Sarah Cook Talks About This Year’s Festival Theme

Coded After Lovelace, 2014 Hannah Maclure Centre 

NEoN Digital Arts Festival 2017 will expand on it being Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, and through its arts program will unveil hidden histories using the current (and controversial) practice of Media Archaeology. NEoN proposes we understand artists as future Media Archaeologists, as recorders of our current information-based society, and as time-travelers highlighting the continued relevance of our long past. To better understand this year’s theme and to give insight into NEoN decision to choose Media Archaeology we conducted an interview with NEoN’s co-curator Sarah Cook, curator of contemporary art, writer and new media art historian.

Media archaeology is often understood as examining new media practices by looking closely at the past. Though, NEoN is also focusing on the hidden material cultures of the technological age, and thinking about artists as future media archaeologists, hence focusing more on this discourse between past, present and future. Could you explain how you perceive Media Archaeology, what it really means?

Media archaeology as I understand it, isn’t just the use of media technologies (cameras, scanners, digital visualisations) to ‘do’ archaeology, but is an investigation of media technologies themselves in relation to us as their users, what we might call ‘interface culture’. Media technologies (mobile phones, the web, videogames) are material, but they also have a strange relationship to time – whether they are falling out of date, or being upgraded. Some people argue technology is fluid, not fixed in time in the same way that say, a piece of flint or a statue, might be. It could be that the way technologies are used is what fixes them to a particular moment (think of when you first got a mobile phone with a camera in it). This is what makes media archaeology a contentious practice. It’s about investigating the timeliness (or value) of something in relation to an ongoing process, not just in relation to the past. Which is why we can say media archaeology is also a practice concerned with the future.

Wolfgang Ernst, a professor of Media Theory in Berlin, is one of the main theorists of Media Archaeology. Are there any other leading theorists, academics or artists of Media Archaeology that have been notable for NEoN in developing this theme, as well as why NEoN chose this theme in particular (as opposed a broader approach to Scotland’s theme of History, Heritage and Archaeology)?

Prof. Jussi Parikka and Prof. Erkki Huhtamo are important in this field and they are both people I also associate with the exhibition and collection of media art and digital art. Their book ‘Media Archaeology’ came out in 2011*. They both think a lot about networks, and how technologies circulate within culture. NEoN wanted to put a digital spin on it being Scotland’s year of Archaeology, and so drawing on the ideas of Media Archaeology seemed the right thing to do, to challenge the focus on the past and keep an eye on the new. There are many artists who reflect on the current or recent state of technology in their work, but in terms of notable artists, you’ll have to wait until we announce the programme!

Also, there seems to exist a divide between Media Archaeology practices and methodologies, regarding material culture, records and heritage. Is this something that you could elaborate on?

Media Archaeology has a relationship to the field of software studies, as it considers how technologies talk to each other as well as how we use them. So records, in the sense of digital data, are one of the materials that a media archaeologist might study. A few years ago, NEoN had a theme of ‘Futureproofing’ and we were quite nostalgic about old technologies and about how we had to preserve digital data. Since then, working with artist group Jodi and others, we better understood how artists both preserve and reimagine technologies in their own work (Jodi made art from the old video game Jet Set Willy using the programming language Basic to make new versions and experiences of the game, keeping it alive for another generation**). Thus, for this edition of NEoN we propose artists are already the record-keepers of what will become in the future our shared heritage.

The programme will focus on the tropes of current archaeology practices such as the visualisation of heritage assets, and the questioning of the geological sediment layers that evidence human life on planet earth. By putting artist’s concerns at the heart of the programme, a more complex picture of the material culture of the digital age will emerge. NEoN doesn’t seek to be merely nostalgic about technology, but to expose, through artistic practice, how new technologies are understood now and will be in the future, in the creation of shared cultural experiences.

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* Jussi Parikka is a Finnish new media theorist and professor in Technological Culture and Aesthetics. He has published extensively on digital culture, and his work on media archaeology has gathered international attention. Parikka worked on Media Archaeology in collaboration with Erkki Huhtamo. Huhtamo is also a media theorist and professor, and specializes in the history of history and aesthetics of media arts. Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications and Implications introduces an archaeological approach to the study of media, to learn how media has been researched, used, designed, preserved and discarded. This book was edited by Parikka and Huhtamo, also with contributions of international scholars from Europe, North America and Japan, providing a broad historical and theoretical overview of Media Archaeology.

**northeastofnorth.com/jodi

Whale by Yolande Harris

In Whale (2017) oceanic voices – bowhead whales, bearded seals, beluga whales, and narwhals – spoke directly into our ears from ice-covered arctic waters. They become the agents, the guides, the voices of knowledge beyond our immediate experience. The Whale headphones were roped with local Dundee jute using a Celtic 16-strand hollow braiding technique. The cultural lives of cetacean and human species are complexly intertwined – these are the voices of the same beings that fueled the whaling and jute industries of Dundee and they continue to be affected by the current crisis of global climate systems. Whale simultaneously invoked Dundee’s past as a centre for the whaling industry and increases our awareness of the new cultural industries replacing it here on the waterfront.

