Bionic People: workshop with John Williams

Two-day filmmaking workshop for disabled artists and filmmakers, part of DadaFest and Shape/The Arts Catalyst's Specimens to Superhumans programme

Gary Thomas from Disability Arts Online, attended as reviewer/participant and made this short film about the workshop.

A two-day practical workshop with award-winning filmmaker John Williams to create short films that imaginatively address themes of disability, bioethics and prosthetics. This practical and inspiring two-day workshop is for disabled artists who already work with film/video and disabled emerging filmmakers who want to explore and extend their work in these media.

John Williams is a writer/director with over 10 years experience. His films combine live action, animation and visual effects, engagingly dealing with highly sensitive subjects, including mental health (‘Robots’), young children dealing with the death of a friend (‘Hibernation’) and a child’s complex feelings towards his robotic dialysis machine (‘Paraphernalia’).

Williams’ graduation film 'Robots' won over 10 international awards, and his films continue to win major awards across the globe, from the Young Director’s Award at the Cannes Lions to ‘Best Drama’ at the LA Short Film Festival for his short film ‘Paraphernalia’. His powerful film 'Hibernation', about two boys who try to bring their friend back to life, won over 20 international awards and has been screened in over a thousand cinemas worldwide. Williams recently directed 'Magic', starring Jane Horrocks, for Channel 4's Coming Up series, and has just completed his first feature script with Sound Films entitled 'Here on Earth' the story of one man's mission to the moon. He also works on pioneering music videos for the likes of Coldplay and Radiohead.


Bionic People is the final event in the Specimens to Superhumans series curated by The Arts Catalyst and Shape exploring contemporary issues around biomedical science, disability and ethics, and how these are explored, represented and critiqued in art.  Earlier events included Labyrinth of Living Exhibits at the Hunterian Museum with Aaron Williamson, Sinéad O'Donnell, Brian Catling and Katherine Araniello, Alternative Ways of Thinking at Cheltenham Science Festival with Simon Baron-CohenJon Adams, Gabriel Hardistry-Miller and Ben Connors and "All that happened to us..." at Roehampton University with Ann Dickie, Anna BergströmTrevor Mathison, Professor Raymond Lee, Dr Siobhan Strike and Dr Jin Luo.



John Williams videos

John Williams abstract



Wellcome Trust People Award and Arts Council England

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A Conversation on Science in Contemporary Performance

An informal conversation event led by Vivienne Glance, Arts Catalyst's writer-in-residence

This informal conversation on science in contemporary performance brought together a small invited gathering of artists, writers, scientists and theatre practitioners. It will be led by Vivienne Glance who is Arts Catalyst's writer-in-residency during September 2012.

Vivienne Glance

Vivienne Glance is Arts Catalyst’s writer in residence for three weeks from 3– 21 September. Vivienne is a playwright, performer and poet from Australia. Her theatre work has been presented in UK, USA and Australia. Her latest play The Cat in the Box, an “absurd comedy with a dose of quantum mechanics”, premiered at the Blue Room Theatre, Perth, in August 2012. Her poetry has appeared in journals, anthologies and online publications. Her poetry collections are A Simple Rain, published by Lethologica Press (2012), and The Softness of Water, published by Sunline Press (2009). Vivienne is currently enrolled as a PhD candidate at the University of Western Australia, researching representations of science in performance and writing a full-length performance work.


Vivienne Glance

Game of Life

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Novel Forms & New Materialities

Melanie Jackson, Philip Ball and Esther Leslie discuss the ‘invisible era’ of material culture

'Novel Forms & New Materialities’ explores the radical transformations to our material world provoked by contemporary science and technology. It asks how engagement with new forms and modes of material performance promises to conjure into existence unseen materialities, narratives and possibilities. An  evening of presentations, film extracts and discussion follows an afternoon creative writing workshop. You are invited to book for one or both.

As molecular biology and nanotechnology converge, promising a proliferation of new, designed biological entities and smart materials, how is our physical environment and visual culture affected? What is at stake in these manipulations of material at this this scale? How might this reshaped matter in turn shape our visual, tactile world, as well as our dreams?

Science writer Philip Ball sets the context and considers what cultural,sociological and scientific factors have enabled these technological advancements, and our changing relationship with materials in this new “invisible era”. 

Artist Melanie Jackson and writer Esther Leslie have been collaborating on an investigation into the impulse for transformation and novel forms. Contemporary science re-imagines biological and chemical function as an engineering substrate, a complex fully programmable animate object, opening up a potential for us to “grow” any form. Goethe's idea of the Urpflanze - a primordial plant that contains within itself an infinity of potential forms – recurs startlingly in the present moment when matter, from the molecule up, is coerced to adopt fantastical forms and exhibit new behaviours. They will present readings and extracts from a forthcoming film essay and exhibition The Urpflanze (Part 2).

Afternoon writing workshop, ‘Using Biological Themes to Engineer New Fiction’, with Rachel Rodman

Rachel Rodman demonstrates how existing literary works can be recreated using techniques from molecular biology. In this workshop, we will explore metaphors comparing texts and organisms, and examine how “genetically” altered works can serve as starting points in the composition of new fiction. 

