Arts Catalyst

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The Arts Catalyst

The Arts Catalyst is a London-based contemporary arts organization, known for its commissioned artists' projects, as well as being one of the pioneers of art and science in the UK.[1]

Directed by Nicola Triscott since the early 1990s, the organization works "at the frontiers of art and research".[2] Commissioned artists' projects include Tomas Saraceno's Poetic Cosmos of the Breath (2007), Aleksandra Mir's Gravity at the Roundhouse (2006), the Turner Prize shortlisted The Otolith Group (Kodwo Eshun and Anjalika Sagar)'s first film Otolith 1, Helen Chadwick’s Unnatural Selection (1996), and Critical Art Ensemble's Marching Plague (2006).[3]

History of The Arts Catalyst[edit]

The Arts Catalyst was founded in 1993 by Nicola Triscott, who is the Director of the organization and its programmes.

Since 1994 The Arts Catalyst has commissioned artists from around the globe on over one hundred different projects, by artists and arts groups, in a range of art forms such as Live Art (art form), artists' film and video, installation, media art, performance, and bioart, such as Kira O'Reilly, The Critical Art Ensemble and The Otolith Group, presented as exhibitions and events.

The Arts Catalyst is also strongly committed to education, research and artists' professional development. Since The Arts Catalyst was founded, it has organised symposia, schools projects, participatory projects, workshops, microgravity flight experiments, family days and conferences.


The Arts Catalyst commissions contemporary artist's projects that engage critically and experimentally with science. Notable artists the organisation has commissioned include Tomas Saraceno, The Otolith Group (Kodwo Eshun, Anjalika Sagar), Critical Art Ensemble, James Acord, Laurie Anderson, Antunez Roca, Lise Autogena, Brandon Ballengée, Anne Bean, Steve Beard, Andy Bichlbaum (Jacques Servin), Ansuman Biswas, Brian Catling, Oron Catts, Helen Chadwick, Gina Czarnecki, Beatriz da Costa, Adam Dant, Jan Fabre, Simon Faithfull, Jem Finer, Alec Finlay, Vadim Fishkin, Stefan Gec, Jack Klaff, Tim Knowles, Andrew Kotting, Steve Kurtz, Yuri Leiderman, Aleksandra Mir, Kira O'Reilly, Marko Peljhan, Esther Polak, Snæbjörnsdóttir | Wilson, Ashok Sukumaran, Aaron Williamson, Carey Young


The Arts Catalyst has produced many contemporary art projects that engage with science and technology.

In the 1990s, its commissions included Helen Chadwick's sensitive creations involving human embryos, James Acord’s radioactive sculptures, Kitsou Dubois's award-winning choreography in zero gravity.[4] An early project was Ansuman Biswas' 'CAT' in 1997, which used the quantum physics 'thought experiment' Schrödinger's Cat as a provocation to explore the nature of uncertainty and unknowing on a human level. The artist contained himself in a windowless room-sized box for ten days in a durational performance that played on the notion of the Schrödinger's Cat experiment. The experiment was followed by three presentations considering non-western culture, sound and shamanic practices and Western science and Chinese medical practices.[5] [6]

The Arts Catalyst has commissioned and collaborated with the US arts collective Critical Art Ensemble on a number of projects that critique developments in biotechnology and plan further work with them in 2014. Triscott writes in her chapter in the book 'Interfaces Of Performance,' of the motivations for this work: "There has been a disconnect between science's progress and society's involvement and understanding, and that people may not understand the implications of biotechnology and its commercial applications."[7]

