Sean Clark's Blog
It's been a busy weekend with two great events taking place in the Leicester.
The first, on Friday, was the third annual "Image Is The Servant" music/multimedia event organised by Honest Dave. The year's event was subtitled "Playful" and took place at The Venue at DeMontfort University.
The event featured multiple musical contributions with live visuals and assorted other attractions. As with the previous two events, most of the vial material was gathered during the event and projected on and around the performance area. Unlike the previous two, the new location provided space for interesting angled screens to be hung across the hall, making for a an even richer visual spectacle.
Then, on Saturday, Rich Myoptik held his "Leap Year Jamboree" at The Font. A full house was treated to music and arts from numerous Leicester artists. Opening at 1pm and going on until 1am it was a truly marathon event (one which I, admittedly, did not complete).
My contributions to both events were the various drawing machines I have been working on over the past six months. They went down well at both events and engaged lots of people!
Weekends like this really bring out the best of the creative aspects of Leicester. Real diversity of people, music, arts and interests coming together to make great things happen.
At the end of last year I was lucky enough to be awarded an Arts Council England grant to enable me to further develop my "digital art systems" artworks. The grant will allow me to develop a new collection of artworks and then exhibit them towards the end of 2016. I hope to have two exhibitions - the first in Leicester in December 2016 and the second in London in early 2017.
The artworks are concerned with ideas relating to flow, connectedness and self-organisation and will take the form of dynamic computer-based images, interactive lights, audio pieces and responsive video.
I am putting all of these elements together to form what I am calling a "Cybernetic Ecology" - a term borrowed by Richard Brautigan's poem "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace". I expect to start showing some of the new pieces in the summer and will start posting some images here before to long.
The Silent Signal exhibition opened on Friday at QUAD in Derby. It featured six animated films that were created by six pairs of artists and scientists who have been working together to create new work about and inspired by their mutual interests. Topics covered included Sleeplessness, the spread of malaria in monkey populations and the immune system.
It nakes for a very interesting exhibition. There is a wide range of animation styles and the presentation of the exhibition - with the films being shown in multiple rooms and locations - works really well. The background information in the supplied literature (and on the website) was also very useful in adding a full context for the work.
The exhibition runs until the 6th March, and will be going on tour after. The full list of participants in the project is boredomresearch and Dr Paddy Brock, Samantha Moore and Dr Serge Mostowy, Ellie Land and Professor Peter Oliver, Charlie Tweed and Dr Darren Logan, Genetic Moo and Dr Neil Dufton and Eric Schockmel and Dr Megan MacLeod.
My pictures from the show are here on Flickr.
At this time of year I tend to have a sort through the photographs I've taken over the past 12 months. Totting them up I see that I've been quite busy - taking over 1,500 (all on my iPhone). If you're interested in some of the things I've been involved with in 2015 then I've selected 100 of the most representative ones and posted them in an album here on Flickr. It's quite a diverse mix.
You may have noticed that I've been getting quite in to computer drawing recently! Over the past few weeks we've had the Computer Drawing: DP Henry and Beyond exhibition running at Phoenix and LCB Depot Lightbox and I've been running a number of related workshops and events.
It's helped reignite my interest in drawing machines and generating machine drawable images and it's led to me building up quite an interesting collection of drawing devices. I've had the WaterColorBot and my own Etch-a-pi Raspberry Pi controlled Etch-a-sketch for a while and these have recently been joined by a high-quality Makeblock XY Plotter (pictured) and a homemade mini-plotter based on the Tiny CNC design.
The thing that all of these machines have in common is that they are digital. A computer of some sort controls X and Y motors that in turn control the pen, or mark making device. Drawing machines need not be digital like this. Both DP Henry and Jack Tait's work (featured in the exhibition) are created by analogue devices based around pre-existing machines (in Henry's case) or made with custom components (as in Tait's case). The pen is controlled not by a program as such, but instead by combinations of gears and cogs.
I can't see myself heading down the analogue route yet, but it has made me wonder if hybrid analogue/digital drawing machines might be an interesting thing to explore. Perhaps with an Arduino being used to alter the configuration of a mechanical device? Or maybe even the creation of a machine that allows a drawing expert to drive a machine through a connected pen?
It's definitely something I need to think about in more detail. I'm not in a rush to build something, but one thing is sure though, you can expect to see at least the occasional use of a drawing machine in my future work.
Tonight was the third annual Light The Night event at Orton Square in Leicester's Cultural Quarter. Arts events group Inspirate put together another great event with a range of activities, including Gavin Morris' Digital Funfair, Creative Manifesto's MegaGamer joystick running Audiosurf 2 and OMAI's Tag Tool running through a giant projector pointed at the Athena building.
