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Digital arts thrive in the south east

  • Date: 11 November 2010
  • Artform: None
  • Area: South East
girl blowing bubble surrounded by guitars ivy4evr, SMS drama for teenagers created by Blast Theory for Channel 4, 2010, Photo:

Digital art is still considered to be an emerging artform but there are already some strong successes to celebrate in the south east.

In October, Arts Council England regularly funded organisation Blast Theory piloted its Channel 4 commission Ivy4evr, an SMS text-based drama for teenagers.

Meanwhile award-winning artist duo Semiconductor, which uses film, sound and multi-media to reflect on the material nature of our world, recently received a Grants for the arts award to study live volcanoes in the Galapagos Islands for a new piece Worlds in the making. As a result, the pair won a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship.

We talked to other Arts Council England regularly funded organisations that are also making tracks in this field.


In the past five years, Lighthouse has been focusing on digital art, as well as providing ongoing support to filmmakers.. This includes new monthly digital talks and a digital arts MA at University of Brighton. Along with Blast Theory, Lighthouse recently led a group of 16 visual arts curators to the international digital art conference Ars Electronica.

This autumn, Lighthouse curated a digital art exhibition Suspending Disbelief, which was supported by Arts Council England Managed Funds and formed part of a major digital design conference in Brighton called dConstruct.

'Digital art is art that's concerned with the aesthetics, underlying mechanism, and the conceptual nature of technology,' explains Honor Harger, Director of Lighthouse.

Suspending Disbelief presented works from the 'design fiction' sub art form, which, as Honor explains, is: 'a subgenre that works like science fiction - it creates speculation on the world and the future, usually through objects, photographs and design.'

Works from digital artists Julian Oliver, Caleb Larsen and Andrew Friend were exhibited at Lighthouse, while Becca Gill and Jay Kerry presented Magician's Desk, 2010 to the dConstruct audience at Brighton Dome.

Honor continues: 'One of Julian Oliver's most well known works, levelHead, 2008, is an augmented reality game art piece. There's a little man in a room and three levels he needs to get through.

'The piece was made using pattern recognition, which is used for barcode technology. It has a camera focused on the object that is trained to recognise particular patterns.

American Caleb Larsen's work A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter, 2009 is a black box that puts itself on ebay auction forever - it's in a perpetual transactional flux. Part of the condition of sale is that it has to be posted to the next buyer, and once bought, the person has to plug it into the internet.'

'It's a satirical take on capitalism and the art world,' Honor explains.

Lighthouse will be producing a season of digital culture for September 2011 in partnership with Arts Council England.


ArtSway, a contemporary visual arts exhibition and workshop venue in the New Forest, is helping to develop digital art by supporting associate artists.

'Artsway supports associates through mentoring, training, investment for digital marketing and seed funding for activities that wouldn't go ahead otherwise,' explains ArtSway Director Mark Segal.

For example, in August Artsway supported associate Boredom Research duo Vicky Isley and Paul Smith to exhibit their Real Snail Mail installation in the Stadt am Rande exhibition at Today Art Museum Beijing.

Real Snail Mail is a webmail service using live snails that are equipped with a miniaturised electronic circuit and antenna who carry and drop off real messages.

Boredom Research's new work Brilliant Cloud is exhibiting in Millais Gallery's Off-Site Autumn Programme. The work is inspired by the shapes and diversity found in nature, replicated through computer generated techniques.

Mark Segal says: 'It's a generative piece, a landscape for a simile, in which code like animals grow and mutate and the frame is a window in that world.'

'We support digital arts in a number of ways - through our associates programme, Turning Point South East (Arts Council England's strengthening the visual arts initiative), and developing a market for digital artists' work. 

'Last week we launched more than 20 galleries on the Culture Label as part of a two-year pilot programme to take artists' work to market in different ways.

'With Grants for the arts support we are in the process of developing our new website and have commissioned artist Dolly Thompsette to work with an animator to make her first digital piece of work.'

South Hill Park

Bracknell's South Hill Park has been busy expanding its digital work too, hosting specialist master classes and events at its digital media centre.

Martin Franklin, Digital Media Manager, explains: 'I basically source people who are doing interesting work and bring them into the region to do a weekend master class.

'For example, Bristol-based artist Duncan Speakman, who's developing work in GPS and locative media.'

South Hill Park recently hosted Sound:Site, a one-day sonic arts festival, in partnership with Oxford Brookes University's Sonic Art Research Unit, and co-programmed with Felicity Ford, a PHD student at the university.

Martin continues: 'We invited Patrick McGinley, an American artist living in Estonia to create a field recording workshop weekend. Patrick's Resonance FM radio show Framework is based on field recording and phonography, which is a term that's been coined to capture artists who work with recording as a tool and a process in itself.

'Patrick gave a talk about how the Internet can connect to the global community.'

South Hill Park has appointed artist Thea Stallwood for its I/O Artist Residency. Thea's work merges print and web interactivity.

'Thea will get a lot of technical input and access to artists,' says Martin. 'Our residency offers a chance to attend all master class weekends and space to explore whatever emerges. It's Thea's chance to play with new tools.'

To find out more about what's happening at South Hill Park, tune in to its weekly radio show Gene Pool that goes out on Soundart Radio 102.5FM.