Uncertain Ruins

18 Oct 2019 – 10 Jan 2020

Regular hours

10:00 – 20:00
10:00 – 20:00
10:00 – 20:00
10:00 – 20:00
10:00 – 17:00
10:00 – 17:00

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Swiss Cottage Gallery

London, United Kingdom


Travel Information

  • C11,13,31,46,82,113,187
  • Swiss Cottage
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Uncertain Ruins a site-responsive exhibition by artist Julie F Hill and Gauld Architecture that draws on the social, material and historical context of the Swiss Cottage Library in which the gallery is located.


Monumental sculptures, video and photographic works respond to this context and have been made using a mix of artificial intelligence algorithms trained on astronomical datasets and related holdings from Swiss Cottage Library to consider the library’s potential as a container for all knowledge. Scaffolding structures reference software architectures used in the construction of the artworks and that increasingly produce, organise and distribute knowledge. Together they play with the notion of construction and ruin.

Hill’s new photographic series Containers documents the bindings and centre folds of various astronomy and physics books found in the library and further abstracts them using mathematical paper folding techniques. Sculpturally they explore the principles of the Modernist grid at play in the architecture, contrasted with the algorithmic and computational structures used in knowledge generation.

Through Machine & Darkness is a 35 minute video work that responds to the increasing use of AI and machine learning in examining astronomical datasets. The video comprises images taken from the training of a DCGAN – a class of Artificial Intelligence algorithm – trained on over 45,000 images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Attempting to conjure a total view of the cosmos, the imagery produced explores the latent space of the algorithmic imagination, and how computation might come to understand the universe.

RAW Materials are a series of monumental sculptures, one of which occupies the atrium of the library, made from scaffolding and large scale RAW Hubble images taken from the training dataset of Through Machine & Darkness. The images have been scaled in such a way to emphasise the individual pixels: the individual measurements of light recorded by the telescope’s CCD’s which in turn become the raw material processed by machine learning algorithms. The reflective surface of high gloss black acrylic creates illusory moments within the installation, and alludes to the technological ‘black boxes’ in machine learning and AI.

The universe (which others call the Library) consists of playfully positioned astronomy and physics books from Swiss Cottage Library. The title is taken from first line of Jorge Luis Borges’ short story The Library of Babel, which conceives of a universe in the form of a vast library.

Following a creative workshop held at the library in November, Mary Yacoob has also produced artworks for the library’s entrance doorway. Linking to themes present in both Uncertain Ruins and Camden Alive programme she has explored the influence of technology and the machine aesthetic in the design of Modernist social housing in the borough of Camden such as The Brunswick and the nearby Alexandra Estate. Part of Camden Alive. Please see www.lovecamden.org/camdenalive for more information.

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Scaffolding by City & Urban Scaffolding

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A programme of artworks and events relating to the themes in Uncertain Ruins and the context of Swiss Cottage Library accompany the exhibition.

Sat 23 Nov, 11am – 1.30pm: Draw Your Own Modernist Building: Creative workshop with Mary Yacoob

Thu 5 Dec, 6–8pm: Events evening with Joe Banks, Paula Smolarska & Mary Yacoob.

Thu 9 Jan, 6–8pm: Closing event & publication launch

For further information please see


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Swiss Cottage Library, is a Modernist architectural landmark designed by Sir Basil Spence in the early 1960s, initially conceived as part of a much larger project for a grand civic site, comprising a new town hall and council offices. The library and its companion building, the Sports Hall (now demolished) – with which it formed an abstract composition – were the only parts built due to a change in the demarcation of council boroughs. The library building has a unique materiality, clad with vertical fins made of finely finished concrete with Portland stone aggregate – a visual play on the way the pages of a book fan out, giving the impression that one is entering the inner space of a book. The library is described by Historic England as ‘amongst the most ambitious architectural designs for a library found anywhere’ yet with continual shifts in the production and consumption of knowledge, including the rise of machine learning and AI, the functionality of such buildings is undoubtedly altered.

Passengers is a site-specific exhibition series that explores the historical, social and material contexts of various sites and architecture. This initiative was formed in 2016 by artist Julie F Hill in collaboration with the architectural practice Gauld Architecture. The series aims to promote dialogue between art and architecture, exploring the contemporary built environment. For its inaugural series, supported by Arts Council England, artists presented work sequentially to explore the real and imaginative associations of the Brunswick Centre, a Modernist, mixed residential and commercial development in Bloomsbury, London. The project has since expanded to incorporate offsite exhibitions, residencies and publications. www.passen-gers.co.uk

Julie F Hill is a British artist who employs an expanded approach to photography and image-making, creating sculptural installations that explore conceptions of deep-space and cosmological time. The astronomical image is shaped into formations that resemble uncanny meteorological or geological phenomena, creating immensities that we can walk amongst, and enter into. Enigmatic and illusory materials such as smoke or mirror act as conduits or portals, inviting us to cross a threshold to experience the unknowable. Through such environments she questions scientific images and the technologies used to construct them. Hill studied at Central Saint Martins (BA,2004) and the Royal College of Art (MA, 2006), and is currently a Fellow in Digital Print at the Royal Academy Schools (2017–). Recent exhibitions include The Space Out of Time, Terminal Creek Contemporary/Capture Photography Festival, Vancouver, CA (2019); Of Stars and Chasms, ArthousSE1, London (2019); Deserts on the moons of other planets, Passen-gers, London (2017). She has been awarded funding projects including Through Machine & Darkness (Arts Council, 2019); Passen-gers (Arts Council, 2016–17) and Cartographies of Life & Death (Wellcome Trust/Arts Council, 2012–13). www.juliehill.co.uk

Gauld Architecture is a London based architectural practice who work on a range of commercial, residential and public leaning projects that balance sensitivity for the history of a site with appropriate use of materials. As a practice they are engaged in multi-disciplinary activities through which they aim to promote discussion about the built environment. www.gauldarchitecture.com

Camden Alive is part of the Mayor’s London Borough of Culture and is a Mayor’s Cultural Impact Award winner. London Borough of Culture is a Mayor of London initiative with support from the City of London Corporation’s Charity, City Trust Bridge and Airbnb. www.lovecamden.org/camdenalive


Julie F  Hill

Julie F Hill

Exhibiting artistsToggle

Gauld Architecture

Julie F  Hill

Julie F Hill

Paula Smolarska

Mary Yacoob


Taking part


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