke a pipe together, play shawms, dance, and ride the mythical flying carpet. The resulting ten-minute film is simultaneously magical and hilarious. It has been shown to great acclaim in many venues around the world.


Project commissioned by The Arts Catalyst
Flight: MIR Flight 001

Selected Screenings

Artists & Cosmonauts, Sadlers Wells, London, UK (Arts Catalyst)
Para-Site, Bridport Arts Centre, Dorset
Glastonbury Festival : short film tent
“Homeland”, Exeter
Le Signal, Biarritz, France
Big Screen, ExchangeSquare, Manchester
Everything Normal, Cecil Sharp House, London, UK (Arts Catalyst)
Rencontres Internationales, Berlin
Dartington College of Arts, Devon
Blowing Up, London
Images Festival, Toronto, Canada
Rencontres Internationales, Paris
Kinofilm festival, Manchester
Tagawa International Short Film Festival, Japan
Crafting Space, Smart Project Space, Amsterdam
Exposures, London
Slightly Shady, London
Planetary Bodies, Brighton
And in the Hayward touring exhibition, 'Magic'


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Everything Normal

Film event with a selection of short films from the cold war era, and more modern offerings

'I see the earth from space: it is beautiful.' These words have gone down in history as the first official utterance made by Yuri Gagarin in space. In reality, the flight transcript from Commander Gagarin's Vostok craft reveals that the pioneer Russian cosmonaut's actual first words translate more as, 'Everything normal - the equipment is working perfectly'. Gagarin's observation shows a touching faith in his instrument panel.
Everything Normal presented a selection of original short films from the cold war era, together with more modern offerings which paid homage to those grainy glory days - reflecting a time when men revelled in the company of their machines, the British space effort still existed, Heroic Soviet Achievements matched American Know-How, and with just a little more tinkering with our rockets we would all be living on the moon by 1980.
First film off the launchpad was Attention Weightlessness! - an excellent Soviet educational film from 1962 which shows scientists, cats and dogs enjoying the newly discovered joys of weightlessness as they tumble about onboard the precarious jet flights which prepared the way for gravity-defying space travel.
The programme continued with La Mission Priviet, a film by Raphaël Frydman, filmed in Kazakhstan in January 2003. The state of the Russian space program is discussed after the failure of a mysterious space launch of Soyuz, the Priviet Mission. The filmmaker tries to discover the truth of this mission: information or propaganda? The film was screened in French and Kazahk, with a live simultaneous translation.
First half also included the story of the conversion of a Latvian Radio Telescope for artistic purposes by the Acoustic Space Lab, Andrei Ujica's Out of the Present, and Louise K Wilson's film about an air-traffic controllers' cycling club who ride in formation down the runway.
Mission controller of the second half of the programme was British Lunatic Genius Andrew Kotting (maker of Gallivant and This Filthy Earth). Kotting showed his film Too G, made during an Arts Catalyst zero gravity flight; then presented a selection of shorts which included Steve Sullivan's A Whole Heap of Trouble, Guy Maddin's The Heart of the World, Phil Hall's Geoff World Destroyer and many other films which had absolutely nothing to do with the evening's otherwise admirable educational aims and purposes.
The evening included a screening of Otolith 1 by the Otolith Group.


Otolith 1, Otolith Group, 22 minutes
Attention Weightlessness ETV. 6 minute extract
Out of the Present Andrei Ujica. 5 minute extract
RT-32 Acoustic Space Lab. 6 minute extract
The Priviet Mission Raphaël Frydma. 26 minutes
Born in 82 Juneau Projects. 2 minute extract
Runway Louise K Wilson. 8 minutes
Zero Genies 10 minutes
Surprise! Veit Helmer. 6 minutes
Heart of the World Guy Maddin. 5 minutes
Too G Andrew Kotting. 3 minutes
One Small Leap Edward Boase & James Walker. 4 minutes
Donkeyhead. Andrew Kotting & Andrew Lindsay 3 minutes
Busby Berkleys Tribute to Mae West. Paul Bush. 2 minutes
A Heap of trouble Steve Sullivan. 5 minutes
Geoff World Destroyer Phil Hall. 3 minutes All is Love Chris Cunningham. 3 minutes

Intervals (& after):

Archive film footage, including Russian Dogs in Space
Vengeance by Stefan Gec
Music DJ'd by Kodwo Eshun & Ewen Chardronnet
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Artists and Cosmonauts

Four evenings of artists' film and performance, talks and presentations, featuring legendary Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev

Scientists, philosophers and artists from Britain and Russia presented reflections on the Russian space programme and the nature of living in space. With the legendary Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, member of the first mission to the International Space Station.

