Barbican’s Digital Revolution exhibition shows the past, present and future of computer-based creativity

This summer’s must-see exhibition in London charts how technology has, is and will affect how we create many forms of art and design.


Digital Revolution is a history lesson, a source of nerdy nostalgia, a celebration of cutting edge work and a peek a what’s coming. It's also great fun as you spend time interacting with some wonderful installations.

The works at the Barbican in London span art, design, film, music and games. They range from new commissions and iconic projects from some of interactive art’s big names – including Universal Everything, Chris Milk and Aaron Koblin – to explanations of the visual effects of Gravity and Inception.

The first room, Digital Archeology, brings together computers and games machines from the 70s onwards – and lets you try out creative software and play much loved games on some of them. These trace the history of the computers we’ve used at home and at work to create static, motion and interactive projects – from home computers such as Sinclair’s ZX80 and ZX Spectrum to early Macs to the Quantel Paintbox, which revolutionised TV graphics in the 1980s. It was like walking through my past.

State of Play is the most fun part of the exhibition. Its installations – which let you unfurl wings like a bird in Chris Milk’s The Treachery of Sanctuary (right) or watch your body’s motion in graphic form as you dance – are largely controlled using Microsoft’s Kinect hardware.

Use the slideshow controls above and right to see what’s on show at Digital Revolution at the Barbican. The exhibition runs until September 14. You can buy tickets here.

Other areas include Google’s DevArt, Our Digital Futures and the Indie Games Space – plus there are installations such as Minimaforms' Petting Zoo, Umbrellium’s Assemblage and an a piece from Seeper dotted around the Barbican.

Here Camen from CuteCircuit models the iMiniSkirt in the Our Digital Futures space. As worn by Katy Perry at the iTunes festival, this is skirt with LCDs sewn into it – which you can display designs, images and animations onto. 

It's controlled through an iPhone app, and costs a mere £3,750.


This installation let's you watch your body’s motion in graphic form as you dance.

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Sound and Vision focuses on music-based projects including purely digital pieces such as the The Wilderness Downtown – the interactive music video for Arcade Fire created by Chris Milk and Aaron Koblin – to the analogue-driven Pyramidi by Yuri Suzuki for wil.i.am.

I'm wary of recommending anything involving global dickhead will.i.am, but this work created by Yuri 'in collaboration' with him is really quite good. Beautifully designed gilded metal pyramids have levers that drive elements of not-terrible electronic music and retro graphics.


More of Pyramidi by Yuri Suzuki and will.i.am.


A close-up of one of the metal pyramids that drive Pyramidi by Yuri Suzuki and will.i.am.

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The Digital Archaeology area is curated by Jim Boulton, who runs the website of the same name. Jim has collected iconic old computers, learning tools and games consoles from the 1970s to the 1990s – and you can create and play on many of them at the Barbican.

One you unfortunately can't use is this Apple II Plus from the late 70s/early 80s.

I met Jim next to a ZX Spectrum where you can play Manic Miner. He told me that some of the computers have been loaned by collectors and companies – but some he picked up himself from eBay.


It's not a creative computer, but I couldn't help nerding over this 1980s Speak & Spell. I suppose it counts as a design classic though.


The Linn LM-1 was the first drum machine to use digital samples. It provided the beats to tracks such as The Human League's Don't You Want Me.

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Some original Game-and-Watch toys, a couple of which you can play.


Loaned by Quantel, this is the first Quantel Paintbox ever built. Graphics created on this for broadcast TV established the styles and trends of type and graphics on everything from news shows to sports programmes – styles still very much in evidence today.


An original Apple Macintosh Plus.

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And for no real reason, an eBoy print.


Using your hands to direct a Leap Motion controller, you can make your way through the Inception's famous 'Paris cafe' scene, with VFX created by Double Negative.

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