Limited places. Early booking recommended. 

Rachel Rodman earned a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin in 2008 and has since worked to promote innovative collaborations between fiction writers and scientists. She has taught writing workshops at the University of Wisconsin, Birkbeck, and Middlesex University. Her writing work combine themes from the biological sciences and from literature/creative writing. She has presented her work at Kingston University and at the 2010 NAWE Conference. Examples of her work can be found at LabLit, PANK, and The Human Genre Project: 

Speakers' Biographies

Melanie Jackson is an artist and a lecturer at Slade School of Fine Art, UCL. Recent solo exhibitions include The Urpflanze (Part 1), The Drawing Room, London (2010) Road Angel, Arnolfini, Bristol (2007), Made In China, Matt’s Gallery, London (2005). She won the Jerwood Drawing Prize in 2007. Jackson's Urplanze (Part 2), commissioned by Arts Catalyst, will be presented at the John Hansard Gallery in 2013.

Philip Ball is a science writer with a background in chemistry and physics. He worked for Nature magazine for 20 years and has release a succession of books including Made to Measure: New Materials for the 21st Century and Stories of the Invisible: A Guided Tour of Molecules.

Esther Leslie is Professor of Political Aesthetics in the Department of English and Humanities at Birkbeck. She is the author of Synthetic Worlds: Nature, Art and the Chemical Industry (2005). Leslie is collaborating with Melanie Jackson on her new work Urpflanze (Part 2).

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Srishti Science-Art / Space-Art Workshop

A 5-day series of workshops on themes of science and art, and space and the arts, led by London Fieldworks and The Arts Catalyst

With Bruce Gilchrist & Jo Joelson (London Fieldworks), Nicola Triscott and Rob La Frenais (The Arts Catalyst), Geetha Narayanan (Srishti), Sarah Neville, Mukund Thattai, N S Harsha, A V Varghese and Vivek Vilasini.

19 Jan - Science & art workshop
20 Jan - Space & the arts workshop
21 & 23 Jan - 'Spacebaby' workshop for Srishti students led by London Fieldworks
23 Jan - Ham radio workshop

A collaboration between Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology and The Arts Catalyst


Nicola Triscott is a cultural producer, curator and writer, specialising in the intersections between art, science, technology and society. She was the founding Artistic Director/CEO of Arts Catalyst, one of the UK’s most distinctive arts organisations, distinguished by ambitious artists’ commissions that engage with science, including notable projects by Tomas Saraceno, Ashok Sukumaran, Aleksandra Mir, Otolith Group and Critical Art Ensemble, and the international dimension of its programme of exhibitions, events, research and publications. Nicola has curated numerous exhibitions and events for Arts Catalyst. She lectures and publishes internationally, including books on art and technology in the Arctic, art and space, and ecological art. She blogs at on the critical inter-relationships between the arts, humanities and our technoscientific society. Nicola left Arts Catalyst in April 2019 to take on the role of CEO at FACT, Liverpool.

London Fieldworks aims to enable creative research and collaboration at the art, science and technology interesection. Typically, their projects deal with issues relating to complex relationships existing between social, natural and technological worlds. London Fieldworks was formed by the artists Bruce Gilchrist and Jo Joelson.

Rob La Frenais is an independent curator and critic who has curated and produced interdisciplinary and visual art projects since 1987 and with The Arts Catalyst since 1997. Before joining The Arts Catalyst, he was a freelance curator and organiser working in a European context in various countries, including being the Chief Executive of the Edge Biennale Trust in London and Madrid and the Artistic Director of the Belluard-Bollwerk International in Switzerland. In 1979 Rob founded the groundbreaking Performance Magazine, which continued as an authoritative cultural voice in Europe until 1992. He has a PhD in curatorial practice across disciplines and is an honorary Doctor of Arts at Dartington College of Arts.

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SPACE SOON: Art and Human Spaceflight

"We are all already in Space... "

Major new commissions by Aleksandra Mir, N55/Neal White, and London Fieldworks
Projects by Michelle Griffiths, Jerry Dammers, Kodwo Eshun, Resonance FM and Laurie Anderson and a special appearance by Apollo astronaut Alan Bean.

This was Buckminster Fuller's reported response to the first flight into space by Yuri Gagarin. Artists - caught between fascination and repulsion by the new millennial push to Mars and return to the Moon - are still trying to decode the manual to Spaceship Earth.

For a short, intense period the Roundhouse was transformed into a rocket factory for a rocket going nowhere - Gravity by Aleksandra Mir. Outside, N55 and Neal White’s Space on Earth Station reversed into the future, while in the labyrinth of Roundhouse Studios, London Fieldworks investigated long-term space travel in SpaceBaby, while on the upper floors Michelle Griffiths constructed her Lunar Capsule. In the lead up to, and over the five days of its duration, Space Soon unfolded a spectacular succession of art and space events.

Major new commissions:

Gravity - Aleksandra Mir

Sat 9 September 2006 - Wed 13 September 2006

The Camden Roundhouse, London

Gravity was a monumental, ephemeral scuplture, a 22-metre rocket of giant junk, reaching to the top of the Roundhouse main space, built and dismantled in just 5 days. It was constructed out of junk: steel, fibreglass, tractor tires, industrial fans and a discarded tank from a toothpaste factory.  It took two days of construction on site, stood erect for three days only and was dismantled in another two days.

