Sean Clark's Blog
Tonight saw the opening of Esther Rolinson's Splinter and Thread exhibition at Phoenix in Leicester. The two light-based artworks are the result of over two years development by Esther.
Both pieces feature animated light sequences. In Splinter LEDs illuminate acrylic panels suspended in the gallery space with thin cables. Patterns move around the panels, changing in speed and introducing subtle colours. The result is a mesmerising sculptural form that really has to be seen to be appreciated.
Thread uses similar lighting technology, but runs the LED light through prepared optical fibres. This leads to more of the sense of an animated 3D 'drawing', with bold stokes of light crossing the gallery space and interacting with each other. Again, it needs to be seen for the effect to be understood.
The realisation of Esther's vision for the artworks required a team of supporting technologists, including myself. We had to design and build the lighting hardware, develop the electronics and then program the sequences to match what Esther wanted. It was a long, but very interesting, process and the results are quite spectacular.
I've shared my photographs of the installation and opening of the exhibition here on Flickr. The two pieces will be on show until the 5th December and will be followed by a third piece called 'Melt' on the 12th December until mid January. Make sure you visit!
I was invited to join Genetic Moo at Kinetic Art Fair this year to show work as part of their Microworld exhibition. I used the opportunity to show two new pieces from my current cycle of systems artworks.
The first was a pair of interacting colour grids of the type I showed at the GV Art exhibition earlier in the year. The difference here being that rather than two systems running on one computer and shown on the same screen, I used two dedicated Raspberry Pi with HDMIPi screens to run the systems. The screens were then placed next to each other on the gallery wall and able to interact with each other via the Raspberry Pis' WiFi connections. I was very pleased with this setup - it was working well and looking good. That was until i managed to crack one of the screens!
The second piece was a pair of framed 8 x 8 LED grids that were able to respond to their environment (and each other) via light sensors. These also worked very well and offered an alternative way to explore the algorithms I have been developing recently. Luckily there were no breakages with this piece and it remained part of the exhibition for the whole show. I like the idea of using LED lights rather than LCD screens, and this is definitely a form I intend to explore further.
There were, of course, plenty of other artworks on display at Kinetica, and it would take many blog posts to describe them all. I have uploaded my pictures from the exhibition here on Flickr and you can find out more on the Kinetica Art Fair website.
After just over two weeks the Interact @ LCB exhibition has come to a close at Lightbox Studios in the LCB Depot. The overall reception of the exhibition has been very good - with a good number of visitors and lots of good feedback. Full documentation (including plenty of pictures) can be found at http://interactdigitalarts.uk/interact-at-lcb-depot. Fingers crossed and we'll be back again next year.
You have until the end of the week to visit the Sites of Collective Memory exhibition at Phoenix. To quote:
"Sites of Collective Memory comprises four new animated works that offer intimate portraits of individuals, witnesses to historic events at places that resonate with individual and shared remembrance.
"Each work takes testimony as its starting point, reflecting on personal experiences of iconic and historic moments – the bombing of Hiroshima, the massacre of Polish Gypsies in WWII, and the 7/7 London bombings – and in contrast, the private experiences passed down through British Romani families. Through these works we may consider how representations of history and culture are shared in our collective consciousness."
I have put some pictures from the exhibition on my Flickr page.
The Interact @ LCB exhibition of digital art opened on Thursday evening. A good-sized audience saw a wide range of digital artworks by local and national artists. I don't mind admitting that it was a busy day getting the exhibition installed, however, the hard work was worth it and I am pleased with the results. The exhibition is open weekdays until 10th October, and ends with a live event on the Friday evening. See my pictures from the opening here on Flickr.
This weekend saw the first Creator Fair at the National Space Centre in Leicester. A diverse collection of "makers" turned up to show their work from a wide-range of disciplines - including crafts, 3D printing, electronics, mechanics, toy making and more. I was there to show off some of the work we do at Interact Labs and to encourage people to think about how technology can be used in the arts.
There was a steady stream of visitors on both days - especially in the afternoons. This included children of all ages and lots of enthusiastic parents
I was giving away 3D printed Minecraft swords, which went down very well with the young people. I must have produced at least 25 of them over the weekend!
There's talk of the event running again next year - which would be a great idea. You can see my pictures of the event here on Flickr.
It's has been said that a 'digital artwork' exists independently from the computer and display technology used to present it. Indeed, it is often argued that a key feature of digital art is that it is infinitely reproducible and that there is no such thing as an 'original'.
While I agree with this in some ways, I increasingly find myself caring about the aesthetics of the technology used to 'show' my work. In fact, I no longer really see the creative idea, computer program and technology as separate things. They are all part of the artwork and I now strive maintain full control over the equipment used in my exhibitions (no longer relying on pieces of kit supplied by a gallery).
This can have practical implications when producing new work. Since I no longer show my work on third party computers and screens, each new digital artwork I produce needs to have a dedicated screen and computer, plus custom frames and mounts. A collection of ten artworks means ten times this.
This was proving to be problematic - especially since given my preferred platform of a Mac mini computer and HD screen. The equipment to display an artwork was costing up to £1000 and was not reusable without destroying the artwork after the exhibition.
