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Lumen Prize 2016

Mon, 03 Oct 2016

Lumen Prize 2016

The Lumen Prize is an annual digital arts award and touring exhibition. It started in 2012 and has gone one to establish itself as one of the world's pre-eminent digital arts prizes. This year there were over 500 entries and ten prizes were awarded across a variety of categories. It was with great excitement, then, that Esther Rolinson and myself were not only shortlisted, but actually won the 3D/Sculpture at a ceremony in London on Thursday.

The award was for the artwork "Flown", a multi-scale light sculpture that is able to respond to its environment and communicate with other versions of itself via the Internet. It represents the current high point in a collaboration between Esther and myself that began a couple of years ago when I was brought in to help Esther with the lighting system for her 2014 Phoenix exhibition "Melt, Splinter and Thread".

I worked with Esther again in 2015 to help with the creation of her new artwork "Flown" at the Illuminating York Festival in 2015. Then when there was an opportunity to re-work the piece for the Art.CHI 2016 exhibition in San Jose in May 2016 we decided to work together again.

The new version of Flown is smaller than the original (although there's nothing to stop it being bigger in the future), but now has the ability to sense its environment and connect to the internet. It worked really well in the San Jose gallery space to the extent that it actually won the inaugural Art.CHI prize and received many positive comments from both the judges and the audience in general. Now with the Lumen Prize it has become a multi-award winning artwork!

So why is Flown proving so popular? Well, I think it is down to a number of things. Firstly, Esther has skillfully crafted a structure that immediately engages the viewer. Interactive or not, he artwork has a physical presence that is beautiful, complex and intriguing. It looks great.

Secondly, I think the subtlety of the interaction that has been added to Flown appeals to people as well. In a world where "interactive" often means "in your face", Flown takes a more peaceful approach. Changes in temperature, humidity and light levels near the artwork trigger gentle flows of colour within the piece. The viewer influences those values by simply being present and no amount of arm waving (a common gesture in front of interactive artworks) can force the artwork to respond faster.

Clearly, these two things combine well.

But there is a third property in Flown that we need to explore more - connectedness. Flown is inherently a connected artwork. In order to function it requires a WiFi connection which it uses that to share it's current state with the internet. I can use this data to remotely monitor the "health" of the artwork, but it is primarily intended to trigger changes in other artworks.

As the Lumen Prize goes on tour I'm hoping that we can explore this aspect of Flown further. I'm looking forward to connecting it to other artworks in different places and seeing how the viewers respond to the idea that the changes they are seeing are not only a result of what is being sensed near them, but from locations around the world.

Thanks to Sue Gollifer for the photograph.

Author: Sean Clark