The rocket that effectively went nowhere is commemorated through a mixture of production stills, drawings, space ephemera and the artist’s own pin up photos taken in scrap yards around England during the search for old and dirty things to make the work. 
The Arts Council of England, The Henry Moore Foundation
Industrial Design & Fabrication - Cory Burr, C.Burr Design / Stratford Welding
Engineering - Price Myers
Rigging - MTec Freight Group

Space on Earth Station - N55 / Neal White

Sat 9 September 2006 - Tue 1 September 2009

The Camden Roundhouse, London

Radical Danish architects N55 and UK artist Neal White constructed and inhabited a Mars base-type series of microdwellings, taking over the entirety of the Roundhouse car park, in order to explore our terrestrial neighbourhood.

Space on Earth Station is a space station on earth. It is an experiment that is inhabitable, fully functional, using a low-tech and low-economy architecture. It is concerned with the transfer of knowledge and exploration of bottom-up aesthetics. Space on Earth Station is foremost an experiment that aims to explore conditions for living, and experiment with our removal from and reconnection with what is natural. Natural in terms of nature, rights, relationships and our social structures. It was designed, set up and inhabited by Danish radical architect group N55 with UK artist Neal White. During the week, experiments and expeditions were conducted in collaboration with artists and the public. Collaborators included artists Marcus Ahlers and Kayle Brandon.

SpaceBaby - London Fieldworks

Sat 9 September 2006 - Mon 4 June 2007
The Camden Roundhouse, London, in collaboration with the Department of Genetics, University of Leicester.
Whitechapel Art Gallery, London

A durational sleep experiment and installation by artists London Fieldworks, investating long-term sleep and hibernation, with the University of Leicester Department of Genetics.

SpaceBaby was a performance-installation and lab in action performed during Space Soon at the Roundhouse.
SpaceBaby - performance installation and lab in action. A new video work Spacebaby: Guinea Pigs Don't Dream incorporated images from the experiment.
SpaceBaby was the first in a trilogy of works by London Fieldworks exploring the theme of hibernation and suspended animation in the form of a performance installation and lab in action. The project referenced the vested interest of space agencies into the possibility of human hibernation and acknowledged fictional representations of human hibernation within science fiction writing and film. The artists inverted their sleeping patterns and slept within the installation during exhibition opening hours. In the context of SpaceBaby, a parallel was drawn between shiftworkers and astronauts on long haul space missions. The lab-in-action was manned by a team of geneticists who examinined the effects of disrupted sleep upon whole genome, gene expression, with a particular interest in individuals undertaking shiftwork. Blood samples were periodically extracted from the sleep inverted artists and processed within the installation using Affymetrix gene chip Technology. The processing of the samples resulted in a series of images depicting the gene expression of disrupted sleep and were incorporated into the video work, SPACEBABY: Guinea Pigs Don’t Dream.
SpaceBaby is a 20-minute semi-fictional video journey into genetic space. It is the latest addition to London Fieldworks’ Hibernator, a trilogy of installation and video works connecting myth and science, environmental cues and technological control, the virtual worlds we imagine and the real world we cannot escape. It mixes laboratory procedure with physical performance, CGI, narrative and sound. Human guinea pigs, fruit flies and lab rats are seen inhabiting a hallucinatory 24-hour world where night and day are interchangeable.
Working with writer Ken Hollings and composer Dugal McKinnon, London Fieldworks artists Jo Joelson and Bruce Gilchrist have used documentary footage of the live SpaceBaby experiment, along with resulting data and footage shot around the capital. The narrative is played out in a world where everyone on earth appears to have fallen into a sleep-like trance. Has the whole planet stopped moving or merely its inhabitants?
The film was premiered at Whitechapel Art Gallery, 4 June 2008
The SpaceBaby experiment and installation at Space Soon was funded by Arts Council England and supported by AHRC, University of Leicester, Affymetrix and Ambion
The SpaceBaby video work was Funded by Arts & Business (New Partners Award), AHRC and Arts Council England and sponsored by Affymextrix, Ambion, with collaborative support from Department of Genetics at University of Leicester.

Lunar Capsule - Michelle Griffiths

Lunar Capsule was a whimsical Victorian butterfly-powered spaceship reminiscent of that in Jules Verne’s Earth to the Moon. The module was hinged with a clasp like a jewellery box and the instruments in the plush velour upholstered interior were unreliable. Mrs Bloom had a lot of time on her hands while she waited for touchdown on the moon.


Taking Control

Symposium exploring the future of space exploration from the human perspective.

Cosmic Engineers: Jerry Dammers Spatial AKA Orchestra - Tribute to Sun Ra + Special Screening of Out of the Present

Sat 9 September 2006

The Camden Roundhouse, London

The premiere of Jerry Dammers' new Spatial AKA Orchestra, presenting a tribute to the legendary jazz composer Sun Ra, and special screening of Andrei Ujica’s cult Russian space film Out of the Present.

Space Soon was proud to present the premiere gig of Jerry Dammers' new band, The Spatial AKA Orchestra.