However, the growth in low cost computers and compact HD screens is changing this. It is now possible to purchase an Android or Linux computer such as a Raspberry Pi or PCduino for around £30 and a 'component' HD display (intended for a tablet) for £70. Add a laser cut or 3D printed enclosure and you have a personalised, unbranded computer system, complete with computer and screen for well under £200.
These little computers are not super fast, but they are certainly powerful enough to run the artworks I am creating at the moment. Plus there are plenty of low-cost screens to choose from to match the artwork being created. I found a great source of 1280x720 pixel 10" screens on eBay recently.
I'll be posting some images of the 'digital art objects' I've been creating with this technology shortly. The first public display of them will be at the Kinetica Art Fair in October.
Interesting things are happening with Virtual Reality again. While I'm still not sure that it will be more than a niche technology in the long run (I think 'augmented' is more interesting than 'virtual'), it is quite fun to see something I was experimenting with over 20 years ago back in the spotlight.
Two approaches are popular at the moment. One is the classic VR 'goggles' system, like the Oculus Rift, in which a special stereo display and head tracker is worn by the user and driven by a computer. The other is to take advantage of the high-quality display, position tracker and computer many of us already have in our pockets - in the form of a smartphone - and simply provide a housing and lenses to enable it to be used as a 3D display. The best known version of the latter approach is the Google Cardboard - literally a cardboard holder with plastic lenses and a control switch.
You might think that the dedicated VR goggles would have significant advantages over the smartphone approach. This is true to an extent, but the power and quality of the modern smartphones is such that the difference is actually much less than expected.
I have been experimenting with various Google Cardboard designs and have managed to source lenses for as little as £2.50 a pair and whole kits off of eBay for £6 (or a bit more from here). On the whole they all work pretty well, but can be a little flimsy.
To find something more rohbust I have been looking at plastic and 3D printed alternatives. My favourite so far is the OpenDive by Durovis. This is a 3D-printable version of the commercial Durovis Dive product. This is a smartphone VR housing that actually predates the Google Cardboard.
While it doesn't have the magnetic switch of the Google Cardboard (although one can be easily added), it does the same basic job - that is hold your smartphone in front of some lenses. It also 3D prints pretty well - albeit taking almost 5 hours to produce on my Replicator. What's more, even with the lenses and an elastic head strap the total cost of the project is less than £5.
Of course, hardware is only one part of the system. Durovis also provides a free Unity plug-in that does head tracking using your phone's position tracker and renders your 3D model as two side by side views for stereo vision. This allows you to use the Unity game engine (a free version is available) to create interactive 3D worlds and compile them for Android and iOS.
This results in a complete 'home-brew' VR system that you can experiment with for the cost of a large latte or two at Starbucks! What's more, the Unity environment is also compatible with the Oculus Rift (although you have to upgrade to the Pro version) so the new skills you develop will be transferable to this VR environment.
Field Broadcast is an innovative arts platform that connects artists, audiences and obscure locations through live video broadcasts. It's a really successful project that has used a Windows and Mac app for the last few years to alert people when a broadcast is starting and then deliver the video stream to their desktop.
For the latest series of broadcasts Cuttlefish was asked to create a mobile app for Android and iOS that would allow mobile users to receive alerts and broadcasts on their smartphones. The Android app went live a couple of weeks ago, and the iOS app was finally approved by Apple this weekend.
I've been using the app myself to tune in to the recent broadcasts and have to say I'm hooked. When the broadcast alert arrives you never quite know what you are going to see. It could, literally, be a transmission from a field, or - as it the case with some of the current broadcasts - from a riverside, and even from a row boat.
I've taken a few screen grabs of the recent broadcasts that you can find on my Flickr here. To see the next live broadcast yourself you can download the desktop of mobile apps from www.fieldbroadcast.org. All downloads are free.
Last night was the private view of the Automatic Art exhibition at the GV Art Gallery in Marylebone, London. The show was curated by Ernest Edmonds and presents 50 years of British art that is generated from strict procedures.
The artwork on display ranged from constructivist sculptural forms, through systems-based paintings and drawings, to computer-based and interactive artworks. It was put together in a very coherent way, with background materials and supporting information, and made full use of the multi-level and multi-room gallery space.
The private view was very well attended, with many of the artists involved in the show in attendance. This provided an opportunity for me to catch up with quite a few friends and colleagues from over the years. These included people from LUTCHI (the research centre at Loughborough University where I began my graduate career in 1989), William Latham (who designed cover art for The Shamen in the 1990s, and whose first website I built), friends associated with the Computer Arts Society and present-day colleagues from the IOCT at De Montfort University. It ended up being a very enjoyable night - just a pity I had to get a train back to Loughborough at 10pm!
The exhibition is open to the public from today (Friday 4 July) and ends on Saturday 26 July 2014. Entrance is free. My pictures from the set-up and opening can be found here on Flickr.
The full list of artists featured in the exhibition is Stephen Bell, boredomresearch, Dominic Boreham, Paul Brown, John Carter, Harold Cohen, Nathan Cohen, Trevor Clarke, Ernest Edmonds, Julie Freeman, Anthony Hill, Malcolm Hughes, Michael Kidner, William Latham (picture attached), Peter Lowe, Kenneth Martin, Terry Pope, Stephen Scrivener, Steve Sproates, Jeffrey Steele, Susan Tebby and myself.