The Arts Catalyst has also produced projects looking at culture, technology and climate change in the Polar regions, including Simon Faithfull's 'Ice Blink' in 2006, an interdisciplinary symposium 'Polar: Fieldwork and Archive Fever' in conjunction with the British Library and The Open University in 2007,[8] and a related publication, 'Bipolar', edited by Kathryn Yusoff and published by The Arts Catalyst in 2008 to mark the International Polar Year 2007-8. The Arts Catalyst is also part of the Arctic Perspective Initiative,[9] a project founded by artists Marko Peljhan and Matthew Biederman. Arctic Perspective Cahier No. 2: Arctic Geopolitics and Autonomy edited by Triscott and Michael Bravo reflects on "the necessity to discard simplistic perspectives on the Arctic region".[10]

The organisation has a commitment to the theme of space exploration.[11] Since 1999, they have presented a variety of projects that explore sub-orbital space, outer space, the International Space Station (ISS), and more recently, the moon. Their work in zero gravity includes projects with Kitsou Dubois and the MIR (Microgravity Interdisciplinary Research) consortium (2000 to 2004).[11][12] They were recently commissioned by the European Space Agency to develop a cultural policy for the orbiting International Space Station.[2][11] In 2006, The Arts Catalyst presented Space Soon: Art and Human Spaceflight, a five-day event at the Roundhouse (venue), London, that included new work by Aleksandra Mir, N55 (art collective)/Neal White, and London Fieldworks, with talks by astronaut turned artist Alan Bean, the fourth man to walk on the moon, NASA artist in residence Laurie Anderson and many others.[13] In 2008, The Arts Catalyst presented 'Less Remote: The Futures of Space Exploration - An Arts and Humanities Symposium' at the 59th International Astronautical Congress in Glasgow, Scotland. In 2011, The Arts Catalyst organized the exhibition, Republic of the Moon, with FACT Liverpool, about reimagining the future of the Moon.[11]

In 2009, The Arts Catalyst curated the exhibition and event 'Interspecies' at Cornerhouse, Manchester, and the A Foundation, London. This presented new commissioned works by Kira O'Reilly, Nicolas Primat, Antony Hall, Ruth Maclennan, and works by Rachel Mayeri, Snaebjornsdottir and Wilson, and Beatriz da Costa. Supported by an events performances, talks and workshops, the project explored the notion of artists working with animals as equals, the relationship that humans have with other species, and current discourse in animal studies and primatology. A special issue of Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture, published in summer 2010, was devoted to the Interspecies project, and explored the artists' projects and concepts further.[14]

In 2010, The Arts Catalyst commissioned a series of works for The Great Glen Artists Airshow [15] an area encompassing Loch Ness and the Caledonian Canal. The artists and organisations involved in this event were Esther Polak and Ivar van Bekkum. London Fieldworks, Alec Finlay, Adam Dant, Camila Sposati and Susanne Norregard Nielsen. The event consisted of performances, ephemeral landscape installations, poetry readings and kite-flying workshops, all of which were intended to redefine philosophical territory of the air exploring ideas about ownership rights, cartography and aerial movement.[16]

The Arts Catalyst's commission of Rachel Mayeri's Primate Cinema: Apes as Family continues their interest in interspecies communication. The 21 minute film is thought to be the first made by an artist especially for an audience of chimpanzees [17][18] The film won the honour at Prix Arts Electronica 2011 and is due to be screened at Sundance Film Festival in 2014.[19]

In 2011, The Arts Catalyst curated a major touring exhibition entitled "Republic of the Moon" [20] with FACT Liverpool Foundation for Art and Creative Technology. "Republic of The Moon" was a response to private corporations interested in exploiting the Moon's natural resources. Artists were inspired by utilitarian plans of lunar mines and military bases, the lives of astronauts such as Yuri Gagarin and early sci-fi literature such as The Man in the Moone by Francis Godwin.

Agnes Meyer-Brandis' commission for the exhibition, "Moon Goose Analogue" involved her raising eleven geese from birth, imprinting herself as goose-mother and training them to be astronauts. The artist created a moon analogue colony for the geese in Pollinaria, Italy, which could be interacted with live from a control room installed in the gallery and then toured to Great North Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne for the AV Festival 2012 [21] and Art Museum Z33 in 2013.

