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Review: Nick Leassing and Nahum Matra at FACT

Nick Leassing and Nahum Matra at FACT
Day of Collisions, 10 November 2016.  

Word and photographs by Moira Leonard

Art and Science. Worlds apart or closely linked? Both are driven by a relentless drive to understand life, the universe and everything. Both are fuelled by creativity and value ‘the process’ as much as the outcome.

This curious relationship is explored by the new exhibition at FACT called ‘No Such Thing as Gravity’, as part of a three-year collaboration (2016 – 2018) with CERN, an eminent centre of science and technology based in Geneva.

‘Day of Collisions’ is the introductory public launch of this new partnership. A day packed with a wide range of activities. My review will focus on two of these ‘collisions’: a water driven car and a voyage to the moon.


Nick Leassing is a British artist who now lives in Berlin. His artwork focusses on the concept of energy and, specifically for this project, on free energy. Working with hydrogen specialists at UCL London Nick has created ‘Water Gas Car’: a car that runs on water, or rather hydrogen extracted from water. So here we go:

1.45pm.  FACT staff member advises me to go outside to the ‘car with a bag over it’ and stand by the red and white barrier at 2pm. So, I’m here a few minutes early. It’s been raining heavily and threatens to rain more. I’m curious and shuffling around in expectation.

2.00pm. Two other guests wander out to the car and look inside it at the complicated machinery in the back and note there are only two seats, which are in the front.

2.01pm. The artist arrives, shakes my hand and asks me my name. I tell him and we stand awkwardly as the other two guests talk about car exhibitions they have curated.

2.07pm. I see that I am not going to be guided through this ‘activity’ and am beginning to suspect that Nick does not realise I have booked onto it, so I begin asking questions and glean the following non-technical information:

  • The car is a white Volkswagen golf. It does indeed have a large white, heavy duty plastic bag suspended over the roof, held in place by a black metal frame.
  • From this bag a clear plastic pipe leads down into the bonnet and disappears, presumably connected to the engine in some ingenious way.
  • In the space where the back seat should have been is an electrolysis machine of some kind, which separates the oxygen and hydrogen from water and feeds the hydrogen into the bag on the roof.
  • The hydrogen-separating-machine is charged by several solar panels.
  • The solar panels are large (on display in the gallery I subsequently discover) and must be set up for about 24 hours in a field or car park to charge.
  • Once the bag is full, the hydrogen can power the car for about 10 miles or so. So not a serious threat for the oil industry quite yet!
  • The car can run just on hydrogen, or petrol, or a combination of both.
  • Nick is neither pro or against water powered cars, he is merely looking at the possibilities and curious to see how far these possibilities can go.

It’s a spectacle alright. As I stand in the gently falling rain, a white van pulls up ‘What is that?’ the driver yells.

‘It’s a hydrogen car’ says Nick ‘It’s part of the exhibition’

‘You build it yourself?’


The driver looks a little perplexed. There’s a pregnant pause.

‘Sound’, he gives a thumb up and drives off, the cogs in his brain noticeably turning.

Apparently, the water gas car was driven (on petrol) from Nick’s workshop in the South of England all the way up to Liverpool. If it is powered by hydrogen it can’t be driven legally he says. ‘oh?’ said I ‘why not?’.

‘Insurance’ when you take out insurance there is a box which asks if you have modified the car, no-one will insure it with flammable gas in a bag on the roof’. Of course, good point, not something I’ve ever had to think about! This project clearly has some way to go then.

I didn’t get a run out in it, apparently, there wasn’t time to charge it up so it would only have been running on petrol anyway.

I was happy to leave it there. A fascinating crossover on the art/science spectrum I mused. So, from the physical plane, my next experience is a mental one…


A curious ‘performance’ by Nahum Mantra, a Mexican artist whose work explores the intimacy of nature in relation to science, specifically about the power of the mind.  Billed as a ‘hypnosis workshop’ he promises the attendees they will leave with a new memory that will stay with them for life. A bold claim and one I felt I had to test.

4.30pm. I am waiting outside the ‘box’ a small cinema space furnished with a series of red two seater couches. An intimate space and perfect setting for an event around ‘hypnosis’.

4.45pm. We are running late. We are led into the space. The couches are set up in a circle. Along with me, a group of around 20 complete strangers hand over the next hour of our lives to the artist, trusting him to hypnotise us and delve deep into our consciousness.

4.50pm Soothing sounds in the background and the lights are dimmed.

4.55pm Nahum begins the ‘event’. ‘I will take you to a place between sleep and consciousness and together we will travel to the moon in our minds…’

What happens next is effectively a guided meditation into space. A quite beautiful experience where everyone is given the same external stimulus (i.e. the gentle tones of Nahum’s voice) and everyone experiences their own individual journey based on their life experiences and mind’s eye.

In discussion at the end there were some profound outcomes for some, others did not feel the need to talk about it publicly instead choosing to contemplate their own thoughts. As we filed out everyone was silent, lost in their own musings. Nahum left us with the quote ‘Our imagination is the power…we are but it’s shadow’.

As I am walking home thinking about the strangeness of the day I become aware of how gorgeous the festive shop window displays look; how amazingly twinkly the lights are; I feel euphoric, like my mind has been altered in some way. I realise then that the soothing voice of the artist guiding us through a very special personal journey has triggered something deep inside of me. He said ‘I will give you a memory you will never forget’. He was right. It was not the memory of journeying to the moon as I had expected, but the fleeting moment of connection with a group of strangers, all sharing a very intimate experience. A moment in time that was captured in my heart and thus my memory, one which altered the way I saw the world, just tor a second.

Science? Art?  Whatever the day was, I’d like to call it magic.

Nick Leassing, Water Gas Car is part of ‘No Such Thing as Gravity’ exhibition runs from 10 November 2016 – 5 February 2017

Nahum Mantra, Performance ‘Voyage: A Session for Remembering’ run ended.