Simon Biggs


Statement concerning the outputs of the first phase of the New Technology Artists Fellowship program at Cambridge University, UK.

Fellowship duration July-September 2002

Exhibition of initial research at Kettles Yard Gallery Cambridge 18.10 - 3.11 2002

Simon Biggs' approach to the first phase of the Fellowship sought to follow a principle led exploration of the possibilities of new materials. This was informed by his own artistic practice which has largely focused on interactive and intangible media such digital systems using light and projection. Simon did not seek to develop a particular project during the Fellowship but rather to treat the process as a means to open up new creative and technical opportunities in his practice. His hope was that this would lead to finding and defining a research topic which would develop into a more coherent and concerted program of research in the next phase of the Fellowship.

Simon was supported in this work by Dr. Alan Blackwell, a Director of the Crucible, an interdisciplinary research facilitating group within Cambridge University. Alan's role functioned, through discussion with Simon, to help identify potentially rewarding research avenues at Cambridge and to then negotiate the often complex human and technical labyrinth that is any large institution to arrange meetings, mediate debate and generally manage all the details of the process involved. In many ways this was a pursuit as creative and at least as challenging as that which Simon was involved in.

Dr. James Leach was also a critical part of this small team. His background is anthropology and his function was to initially document the entire process in detail and to then seek an analysis that would result in outputs that could facilitate better future practice and to assist in critical reflection on the process itself. Being part of a small team meant, as often happens though, that James became involved in the creative and reflective processes of the research process, contributing in diverse ways to the route and character of the work undertaken.

After numerous meetings and communications with diverse potential collaborators Dr. Eugene Terentjev and his work emerged as being of particular interest.

Eugene, a scientist leading new materials research in the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University, is researching new materials possessing "shape-memory" characteristics. One particular material he has been developing is an "elastomer", a kind of polymer that changes physical state when exposed to varying stimuli. The material itself is a rather unprepossessing film which, when exposed to stimuli of varying forms (the stimulus it will respond to is a function of its exact chemical composition), will increase in scale by up to one third in one dimension of its structure (that dimension being a function of the chemical structure of the material). When the stimuli ceases the material returns to its "passive" state.

Simon and Eugene have started to look at how this material could be used (initially) as a temperature triggered actuator for application in interactive physical structures. As a first step towards this a sample of the material was produced which responds to temperature variations at around average room ambient temperatures. This material was designed to be "passive" at around 20 degrees centigrade and to expand when this temperature rose by between 15 and 20 degrees further. A number of simple but fundamental theoretical structures designed to employ this "actuating" element have been postulated and discussed in an initial process of applying the technology in creating dynamic and interactive structures.

This work is envisaged as potentially leading to the development of modular elements that could be used in the design and realisation of interactive architectural scale structures and surfaces. These systems could be interactive with any number of factors, such as people, light, heat, electricity or sound. The objective would be the realisation of large physical structures that defy the usual conventions of architecture, focusing on the creation of motile, fluid and highly responsive structures and surfaces within the inhabited environment.

Simon Biggs regards this work as the natural extension of his current and previous practice employing intangible interactive media such as large scale environmental digital video projection, seeking to extend this practice into tangible media such as the very materials that buildings and other architectural and environmental scale structures are composed of.

Simon Biggs October 2002