Songwriter and keyboardist Jerry Dammers (founder of The Specials and the 2 Tone Record label) and his 18-piece orchestra paid tribute to the cosmic jazz of Sun Ra, the prolific space-jazz explorer who famously claimed to have gained his musical purpose on a trip to Saturn. Costumes, theatrics and visuals mixed with ska, reggae, hip-hop, dub-step, rock and outer-spatial sounds created an unforgettable ride across the galaxies.

Jeremy Dammers and Kodwo Eshun also made a special screening of' Andrei Ujica's cult Russian space movie Out of the Present.


Secret Artist on the Moon: Apollo astronaut Alan Bean

7.00pm, Sun 10 September 2006
The Camden Roundhouse, London

Legendary Apollo astronaut, Alan Bean, discussed his experience of being on the moon, the impact of spaceflight on the human mind, and the power of art.

Apollo astronaut Alan Bean, the 4th man on the moon, talks of space and art - A Secret Artist on the Moon
Legendary Apollo astronaut, Alan Bean, one of only nine men alive today who walked on the moon, visited London for the first time to discuss his experience of visiting the moon and the power of art with author Andrew Smith.
Alan Bean, moonwalker and artist, was captured perfectly in Andrew Smith's best-selling book Moondust evoking the rawness of that moment 37 years back when he grabbed hold of something solid and looked up: "This is the Moon, that's the Earth, I'm really here, I'm really here."
In Secret Artist on the Moon, Alan Bean - who now makes paintings that attempt to bring to life that elusive experience - brings a uniquely human insight to that rare moment, never repeated, when humans for a few years left the earth's orbit to voyage to our nearest neighbour. We have never returned.
A uniquely human perspective on voyaging further away from home than any other person has ever been. 

Brilliant Noise - Glorious Soviet Cosmos

Sat 9 September 2006
The Camden Roundhouse, London

Film night with Alexei Federchenko's First on the Moon, Jane & Louise Wilson's Dream Time, and Semiconductor's Brilliant Noise.

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.

Laurie Anderson in conversation

Tue 12 September 2006

The Camden Roundhouse, London

Laurie Anderson, NASA's former artist-in-residence returned to the UK, after the success of her show End of the Moon, to reflect on her NASA experience and her visit with The Arts Catalyst to Russia’s space programme with the writer and theorist Kodwo Eshun.

When NASA appointed the musician and artist, Laurie Anderson, as their first official artist-in-residence, they probably had in mind a celebratory and hi-tec output – perhaps lasers bouncing off the moon. But Anderson, disturbed by NASA’s revived plans to revisit and exploit the moon, created the performance piece The End of the Moon. NASA swiftly decided that there would be no further artists-in-residence.
In 2005, Anderson visited Russia’s space programme – the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre and mission control – with The Arts Catalyst and saw a very different side of the human spaceflight story, where the post-Soviet cash-strapped Russian space agency sells flights into space to Japanese dotcom billionaires at $20 million a time.
Anderson paid a special flying visit to London to take part in The Arts Catalyst's Space Soon event at the Roundhouse on Tuesday 12 September to reflect on her experiences, show her photographs and videos from her visit to Star City, in conversation with the author and critic Kodwo Eshun.


We're All Going to Die

Resonance FM's operatic, radiophonic concatenation of space ephemera and near-Earth collision paranoia. Featuring the divergent talents of Ken Hollings, DJ Original Bear, Tom McCarthy, Johny Trunk, DJ Rocket 88, Resonance Radio Orchestra and Lembit Opik MP.
Resonance FM
broadcasted live from the Roundhouse throughout Space Soon.

Near Earth: a week of space creation

Mon 21 August 2006 - Fri 25 August 2006
The Camden Roundhouse, London

In the lead up to Space Soon, The Arts Catalyst and Roundhouse Studios organised a week-long workshop for young people aged 14-19 years, taking them on a journey exploring space through digital photography, animation, sound and music, drama and the performing arts.

Workshops were led by Semiconductor, Luke Jerram, Kate Tierney, Tony Hall, Trevor Mathison, Mat Fox, Marcus Ahlers, Hilary Westlake and Morag Wightman, with the input of scientists Chris Welch, Kevin Fong and Mark Lythgoe.
Led by Semiconductor - animation artists Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhadt - participants took snapshots produced from satelites orbiting the earth and explored how to create time-lapse digital animation sequences.
Led by arist Luke Jerram, participants explored the tricks of film and photography and learned how experts manipulate images from space. 
Led by artists Kate Tierney and Antony Hall, participants worked to decode and transmit sound from space.
Led by musician Trevor Mathison, participants experimented with panning, overlaps, fades, dissolves, delay and reverbs to record their journey to space.
Led by Mat Fox. Participants joined an out-of-this world band and created some cosmic sounds and recorded their own live sessions.
Led by Marcus Ahlers, participants collected electricity from sunlight, built hydrogen fuel cells and became energy technologists of the future.
Led by theatre maker ilary Westlake. Participants explored outer space themes using iconic music and images and created a striking theatrical performance.
Led by dancer Morag Wightman. Participants worked suspended off the floor and explored aerial dance with Morag Wightman, one of the very few dancers to experience zero gravity first hand, to create a new piece exploring gravity.


