Artists with a difference The Curiosity Collective stage new show in Ipswich

With their latest show exploring the notions of time, entertainment writer WAYNE SAVAGE looks at the past, present and future of artists with a difference The Curiosity Collection

“It’s been more than five years and we still don’t know how to answer the ‘is it art’ question,” laughs Curiosity Collective co-found David Chatting.

Made up of designers, artists, musicians and enthusiasts working with technology in and around the town, the group meets every other Tuesday at Ipswich’s McGinty’s pub.

It was formed in 2005 by David and Cefn Hoile after their jobs took them to America’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

A large group of people were fusing technology and art, but it was a trip to a cyber arts festival that really inspired them.


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“Everywhere we looked, in shop windows and loads of galleries, there were just people doing really interesting things with technology; nothing sort of practical. There were little robots scuttling around in window spaces; it was just fun and we thought we want to do something like that,” David remembers.

As soon as the duo returned to the UK they fired off e-mails to friends, saying they’d found this interesting and different way of looking at their skills. By the following year the collective had its first exhibition at St Mary’s.

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“To start with it was people we knew; now it’s really interesting because people come out of the woodwork and say ‘actually, I’ve been doing this thing in my spare room for the last five years and it’s really cool’.”

A kettle that only boils when you’re not looking, an interactive video mirror made of cider bottles, sound-reactive luminescent algae, a text entry system for a mobile phone using semaphore, the list of previous exhibits reads like the contents of Caractacus Potts’ workshop.

“Personally I think there’s an artistic element to some of the things we’ve done, but that’s not the ethos of the group,” says David.

“If you’re curious about things, want to try stuff out or you want to share your ideas or skills then the idea is come along and talk about it –that’s our ethos. The common thread is you’re excited enough to want to communicate with other people about what you do.”

The group even has its own off-shoot, Dorkbot Anglia, which meets every six or so weeks. While the collective is about building stuff together, having ideas and bringing everthing together in a show; Dorkbot is about bringing people together who’ve had ideas, brought them to fruition and want to show you the results.

The collective’s latest show – Rewound – is another collection of fascinating electronic oddities and interactive curiosities exploring the notions of time.

“This is a time-travelling television when it’s working,” says Cefn, who’s having trouble with his and and Neill Keywood’s Perfect Hindsight Machine; reportedly a blend of recovered alien technology and state-of-the-art RF receiver cobbled together by the US Military in the 50s.

“It’s hooked up to laptop inside, basically there’s a collection of video online at archive.org which goes back through the centuries to 1880.

“You have a nice big dial in front of you which you just tune into a given year. I just loved the idea that this makes it and history accessible.

“We’ve had some real electrical issues and it’s decided to give up the ghost,” he sighs.

Speaking of ghosts.

“There’re lots of ghost stories about the Ancient House; one that’s particularly current is that it might be haunted by Mary Lakeland who lived in St Stephen’s parish and was executed after a trial by the Witchfinder General in the 17th century, ending up here,” says John Bowers.

He’s showing his collection of clocks which take their sense of the seconds, minutes and hours from fluctuations in atmospheric and environmental conditions including temperature, light, air pressure, electro-magnetism, sound and radioactivity and projects them on to the wall.

“If the environment gets hotter, the temperature clock runs faster. If the background radiation goes up [leave the building I suggest], which we hope it doesn’t do too much, then the radioactivity clock will run faster.

“One of the sensors I have in my piece is one ghost hunters or investigators of various paranormal phenomena use. I’m wondering about seeing if I can adapt what I have here to do a little ghost detecting and see if Mary gives us a call.”

Not every exhibit is hi-tech, proving it’s the idea that’s important.

Angela McLellan’s Re-Possession consists of stuff from her home that, for one reason or another, she wants rid of.

Attached to each is a story on a little label about how she acquired it, how and why it mattered – or didn’t – to her once and why she wants to pass it one. The idea of the piece is that people can take these items, leave the labels, and then at the end of the week they and any items left will be burnt.

A sense of history is also present in Reel to Reel by Mike Challis, showing Friday afternoon and Saturday only.

Multiple tape recorders – the Elizabethan and the Robuk belonged to his grandmother, the Garrard to his mother and his Akai from the 70s – share one loop of tape and the operator can record sounds on to it. These can be superimposed and feedback used to create complex soundscapes.

His other piece, Weir(d), explores the strange world of weirs.

Recorded using hydrophones during his four-day walk from Newmarket to Manningtree, the material begins at the “source” of the Stour at Kirtling Green Pumping Station and then continues at various weirs as it makes its way to the sea.

“I also shot close-up video footage of the water flowing down the river; it’s a documentation of man’s intervention with the river running downhill and this curious juxtaposition of flow and stasis which I was quite fascinated by.”

David says the show was a great chance to revisit their previous time-themed show.

“To revisit some of the themes we first looked at in that show and do it in the amazing space of the Ancient House, it was a great opportunity.

“The perfect hindsight machine, that’s a key one that really has changed quite dramatically since the first show, so Rewound for us was a way of thinking about taking a look back at some of the things we’ve done before, try some new things out and do it in a new and interesting space.”

n Rewound runs at the Ancient House Gallery, at the top of Lakeland, the Buttermarket, Ipswich, 10am-5.30pm, until tomorrow. Entry is free but donations are welcome. For more info on the group, visit www.curiositycolletive.org

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