As per usual, the event followed the switching on of Leicester's Xmas lights. Unlike the previous years, though, there wasn't a procession from the switch-on to the Cultural Quarter. However, this didn't seem to affect the attendance too much. Many hundreds, or even thousands, of people came to Orton Square and they seemed to have fun playing on the attractions and enjoy the food and drink available in local cafés and bars.
I thought the fair-like format of the event worked really well. I particularly liked Gavin's big LED wall in the funfair - and was very impressed with Tag Tool. The projection on the outside of the Athena building was huge!
As part of my preparation for workshops that will accompany the Computer Drawing: DP Henry and Beyond exhibition in December I've been building a number of drawing machines.
The latest to roll off of my 3D printer is a small Arduino powered "Tiny CNC" machine. This device, designed by MakerBlock, is effectively an XY plotter that you can construct yourself using an Arduino, two motors and six 3D printed parts. I built the 0.18 version, which you can find described in detail on the creator's website here. The 3D printed parts can be found on Thingiverse.
Once I'd printed the parts (they took my 3D printer about 3 hours) it was simply a case of attaching the motors, snapping the bits together and attaching a pen. To control the machine I used a pack of Dagu DC motors and a Dagu Arduino Mini Driver MkII that I purchased from Dawn Robotics in their closing down sale for around £12. Almost any type of Arduino and servo/motor combination can be used.
I then had to write a bit of software to drive the machine. As a test I programmed it to draw concentric squares. Despite the drawing area being small (about the size of a mobile phone screen), the machine is surprisingly good! It whirs away following your instructions just like a full-size plotter, albeit less accurately due to the slack in the gears and motors and generates quite pleasing results. I've put a short video of the machine in action here on YouTube.
My next job is to build the updated version of the project (version 0.29) that uses a third motor to allow you to move the pen up and down. Both machines (together with my computer controlled Etch-a-sketch and full-size MakeBlock XY Plotter) will be on show during the workshops on the 5th and 12th December at the LCB Depot. Feel free to come along and have a play.
This year I created a new - much enhanced - version of my Painting with Light software for show at Leicester's Diwali celebrations in Cossington Park. The installation was organised by Inspirate, who had arranged for a giant inflatable projection screen and high power video projector to be used with the software.
It looked great and many hundreds of members of the public got to play with and make giant drawings that appeared on the screen as they waved "digital sparkers" (LED torches with diffusers on them) in front of a video camera, which in turn allowed a computer to track their movements and generate the brush strokes.
You can see plenty of pictures from the event here on the Interact Digital Arts website. I hope to make a version of the software available for free download before to long.
This weekend I was helping to install Esther Rolinson's "Flown" artwork in York. The piece is part of the Illuminating York festival that is running in the city all this week. I've worked with Esther before on the Melt, Splinter and Thread installations at Phoenix last year. This new artwork builds on the technology developed for these pieces and takes the form of a cloud-like structure that is illuminated with with flowing light patterns.
My main contribution to the project has been in developing an Arduino-powered hardware module that takes light sequences (produced in Processing and saved as a data file) and plays them through a DMX lighting system from an SD card. This technology means that, unlike the previous artworks, the installation can run without the need for a dedicated desktop computer.
The systems works well. Under Esther's guidance, over 25 patterns were produced and saved to the SD card and the artwork runs through them autonomously. The artwork itself looks beautiful, with subtle light patterns that sometimes resemble lightening, then moonlight, or even a swarm of fireflies.
The artwork is on for a week. My pictures from the installation can be found here on Flickr.
I'm working with Leicester-based artist Ashok Mistry at the moment on a project called Methods for Misunderstanding the Nature of Things. This project involves a number of digital elements, including the need to track the movements of a dancer in real-time. These movements will then be sent to a drawing machine where they will be visualised as an ongoing record of the performance. Working out the best technology to use for this has involved considering a number of important requirements.
Firstly, whatever is used it has to be unobtrusive and wearable, so as not to affect the dancer's performance. Then, it probably needs to be wireless, for the same reason. The battery needs to last at least for 30 minutes. It needs to have a motion sensor (of course), and, finally, the data has to be sent to another device (probably a computer) so that it can be turned in to a drawing visualisation.
After experimenting with standard Arduinos and external components I realised that while I could make such a device, it was clearly going to be a bit bigger than I hoped.
Then I discovered the LightBlue Bean. This little Arduino compatible board runs off of a coin battery, communicates over Bluetooth and has an accelerometer built in. It could have been designed for the project!
I've developed a little bit of code that allows Processing to read the data wirelessly from the Bean and am now experimenting with it to make sure that it meets the other requiremes, to do with battery life and robustness. So far it certainly seems to be.
Keep an eye out for more about the project over the next couple of months.