On the ground floor, at the entrance of Siri Black and Kien Denier’s show at 16 Nicholson Street is a large, muddy brown hexagonal structure lined with repeating rows of empty shelves like a display unit. Growing from a shallow tray on its surface is Japanese Knotweed, an extremely hardy plant that can grow almost anywhere, up to 20cm a day. Now registered in Britain as a Non-native Invasive Species, it was discovered in Japan by a German botanist Philipp Balthazar von Siebold and sent to Britain in 1850, for use in ornamental Victorian gardens. Around the Knotweed, draped on the structure’s shelves and top, are lithograph gradient prints Kien calls Flags.
In a far corner of the room, an iPhone displays the code controlling the above structure’s top layer, choreographing an intermittent rotation clockwise. After two slow circuits, as a result of an untraceable error, the machine begins to disobey its programming and move backwards. This small movement situates the scene of the structure’s ruin—otherwise signalled by vacated, monumental architecture, the onset of weeds, limp flags of no discernible meaning—somewhere in the future. A disobedient subject, the machine has turned away from the systems used to create it, co-opting its own allegorical power. The result is unexpectedly human—a mournful, swaying dance.
Upstairs, two giant steel tripods emerge from the floor and ceiling in an installation by Kien labelled Dual axis_Raceme. He has converted the tripods’ hollow interior into speakers emitting a high-pitched screech, like the wail of a broken engine. Loud and overgrown, the tripods’ skittish limbs confuse the spatial limits of the room. It feels at once empty and full as sounds bounce off themselves and into invisible corners. By the door a film by Siri, Talking to my grandad about lattice theory, quantum chromodynamics, the big bang, grids, lines and spirals, plays a still shot of her granddad’s hands as they discuss physics across his kitchen table. Small white marks occasionally trace the swipe and cross of his fingers. Like the parting of a mouth, they are a technical, intimate register of familiar words, marking their unsteady transmission from one generation to another. It plays in silence as the sound of the tripods echoes through the hall, repeating like an unanswered distress signal.
On the top floor, Siri’s installation 500NM displays a looping film on a hand-sized monitor. Its title is the wavelength of yellow light, used in the manufacture of computer microchips. In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore accurately predicted the doubling of power on ever-smaller, cheaper computer chips year on year. His theory was so consistently realised it became known as Moore’s Law, a timeline of technological progress on which Western states and corporations still doggedly rely. Since its formulation, Moore’s Law has been due to expire in the 2020s, when, by the laws of physics, processors become too small to function rationally.
Filmed in 2019 inside the James Watt Nanofabrication Centre at the University of Glasgow, Siri’s video documents the application of Moore’s Law as it approaches its exponential limits. The screen is run by a large computer chip—the size of a model invented around 50 years ago—displayed directly above it. Footage shows lab employees pacing from one end of the room to the other, air and light diffuse and controlled like a museum archive or an old tomb. They gingerly hold things too small to see, unsure of whether to aim for their disappearance or preservation.
Next door, scenes from the 1969 Apollo moon landing are projected onto a large screen, alternating between original photographic slides of the event and photographs of the slides Siri took last year. I saw an earlier version of this work while on residency with Siri in December 2019, which means I know that the dot of red light visible in the copies are her, standing behind the original slides with a blinking red bike light. The original photographs show the moon’s surface now covered in dust and scratches, tinted rusty orange from the fading of blue ink. In 1969, the pictures, then unspoilt, appeared to some as a troubling omen of the couching of state power with technological prowess: the moon’s vacant, pockmarked surface a harbinger of nuclear wasteland or the scorched planes of Vietnam.
Fifty years later Our World—The World to Come treats this threat as a reality of the immediate future and the recent past. It charts an indistinct passing of time. Images warp, repeat and dissolve. Wayward machines and knotted weeds fill the empty space, move with it, sound across its borders. Marked by a blinking dot of red light, here I watch the moon landing for the third time.
Esther Draycott is a writer, based in Glasgow, interested in experimental forms of history and criticism. She can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org