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Light Up Leicester 2020

Light Up Leicester was Leicester's first city-wide light festival. Organised by ArtReach, it saw the city centre filled with light artworks from Thursday 5th until Sunday 8th March. The works on show included illuminated see-saws, Shadow Dance by Impossible Arts (picture above), a giant robot and a piece from renowned digital arts group SquidSoup.

interact Digital Arts was involved in the festival in two ways. First, we ran a programme of engagement activities with local schools and artists under the name "Connectedness Clinic". The idea here was to introduce people to the sorts of technologies that are typically used in the construction of digital artworks and to talk about how digital connectivity can be used creatively. Second, we created some experimental work that connected some of the digital artworks in the event as part of the general "connectedness" theme of the festival.

Connectedness Clinics

The Connectedness Clinic was a unique part of the Light Up Leicester event. In the run-up to the main event Interact worked with two local schools - St John the Baptist Primary and Martin High - an invited group of local artists and a home educator's group to learn about lighting control and create simple light works.

Across all of the groups, we made use of BBC Micro:bit microcontrollers and assorted LEDs to teach the basics of programming and electronics. The school and home-ed groups then produced their own light works by combining this with recycled materials to produce mini-light sculptures. The artist group produced a range of experimental pieces. For most of them, it was the first time they had used this technology.

Connected Artworks

The idea of the "Connected digital Artwork" is something that emerged out of Sean Clark's PhD research. It aims to creatively explore the property of "connectedness" - the feeling and experience of things being connected - through the creation of digital artworks that are able to exchange information with their viewers and each other.

For Light up Leicester, we created a system consisting of three core elements, a lightwork, an animated image and a mobile app. People could scan a QR code and use it to trigger changes in the lightwork, and these changes were visualised in the animated images. All elements were connected via the internet, and multiple users could interact at the same time.

This piece was experimental, and a little different to how it was originally envisaged, but seemed to get the message across as to what a "connected light festival" could be. Certainly when Sean Clark presented the work at the festival opening the audience were quite receptive to the ideas.

The Future

Interact Digital Arts is very grateful to ArtReach for enabling us to be involved Light up Leicester 2020. Both the engagement activities and the opportunity to experiment with connectedness on this scale were enjoyable and, we think, successful. We plan to keep both streams of activity going, with the hope that they can become an even bigger part of next year's event.

The Connectedness Clinic for artists will continue as an informal group for artists want to make use of digital technology in their work and we will use it as a forum for helping us with our goal of making Leicester a city of connected artworks. See our Connectedness Clinic Facebook Group for details.

The school work will continue through something we plan to offer through Leicester's City Classroom project. We are currently turning our Light up Leicester teaching resources into the basis of sessions we can run in schools in an ad hoc way.

Finally, we are starting to think about how the work being done in the Connectedness Clinics might form part of a future, much larger, connected artwork. Imagine if we were able to create hundreds of artworks - of all sizes - that would be located around Leicester and could exchange data as part of an interactive visualisation of the exchange of data around the city!