Aleksandra Mir studied a BFA in Media Arts at the School of Visual Arts in New York and Cultural Anthropology at The New School for Social Research in New York. Much of Aleksandra's work explores social norms and human interactions with space. As part of Arts Catalyst's SPACE SOON event in 2006, Aleksandra Mir created a rocket made out of junk entitled “Gravity”. The artist explored scrap yards and found steel, fibreglass, tractor tires, industrial fans and a discarded tank from a toothpaste factory to make her work in the former engine shed of The Roundhouse, London. When finished, the “rocket” scaled 20 metres high, took two days of construction on site and stood erect for only three days. The work is intended to highlight failures and resistance in the history of space exploration – a catalogue of various failures, disasters, minor mishaps and political hurdles. The construction and dismantling of 'Gravity' was published as a calendar Gravity: The Eternal Countdown.

For over 20 years, Neal White has critically explored art in relation to new ideas, forms and technologies. As part of numerous collaborative endeavours – he has been developing projects, research and artworks, publications, archives, fieldworks, critical excursions as bus tours and exhibitions with academics, architects and activists. His current work explores situated practices and knowledge - drawing together environmental and ecological matters of concern with marine biologists, ecologists, coders, architects and volunteers in Poole Harbour and Brownsea Island, Dorset for Arts Catalyst's Test Sites programme.

London Fieldworks was formed by the artists Bruce Gilchrist and Jo Joelson. London Fieldworks aims to enable creative research and collaboration at the art, science and technology interesection. Typically, their projects deal with issues relating to complex relationships existing between social, natural and technological worlds. In 2006, London Fieldworks collaborated with The Arts Catalyst and the Department of Genetics at The University of Leicester to create “SpaceBaby” at the event SPACE SOON.

Laurie Anderson is an experimental performance artist and musician who plays violin and keyboards and sings in a variety of experimental music and art rock styles. Initially trained as a sculptor, Anderson did her first performance-art piece in the late 1960’s. Anderson is a pioneer in electronic music and has invented several devices that she has used in her recordings and performance art shows. NASA appointed Laurie Anderson in 2005, as their first official artist-in-residence. NASA probably had in mind a celebratory and hi-tec output – but Anderson, disturbed by NASA’s revived plans to revisit and exploit the moon, created the performance piece The End of the Moon. After the success of Anderson’s show End of the Moon, Anderson paid a special flying visit to London to take part in The Arts Catalyst’s Space Soon event at the Roundhouse on Tuesday 12 September 2006 to reflect on her experiences, show her photographs and videos from her visit to Star City, in conversation with the author and critic Kodwo Eshun. Also in 2005, Anderson visited The Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre (Russia’s space programme) and mission control. This project was in collaboration with The Arts Catalyst and saw a very different side of the human spaceflight story, where the post-Soviet cash-strapped Russian space agency sold flights into space to Japanese dotcom billionaires at $20 million a time.

Kodwo Eshun is a writer, theorist, filmmaker and co-founder of The Otolith Group with Anjalika Sagar, 2002. Their practice includes curating, publishing and production of artists work. Their research into aural and visual cultures is informed by the legacy and potential of the moving image and the archive. In 2012 The Otolith Group made the film ‘The Radiant’ exploring the aftermath of the Great Tohoku Earthquake and the partial meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Links to artists' websites:

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Planetary Breakdown: autonomous infrastructures for a sustainable future

An event investigating artistic strategies for sustainablity and survivability following impending climate change. A collaboration between Arts Catalyst, Intersections, AV Festival and Baltic.

"Following Helen and Newton Harrison’s notion of the ‘Force Majeure – that we should be preparing for different forms of governance following radical blows to the existing infrastructures by inevitable climate change – Autonomous Infrastructures looks at the many models created by artists and by communities of people operating semi-autonomously in society in intentional and utopian communities. The event examines the symbolic nature of many of these initiatives and proposse the future realisation of unrealised artists infrastructures." - Rob La Frenais

Produced by Intersections (Newcastle University), Arts Catalyst and AV Festival 10.

Day 1 Tuesday 9 March 2010
Autonomous Infrastructures: sandpit (invited)

The first day was a invited group of around 30 people, mainly artists. We looked at different approaches artists are taking to the question of change and sustainability and, working as small teams, hothouse some potential strategies. 

Day 2 Wednesday 10 March 2010
Symposium: Planetary Breakdown: autonomous infrastructures for a sustainable future

Day 2 was a public symposium with three panels looking at alternative approaches to: communities, trade and energy. The symposium brought together an exceptional range of artists, academics and other industry experts to look at future approaches to living. It explored the possibility of creating new autonomous infrastructures across energy, trade and transport, offering a space for everyone to contribute to an active dialogue about our futures. Speakers: Alternative Communities: Malcolm Miles, Lise Autogena, Nicola Triscott, chair David Butler. Trade: Kate Rich, Ashok Sukumaran, chair Sally Jane Norman. Energy: HeHe, London Fieldworks, Bryony Worthington, chair Rob La Frenais

