Sean Clark's Blog

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Sun, 14 Apr 2019
Reflections on Teaching Art and Technology in China

I'm back from my latest month (my fifth in total) of teaching at Guangdong University of Technology School of Art and Design in China. Since it was the last session in this contract (I'll probably sign up to do more). I thought it was time for some reflection.

When I did the first session in April 2017, I didn't know what to expect. I was asked to teach "creative programming" to people who had not programmed before. My initial concerns were not just with programming languages to use but also with the human ones. How would the workshop work with people who I didn't share a first language? I also had a practical concern that I would have problems being behind the "Great Firewall of China" since I use a lot of internet resources. Finally, I wondered about my approach to teaching technical subjects through artistic projects. Would this work in China?

In terms of human language, yes, the language difference has at times be problematic. However, English is widely taught in China, and the University provided student translators. Plus, translator apps are getting better and can help in some situations. Ultimately, while language differences can slow things down, it has not proven to be a problem. Eventually, the message gets through.

However, in terms of computer language, it is definitely harder for people to learn to program using English command-based language when their first language is Chinese! When teaching Arduino coding, I have struggled to get more than a few students beyond the copy-and-paste stage. Most of the problems are to do with typing and syntax, not the concepts. Luckily, visual programming environments such as Scratch and BBC Micro:bit Blocks can be easily toggled between English and Chinese and I have found that Chinese students can make good progress with both of these. I always remind the students that, despite appearances, both of these are real programming environments that are not just for children.

The Great Firewall of China is an interesting one. The fact is that some valuable teaching resources are on sites that you can't get to in China. The inability to directly access YouTube and other Google sites are particularly problematic at times. However, it is also the case that everyone knows how to use a VPN to overcome these restrictions! I thought this would be something of a hush-hush topic, but if something is not available, then the VPN goes on, and people access it through one of those.

I'm happy to say that the arts-led teaching approach seems to go down well. I have progressively brought in more and more creative topics over the five one-month workshops. This includes using examples of early computer art as inspiration for programming tasks, getting students to recreate my hardware-based digital artworks in Arduino, and basing all the tasks during one of the months around Guangcai porcelain.

The overall experience has been a positive one, with some excellent work being produced by Chinese students. As is the case anywhere, some students are more motivated than others, but when they are keen on the workshops, Chinese students work particularly hard and can be very productive.

Details of the workshops and exhibitions - with pictures and supporting documents - can be found at Contact me if you have any questions about the workshop programme so far.

Mon, 11 Mar 2019
artThings @ Create-a-con 2019

Saturday 9th March saw Leicester's regular Create-a-con event at the LCB Depot. Among the exhibitors were Leicester Hackspace, R10 Music Collective and Interact Digital Arts. I was showing off some work in progress made using artThings technology. There was the large "LOL" light piece in the LCD Depot window; the connected "Colloquy" 3D printed works I last showed at In The Dark; and some new work that uses artThings to allow you to use your mobile phone as a controller for a big-screen video game.

This last piece is based around technology I have developed to allow people to interact with digital artworks via a mobile device. For a project to help celebrate 50 years since the first moon landing, it's being adapted to allow you to control video games on large public screens. The idea is that you scan a QR code, or enter a short web address, and then get to control old-school video games from your mobile.

It's still work-in-progress, but it was very useful to be able to test the technology out with live users. In general, it performed well. Even my simple game drew a crowd! I look forward to seeing what happens when we give the technology to *real* games developers!

See pictures from the event at

Sun, 20 Jan 2019
In The Dark @ The Cello Factory

Over the last week, I've spent quite a bit of time in London at the In the Dark exhibition at the Cello Factory in London. The exhibition was curated by the arts group Genetic Moo and supported by The London Group and the Computer Arts Society. Genetic Moo's aim for the exhibition was to literally hold the exhibition 'in the dark', with the only light in the gallery coming from the artworks themselves.

My contribution to the show was a network of connected artworks in the form of screen-based and light works. The five individual pieces connected to each other via WiFi and exchanged colours as they ran. I gave a short talk about the work and found that there was quite a bit of interest.

A set of pictures from the exhibition can be found on Flickr:

With a video walkthrough on YouTube:

Sat, 12 Jan 2019
Lots of Lights - "LOL"

Last year I was asked to produce a lighting display for the main cafe window at the LCB Depot in Leicester to be installed throughout December. After working through a number of ideas, I settled on something that I call Lots of Lights, or "LOL". LOL consists of 20 internet-connected micro-controllers, each connected to a string of 50 bright LED lights. The resulting 1,000 LEDs can be made to play patterns, such as fades and chases, via an associated web application.

The lights were installed in the LCB cafe window to coincide with the Interact'18 exhibition and remained live for around six weeks.

As well as being an interesting work in its own right, the installation allowed me to test my latest artThings lighting technology. The controller I used for each light string contained a small device called a Wemos D1 - something I use quite a bit in my "connected" artworks. The D1 is small and cheap (as low as £1.50 each if you buy from China) and can be combined with a voltage regulator to create a small unit that can power and control the 50 LED "Neopixels" I often use.

While I knew this technology worked in the studio, what I didn't know for sure was how it would perform when used in large numbers and for an extended period. A previous experiment had shown me that not all WiFi routers let 20 devices connect to their WiFi network at the same time. I now use a TP-Link AC750 that can support up to 64 simultaneous devices (32 on each band). But would there be any additional problems?

