ART

Lights and bytes: How the National Arts Festival is fusing technology, art and design

By Ayanda Mthethwa 18 June 2019

As part of its Creativate programme the National Arts Festival will, for the second time this year, showcase creative works that incorporate technology as a medium, using lights and computers not just as supporting aids, but rather as a fundamental part of the artist’s medium.

Speaking to Maverick Life, Tony Lankester, who co-curated Creativate said, “We conceptualised Creativate last year and all we knew was that we wanted to create this playground. We’re very aware of the fact that increasingly artists are looking to technology to help them tell their stories better, or differently. And what we wanted to do was to create a space where that can be explored in much detail.”

With several workshops having an element of either programming or engineering, festival-goers will experience how to be creative with technology. Presenting a workshop called Creatineering, Dr Michaella Janse van Vuuren said, “The workshop is not complex from a technological standpoint. But the participants will be able to make something using their own creativity and technology to do something very cool. 

Essentially, the workshop will give participants the opportunity to create artworks accompanied by sound effects. Janse van Vuuren explains that if a participant, for instance, draws or paints a picture of a lion using conductive paint (which can conduct electricity), they then help make electronic deletes that are connected to a conductive board, with conductive wires connected to the artwork. And when the audience presses the neolines (where the black paint is), it will roar.

 “Art is about thinking new things and creativity; there are no answers in art,” added Janse van Vuuren.

“Whereas in tech one often struggles to have that innovation. The arts is where creativity and innovation is. There should be more flow between the two.”

In many creative disciplines, especially those of a commercial variety, technology is a fundamental part of the creative process, but this is less so in visual arts and live performance.

Many European countries have had an ongoing shift towards the use of technology to enhance this particular creative space. To a lesser degree, there have been events and exhibitions in South Africa that cover this arena, such as the TMRW gallery at the Keyes Art Mile in Rosebank, Johannesburg, where virtual reality has been incorporated as a tool for artists to create an immersive environment around their artwork. However, these projects are, according to Lankester, “certainly not in the scale of the National Arts Festival with the number of artists that we have coming to town”.

Creativate is open to all artists, new or established, who have an interest in creative technology art, offering a diverse range of exhibitions, talks, workshops and productions that speak to digital artistry. 

Art-Duino, another workshop, will focus on the intersection between art, programming and design. Presented by Gareth Walwyn, “Participants will learn to code simple graphics on an RGB matrix of neopixels. Using geometric, graphic and animatic functions, complex creative and expressive sequences will be built from simple building blocks which will be taught during the session,” says the programme.

There are also theatre plays with 360-degree virtual reality and live band performances.

Lankester said that while Creativate is aimed at a younger market, people of all ages are welcome, and most of the talks and workshops are free. ML

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