Throughout March 2018 we held Plug In: Digital Arts Festival, a series of events celebrating digital creativity from across the East Anglian region. Showcasing ways in which we can collaborate with digital art for social, learning and cultural outcomes.

The three main events of the festival were; a symposium for digital creative educators, an artist development programme and a free all day festival of games, music and workshops.

Symposium

We kicked off the festival with our one day conference exploring creative digital learning, inviting local educators to share best practice and considering how we collaborate with digital creativity.

Alongside the inspiring talks, we also had hands on demonstrations helping to demystifying some of the software and hardware technology (such as Scratch and Microbit Robotics programming) to those who may have previously felt that technology was “other” or our of their reach.

The symposium bought together educators and artists from across East Anglia, creating networking opportunities for various organisations. The feedback was brilliant, with guests commenting on the “wealth of creative talent and ambition in Colchester and East Anglia more broadly” and how the event inspired “play as a creative process”.

"Code is poetry that a machine will live by"

- Laura Trevail, Artist

Artist Development

With the rise of artists using digital technology within their practice, Signals identified a clear opportunity for these same artists to work with cultural and education organisations to use their skills with the organisations programme and/or curriculum. Creating fun, engaging and innovative ways of raising awareness and attainment in a variety of topics through digital creativity,

Over four days our selected artists; Henry Driver, Emily Godden, Sophie Gresswell and Dave Norton, worked with Signals and local cultural partners (Mercury Theatre, Firstsite and Colchester Arts Centre) to develop and then display  ‘collaborative digital creative’ workshop ideas. And in the process, developing the artists to be able to deliver educational experiences as a part of their own practice going forwards. Continuing our festival theme of digital collaboration, we tasked the artists with creating collaborative experiences which we were then to be tested at the festival showcase event.

Henry Driver used his penchant for all things analog and glitchy to create a collaborative video mixing installation, inviting participants to remix shapes and colours with software and hardware. By collaborating with the person next to you your video signals reacts to one another creating unique and vibrant patterns, which were then projected around the room.

Emily Godden and Sophie Gresswell used the MakeyMakey circuitt board to create an interactive poetry wall, with each participant invited to add (and record) word to a growing sentence, which ended up reading:

“Hello Bogies! I’m at Plug In and I’m happy because today is so cool bbecause it rocks playing games and I love it at Firstsite and Signals. Get dunked on and plug into a bug or fly a cat!”

And lastly, Dave Norton created a remote controlled painting mural. Participants plotted the pattern they wanted to paint by coding a microbit powered RC Car (with DIY paint bottle add-on) then placed this on the canvas before hitting go and watching the shapes and patterns it left in its trail.

It was interesting that the artists all chose fairly low-tech solutions for their workshops. Although this was almost certainly because of the short length of the development opportunity, one benefit of this approach is thats its easier for participants to explore for themselves at home, or for our cultural partners to deliver similar sessions themselves as the materials are inexpensive and theres a lot of resources online in how to deliver sessions using said materials.

Showcase

The final day of the festival saw Signals descend upon Firstsite, our venue for the day, and fill it with music, games and digital art.

Local developers (Asobi tech, Aniode Games, Dystopia Studios, Miracle Tea Studios, Sketchbook Games and Nysko Games) filled the entrance to the modern art gallery with VR experiences, arcade flying cats and pixel art cave dwellers. This created a wonderful buzz as you entered the space, with crowds of people laughing and smiling as they played new and exciting games made here in East Anglia and chatted with the developers.

Elsewhere in the gallery we had a room dedicated to electronic music and live visuals. The day included performances from ambient modular synth duo TR33-N, improvisers Ranieri Spina and Marian Saunders, CLIP (young peoples experimental music ensemble), chiptune artist [z]ki and a special performance from Leafcutter John with his incredible ‘light interface device’. A hand built sensor which converts light sensitivity to musical data.

John’s performance was the epitome of creative digital art, having spent years perfecting his light interface device through programming in MAX (a specialist audio visual software) his performance sees him hide the all tech and instead involves him dancing with torches, bicycle lights and flashing toys. It was a beautiful set which filled the room with smiles, and made full use of the powerful PA system and its deep bass.

The day offered something for all tastes, including hands on activities provided by our artists in development, plus fine art works including; ‘Rituals‘ a mixed VR/AR installation artist Sian Fan and an animation/video installation from Will Fulton.

Interestingly, fine artists don’t often display alongside indie game developers and young peoples experimental music ensembles. Bringing them all together under one roof not only provided our audience a diverse range of activities but also lead to networking and future collaborations between the artists too.

Plug In, Plug Out!

We’re over the moon with the positive response that Plug In received. By mixing the audiences of educators, artists and general public we truly feel Plug In has something to offer everybody. We’re incredibly excited about what the future holds for the festival, and the opportunities we can create in the region for both artists and audiences.