I began to trace the figure-of-eight shaped infinity symbol that is the Kinetica logo back to its origins as an early piece of research for this article. It’s been suggested that the symbol, also known as the lemniscate, or ‘lazy eight’, is a representation of an hourglass on its side. Obviously, this action would cause the hourglass to take infinite time to empty thus presenting a tangible example of infinity.1
Kinetica is a museum dedicated to the display of kinetic, technological and electronic artwork, an area of creativity which is sometimes categorised under the more generic term of ‘Time-Based Art’. Since occupying a large commercial space in Spitalfields Market between 2006 and 2007, the museum now operates as a touring programme of exhibitions, events and workshops.
The Director of Kinetica, Dianne Harris, had suggested in her last email that we meet somewhere in the West End for this interview, so that we could head to Canada House in Trafalgar Square afterwards for the opening of Schematic; the first of a two-part exhibition of New Media Art from Canada, beginning with Montreal-based artist Eric Raymond. After devoting some serious thought to whereabouts would be the most appropriate interview territory, I had suggested The Café in the Crypt, below Saint Martin-in-the-Fields Church, a timeless setting with plenty of space.
When I get there, I see that the church is undergoing quite a makeover, but the café is open as usual. I’m early. I hover for a while, take two painkillers I just bought to hide my hangover and head downstairs. At the bottom I’m forced to walk on headstones. The cool, dusty smell of the old building adds to my dehydrated shakiness. I’m both excited and nervous about the interview. Cappuccino at the buffet. Pay, sit down. Frothy, hot, strong coffee. I get shakier as I play with my laptop, sifting through the carefully prepared questions which seem suddenly rather obvious and unoriginal. ‘She must get asked that all the time,’ I think to myself.
Then I spot her. Dianne Harris, Director of Kinetica, in the red hat that her email said she would probably be wearing. The first thing she tells me is that she has been meditating in The National Gallery, or at least trying to meditate amongst the end-of-the-day hordes. She tells me how she thought it might be a good place to find some peace and quiet. I respond with my own story about The National Gallery: It was my first visit to London, and I’d been staying with a friend who lived way out in zone six. I’d been out all night and needed sleep, but couldn’t get back to my friends place, so I went into The National Gallery in the morning, and had the great idea of sitting on one of the nice leather sofas and dozing off in front of Whistlejacket, a large painting of a horse by George Stubbs. Then, after vivid dreams of strangely serpentine horses doing looping figures in an ice arena, I woke up next to a tramp who’d had the same great idea. I’m not sure if our mutual unorthodox use of public gallery space is the best subject to start on, so to break the ice I offer her a drink.
Dianne begins by telling me how the Kinetica team first started conceiving of the museum:
‘There’d been a few [exhibitions of kinetic artwork] in the Sixties, but not so much recently.’ She goes on to describe seminal shows at venues like the ICA, such as Cybernetic Serendipity (in 1968), but that there had never been a permanent platform for that kind of work.
The curator of Cybernetic Serendipity was a woman named Jasia Reichardt who became an important influence on Dianne when they were introduced early on in her career. Dianne describes Reichardt as a ‘realist and mentor’ who helped her to focus on technological art as a valid creative medium; and ‘asked so many questions and re-evaluated everything’ for her.
When I ask Dianne how she and the Kinetica team funded such an ambitious project in such a huge commercial space as the one in Spitalfields Market, she explains how the Irish Construction company, Ballymore, owned and built the building and were looking for a cutting-edge arts organization to move in temporarily. Kinetica were then approached by Future City Arts, who brokered a deal between Ballymore and Kinetica, and the museum was up and running within 6 months. Kinetica was subsequently supported by the Arts Council, amongst other funding bodies, which covered expenses for a whole year, and the museum experienced huge volumes of visitors from the very beginning, following substantial press coverage of the first exhibition, Life Forms, including a feature on The Channel Four News.2
Open As Usual
I ask Dianne about the reasons for leaving such a unique exhibition space behind, and the decision to exhibit Kinetica’s artists as a touring museum instead. She explains what a wonderful launch-pad the building was, but that it was only a temporary space to house something that is perhaps better suited to transience anyway:
‘I feel like Kinetica could turn up anywhere, rather than necessarily being governed by one building. In this way, the museum has gone truly kinetic.’
She goes on to tell me that having permanent space has opened up so many more doors than she first expected and the museum finds itself spoilt for choice in terms of where to go next: Kinetica is currently in discussions about a collaboration with The Cambridge Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, where new commissions are to be developed with Kinetica’s artists, who are represented in a similar way to that of a commercial art gallery. The museum has developed an amazing online shop of small-scale Artist Multiples 3 and also an ever-expanding permanent collection.
Dianne tells me about the many artist-led workshops that Kinetica organises with schools and community groups, with projects exploring important contemporary issues such as recycling and alternative energy sources, where participants are shown how to build kinetic structures such as energy-generating wind sculptures.
The museum has also organised a series of forthcoming talks across various venues, including the Science Museum’s Dana Centre, The Bishopsgate Institute, and Sudely Castle. They’re also taking part in The Concrete and Glass Festival in Shoreditch in October this year, and, perhaps the museum’s most ambitious project of all, The Kinetica Art Fair, which is due to open in February 2009.
While Kinetica is committed to running events in the UK, it is also developing an increasingly global reputation, and receives proposals from all over the world:
‘People hear about the museum largely online, especially now that it no longer inhabits a permanent space, (it usually comes first in search listings of its related subjects), but also from surprisingly widespread sources.’ One example Dianne gives is that of a recent request to exhibit Soundwaves (a Kinetica show from May 2007), from a gallerist who read about it in a small, local Brazilian newspaper. This kind of international presence seems particularly impressive for such a young museum.
Having answered all of my obvious questions, and many more unobvious ones that I only thought of when she had answered them, we walk up the stairs of the Crypt and back out into the daylight. As we wander across Trafalgar square to Canada House, we pass The National Gallery, and the conversation turns to meditation again. Dianne explains that the method of meditation she has been using involves a particular type of internal visualisation, and how during this mediation, her mind’s eye began to trace the figure-of-eight shaped infinity symbol that is the Kinetica logo.
1. Wikipedia: HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinity_symbol”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinity_symbol
2. Channel 4 News HYPERLINK “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUPH-w_a0H4” (05-10-2006) – Coverage of Kinetica’s inaugural exhibition Life Forms, featuring interviews with artists Elias Crespin, Daniel Chadwick and Chico MacMurtrie.
3. See http://www.kinetica-museum.org