Kinetica Art Fair, 2011, London


Kinetica is an art show that showcases work combining science and technology, in forms such as electronics, light, time-based and kinetic mediums. It’s produced by the Kinetica Museum and for the past couple of years has been shown as P3 in Westminster University Campus at Baker Street, London.

The atmosphere for visitors entering Kinetica is quite overwhelming, in that they walk into a warm, underground, bunker space and are hit by a cacophony of sound emitting from the artworks that clank, whirr or make music. There is so much to see from artists from all around the world working in so many specialisations with all sorts of materials and reasons for doing so. The sight of kinetic art is magnificent and awe inspiring – it’s worth going just to stand back and gawp, or get in and play with the artworks. The artists are usually always on hand to demonstrate and answer the what, why and how questions. It is hot and dark and round every corner lies something eclectic, visually stunning, technically awe-inspiring or deafening!

Tea time

This year I exhibited as part of the ArtHertz curators collection of contemporary artists whose work uses technology, unconventional spaces, film, DJ-ing, music or emphasizes themes such as electricity or stories to tell from ghosts of past eras. ArtHertz is run by Dennis Da Silva and co-curator, Beverley Bennett.

Here’s my modest video of the work on show on the ArtHertz stand:

I exhibited two artworks that use LilyPad Arduino sewable microcontroller technology: Twinkle Tartiflette, a stylus driven, embroidered, music making, interactive shirt and I ❤ 0X0, an interactive, music playing game of noughts and crosses using conductive Velcro. They both prove to be challenging in the public exhibiting environment as they’re so delicately constructed – I was able to let people have a play with both of these, but had to demonstrate how delicately their fabrics and conductive materials were first. I’m definitely on the look out for more sturdy conductive fabrics – I think this will become quite a difficult challenge to source as my work aims to prove that electronics do not have to be sharp and hard – which sometimes makes it tough to show these exhibits in such a lively and interactive show!

Twinkle Tartiflette & I <3 0X0

I also exhibited/wore some of my electroluminescent outfittery, here’s a slo-mo video of my Neon-Victoriana outfit that features in my other two Kinetica 2011 vidjos – warning: you might get sick of seeing this outfit 😉

I was honored to be in such great company on the ArtHertz stand… Sarah Angliss’ work, Ventricle, snapped and pinched to Sarah’s heartbeat in a way that scared rather than soothed. The handbag it was fashioned from shimmering blood red material and a tempting five pound note (not placed in there by the artist) for some time tempted passers by to try to pull it out without getting their fingers bitten.

Sarah's Ventricle

Andrew Back’s, Time for Tea, by comparison gently and stylishly informed us of when there were changes in voltage in the UK National Grid caused by peaks in usage during different times of the day, these times helpfully inform us when best to put on a brew.

Time for Tea

Adrian Lee’s Search for Extra Terrestrial Existence (SETI) Citrus Division’ hopefully directs a laser pulsing ‘we are here’ in morse code to aliens, by the awesome power of 65 lemons. Like a sekrit project by a mad professor it projects mournfully upwards and onwards, seemingly forever.

Lemon laser

Outside of the ArtHertz stand there were many other highlights to see. Some of these were huge, imposing and downright scary, such as the whirring, pulsating The Particle by Alex Posada which I nervously viewed incase it took off and went postal. Some tiny exhibits, beautifully made were a joy to observe such as the ferrous piece by PE Lang or the mechanical constructions inspired by nature from Tim Lewis. I could give you a long list, but it may be easier to just view my video that whizzes through some of my highlights.

There were also some great talks and performances by art legends such as Stelarc and the Musion Academy showed some of its awesome work throughout the show. Plus upstairs you could get your hands on Arduinos and other bits of kit to make synthesizers and all sorts of fun makes.