Reviews of Planetary Breakdown symposium


London Fieldworks was formed by the artists Bruce Gilchrist and Jo Joelson. London Fieldworks aims to enable creative research and collaboration at the art, science and technology interesection. Typically, their projects deal with issues relating to complex relationships existing between social, natural and technological worlds.
Ashok Sukumaran (b.1974) came to international prominence with the extraordinary work Glow Positioning System, 2005. In 2008, he co-founded CAMP, a space for critical artistic research, imagination, and archiving projects. He was awarded the first prize of the 2005 UNESCO Digital Arts Award, and received a Golden Nica at the Prix Ars Electronica, 2007.
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Experimental Ruins Workshop

Workshop continuting the Neal White/The Office of Experiments' ongoing 'Overt Research Project' (invitation only)

The Experimental Ruins Workshop continues Neal White/The Office of Experiments' ongoing 'Overt Research Project', an ongoing series of enquiries into the experimental spaces of science and technology, commissioned by The Arts Catalyst.

In this workshop, Gail Davies (UCL, Department of Geography) and artists Neal White and Steve Rowell (The Office of Experiments) invited participants to explore what constitutes an 'experimental ruin' within the fabric of our urban centres. The workshop was a collaborative engagement between geographers, artists and others interested in the experimental geographies of science and technology.

In their initial field research project for The Arts Catalyst's exhibition Dark Places, Neal White and Steve Rowell focused attention on the rural landscapes of Southern England, documenting spaces in which large-scale scientific and intelligence facilities are sited, ranging from research centres to military proving grounds. In the second part of the project, London becomes the setting, a space that requires a different method of enquiry.

The workshop encompassed discussion of the ways we might identify: the material traces of biological, technological, informational and radical experiments in London; the temporal and spatial imaginaries embodied in such experimental sites, whether open, closed, subterranean or aerial; the methods for encountering and expanding engagements around these spaces, and the stakes involved in doing so.

With talks, discussion and exploration between geographers, artists, historians of science and technology, and the archivists and archaeologists of contemporary history, the event was part of ongoing discussions around the 'geographies of experimentation' and the nature of experimental aesthetics; shaping future forms of enquiry around these experimental remainders that are both collective and contested.


For over 20 years, Neal White has critically explored art in relation to new ideas, forms and technologies. As part of numerous collaborative endeavours – he has been developing projects, research and artworks, publications, archives, fieldworks, critical excursions as bus tours and exhibitions with academics, architects and activists. His current work explores situated practices and knowledge - drawing together environmental and ecological matters of concern with marine biologists, ecologists, coders, architects and volunteers in Poole Harbour and Brownsea Island, Dorset for Arts Catalyst's Test Sites programme.

Supported by

The Arts Catalyst, UCL Department of Geography and the ESRC fellowship (Grant no RES-063-27-0093)

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Laboratory Life

An exhibition of five works-in-progress made by 21 international artists, scientists and doctors in an open laboratory, exploring bioscience and the use of medical technology. Organised by The Arts Catalyst and Lighthouse Arts, and led by artist Andy Gracie.

The exhibition was the result of nine days of intensive work in a collaborative open laboratory. It showed projects created by five groups of artists and scientists, led by artists, Andy Gracie, Adam Zaretsky, Kira O'Reilly, Bruce Gilchrist, and Anna Dumitriu.

The exhibition featured DNA tattooing, an astrobiological experiment with fruitflies, a Regency dress embroidered and stained using microbiology, interpretations of synthetic biology terminology made by the public, and a garden shed for DIY tissue culture. Laboratory Life was named after Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar’s well-known book about an anthropological study of a scientific laboratory.

Our science advisors are John Paul, Helen Smith and Tom Shakespeare.

The Projects

The Quest for Drosophila Titanus, led by Andy Gracie
Collaborators: Kuaishen Auson, Janine Fenton, Meredith Walsh

This group of artists and scientists were engaged in an astrobiological experiment using various phenotypes of Drosophila melanogaster (the fruit fly). Since the early 1960s Drosophila have also played a critical role in space research and are regularly used in experiments on the International Space Station. As such they offer themselves as a perfect organism with which to conduct an experiment about how life might survive elsewhere in the solar system. Taking inspiration from diagrams obtained from NASA the group developed an apparatus with which to expose the fruit flies to various environmental conditions found on Titan. The aim being to take the first step in developing a new species which could adapt to living there. The 'best' flies from each experiment were selected to form a breeding colony which would be the ancestors of this new creature. Their exhibition of work-in-progress includes the experimental chamber, video documentation of the experiments, a printed manual which describes the experimental process, the breeding colony and the memorial to failed individuals.

The Garden Shed Lab, led by Kira O'Reilly
Collaborators: Valerie Furnham, Columba Quigley, Genevieve Maxwell

This group created a space for exploring the relationship between biotechnologies and domestic everyday experiences, such as cooking, tinkering, composting, and gardening. They build a garden shed in their laboratory and inside worked with tissue culture - a technology now just over 100 years old. In order to practice home tissue culture, they made a sterile laminar flow hood and a tissue culture incubator. The group incubated chick embryos, opened the eggs, and attempted to create cell cultures from them, always mindful of the ethical issues of these practices. The group explored the early histories of tissue culture, re-creating an experiment first performed in 1926 by tissue-culture pioneer, Thomas Strangeways, who attempted to harvest cells from a fresh uncooked sausage. Their exhibition of work-in-progress features their garden shed lab, containing their home-made sterile hood and incubator, their laboratory equipment and photographs and video they made whilst on site.

