Simon Rattle exhibition turns the master conductor into a handful of dots

Sir Simon Rattle – one of the world’s best-known composers – is to be transformed into a screen of floating dots, as part of a pair of artworks celebrating the composer (and one-time Mr Bean co-star) while he begins his inaugural season as music director of the London Symphony Orchestra.

Opening in London’s Barbican this Thursday, Less than Thirteen by artistic duo Cleary Connolly will involve a large-scale projection of Rattle conducting Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Instead of displaying Rattle’s body, the silent installation will show the conductor via a series of white dots; his movements recorded with the use of motion capture.  


His movements are all about induction, which relates to the way the dots induce your visual cortex

“We always thought of a conductor as a figure who works in total silence, who makes no music,” Denis Connolly of Cleary Connolly tells me over the phone. “He just persuades them to play music. So his movements are all about induction, which kind of relates to the way the moving dots on the screen induce your visual cortex to create a human figure.”

The project draws on the work of Swedish psychophysicist Gunnar Johansson, who experimented in the 1970s with identifying the minimal information needed for our brains to perceive a body in motion. He showed that as few as 13 moving points can be fully understood as a human body, and Cleary Connolly are purposefully dipping below this figure to teeter around the limits of abstraction. The dots are also intended to evoke music in the minds of the audience, much like they evoke the precise movements of Rattle.

“The moment they’re not moving, they stop becoming a human figure,” adds Connolly. “It’s quite magical.

Also showing at the Barbican is Interlock: Friends Pictured Within, made by musician Anna Meredith and artist Jonathan Munro along with more than 100 community participants from East London.

Over the course of a series of workshops, participants were encouraged to examine each other’s characteristics and personalities. They then composed and captured their own expressive portraits of the group, using art forms ranging from dance and music to poetry and illustration. The results have been assembled together in an interactive installation, with visitors able to trigger different artworks using floor sensors.

interlock_workshop-17Like Less than Thirteen, Interlock is partly inspired by Elgar’s Enigma Variations – a piece of music the English composer made at the close of the 19th century, in an attempt to represent aspects of his wife and closest friends. Rattle’s inaugral season includes the piece, as well as works by Thomas Adès, Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Oliver Knussen, and the world premiere of Fanfare by Helen Grime.

You can see both artworks in the Barbican’s public foyer, opening 14 September until 7 January 2018.

Image credits: Stephan Rabold, Barbican

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