Cybersonica & Manchester Art Gallery – Make it yourself

Musion Academy

Anna Dumitriu & Alex May’s stand

Poietic Studio – Floating Forcaster

Lovely Stelarc & Rain
Stelarc & Rain

Farewell BBC Backstage

Mashed hacks

I can’t talk about leaving the BBC without mentioning the end of another era…

In another part of the BBC at roughly the same time I left, a fantastic project that I had the honour of working on, BBC Backstage, was sadly wound down after 5 years.

Backstage at Bristol Web Developers conf

If you haven’t come across BBC Backstage before, it was catalyst for the BBC (and consequently a model that inspired many other orgs and institutions) to open up its data to the world in many forms. This freedom of data and APIs kicked off much innovation and encouraged developers to discuss, share and make mischief in a very positive manner and with a community driven by a mailing list, geek events, projects, plus the wonderful sharing of fantastic talent, enthusiasm and creativity. The Backstage online area had a blog which has now been moth-balled, but is still available (though sadly a server migration lost accreditation to my 20+ posts), BBC feeds and API areas, it had the Wild West servers: a playground for creativity and innovative projects, plus an area to list project news. The Wild West servers were a place to develop many exciting ‘skunkworks’ projects that wouldn’t usually have a home to develop.

Backstage posse

It’s true to say that with anything new and innovative there were both ups and downs as the project leapt forward and tested all kinds of boundaries. I’ve seen a few heated threads on the mailing list, but challenging discussion always provokes more than one viewpoint. I always found the debates, however heated full of passion, interesting points and I learnt huge amounts from the combined views and knowledge of the community, plus some of BBC’s best thinkers. For me the highs were the power of the community, events like Mashed and projects such as RDTV – these outweighed anything that didn’t go exactly to plan and I consider Backstage a great success. I was terribly sad when the BBC powers that be decided that Backstage’s work was done.


Some key people involved in the start-up and running of Backstage were Ben Metcalf, James Boardwell, Tom Loosemore, Matt Cashmore and Ian Forrester. I could write reams on some of my adventures at Backstage, but handily my colleague, Ian Forrester, commissioned Suw Charman Anderson to compile an ebook capturing some of the history and stories from this fantastic era of creativity ‘Hacking the BBC, a Backstage retrospective’ and it’s available as a PDF to download for free.

Yipeeee, my hard copy of ‘Hacking the BBC – a Backstage retrospective’ has arrived!
Hacking the BBC - a Backstage retrospective

Maker Faire UK, Newcastle
Also, Jemima Kiss of the Guardian wrote a very good in-depth article on BBC Backstage, plus there are several blog posts from my former colleagues, Ian Forrester, Adrian Woolard, Ben Metcalf and Martin Belam charting the history of Backstage from different perspectives and eras.

I sincerely hope the spirit of Backstage carries on, I know I’ve made many, many, fantastic friends during my time working on Backstage and have learnt so much, including the maxim “seek forgiveness, not permission” – sometimes it really is the only way to innovate and get stuff done – even if you do get told off sometimes (quite a lot) 😉

Yay, that's my number!

R&DTV Tim O'Reilly tweet

Hello 2011!

Yep, it’s been a while since I last blogged…

My excuse: for the last six months my attention has been focused on finishing and launching my final project for the BBC and managing my imminent redundancy after 11 years service at the end of December 2010.

BBC R&DTV read me ascii

It was quite a wrench to leave the BBC, even though some processes & rituals I’m pleased to have escaped, but certainly I’ll miss the earnest, brilliant and hard working colleagues and friends I had made at the BBC. I’ve also discovered New Year’s Eve is a completely rubbish day to leave a job as of course no-one is around to have a leaving party with!

Now I’m on the other side of redundancy and into 2011, I’m excited about the future. So having such a big upheaval, I decided not to write my usual New Years Resolutions and just go forward shouting a big YAY and *rattling_my_sabre* into 2011 (of course I planned things a little more than I’m letting on, but will let things unfold naturally) 🙂

Leaving: cupcaek teaparty

Anyways, now I’ve got that out of the way, I can get on with blogging again…