Friday 1 & Saturday 2 March 2002 - Lilian Baylis Theatre
MIR Flight 001

New works from The Arts Catalyst's MIR Flight 001, a multidisciplinary microgravity research laboratory for artists, scientists and philosophers at Star City, Russia.

Premieres of:

Gravity: A Love Story -  Morag Wightman & Craos Mor
Zero Genie - Jem Finer and Ansuman Biswas
Wave Particle - Jem Finer and Ansuman Biswas
Kosmos in Blue - Flow Motion
Too G - Andrew Kotting
Universal Substitute - Andrey & Julia Velkanov

Plus talks/presentations by Anthony Bull, Marko Peljhan, Kevin Fong, Louise K Wilson, Mikhail Ryklin, Anna Alchuk, Alexei Blinov

Friday 15 March 2002 - Institute of Physics
Cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev

In one of the most beautiful sequences of the film 'Out of the Present' by Berlin film-maker Andrei Ujica, the cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, alone in space on the Mir Space Station, contemplates the rivers, the continents, the perfect sphere or a real world in the setting sun: meanwhile way down below the tanks rumble and humanity, though invisible, stirs restlessly during the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

One of the most experienced cosmonauts and arguably the human who has lived longest in space, Sergei Krikaleve made a rare personal appearance between missions to debate on issues of culture and space with the artists and cosmonauts team.

Friday 19 April 2002 - Lilian Baylis Theatre
A Dancer in Weightlessness

Kitsou Dubois presented the premiere of her film (with Eric Duranteau), 'Trajectoire Fluide' (Fluid Trajectory), emerging from her 4-year research project with the Biodynamics Group at Imperial College. Professor Robert Schroter, Head of the Biodynamics Group, contextualised the project, and Dr Nick Davey, lead scientific investigator, gave a talk and demonstration of the scientific research aspects of the programme.

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James Acord, Mark Waller, Carey Young explored the economic and cultural legacy of atomic power in a series of new commissions

The 'Atomic' exhibition confronted fears and assumptions about science and the nuclear industry. Featuring the work of the American 'nuclear sculptor' James Acord, the only private individual in the world licensed to handle radioactive materials. 'Atomic' dealt with the tricky issue of the idealism behind the 'white heat of technology' of the fifties and sixties and attempts to break down the wall of secrecy which has shielded the nuclear industry since the cold war. 
Acord had an ambition to break down the wall of secrecy which has shielded the nuclear industry since the cold war. His 15-year self-organised residency on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, home of the atomic bomb, was a tragi-comic dance between Acord and the US Department of Energy as he sought permission to sculpt with the stuff of the nuclear age. Atomic leads us through his perilous journey to a site-specific display of his nuclear reliquaries - specially commissioned for his UK residency at Imperial College London.
As a counterpoint, artist Carey Young travelled to the former USSR to photograph the remnants of the nuclear-fuelled space race, the hero-worship of Gagarin and the ironic spectacle of the pride of Russia's technological achievements displayed among knock-down Western consumer goods.
Meanwhile, Mark Waller gained access to some of Britain's nuclear power stations to film a short thriller, 'Glow Boys', to be shown as an installation, about itinerant nuclear power workers who mysteriously develop superhuman qualities, featuring Mark E. Smith of The Fall. 
2 - 27 October 1998, Imperial College Gallery and Queen's Tower, Imperial College, London, UK
The exhibition at Imperial was accompanied by a round table discussion Art & the Atomic State. A schools programme led by James Acord supported the exhibition.
July - August 1999, Kluze Fortress, Bovec, Slovenia
The Atomic exhibition was shown at Kluze Fortress near Bovec. The fortress is at the head of the Soca Valley, near one of the main entry points to Slovenia from Italy and the exhibition has received a constant stream of visitors, mostly European tourists. James Acord gave his notable lecture-performance in the capital, Ljubljana.
2 Oct - 28 Nov 1999, Yard Gallery, NOW, Nottingham, UK
Atomic toured to the Yard Gallery at Wollaton Hall Museum in Nottingham as part of the NOW Festival, a festival of contemporary arts organised by the City Council. James Acord was artist-in-residence at the NOW Festival. Accompanying the exhibition was a schools programme, led by James Acord, who also gave a talk.
Atomic catalogue available from Cornerhouse.
Softback. Glows in the dark.
Essay by James Flint.
48 pages. 21 colour, 10 b&w illustrations.
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Seaclipse: Sharing a Shadow

A video record of the experience of 38 participants who ventured into the middle of the English Channel to encounter the solar eclipse of August 11, 1999.


