Over the weekend Sarah and I popped into the Barbican to check out the “Weekender“. An annual event held each autumn, the weekender opens up the entire centre to the public for a series of participatory events around a particular theme.

This year’s event, billed “Natural Circuits”, offered ways for attendees to “Connect to your creative side through two days of free digital activity”. From the pieces and happenings that we witnessed, I think I’d say that for me the theme was about connecting our digital media activity to our experience of the real, physical world. The virtual-physical divide and cross over is not necessarily a new theme for a curated series of events, but it’s one of the most vital facing creators, and the Weekender – which, it should be pointed out, is very clearly aimed at families – approached it with exactly the kind of originality and flair you’d expect from the folks at the Barbican.

Amongst the pieces we saw were:

Claire Collinson’s Short and Tweet – a room full of iMacs set up for visitors to tweet poetry. Creative writing sessions were provided throughout the weekend to get the poetic juices flowing and you can read the results by having a look at #bweekender.

Stories from an Invisible Town are a series of stories and anecdotes by Hugh Hughes, prompted by his mother moving out of their family home. Sitting in comfy chairs, surrounded by packing boxes with players hidden inside them, we listened to the stories on headphones as if in his half emptied house. The stories are by turns dark, moving and funny, although the sound bleed from the neighbouring installation highlighted the essential problem of sound-based group shows in galleries.

Hidden Fields – and this was the culprit, although very impressive it was! Part video game, part installation, part disco (!), the piece allowed participants to dance in front of a giant screen, their movements affecting the semi-abstract images on the screen, to the accomplishment of a gently shifting electronic-orchestral ambient score. Quite mesmerising.

Black Country Atelier‘s 3D Printed Wildlife, in which kids could design wildlife themed tree decorations which were then immediately “printed” was a chance to see the wonder of 3D printing up close.

And finally, our favourite: Circumstance’s A Sleeping Bird, an ensemble piece played back on the speakers of synced mobile phones housed in rather lovely wooden boxes. These were carried around the centre by members of the public on various routes preordained by the artists and meeting at certain points. It’s rare to hear music move around a space (Sarah pointed out that conceptually it was a bit like Janet Cardiff‘s Forty Part Motet – in reverse) and the acoustics of the Barbican’s Ballardian concrete spaces suited it perfectly.

The Centre was packed on the day we visited (not just with Weekender attendees but with visitors to the the blockbuster photographic show Everything Was Moving and Random International’s digital installation Rain Room) and from the look on everyone’s faces, the event was providing a lot of delight on an otherwise wet, cold and generally miserable London weekend. Congratulations to the Learning team at the Barbican, and in particular Anna Rice (Music & Cross Arts Producer) and Emma Ridgway (Visual Arts Curator and Cross Arts Producer) for pulling off such a massive, and evidently successful event.

Simon

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