The initial installation went well. The lights were bright, and the web app controller worked perfectly - scan a QR code, and the controller would pop up on the user's mobile phone and they could trigger patterns. However, after a couple of days, some of the LED strings would reset. Problems like this can be hard to diagnose, and it took many days to get to the root of the problem. It turned out that the Adafruit Neopixel and Adafruit MQTT software libraries I was using did not like working together. After a couple of days, they would cause the microcontroller to run out of memory and crash, leading to a device reset.

I found that by using a different lighting software library - in this case, FastLED rather than Neopixel - this problem went away and the micro-controllers would run for weeks without any issues. Luckily I only had to update the software on the D1s (albeit 20 of them) and not change the hardware. However, it did remind me of the importance of testing your code when installing a project like this. What works in the studio may not work the same way in a live environment.

Pictures of LOL, plus the workshop held on Saturday 12th January can be found at Please contact me if you want to know more about the project.

Thu, 20 Dec 2018
Interact'18 Exhibition

The Interact'18 exhibition took place between 7th and 21st December 2018 at the LCB Depot Lightbox gallery. The show featured work by digital artists associated with Leicester - James Chantry, Andrew Johnston, Thierry Miquel, Joe Moran, Ernest Edmonds, Fabrizio Poltonieri, Anoushka Goodwin, Leila Houston, Michele Witthaus & Paul Rudman, Yi Ji, Alice Tuppen-Corps, Dave Everitt & Fania Raczinski, Peter Flint, Askokkumar Mistry and myself.

The aims of the exhibition were, first, show the full range of digital artwork produced in the city and, second, to introduce artists who may not have met before to each other. Leicester is a relatively small city, but it surprising how often I find people working in similar ways which have not met before. I think it achieved both of these goals.

The online catalogue for the exhibition can be found at

Pictures from the event can be found at

An output from the exhibition is the Leicester Digital Artists Facebook group that will be promoting further opportunities for Leicester digital artists to show their work.

Sat, 01 Dec 2018
East Meets West: Innovation Connections

I've finally completed the documentation for the East Meets West: Innovation connections exhibition that I co-curated in Guangzhou, China, in November 2018. The updated web page contains information about the artworks shown together with a PDF of the exhibition catalogue and pictures of the workshops and the exhibition itself.

Mon, 22 Oct 2018
CAS50 Exhibition Catalogue

The catalogue for the Computer Arts Society 50th anniversary exhibition is now available for order from the Interact Digital Arts shop. The catalogue includes information about the artworks in the show, together with pictures of the Leicester and Brighton showings.

This is Interact's first "official" publication with an ISBN code. We think it looks great and we will be producing more catalogues and similar publications over the coming year if the self-publishing model works.

If you can, please support us by purchasing one of the limited edition print copies. The PDF will be made available for free download at some point in the future.

Purchase from here:

Sun, 23 Sep 2018
CAS50 Exhibition in Brighton

Between the 13th and 23rd September 2018, the Computer Arts Society's CAS50 Exhibition was on display at Phoenix in Brighton. The opening of the exhibition took place on Thursday night at the same time as the Lumen Prize exhibition in the same venue, and both were part of the launch of the annual Brighton Digital Festival. It was a very well-attended launch, with lots of people expressing interest in the combination of historical work on show as part of CAS50 and the contemporary work in the Lumen show.

Amongst the earliest work on display in the CAS50 show was a collection of computer printouts from Roger Saunders, who began studying in Brighton almost exactly 50 years ago this month. His work, plus all the others in the show, can be seen on the CAS50 website at

The CAS50 collection is still growing, and we have several possible exhibitions lined-up for 2019. Keep an eye on the Computer Arts Society Facebook Group for the latest news. Pictures from the previous shows can also be seen on the CAS50 website.

Mon, 02 Jul 2018
27 Exhibition @ Gallery Without Walls

My latest collection of computer-generated artworks, called "27", was premiered at the LCB Depot as part of the Gallery Without Walls project on Saturday. This represents the coming together of two projects.

Firstly, the exhibition itself is the completion of a work cycle that started with two works that were part of the Resonance exhibition with Esther Rolinson in Leicester last December, then became part of the East Meets West exhibition in Guangzhou, China in April and is now a stand-alone exhibition in its own right.

27 is based around my self-organising visual systems. The main building blocks of the piece are groups of three connected grids that grow together by exchanging colours and sorting them according to pre-defined rules. After the grids have been running for a while, I capture an image and then combine the images to form larger images. These larger images are then arranged according to additional rules.

The result is a system of patterns-within-patterns where the "parts" make "wholes" that then become parts in larger wholes and so on. In the case of this exhibition, nine locations around Leicester each have three images, which are each composed of three connected grids, which are each composed of 25 colours.

The locations selected to show the work are part of Gallery Without Walls. This is a project I've been working on with Arts for over a year now. We have been building a network of venues around Leicester where we can show artists' work as part of "distributed exhibitions". 27 is the third show we've put together, hence my exhibition is also known as GWW03.

It's great when two projects meet like this. It's also very satisfying for me to complete this creative project in this way. Arts are expert printers, and the work looks excellent. It will be popping up at the various venues around Leicester shortly.

For more information, visit

The work will be on display until the end of August when GWW04 will take over. More details on this to follow.

Sun, 27 May 2018
Pixel Art Workshop

Today I ran a PixelArt workshop as part of the Spark Festival at Phoenix in Leicester. The primary purpose of the workshop was to have some fun, but it is also part of a project I have been working on. The idea is to create a system for creating and exchanging 16 x 16-pixel images via an app and have them displayed on LED panels. You can see the results of today's workshop here, but also keep an eye out for future developments.

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