Artist Anne Bean and cosmologist and writer Marcus Chown recruited individuals from a wide range of educational and cultural backgrounds, to venture out on boats to experience the sensations of the August 1999 UK total solar eclipse directly, and to chronicle their personal experiences. Included among those invited were teenagers from Tower Hamlets Summer University and from the RNIB's New College in Worcester.


Anne Bean
Nick Booth
Martin Burton
Paul Burwell
Anastasia Calder
Karen Chilver
Marcus Chown
David Cunningham
Robert Dale
Swarup Dasgupta
Elisabeth Geake
Ella Gibbs
Judith Goddard
Karen Gunnell
Mary Hoang
Ishmael Ibrahim
Jude James
Fatima Khatun
Rob La Frenais
Roz Lowrie
Elizabeth Lynch
Steve Minett
Ben Moat
Hayley Newman
Oliver Niner
Judith Palmer
Fahima Rasheed
Janet Pettman
Ezra Rubenstein
Saqib Shaikh
Nicola Triscott


The exhibition Seaclipse incorporated the Seaclipse video photographs and lightbox work recording the solar eclipse.

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A Consilience

Film installation by Jan Fabre at The Natural History Museum

Filmed in the Natural History Museum's vast scientific collections and shown as a two-screen installation in the main hall, this film by Jan Fabre makes the viewer privy to an extraordinary meeting between individuals obsessed with the nature of insect civilisation.

Transformed by fabulous sculpture-costumes to represent the insects they study, the scientists encounter Jan Fabre, ambassador of the beetle world.

Greatly influenced by his great-grandfather Jean-Henri Fabre, a famous 19th century naturalist, the beetle is a recurring theme in Fabre's drawings and theatre pieces: "I want to explore new interpretations for art and science with this piece, where the borders of these two disciplines touch each other. I've been enormously inspired by insects, particularly the Scarab beetle. In Flemish classical art they represent the passage of new life. I wanted to learn from the entomologists - perhaps change the way they look at things. The costumes act as a mask, changing the way they speak, move and behave. Consilience is literally a 'jumping together' of knowledge and facts across disciplines to create a common groundwork of explanation, as reflected in my approach to the Museum and its science".

Appearing in "A Consilience":

Jan Fabre (beetle)
Professor Vane-Wright, Head of Entomology (butterfly)
Dr Rory Post, Deputy Head of Entomology (fly)
Dr Ian Gauld (parasitic wasp)
Dr Martin Brendell (beetle)
Dr Martin Hall (fly)

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Brilliant Noise - Glorious Soviet Cosmos (Space Soon)

SPACE SOON Space Film Night

The astonishing Russian documentary First on the Moon by Alexei Fedorchenko shakes our understanding of the history of human spaceflight. 

Dream Time by Jane and Louise Wilson shows the lingering power of the Russian space programme in the cash-strapped post-Soviet era.

In Semiconductor’s Brilliant Noise, untouched images of our sun, captured by the SoHo satellite, present an alternative aesthetic of space.

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Gravity Zero

A commissioned 4-screen work 'Gravity Zero' by choreographer Kitsou Dubois shown at the Lux Centre

Kitsou Dubois was the first artist to work in weightlessness, having worked with astronauts of the French Space Agency to develop a training protocol based on dance techniques. She and dancers from her company then took part in a series of parabolic ‘weightless’ flights. The extraordinary footage emerging from these flights of dance in zero gravity was shown as a video installation commissioned by The Arts Catalyst for six weeks in March and April 1999, as a night-time projection across the windows of the Lux Centre in Hoxton Square.
Videos of Kitsou's zero gravity dance were also screened at the 291 gallery at an event following the opening at the Lux Centre.
Kitsou Dubois took part in a discussion with Dr Chris Welch in front of an audience at the Lux Cinema, mediated by Rob La Frenais.
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