Dig Deeper Into Digital Art

Dig Deeper Into Digital Art

Want to get deeper into digital? Here are some articles and artwork examples for you to explore further. These include some of our new commissions that we have produced, contributing to the expansion and experimentation of world-class digital art, as well as interviews and films about and by the artists. 

 Lucy Dusgate Digital Programmer, The Lowry

Article Q&A with Lucy Dusgate

Digital Programmer, The Lowry

Digital art is something very commonplace and day to day now. Artists have always used technology, whether it’s within painting, sculpture, photography, installation. Digital art is about embracing some of the things we have now in our everyday lives, in our pockets, on our devices; things we use at home and at work. Artists use some of those resources that are around us and embedded in society and sometimes diverted them to different uses, as they always do with materials in other art forms, creating ideas as imaginings and happenings. 

What challenges are there for audiences in accessing digital art? 

For me it’s considerably less than audiences might perceive, especially if people come to digital art and open their minds as they would do any other art form like dance, opera or drama. And this is what we have seen at The Lowry over the last two years of programming - we’ve had a really positive response from the public and we’ve enjoyed their delight at how easy it is to engage with some of that art. 

And our location here at The Lowry? We are sat in the heart of Media City – what opportunities does that bring? 

We have a square mile of the biggest concentration of media and creative industry outside of London - a doorstep of opportunities, with The Lowry sat bang in the centre. It has grown up around us as we’ve developed artistically and now we are surrounded by artists and professionals who bring their own ideas and imagination. Now we are inviting artists into our home so they can come to The Lowry, be stimulated by the creativity within our building and all around us, and explore new ideas and present their work.

As Digital Art programmer at The Lowry, what have been your highlights over the last couple of years and what are your ambitions for the next few years? 

Well I’m part of an artistic team, so there is a group of us that sit here: a shared brain, which is really helpful. A lot of people who work in some of the areas that I do can often be quite isolated and they’re not used to working collaboratively within a larger institution like this. Here I can connect artists to The Lowry’s resources and facilities and it has been exciting to bring some of those artists and their art work out of niche festivals and into a mainstream programme – taking their work to much larger, mainstream audiences who are embracing the work that they are seeing here. We can show digital art in the theatres, the galleries, in public spaces around the building, and outside. Over the last couple of years we’ve had some fantastic visual art exhibitions with a rich array of artists - Robert Henke and Thomson & Craighead were fantastic; we’ve had Branger Briz from America; Elly Clarke who is actually from the UK but now based in Berlin; R. Luke DuBois from the United States, but also Manchester-based artists such as Mishka Henner. Looking forwards to this autumn we have ‘humansbeingdigital’, an exhibition of digital artists from South Korea, Canada, Germany and elsewhere. In the theatres we’ve had digital performances from Herman Kolgan, Novi_sad and Dasha Rush. The satisfying thing is we’ve started from a high bar - we haven’t built up to it; we’ve actually said we are going to invest in bringing these artists to Salford from around the world. 

 Marshmallow Laser Feast’s IRIS is your next major commission? 

It’s really important that we also commission new work as well as present the best existing work. ‘IRIS’ by Marshmallow Laser Feast is part of our Week53 commissioning festival here at The Lowry. It runs biennially with the next one due in May 2018, but in alternate years we produce a major new commission to whet the audiences’ appetite. It began as an open invitation to the artists to create a work that responded to our largest theatre – the Lyric. It is a huge space and we have the chance now to connect theatre goers with digital artwork just before a stage performance starts. It is exciting difficult but demonstrates our ambition and positivity. There is so much to look forward to as we ‘boldly go where no one has gone before’ as they say in Star Trek – but then I am a bit of a geek so I would say that!

Meet the new pioneers of digital art

Written By Polly Checkland Harding

From collaborative studios to 'ultratechnologists', we look at some of Marshmallow Laser Feast's contemporaries – all leading the way in digital art.

It’s hard to imagine that the great Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí, who died in 1926, could have foreseen the mathematical techniques he used to design the Sagrada Família being drawn upon again in 2017, by a digital art collective called Marshmallow Laser Feast. Less still that the result – when combined with cutting-edge robotic technologies and perceptual research – would be an installation called ‘IRIS’, premiering at The Lowry, in which lasers are choreographed to create sculptural shapes out of the darkness. 

