Introducing Digital Arts in Leicester

Sean Clark
September 2012
Published in the Leicester Mercury Culture Guide 9th October 2012

LEICESTER has a long tradition of championing digital artists and their artwork. Even as far back as the 1970s Leicester Polytechnic was at the forefront of the field, with its staff and students creating some of the earliest digital artworks in the UK.

This record of innovation continues to the present day with the work of the Institute of Creative Technologies at De Montfort University (DMU IOCT) being recognised world-wide and a number of leading digital artists and electronic musicians being based in the city.

Much of the current digital arts activity in Leicester is centred around Phoenix, which has been showing digital artwork since well before its move to the Cultural Quarter and now boasts state-of-the-art facilities for the creation and presentation of computer-based art.

However, there is also a diverse grass roots digital arts scene in Leicester. This is driven by a mixture of home grown talent and people who have come to the city to study or teach and have started to perform and exhibit locally.

Examples of the latter can be seen in the DMU IOCT student showcase that takes place every year. The 2012 showcase lead to a residency by IOCT Masters graduates Tove Dalenius and Melanie Moeller who took over the Phoenix Cube gallery in August to exhibit artwork produced during their course.

Leicester also recently hosted it's first "Bring Your Own Beamer" (BYOB) event at Fabrika on Humberstone Gate. BYOB is an international movement of digital arts events where people bring their own projectors (or "beamers") and show the work they do by simply projecting on the wall of the venue.

The local BYOB event was organised by Leicester-based VJ Tony Coleman and attracted work by a number of local VJs and artists, as well as contributions from elsewhere in the UK and even overseas.

There is often an overlap between electronic music and digital art in Leicester. This is well demonstrated by John Richards' world-renowned Dirty Electronic Ensemble who performs using self-constructed electronic instruments that often generate light and images as well as weird and wonderful sounds.

John is based in the Music, Technology and Innovation (MTI) Research Centre at De Montfort University. If you're interested in hearing what he and the his colleagues get up to, MTI staff and students regularly perform at the PACE Studio at DMU, with most events being free and open to all.

Stu Smith aka ASMO, Leicester's locally-grown "mad professor" of circuit bending (modifying electronic toys to make music), also plays regularly in the city, both individually and as a member of the Dirty Electronics Ensemble. Stu is regularly asked to perform live and runs workshops around the UK and beyond.

You will often find digital artworks on display at Leicester's various art galleries, including Great Central, Two Queens in the Cultural Quarter and The Pedestrian Gallery in the LCB Depot. Increasingly you can also find digital artwork available to download to your mobile phone. An example of this is Martin Rieser's Exodus trail that makes use of the Empedia platform to deliver sound and pictures to your iPhone as you walk through Leicester.

The BBC Big Screen in the city centre sometimes shows interactive artwork as well as TV and video programmes - some readers may remember Chris O'Shea's giant hand that followed you around as you walked up Humberstone Gate!

For the past year Leicester has had a dedicated interactive and digital art gallery in the form of The Interact Gallery at Fabrika. Between September 2011 and September 2012 Interact ran a busy programme of exhibitions and events which is well documented on their website.

Although no longer running its own gallery space, Interact continues to curate and promote digital art at other local venues as part of its support for the Leicester digital arts scene. You can follow them on Facebook by searching for "Interact Leicester".

Heading back to the Phoenix digital media centre, earlier in the year the venue played host to the international M4_u Convention of users of the Max software for creating digital artworks and electronic music.

This prestigious event brought artists, musicians and programmers from all over the world to Leicester. It is being followed by a similar event for users of the Live music software in November 2012 and possibly another Max event in 2013.

All of this activity makes Leicester a really active place for people interested in digital arts. If you have yet to experience computer-based art, then a good starting point would be the Intuition and Ingenuity exhibition that will be at Phoenix in October which promises to be a great show. Alternatively, you could try the Full Dome 360 degree film festival at the national Space Centre in November. Even if you're not yet convinced digital arts are your cup of tea you may find that you're pleasantly surprised.


BYOB at Fabrika attracted international contributors.

Leicester-based Dirty Electronic Ensemble create their own electronic instruments.

Genetic Moo exhibited an interactive artwork at this year's Summer Sundae festival in Leicester.

Sean Clark will be exhibiting a new version of his "Memory Mirror" artwork at Phoenix in November in a joint show with Genetic Moo.

International artist Simon Faithfull exhibited work at Phoenix earlier in the year.

The annual IOCT Masters Showcase presents work by students at the Institute of Creative Technologies at DMU.

Forthcoming Events

8th October - 9th November 2012
Intuition and Ingenuity Exhibition @ Phoenix
Opening event at Phoenix on 8th October from 6:30
Behind Intuition and Ingenuity talks on 1st November from 7pm to 10pm

16th/17th November 2012
Full Dome 2012 @ The National Space Centre
360 degree film festival.

19th November - 4th December 2012
Symbiotic Exhibition by Sean Clark and Genetic Moo @ Phoenix
Opening event at Phoenix on 19th October from 6:30

24th November 2012
Ableton Live Conference @ Phoenix
Including workshops and evening event at The Music Cafe.