Sean Clark's Blog
Between the 20th and 29th August at WotSpace, in Highcross in Leicester, Interact Digital Arts hosted 'Microworld Leicester' - a digital arts and digital making event delivered in collaboration with Margate arts group Genetic Moo. The event featured an exhibition of digital artworks, plus two workshops per day for five days and a live evening event. The workshops covered a wide range of digital making topics, including Processing programming sessions and introductions to Arduino, BBC Micro:bit and the Raspberry Pi.
The week went really well. Many of the workshops were fully booked and some people came back for multiple sessions. Lots of children and adults popped in during the week to see what was going on and the evening event on the Friday packed the place (the free wine may have helped!). In total I counted 341 people in the space over the week, and there were probably more.
It was great to see that the interest in coding/programming and DIY electronics is still growing. Many of the parents who came to workshops were looking for ways to support their children in being creative with technology. I think they left inspired - certainly some said that they were now looking to sign up for Code Clubs or similar.
You can see lots of pictures from the event on my Flickr page. There is also more information on the Interact website. I would like to run more events like this in the future - perhaps making it an annual event? Let me know what you think.
The event was generously supported by Leicester City Council and Arts Council England and was part of both the City Festival and the Summer Art Trail. Many thanks to Tina at Wot Space for hosting us and to all those who gave their time helping at the event.
On Sunday 4th of September 2016 we saw the final performance in the current phase of Ashok Mistry's project 'Methods for Misunderstanding the Nature of Things'. The performance took place at Attenborough Arts in Leicester where the audience was treated to a unique show that involved tabla, dance, light and digital arts.
The event went really well, with positive feedback from the audience and a lively Q&A session. It was definitely a fitting culmination of almost a year's work with Ashok on the project. When I got involved it was hard to imagine exactly what would the eventual result would look like, but this was definitely in keeping with the original concept.
I'm looking forward to see where the project goes next!
In mid-July at the Electronic Visualisation and the Arts (EVA) conference in London and the Human Computer Interaction (HCI) conference in Bournemouth I exhibited a collection of "connected" interactive artworks. This was the first time that I have exhibited this particular set of pieces and it was a great opportunity to try out some of the ideas that will be behind my Arts Council supported exhibition in December.
The collection consisted of nine separate pieces. Three screen-based, three LED-based and three high quality prints. They were all framed in the same style frame. The screen-based pieces were powered by PC sticks and connect to the internet in order to exchange information and the LED pieces used internet-connectable Photon microcontrollers.
For the exhibition I placed a screen-based piece, two LED-based pieces and a print in London and a screen-based piece, an LED-based pieced and two prints in Bournemouth. The remaining screen-based piece remained at my studio in Leicester. The internet was used to exchange colours and movement triggers between the artworks. This meant that, despite their geographic distance, all three locations were connected via the artworks.
All nine pieces used common organisational rules, be they dynamic patterns for the digital pieces or static ones for the the prints. Within each piece there were also multiple layers of organisation. For example, the prints were composed of three or four patterns each. The result was a complex, but understandable, multi-system artwork.
My aim in exhibiting these works was to explore both the practicalities and conceptual issues involved in showing work of this kind. It worked well. Firstly, I was happy that the artworks functioned as intended - although I did encounter some connectivity problems that I will now be aware of in the future. Next, I was very pleased that people seemed to get the "connectedness" idea and were fascinated when they saw interactions in the artworks triggered by people in remote locations. Finally, people's aesthetic response to the work was very positive - in other works they thought they looked good!
This bodes well for my "A Cybernetic Ecology" exhibition in Leicester in December where I will be showing an expanded collection of twenty or more such artworks, including sound and large-scale light pieces. Pictures from both locations in the EVA/HCI exhibition can be seen here on Flickr.
Yesterday was the latest Creat-A-Con, organised by SideFest and held in the Queens Building at De Montfort University. As with the previous events, this year's Creat-A-Con showcased "maker" organisations in Leicester and was aimed at young people and their parents.
I attended with an Interact Labs stand that included some of the projects we have been working on of the past year. We had the Pollock drawing robot, Minecraft on the Raspberry Pi, The Painting With Light system, some wireless micro-controllers and - for the first time - the BBC Micro:bit.
These new little micro-controllers are being given to all year 7 school pupils with the aim of helping to improve their programming skills. I have just managed to get my hands on some (thanks to STEMNET and LEBC) and Creat-A-Con was an opportunity for me to start exploring what they can do.
I was pretty impressed with them. They are physically robust and are easy to program using the web-based development environment (with a choice of programming languages). The built-in LED matrix gives them a simple display, and an accelerometer and magnetometer gives them some input sensors. There are also some input/output pins that can be used to connect other sensors and actuators.
There was also lots of interest in them from the attendees. Many people had heard about the Micro:bit (and a few pupils already had one) and I think there is some excitement about what they could be used for. Of course, the key thing is that the teaching staff get up to speed with them at schools. We'll certainly be doing out bit at Interact Labs by making good use of them in the Code Club.
There are a few pictures from our stand at the Creat-A-Con event here.