However, this approach is shared by other artists and collectives working at the forefront of digital art today. Although they use some of the most advanced technology in the world, they also continue to draw on enduring logic, and are inspired by ancient phenomena. 

Art Inspired By Trees And Water 

Where IRIS plays with how we gather visual cues to construct our sense of shape, Marshmallow Laser Feast (MLF)’s other work has recruited technology to unlock new perspectives on the natural world. ‘Treehugger: Wawona’ (2016) allows audiences to follow the journey of water droplets down the length of a 100m-tall giant Sequoia tree via a virtual reality headset, travelling a stunning scanned replica from the canopy to the buried roots. By contrast, MLF’s award-winning ‘In the Eyes of the Animal’ (2015) shifts viewpoint, facilitating a 360° experience of the sensory perspectives of an owl, dragonfly or frog moving through a forest. 

Interdisciplinary group of ‘ultratechnologists’ teamLab go one step further, creating nature-based artworks that directly respond to human interaction: enter one unlit installation and, if you stand very still, luminous flowers will bloom on your body through projection mapping (‘Flowers Bloom on People’, 2017). Situating the viewer directly within an artwork, as when an animated waterfall parts the moment you step into it (‘Universe of Water Particles’, 2013-17), teamLab redefine the usual boundaries between audience and exhibit. By prioritising individual interactions and allowing the viewer to instigate change, the group is exploring the concept of Ultra Subjective Space, a theory that suggests that encounters with art might come to influence the way people perceive space more generally. 

Human Perception And Digital Ventriloquism 

As well as creating something of a parallel to teamLab’s waterfall in their famous ‘Rain Room’ (2012), collaborative studio Random International have undertaken more localised inquiries into perception. Their international commissions include ‘Fifteen Points / I’ (2016), an experiment in the minimal amount of information required for a moving form to be recognised as human. Fifteen robotically steered points of light outline the shape of a walking person, with even the tiniest adjustment causing the form to revert back into an unidentifiable arrangement. An exercise in digital distillation, ‘Fifteen Points / I’ is the inverse of complex CGI.  

For artist Ed Atkins, however, the devil is in the details; his self-proclaimed “super-viciously artificial” artworks rely on hyper-realistic effects to create, for instance, an avatar inhabited by actors, musicians and artists at Manchester International Festival 2015. Titled ‘Performance Capture’, this piece digitally maps the facial movements of the performers onto a white, male head, created using special effects. In the process, they are pointedly defaced; the expressions and words of people from a range of genders and races are ventriloquised through a computer-generated model that Atkins describes as representing “the protagonist of empowered, homogenised cultural normalcy.” Pieces like ‘Performance Capture’ have led to curator Hans Ulrich Obrist calling Atkins “one of the great artists of our time.” 

Monuments In Light 

Alongside deeply personal VR experiences and gallery-based artworks, digital artists are making increasingly large interventions into the public realm. This is partly due to the efforts of organisations like Quays Culture, whose large-scale events on Salford Quays include a wind-responsive installation by Squidsoup of over 12,000 individual LEDs, and Lumiere in Durham, the UK’s largest annual light festival. Monumental artworks are also being backed by both funders and the public; American artist Leo Villareal saw his 1.8 mile-long installation of 25,000 white LED lights on San Francisco’s Bay Bridge become a permanent feature by popular demand in January 2016. 

In December of the same year, the Mayor of London announced that Villareal was also the winner of a competition to create a free permanent light installation along London’s bridges. ‘Current’, created with architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands and curators Future\Pace, will see environmentally friendly LEDs attached to the cables and outer faces of select bridges, with washes of paint in colours inspired by the palettes of Impressionist masters on the sides and undersides. Site-specific programming will adjust to echo the river’s reflection of sunsets, moonshine and sunrise. Inspired by classical artists and digitally organic, ‘Current’ is the next landmark artwork to marry the most advanced human technology with natural forces still far beyond our control.

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