Public Misunderstanding of Science, led by Bruce Gilchrist
Collaborators: Kate Genevieve, Simona Casonato, David Louwrier, Daksha Patel

This group of artists and scientists spent several days testing the public’s understanding of science. Visitors to their laboratory were invited to draw and illustrate their understandings of scientific information and protocol, while listening to scientific discourse on synthetic biology. Their exhibition of work-in-progress is an animated film, which features the drawings sound-tracked with the original discourse and field recordings made on-site at a medical laboratory.

Infective Textiles, led by Anna Dumitriu
Collaborators: Rosie Sedgwick, Sarah Roberts, Brian Degger, Melissa Grant

This group of artists, doctors and scientists worked on the development of a textile-based artwork that takes the form of a Regency style dress stained with bacterial pigments and patterned by antibiotics. Their work used ‘garage science’ methods and ‘DIY’ microbiological processes to explore the notion of infection control. During the lab they cultured microbes from the local environment including soil, buildings and other public places. They then stained silk thread with natural antibiotics – including cloves, turmeric and green tea – and used them to create embroidered patterns on fabric. Their exhibition features the Regency style dress, which has now been pasteurized so that the bacteria are no longer living, video documentation of their project, framed works (which show slides of cultured bacteria and moulds, Gram’s stain paintings embroidered with antibiotic threads and drawings made by visitors to the lab) and a table of items used in their lab. 

Tattoo Traits, led by Adam Zaretsky
Collaborators: Zack Denfield, Helen Bullard, Simon Hall

This group of artists and doctors examined the feasibility of a new notion – “DNA Tattooing”. They explored the ethical, legal, and health issues that might be raised by such a process. Their work involved the creation of a "new media" which they have referred to as Shecan, and the extraction of hybrid DNA from this media. They then adapted a tattoo gun, with the intention of tattooing a novel sequence of hybrid DNA into the nucleus of a living cell, something which is statistically improbable, but conceptually possible. Their exhibition of work-in-progress features The Shroud of Shecan, a monoprint cloth containing the residue of their new media, Whirling Dervish Human Centrifuge, a sculptural and performative device which also contains Shecan, the adapted tattoo gun, beans which have received DNA tattoos, photographs of their work, and a release which the group adapted to manage the legal and contractual issues associated with DNA tattooing.


Wired, Culture24


Laboratory Life is organised by Lighthouse and The Arts Catalyst, with support from the Wellcome Trust. It was conceived by artist Andy Gracie, based on the Interactivos? model developed by the Media Lab Prado in Madrid.

Laboratory Life - Microwave Festival, Hong Kong

Sat 5 November 2011 - Wed 30 November 2011
The Arts Catalyst and Lighthouse presented Laboratory Life open lab projects at the Microwave International Festival exploring frontiers of art and biotechnology.
As part of an international exhibition of art labs, the five art-science projects made by the artists, doctors and scientists, who transformed Lighthouse into a living science laboratory earlier in the year were presented in Hong Kong. The projects were led by Adam Zaretsky, Andy Gracie, Anna Dumitriu, Bruce Gilchrist and Kira O’Reilly.
Public Misunderstanding of Science - led by Bruce Gilchrist. Collaborators: Kate Genevieve, Simona Casonato, David Louwrier, Daksha Patel
Infective Textiles - led by Anna Dumitriu. Collaborators: Rosie Sedgwick, Sarah Roberts, Brian Degger, Melissa Grant
The Quest for Drosophila Titanus - led by Andy Gracie. Collaborators: Kuaishen Auson, Janine Fenton, Meredith Walsh
Tattoo Traits - led by Adam Zaretsky. Collaborators: Zack Denfield, Helen Bullard, Simon Hall
The Garden Shed Lab - led by Kira O’Reilly. Collaborators: Valerie Furnham, Columba Quigley, Genevieve Maxwell
A combination of the artworks and artefacts created by the teams, and documentation of the laboratory was shown in the festival international exhibition. The exhibition also features work by leading international art labs, including which includes work by etoy, robotlab and Time’s Up.
Lead artist Andy Gracie, and Lighthouse programme curator Jamie Wyld also took part in discussions about the project at the festival symposium.


Andy Gracie is a digital artist, creating technological systems designed to interact with natural living systems, incorporating ecosystems and biotechnology. At two Arts Catalyst events, Laboratory Life and Republic Of The Moon, Gracie presented his project “Drosophila Titanus”. The project developed an experimental breeding programme for fruit flies. The project aimed to genetically modify the new breed of fruit flies in order for them to survive on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, which is considered to host an environment rather similar to Earth. In order to carry out this experiment, Gracie recreated the atmospheric conditions found on Titan using everyday materials such as vodka, smoke alarms and a bicycle pump.
Kira O'Reilly is a performance artist, who graduated from the Cardiff School of Art in 1998. Between 2003 and 2004, O'Reilly undertoook a residency with SymbioticA, a bio-art project based in the department of Human Anatomy at The University of Western Australia.
Anna Dumitriu is a British artist whose work fuses craft, sculpture and bioscience to explore our relationship to the microbial world, technology and biomedicine. She has an international exhibition profile, having exhibited at venues including The Picasso Museum in Barcelona, The Science Gallery in Dublin, The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Taipei, and The V & A Museum in London. 
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Interspecies, London

Interspecies uses artistic and participatory strategies to stimulate dialogue and debate, showing artists in contact with real animals and negotiating a new power relationship, questioning the way we view our interactions with animals during Darwin's anniversary year.