Leicester Hackspace has found a new home. Having started life meeting at Interact Labs, before moving to it's own room at The Makers Yard, it now has three rooms at The Innovation Centre at De Montfort University.
While its sad to see Leicester Hackspace leave the Cultural Quarter, the new space is a definite move up and I'm sure it will help the Hackspace get even more members and expand even further.
The gallery version of 'Flown', a digital light sculpture by Esther Rolinson and myself, has been put on the long list for the Lumen Prize. It's been included in the "3D/Sculpture Award" category, the results of which will be announced on the 29th September 2016 at Hackney House in London. The piece has clearly gone down well, having one the Art.CHI'16 award earlier in the year. There will also be an opportunity to vote for it in the "Peoples' Choice" award category from the 10th August via the Lumen Prize website.
Going to San Jose for the the Art.CHI exhibition was something of a treat. However, attending CHI was not the only thing I did while I was over there. Earlier in the year, whilst planning for The Art of Crass exhibition, I'd discovered that Dave King - the designer of the Crass symbol - lived just up the road in San Francisco and I had arranged a meeting.
The Crass symbol is an amazing piece of design. Dave produced it almost 40 years ago for Penny Rimbaud's Reality Asylum book and it was then used by the band Crass as their "logo" throughout their career. Effectively it is a stylised snake wrapped around a cross, but the symbol has many interpretations. Some people see a double ouroboros (snake eating its tail), maybe a sign of the "system" destroying itself, or even a swastika (or perhaps anti-swastika). It has graced leather jackets, t-shirts, been used as tattoos, appeared as graffiti and so on, to such an extent that some people no longer even associated it just with Crass - it is simply a timeless anti-authoritarian symbol.
Meeting up with Dave was a pleasure. We got to talk about the symbol and its use, as well as his other work as a musician, designer and artist and how he might contribute to The Art of Crass exhibition. He said was happy to contribute some of the images from his book/exhibition The Secret Origins of the Crass Symbol and, true to his word, sent over some prints soon after we met.
We also had an other idea - to produce an illuminated crass symbol that would use the LED and micro-controller technology that I use in my own artworks.
Together with the prints, Dave also included a stencil to use in an illuminated work. I took this, framed it and backed it with a LED matrix and programmed it to cycle through a colour sequence. The result was very effective. It was particularly good in the context of the print variations of the symbol and the greater exhibition.
You can see a picture of the work here.
I was lucky enough to have two artworks accepted for the Art.CHI 2016 Exhibition in San Jose in May this year. Both pieces were collaborations. The first, "Tango Apart" with Ernest Edmonds and the second, "Flown" with Esther Rolinson. Esther's piece was a fairly complex install so, of course, I had to attend in person!
The exhibition took place at the Works Gallery, just around the corner from the main ACM CHI'16 conference in the San Jose Convention Centre. It was a great space - easy to get to and just the right amount of light for a digital art exhibition.
I was familiar with some of the work that was going to be on display, but it wasn't until I got the see the work installed that I realised how diverse the exhibition was. The curators had selected works that explored many different forms of interactivity. Some fast and immediate, others slower and more thoughtful. For example, one artwork responded to being hit with an inflatable hammer, one responded to the viewers heart rate and Flown responded to subtle changes to light and temperature in gallery environment.
Against this backdrop it was particularly rewarding that Flown was awarded the "best in show" for the exhibition. This was a nice surprise, especially since we didn't know that there was going to be such an award when we installed the artwork.
I documented the exhibition quite well. My gallery of over one hundred pictures can be found here on Flickr. I have also put an exhibition walkthrough up on YouTube. See the Art.CHI website for information about all of the artworks in the exhibition.
The video of Ruth Gibson's Computer Arts Society talk at Phoenix in Leicester on 13th April 2016 is now available. This will be of particular interest to people who follow Virtual Reality art. You'll find the talk on Vimeo at https://vimeo.com/166949759.
At the beginning of the year I began to use the name "Interact Digital Arts" as a focal point for all of my arts activities. As part of this "rebrand" I have now pulled my personal seanclark.me.uk website in to the fold, as well as the long running nemeton.com.
You'll see that both sites now share the Interact Digital Arts look-and-feel and all three sites now share a common navigation. The update also gave me an opportunity to improve the "responsiveness" of both sites so that they should now work fine on phones and tablets. It should ensure that both sites remain to be accessible and appear in search engines.
It would be easy to think that maintaining a collection of websites like mine is a simple thing to do. After all, the older sites don't change very often. However, in almost 23 years of web design I have found that this is far from the case. Web technologies change, as does browsing hardware and software, and links and plugins stop working.
I think that in the long term this is going to be a real problem. I actively maintain my archive, but it is relatively small and I'm still about to look after it. What will happen to all of those 1990s and 2000s sites that were created before web technology really settled down and made use of highly non-standard technologies? Many will become increasingly unusable and even archives such as the UK Web Archive will struggle to render them. It's something to think about if you want your websites to last.
I also wonder if future archaeologists will need to be experts in early Internet and web technologies as much as language and digging skills. In fact, perhaps "Internet Archeologists" even exist now?