History of innovation leads to flourishing scene in Leicester
Digital arts are thriving in Leicester with a series of inventive projects and exhibitions taking place in the city. Sean Clark looks at the growing scene.
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. 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.
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Much of the current digital arts activity in Leicester is centred around Phoenix. However, there is also a diverse grass roots digital arts scene in the city. This is driven by a mixture of home grown talent and people who have come 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 led to a residency by IOCT Masters graduates Tove Dalenius and Melanie Moeller who took over the Phoenix Cube gallery in August.
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.
There is often an overlap between electronic music and digital art in Leicester. This is well demonstrated by John Richard’s world-renowned Dirty Electronic Ensemble who perform 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.
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.
The BBC Big Screen in the city centre sometimes shows interactive artwork as well as TV and video programmes.
Heading back to Phoenix, 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 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. Alternatively, you could try the Full Dome 360 degree film festival at the national Space Centre in November.
Sean Clark is a digital artist, researcher at De Montfort University and director of Cuttlefish Multimedia Ltd. He is treasurer of the Computer Arts Society and regularly promotes digital arts exhibitions and events in Leicester. Go to www.seanclark.me.uk
• This article appeared in Culture magazine, which is free with the Leicester Mercury and appears bimonthly. To find out more about being featured in the magazine, email editor Nigel Powlson. Follow Culture mag on Twitter @LeicsCulture