Cambridge Festival of Ideas

Cambridge Festival of Ideas


Cambridge Festival of Ideas 2016 presents a series of immersive artworks that cross the boundaries between the natural and the digital, and investigate what it means to be human now and in the future.

The Festival, which runs from 17 – 30 October and hosts over 200 events, features a range of artists from across genres, including artists CJ Mahony, Thomson and Craighead, Joey Holder and photographers Toby Smith and Lala Meredith Vula.

Running throughout the Festival at Wysing Arts Centre, Ophiux is a solo exhibition of new work by Joey Holder. This comprises an ambitious immersive installation and a film developed during her residency at Wysing in 2015 where she worked with scientists from the University of Cambridge. The work imagines a future in which synthetic biology has been fully realised and applied to both advance human evolution and increase life expectancy, and where human biology has been computer programmed. The work challenges our preconceptions of the ‘natural’ and the ‘artificial’.

In addition to the exhibition, there will be a symposium on 29 October. Through a series of talks and a panel discussion with artists, writers and scientists, the Ophiux exhibition will be explored.

Speaking about the exhibition, Joey Holder said: “It seems as if everything has become a branch of computer science, even our own bodies probed, imaged, modelled and mapped: re-drawn as digital information. The installation will include larger than life-sized models of biological imaging machines as well as genetic sequencing equipment. It will simulate not only the collection of data from our own bodies but also the sampling of data from other organisms by a speculative pharmaceutical company: ‘Ophiux’ “

“I am interested in the structures and hierarchies of the technological and natural world and how these systems are constantly abstracted. Mixing elements of biology, nanotechnology and natural history against computer program interfaces, screen savers and measuring devices, I see no object or substance in any fixed state or with any permanent definition, identity or order; everything is transforming and morphing into something else; everything is a mutant and a hybrid.”

In another exhibition that runs throughout the Festival, artist CJ Mahony uses the iconic brutalist architecture of Murray Edwards College to present works that combine sculpture, sound and drawing. These Restless Objects investigates states of balance and disturbance, destruction and rearrangement, and the process of achieving solid form.

On 24 October, audiences will have the opportunity to join artists Thomson and Craighead in conversation about their instructional artwork Stutterer – a poetry machine that uses the human genome like a music score to play back a self-assembling video montage spanning the 13 years of the Human Genome Project.

Stutterer was started on Wednesday October 1st 2014 with approximately 500 video clips in its library, but this will be extended by the artists in the coming years, so that each time the work is exhibited there will be an increasing number of video elements to draw upon, offering an ever richer glimpse into a period in human history that begins in 1990 with the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in South Africa and concludes with the fall of Baghdad to a US and British military coalition in 2003.

Festival favourite, photographer Toby Smith returns to the Festival of Ideas for his latest exhibition, Chasing cuckoos – which also runs throughout the Festival period. Toby, who is currently Artist in Residence at the University of Cambridge Conservation Institute, presents an exhibition of the Bateke Plateau and forests of Gabon. This unique and beautiful documentary series visualises the remote landscapes and people discovered on an expedition to the wintering grounds of satellite-tagged migratory cuckoos.

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