Sue Corke and Hagen Betzweiser of WE COLONISED THE MOON created an installation "Enter At Own Risk” in which a lone astronaut gardens a group of rocks, spraying them with their synthesised smell of the moon, a recipe based on reports from the Apollo crew.

More recently, in 2013, The Arts Catalyst joined forces with HeHe to create an indoor fracking installation, Fracking Futures, at FACT Liverpool. Their mischievous miniature installation was designed to provoke debate about the economical and ecological implications of hydraulic fracturing.[22]

The Arts Catalyst has also curated a major touring exhibition presenting some of the most innovative and progressive examples of contemporary architecture in Antarctica drawing together projects that both utilise cutting-edge technology and engineering, but have also considered aesthetics, sustainability and human needs in their ground-breaking designs for research stations. Initiated by the British Council, Ice Lab: New Architecture and Science in Antarctica which was first shown at The Lighthouse in Glasgow with Art + Design Scotland and then toured to MOSI (Museum of Science & Industry, Manchester) and will continue on tour in 2014 in New Zealand.[23][24]

In 2014 the Arts Catalyst once more returns to the subject of the Moon with Republic of the Moon at Bargehouse, South Bank, London with a new line up of artists including Katie Paterson, Leonid Tishkov, Moon Vehicle, Agnes Meyer-Brandis and Liliane Lijn. WE COLONISED THE MOON will be artists in residence and they will run a series of events alongside the show including Kosmica Full Moon Party and Global Lunar Day.[25][26]


  1. ^ Born, Barry, Georgina, Andrew (March 2010). "Art-Science. From public understanding to public experiment". Journal of Cultural Economy 3 (1). Retrieved 27 November 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Jones, Jonathan (7 April 2005). "Universal Studios". The Guardian. 
  3. ^ "Projects". The Arts Catalyst. Retrieved 2012-01-24.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  4. ^ Ede, Sian (2000). Strange and Charmed: science and the contemporary visual arts. Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. ISBN 978-0-903319-87-4. Retrieved 27 June 2013. 
  5. ^ Pari Centre for New Learning Retrieved 1 February 2012
  6. ^ Parallel Universe Exhibition South London Gallery, Accessdate 27 October 2011
  7. ^ Triscott, Nicola (2009). Performative science in an Age of Specialization: The Case of Critical Art Ensemble. Interfaces of performance: Ashgate. pp. 153–166. ISBN 978-0-7546-7576-1. 
  8. ^ "Polar Archive". British Library. Retrieved 9 April 2012. 
  9. ^ "About API". Arctic Perspective Initiative. Retrieved 9 April 2012. 
  10. ^ "Book review: Arctic Perspective, Cahier No. 1 and No. 2". We make money not art. Retrieved 9 April 2012. 
  11. ^ a b c d Stalling, T. 'The Arts Catalyst' in Free Enterprise: The Art of Citizen Space, 2013. retrieved 20 January 2013
  12. ^ Leonardo Electronic Almanac, volume 11, number 9, September 2003.
  13. ^ Fernie, Jes. 'Space Soon', Blueprint Magazine, October 2006
  14. ^ Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture, Issue 13, Summer 2010.
  15. ^ 'This week's new events' The Guardian, 2010.
  16. ^ The Great Glen Artists Airshow, The Arts Catalyst, 2010.
  17. ^ Film for chimps premieres in Liverpool, Wellcome Trust, 2011.
  18. ^ Primate cuts: the strange world of movies for chimpanzees, The Guardian, 2011.
  19. ^ Primate Cinema: Apes As Family, Sundance Film Festival
  20. ^ 'This week's new exhibitions' The Guardian, 2011.
  21. ^ 'Artist attempts to teach geese to fly to the moon, adorableness ensues', io9, 2012.
  22. ^ BBC Radio Merseyside, June 2013.
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^

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