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Mon, 14 Nov 2016
Responsive Lighting at Guangdong University of Technology

I've started doing some work with the School of Art and Design at Guangdong University of Technology in China (just above Hong Kong). It's proving to be a very interesting experience and one that I hope will lead to a longer term working relationship with them. One of our first projects together involves working on some interactive/responsive street lights for the campus.

The main body of the lights has been designed by renowned architect Vesa Honkonen (who is an International Professor in the School) and I have been asked to design a responsive coloured lighting system to accompany the main white lights of the fixture.

Vesa's design is quite unusual, featuring an oval body with up and down "trunks" that will contain white lights to illuminate the footways and trees around the campus. There is a special trunk reserved for sensors and Vesa's suggestion was that RGB lights are placed over the body of the oval.

At first I was a bit worried about the idea of drilling holes in the body to hold the lights, but after spending some time working on the layouts in a CAD package (with some helpful students) we came up with an arrangement of the holes that I think suits the overall structure well (see the picture above).

The next step is install the RGB lights in the fixture and add a control system. Phase 1 (December) will run slow colour fades on the system, Phase 2 (April) will add a custom controller to the fixture that will use sensors located in the body to trigger colour-change sequences in the RGB lights. Additionally, multiple fixtures will be able to communicate with each other in order to synchronise their colour changes.

As well as being an interesting project to get involved in creatively, this project is also getting me used to the Chinese way of working, which seems to oscillate between, "we need it now!" and occasional bureaucratic delays. The results of how they work can impressive though. For example, the initial five lighting fixtures were handmade by a local company out of stainless steel in about a month!

I hope to see the first light installed at GDUT in December. I'll post some pictures when they're up. More pictures showing the work-in-progress can be found on Flickr.

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.

Tue, 13 Sep 2016
Microworld Leicester 2016

Between the 20th and 29th August at WotSpace, in Highcross in Leicester, Interact Digital Arts hosted 'Microworld Leicester' - a digital arts and digital making event delivered in collaboration with Margate arts group Genetic Moo. The event featured an exhibition of digital artworks, plus two workshops per day for five days and a live evening event. The workshops covered a wide range of digital making topics, including Processing programming sessions and introductions to Arduino, BBC Micro:bit and the Raspberry Pi.

The week went really well. Many of the workshops were fully booked and some people came back for multiple sessions. Lots of children and adults popped in during the week to see what was going on and the evening event on the Friday packed the place (the free wine may have helped!). In total I counted 341 people in the space over the week, and there were probably more.

It was great to see that the interest in coding/programming and DIY electronics is still growing. Many of the parents who came to workshops were looking for ways to support their children in being creative with technology. I think they left inspired - certainly some said that they were now looking to sign up for Code Clubs or similar.

You can see lots of pictures from the event on my Flickr page. There is also more information on the Interact website. I would like to run more events like this in the future - perhaps making it an annual event? Let me know what you think.

The event was generously supported by Leicester City Council and Arts Council England and was part of both the City Festival and the Summer Art Trail. Many thanks to Tina at Wot Space for hosting us and to all those who gave their time helping at the event.

Sun, 11 Sep 2016
Methods for Misunderstanding the Nature of Things

On Sunday 4th of September 2016 we saw the final performance in the current phase of Ashok Mistry's project 'Methods for Misunderstanding the Nature of Things'. The performance took place at Attenborough Arts in Leicester where the audience was treated to a unique show that involved tabla, dance, light and digital arts.

The event went really well, with positive feedback from the audience and a lively Q&A session. It was definitely a fitting culmination of almost a year's work with Ashok on the project. When I got involved it was hard to imagine exactly what would the eventual result would look like, but this was definitely in keeping with the original concept.

For detailed information about the project visit the Ashok's project blog. There are also pictures from various stages in the project's development are on my Flickr page.

I'm looking forward to see where the project goes next!

Fri, 19 Aug 2016
Connected Art at EVA16 and HCI16

In mid-July at the Electronic Visualisation and the Arts (EVA) conference in London and the Human Computer Interaction (HCI) conference in Bournemouth I exhibited a collection of my new Arts Council England supported "connected" interactive artworks. This was the first time that I have exhibited this particular set of pieces and it was a great opportunity to try out some of the ideas that will be behind my Arts Council supported exhibition in December.

The collection consisted of nine separate pieces. Three screen-based, three LED-based and three high quality prints. They were all framed in the same style frame. The screen-based pieces were powered by PC sticks and connect to the internet in order to exchange information and the LED pieces used internet-connectable Photon microcontrollers.

For the exhibition I placed a screen-based piece, two LED-based pieces and a print in London and a screen-based piece, an LED-based pieced and two prints in Bournemouth. The remaining screen-based piece remained at my studio in Leicester. The internet was used to exchange colours and movement triggers between the artworks. This meant that, despite their geographic distance, all three locations were connected via the artworks.

All nine pieces used common organisational rules, be they dynamic patterns for the digital pieces or static ones for the the prints. Within each piece there were also multiple layers of organisation. For example, the prints were composed of three or four patterns each. The result was a complex, but understandable, multi-system artwork.

My aim in exhibiting these works was to explore both the practicalities and conceptual issues involved in showing work of this kind. It worked well. Firstly, I was happy that the artworks functioned as intended - although I did encounter some connectivity problems that I will now be aware of in the future. Next, I was very pleased that people seemed to get the "connectedness" idea and were fascinated when they saw interactions in the artworks triggered by people in remote locations. Finally, people's aesthetic response to the work was very positive - in other works they thought they looked good!

