The art of the possible for digital creators

IN this digital age new technologies are being developed that are rapidly becoming as expressive for artists and designers as the more traditional handcraft mediums of paint and sculpture.

Code:Craft is a new exhibition specially curated for Museums Sheffield by digital arts organisation Lovebytes, exploring the remarkable creative potential of the software that turned computer programming into an art form.

Perfectly exemplifying this is Mehmet Akten's physically interactive digital installation, Body Paint, which enables visitors standing before a screen to use the movements of their body to "paint" with pixels on the wall.

The work has been seen in a variety of locations over the past two years, says the artist, from the V & A and the Venice biennale to private parties. It's a way of people making their own art and that's what he finds most interesting, the experience rather than the finished work.

"It's similar to the reaction you see from a two-year-old child who has stepped into a puddle," says Akten. "As we grow older we lose that interaction with the elements."

The engineering graduate turned visual artist and musician also known as Memo sees the work he creates on a computer as an extension of the Lego-building he did as a kid growing up in Turkey.

"I created things I wanted to play with and that's essentially what I am still doing," he says.

The first digital arts exhibition in the Craft and Design gallery of the Millennium Gallery, Code:Craft will look at the creative impact of new computer coding tools such as Processing and Open Frameworks and will feature new work by the artists and designers that have created, shared and adopted these technologies.

Since its development in 2001, Processing has been used to create music videos by Radiohead and REM and commercials by Nike and Budweiser, and has even been employed to visualise coastal marine ecosystems.

Open Frameworks or the open source community, explains Akten, is the forum by which fellow practitioners share advice and experience and is an essential part of the way he works.

The system of give and take is a philosophy "that's good for the karma," he says but also produces results.

Using the analogy of painting again, Akten says: "Let's say I code the creative brush which I paint with to enable others to use for free for their own work. It will then be developed by someone else, so I get a return from what I have given by being able to use it again in an improved form."

The exhibition, opening next Wednesday, will explore how artists have utilised these open source technologies to produce everything from large-scale interactives to explorations of the mathematical forms and patterns in nature, which originally provided the inspiration for the development of the technology itself.

Code:Craft will play host to a brand new commission by American digital artist and co-developer of Processing, C E B Reas, alongside new work by Golan Levin, another American new media artist, composer, performer and engineer, and Australian William Ngan.

Among the other works on show will be animated projections by Daniel Brown and 3D laser cut sculptures that have been generated using computer systems designed by David Dessens and Daniel Widrig.

The sculptures point up the link between digital art and traditional craft implicit in the title and it is no coincidence that the Craft and Design Gallery should be the place for such an exhibition, says Rowena Hamilton, Museums Sheffield curator of craft and design.

"There has been a lot of talk of the origins of computers lying in the process of weaving – and how punch cards led to the development of binary language. There are many connections which derive from the underlying patterns of maths in nature."

Digital craft is the theme of this year's Lovebytes festival launched by Code:Craft which opens on Wednesday at the Millennium Gallery and runs until June 16.

Some of the artists are participating in We Love Technology, a day conference at Electric Works on February 12. Full details of this and the rest of the programme on www.lovebytes.org.uk

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