Interspecies asks: Can artists work with animals as equals? If not, what is the current state of the human-animal relationship? It has recently been shown that humans are closer to the higher primates than previously thought, with chimpanzee and gorilla behaviour reflecting politics, deception and even possibly creativity. What does this mean to the way we see ourselves as one species inhabiting a planet in crisis?

This exhibition centres around a durational work by Kira O'Reilly and draws together projects by Nicolas Primat and other artists who question the one-sided manipulation of non-human life-forms for art, and have tried to enter the animals' point of view as a fundamental part of their practice. It has to some extent been inspired by Donna Haraway'sWhen Species Meet but was triggered by discussions with the late Nicolas Primat.

The artists

Nicolas Primat specialised in directly working with monkeys and apes in collaboration with primatologists. In Portrait de Famille, he is playfully swarmed by a tribe of squirrel monkeys, in Demo Bonobo, he established a relationship via sexual signals with a group of Bonobo apes and in The Making of Les Petits Hommes Vers he and his colleagues make a science fiction film with a group of monkeys.

Kira O'Reilly's durational performance Falling Asleep With A Pig. The artist and pig (Deliah) cohabit a living space, partially viewable by the public for 72 hours. At some point the pig and artist fall asleep. The work addresses the ethics of human and animal interaction, acknowledging the implicit ambivalences and violence in the appropriation of animals as a resource.

Antony Hall's Enki Experiment 4 allows visitors to Interspecies to communicate with an electric fish on the same level, avoiding the use of language, instead stimulating a shared empathy through a physical connection. 

Ruth Maclennan's films Harry and Three short films on Hawks and Men explore the relationship between a bird of prey and the human being who trains it, capturing the rapt gaze of hunter and bird, recalling ancient ideas of shape-shifting and shamanic transformations. 

Rachel Mayeri's Primate Cinema: Baboons as Friends juxtaposes footage of baboons taken in the field with a re-enactment by human actors, shot film noir style in a bar in Los Angeles. A tale of lust, jealousy, sex and violence transpires simultaneously in non-human and human worlds.

Beatriz da Costa's work PigeonBlog proposes an alternative way to participate in environmental air pollution data-gathering through equipping urban homing pigeons with GPS-enabled sensing devices. PigeonBlog is intended as a social experiment between humans and animals.

Snæbjörnsdóttir/Wilson's Radio Animal involves a specially designed caravan in which the artists to travel to various locations in the UK to gather material from people about their relationship to animals. They are particularly interested in animals that are considered ‘unwelcome’ visitors but have for whatever reason found their way into what we may consider our own territories.  Animal Radio is a Story Gallery, Lancaster commission funded by the Henry Moore Foundation.


Interspecies included two symposia chaired by Rob La Frenais:

Non-Human Primates with Sarah-Jane Vick - primatologist and psychologist; Patrick Munck - artist, videographer and collaborator with Nicolas Primat; Rachel Mayeri - artist

Animals, Humans and Power with Giovanni Aloi - editor Antennae; Ruth Maclennan - artist; Helen Macdonald, author of Falcon; Bryndis Snæbjörnsdóttir; Karen Knorr - artist and photographer

Rachel Mayeri also held two Primate Cinema workshops on How to Act like an Animal as part of the exhibition

Links to artists' websites

Kira O'Reilly, Antony Hall, Ruth Maclennan, Rachel Mayeri, Beatriz da Costa, Snæbjörnsdóttir/Wilson

Supported by

Arts Council England, Darwin 200, A Foundation

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Crash - Moonlanding workshop

In conjunction with Republic of the Moon Exhibition, at FACT, Liverpool, WE COLONISED THE MOON (Sue Corke and Hagen Betzwieser) held a series of workshops for young people taking inspiration from unplanned disasters in space.

Filmmaker Tim Brunsden created this short documentary about the Freehander’s first session with WE COLONISED THE MOON including a short intro to Enter At Own Risk by Hagen Betzwieser as well as interviews with the Freehanders themselves.

The moment of landing is the most precarious. When we send machines into space a crash is what we fear the most. Massive investments of time and resources in technology, hope and ambition, obliterated. But in art failure can be a beautiful concept, the stimulus of new possibilities, an iconic dramatic pivot.

Taking inspiration from unplanned disasters with satellites and robots sent to observe, explore and record, We Colonised The Moon will work with teams of young people to build machines with a terminal end in mind. We will shoot high speed film of the crash impacts and award a prize for the most aesthetic.


This three day workshop will see a group of young participants from the FACT Freehander programme, film and edit a documentary-style fim called Crash.

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