This bodes well for my "A Cybernetic Ecology" exhibition in Leicester in December where I will be showing an expanded collection of twenty or more such artworks, including sound and large-scale light pieces. Pictures from both locations in the EVA/HCI exhibition can be seen here on Flickr.

Sun, 31 Jul 2016
BBC Micro:bit at Creat-A-Con 2016

Yesterday was the latest Creat-A-Con, organised by SideFest and held in the Queens Building at De Montfort University. As with the previous events, this year's Creat-A-Con showcased "maker" organisations in Leicester and was aimed at young people and their parents.

I attended with an Interact Labs stand that included some of the projects we have been working on of the past year. We had the Pollock drawing robot, Minecraft on the Raspberry Pi, The Painting With Light system, some wireless micro-controllers and - for the first time - the BBC Micro:bit.

These new little micro-controllers are being given to all year 7 school pupils with the aim of helping to improve their programming skills. I have just managed to get my hands on some (thanks to STEMNET and LEBC) and Creat-A-Con was an opportunity for me to start exploring what they can do.

I was pretty impressed with them. They are physically robust and are easy to program using the web-based development environment (with a choice of programming languages). The built-in LED matrix gives them a simple display, and an accelerometer and magnetometer gives them some input sensors. There are also some input/output pins that can be used to connect other sensors and actuators.

There was also lots of interest in them from the attendees. Many people had heard about the Micro:bit (and a few pupils already had one) and I think there is some excitement about what they could be used for. Of course, the key thing is that the teaching staff get up to speed with them at schools. We'll certainly be doing out bit at Interact Labs by making good use of them in the Code Club.

There are a few pictures from our stand at the Creat-A-Con event here.

Thu, 28 Jul 2016
Leicester Hackspace Moves Home

Leicester Hackspace has found a new home. Having started life meeting at Interact Labs, before moving to it's own room at The Makers Yard, it now has three rooms at The Innovation Centre at De Montfort University.

While its sad to see Leicester Hackspace leave the Cultural Quarter, the new space is a definite move up and I'm sure it will help the Hackspace get even more members and expand even further.

Wed, 13 Jul 2016
'Flown' on the Lumen Prize Longlist

The gallery version of 'Flown', a digital light sculpture by Esther Rolinson and myself, has been put on the long list for the Lumen Prize. It's been included in the "3D/Sculpture Award" category, the results of which will be announced on the 29th September 2016 at Hackney House in London. The piece has clearly gone down well, having one the Art.CHI'16 award earlier in the year. There will also be an opportunity to vote for it in the "Peoples' Choice" award category from the 10th August via the Lumen Prize website.

Fri, 10 Jun 2016
Illuminated Crass Symbol

Going to San Jose for the the Art.CHI exhibition was something of a treat. However, attending CHI was not the only thing I did while I was over there. Earlier in the year, whilst planning for The Art of Crass exhibition, I'd discovered that Dave King - the designer of the Crass symbol - lived just up the road in San Francisco and I had arranged a meeting.

The Crass symbol is an amazing piece of design. Dave produced it almost 40 years ago for Penny Rimbaud's Reality Asylum book and it was then used by the band Crass as their "logo" throughout their career. Effectively it is a stylised snake wrapped around a cross, but the symbol has many interpretations. Some people see a double ouroboros (snake eating its tail), maybe a sign of the "system" destroying itself, or even a swastika (or perhaps anti-swastika). It has graced leather jackets, t-shirts, been used as tattoos, appeared as graffiti and so on, to such an extent that some people no longer even associated it just with Crass - it is simply a timeless anti-authoritarian symbol.

Meeting up with Dave was a pleasure. We got to talk about the symbol and its use, as well as his other work as a musician, designer and artist and how he might contribute to The Art of Crass exhibition. He said was happy to contribute some of the images from his book/exhibition The Secret Origins of the Crass Symbol and, true to his word, sent over some prints soon after we met.

We also had an other idea - to produce an illuminated crass symbol that would use the LED and micro-controller technology that I use in my own artworks.

Together with the prints, Dave also included a stencil to use in an illuminated work. I took this, framed it and backed it with a LED matrix and programmed it to cycle through a colour sequence. The result was very effective. It was particularly good in the context of the print variations of the symbol and the greater exhibition.

You can see a picture of the work here.

Wed, 01 Jun 2016
Art.CHI 2016 Exhibition in San Jose

I was lucky enough to have two artworks accepted for the Art.CHI 2016 Exhibition in San Jose in May this year. Both pieces were collaborations. The first, "Tango Apart" with Ernest Edmonds and the second, "Flown" with Esther Rolinson. Esther's piece was a fairly complex install so, of course, I had to attend in person!

The exhibition took place at the Works Gallery, just around the corner from the main ACM CHI'16 conference in the San Jose Convention Centre. It was a great space - easy to get to and just the right amount of light for a digital art exhibition.

I was familiar with some of the work that was going to be on display, but it wasn't until I got the see the work installed that I realised how diverse the exhibition was. The curators had selected works that explored many different forms of interactivity. Some fast and immediate, others slower and more thoughtful. For example, one artwork responded to being hit with an inflatable hammer, one responded to the viewers heart rate and Flown responded to subtle changes to light and temperature in gallery environment.

Against this backdrop it was particularly rewarding that Flown was awarded the "best in show" for the exhibition. This was a nice surprise, especially since we didn't know that there was going to be such an award when we installed the artwork.

I documented the exhibition quite well. My gallery of over one hundred pictures can be found here on Flickr. I have also put an exhibition walkthrough up on YouTube. See the Art.CHI website for information about all of the artworks in the exhibition.

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