L’Observatoire Bizarre

Kevin Walker (Artist), Helga Schmid (Artist), Michaela French (Artist)

    Research output: Practice-Based and Non-textual ResearchPerformance


    This performative event at the Royal Academy was linked to its Dalí/Duchamp exhibition, and was part of the Space Program elective, run by PhD students Helga Schmid and Michaela French, in the Information Experience Design programme I was running at the Royal College of Art. We secured funding from the Royal Society to work with a team of staff and PhD researchers in cosmology at UCL, and materials were donated in kind.

    The theme fit my own research interest in the use of humour, playfulness and absurdity in Dada, surrealism, and their quasi-scientific counterpart ‘pataphysics, as a means of critically approaching technology. As an evening event, this gave us a chance to approach ‘programming’ in a more traditional, time-based way, while still incorporating computational aspects such as randomness.

    Collectively, we chose the theme of an observatory, combining the cosmologists’ actual research with pseudo-science that we concocted, combined in a performance which would engage visitors in our ‘research.’ We all wore white lab coats, so the scientists and artists were indistinguishable, and the students stationed themselves in bureaux in the manner of the original 1920s Bureau de Recherches Surréalistes. At each station, our ‘scientists’ told visitors’ fortunes and discussed science and mathematics, mixing fact and fiction. Instruments were constructed atop a set of overhead projectors, projecting ‘data’ onto large sheets of fabric hung from the ceiling.

    This took both immersion and programming to a new level, with performance itself emerged as a powerful computational mechanism: this represents when a program is run, performing particular actions. When the computer is a space, with people as inputs, a script as instructions, and absurd instruments and calculations doing the processing, the results can be complex and unpredictable.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 9 Dec 2017


    • performance
    • surrealism

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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