diamond geezer

 Sunday, February 16, 2014

Barbican Curve
13th February - 1st June 2014

The Curve is a unique exhibition space, a 90m-long gallery bending round the back of the Barbican's main auditorium. And you never quite know what you'll find inside. In 2010 it was free-flying zebra finches playing guitars. In 2012 it was the hoarded contents of a Chinese family home. Last year it was the Rain Room, a fantastic interactive non-shower for five participants at a time. And as of this week it's twelve pendulums swinging in the dark. That'll do nicely.

The artwork's courtesy of United Visual Artists, an international lightmongering collective, and creators of (amongst other things) the High Arctic installation at the National Maritime Museum. They looked at the Curve and decided that what it really needed was "a poetic vision that confounds expectations and alters perceptions of our environment." A dozen tub-shaped instruments have been hung from the ceiling, spaced out along the length of the gallery, and these rock backwards and forwards in a pre-determined pattern, shedding light as they go. Throw in a little bit of mist and some mysterious music, then switch all the main lights off, and you have an audio-visual journey "exploring the symbiotic relationship between site, object, sound, movement, sound, light and visitor." Or twelve pendulums swinging in the dark.

Good news, it's not going to be as impossible to get into as the Rain Room. Entrance is controlled but several dozen people can be inside at any one time so don't expect to have to wait long, if at all, before the curtain is swished aside and in you go. It'll either be dark or very dark depending on which bit of the performance cycle you arrive during. Each pendulum can be lit either by a ring of white around its upper circumference, shining out towards the walls, or by a beam of white light firing out from underneath. They swing, they gently rotate and they occasionally stall at the bottom of their arc when the pattern's complete. I think there's a pattern, maybe ten or fifteen minutes worth, it's hard to be sure in this disorienting atmosphere.

Stand and watch, maybe step back against the wall to watch the rhythmic ballet playing out overhead. Or perhaps walk underneath, even (if you're a small excitable child) try to follow the light beam as it oscillates across the floor. It's a peculiar experience, a bit like walking into a futuristic brainwashing machine, or maybe what being probed on an alien spaceship might be like. Initially you get to focus on just one or two of the lights but move further round the curve and more become visible, until at one point I think I could see about nine. This gives the opportunity to watch their synchronous motion, generally each light behaving similarly rather than a rippling wave passing from one end of the room to the other.

And what do people do when presented with this environment? They get their smartphones out and try to take photos, that's what. This despite the fact they're in a dark room where twelve moving lights are the only illumination, and any attempt at digital capture is surely doomed to failure. No, we're all now so well programmed to share what we're doing with others that we snap photos and film videos as some kind of reflex reaction, rather than stopping and thinking it might be better just to stand and look instead. My photos were all diffuse blurs, bar the one above which only looks half decent because I've shrunk it down tiny. So best come down at some point in the next three months and experience Momentum for yourself. It's not as much of a must see as was the Rain Room, but it is twelve pendulums swinging in the dark.

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