Observations: The evolution of Darwin’s festival

Author: By Tim Walker

“The distinctions between who’s a scientist, who’s a creative innovator
and who’s an artist are blurring,” says Anna Douglas, Shift Time’s
programme director. “We’ve called it a festival of ideas because it’s
not important who originated them ? artists, scientists, designers or
engineers ? as long as their ideas are provocative and engaging, and make us
wonder about what it is to be human in the 21st century.”

What unites the festival contributors is their engagement with Darwin’s ideas
and history. Dutch “kinetic sculptor” Theo Jansen trained as a
mathematician and engineer and, says Douglas, “is considered one of the
most innovative engineers in the world, but he doesn’t make useful things.
He believes that he’s creating new species.”

Jansen’s latest “species”, commissioned for Shift Time, is a
skeletal 13-metre moving sculpture called Animaris Umerus. Among the other
innovators appearing is Kevin Warwick, a cybernetics professor at the
University of Reading, who calls himself the world’s first cyborg. By
inserting electrodes into his arm, he has wired himself directly into a
computer. “It’s unusual for a scientist to experiment on himself,”
says Douglas. “That’s the sort of thing performance artists normally do.”

Meanwhile Opera North is premiering its latest work, The Weather Man, at the
festival. Librettist John Binias describes the piece ? based on the diaries
of the Beagle’s Captain FitzRoy and other found texts ? as a “docu-opera”,
similar to the recent verbatim plays of David Hare.

www.shift-time.org.uk

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