Atmospheric Memory—Immersive Exhibition Opens Soon at Powerhouse Ultimo

The Australian premiere of the major exhibition Atmospheric Memory will open at Powerhouse Ultimo on 12 August 2023.

The sensory experience by Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, curated by José Luis de Vicente, is inspired by the writing of 19th century computer pioneer and philosopher Charles Babbage, who believed that the air surrounding us is a ‘vast library’ containing every sound, motion and word spoken.

The BAFTA award-winning artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer has created an interactive environment that examines this idea 200 years later, featuring a series of artworks using cutting-edge technology to transform vibrations in the atmosphere into something visitors can see, hear and even touch. After presentations in the UK and US, Lozano-Hemmer is collaborating with Powerhouse to present a new version of this exhibition in response to the museum’s globally renowned collection.

Atmospheric Memory headlines the Powerhouse Museum’s Sydney Science Festival, presented across the city from 11–20 August 2023. The nine-day festival will present keynote addresses from Dr Meganne Christian, soon be one of the first Australian females to travel into space and Dr Nicole Yamase, who made history in 2021 as the first Pacific Islander to reach the deepest part of the Mariana Trench – Challenger Deep, nearly 11km below the surface.

“The NSW Government is proud to support Atmospheric Memory through the Blockbuster Funding Initiative. This exhibition, which features contemporary technological art alongside original historical objects will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of the NSW cultural calendar,” said the NSW Minister for Arts and Tourism, John Graham.

“Babbage wanted to rewind the motion of all molecules of air to hear again the voices of long-lost loved ones, vows and promises unredeemed. Atmospheric Memory, possibly the most ambitious project I have ever undertaken, explores his idea today, when the dream of perfect recollection is one of the defining conditions of our digital life, and the air that we breathe has become a battleground for the future of our planet,” Rafael Lozano-Hemmer said.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is a media artist working at the intersection of architecture and performance art, internationally celebrated for creating platforms for public participation and transforming social environments with a range of technologies. He was the first artist to represent Mexico at La Biennale di Venezia and has been awarded two BAFTAs for Interactive Art. His works are held in the collections of numerous leading institutions including Museum of Modern Art and Guggenheim (New York), Tate Gallery (London) and National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne).

Commissioned and produced by Manchester International Festival, Atmospheric Memory had its world premiere at the 2019 festival. Works include a speech-recognition fountain where spoken words become clouds of text floating in mid-air; a room with over 3,000 different sound channels, including field recordings of 200 species of insects and 300 types of birds; a voice-controlled robotic light beacon, and the world’s first 3D-printed speech bubble.

The Powerhouse presentation will include 50 objects from the museum’s collection including Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine No 1, a general-purpose mechanical calculating machine that anticipated the principles and structure of the modern computer; tinfoil phonograph, a rare example of one of the earliest sound recording and playback machines, invented by Thomas Edison in 1877; and an Aneroid barometer used at Sydney Observatory in the late 1800s to measure atmospheric pressure and make weather forecasts.

“The Powerhouse holds Australia’s most significant collection of science, technological and design objects, including one of the only existing models of Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine No1, completed by his son after his passing. The development of Atmospheric Memory at the Powerhouse is a collaborative process between the artist and museum, and we are excited to share this incredible experience with our visitors,” said Powerhouse Chief Executive Lisa Havilah.

Coinciding with National Science Week, Sydney Science Festival, now in its eighth year, will explore the theme Trace. Leading scientists, academics and researchers explore the marks humanity makes in a curated program of free and ticketed events including talks, workshops and activities.

Highlight events include Family Science Day, a packed program of hands-on activities, interactive performances and stalls at Parramatta Square on 19 August and a research symposium at Powerhouse Ultimo, featuring talks, presentations, conversations and creative work on 14 August.


More information:

More green updates