With thanks to Kate Stafford, University of Washington, for the marine mammal audio recordings

Ei Wada and Usaginingen win World of OMOSIROI Award

We are delighted to hear that two of NEoN 2015’s artists, Ei Wada and Usaginingen, have scooped up the third World OMOSIROI Award. Bestowed to artists each year, the international award spreads the concept of ‘OMOSIROI’, a core value of Japan’s Knowledge Capital. The accolade showcases people from around the world whose pioneering activities epitomise ‘OMOSIROI’ (Japanese word for fun/interesting), and is Knowledge Capital’s way of sharing these values with the world.

The third volume of the World OMOSIROI saw Usaginingen and Ei Wada recommended by one of the 100 Knowledge Persons working in various fields and associated with Knowledge Capital.

Ei Wada

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Ei Wada creates installations, musical compositions and performances by combining computer-controlled analogue appliances such as reel-to-reel tape recorders or cathode ray tube TV sets with live instruments and helium balloons.

For the NEoN 2015, Ei Wada created new work which tied in with the festival theme, ‘North East of North Asia’. The UK premiere saw old electric instruments and computers create multiple instrument performance arrangements and installations. The installation featured authentic home-made systems – wires, old TVs, hacked videocassettes – and a strong DIY aesthetic to produce an interactive piece which saw attendees hear sounds from stripes.

Find out more via eiwada.com and @crab_feet

Usaginingen

Photo thanks to Kathryn Rattray

Photo thanks to Kathryn Rattray

Usaginingen were part of NEoN 2015’s finale event and saw the Japanese audio-visual duo share a night of live electronic music, audio visuals and kinetics. Attendees were blown away by the intricate detail of their performance.

They played a self-made analogue visual machine called TA-CO and a music instrument called Shibaki to create an elaborate treat for both eyes and ears. The TA-CO has a camera, a layered animation table, rotating drum, water-basins, coloured ink, beads, mirrors, prisms and hand crafts. The Shibaki is a kind of percussion kit, connected to a MIDI controller and to a string instrument. These were played together to produce surprising real-time visuals sound tracked by a live percussion score.

Find out more via usaginingen.com and @usaginingen

Each year we work with artists from across the globe to exhibit a unique calibre of digital art in the city of Dundee. Our 2015 theme ‘North East of North Asia’ saw artists from across North East Asia travel to Dundee to share their work during the course of one week in November. We’re thrilled to see two of our 2015 festival artists being rewarded for their truly unique and inspiring work. We enjoy hearing from previous exhibitors to discover what they’ve been working on since NEoN and sharing this news with our audience.

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World OMOSIROI Award is presented by KNOWLEDGE CAPITAL ASSOCIATION in Osaka, Japan. The selection committee included Hideo Miyahara, Chairperson of the Selection Committee / Representative Director of Knowledge Capital Association / Former President of Osaka University / Director of Asia Pacific Institute of Research / President of the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology of Japan (2007-2013) / Representative Director of Knowledge Capital Association; Naohiro Ukawa, Contemporary artist / Founder of DOMMUNE / Professor at Kyoto University of Art and Design; Gerfried Stocker, Artistic Director of Ars Electronica; Zenbo Hidaka, Koyasan Sanbo-in Deputy Chief Priest / Koyasan Koso-in Chief Priest; Patrick Newell, Vision Navigator at 21 Foundation / Launched TEDxTokyo in 2008; and Haruka Christine, high demand TV character who is active on TV programs in wide range in Japan.

NEoN teams up with HELM to help break down employment barriers

North East of North (NEoN), the annual digital arts festival which takes place across the city of Dundee, have joined forces with supportive learning charity, Helm to develop a programme of workshops for young people not in education or employment to learn digital skills. The programme launches with a four week course including workshops and talks to increase engagement with digital arts and computer games development.

Working with SQA, the national body in Scotland responsible for qualifications other than degrees, the workshops are offering an SQA Level 4 National Progression Award in Computer Games Development. The course is taught on Raspberry Pi computers, teaching young people code to design a computer game in order to encourage them to pursue careers in the technology sector.

With Dundee having a rich digital heritage, the pilot programme will inspire young to work in digital by providing opportunities to learn about digital art and its production. The mission behind the programme is to encourage young, unemployed adults to become creators and not just consumers of digital technologies. Built into the programme will be talks from industry professionals which will not just be about working with the sector but also their personal journey and enterprising approaches to career development.

The workshops take place in Vision, a former jute mill which has been converted into an office building which accommodates a number of creative and technology sector businesses, only a stone’s throw away from the former DMA Design office where the world famous Lemmings was created.  Topics explored by NEoN and Helm include character design, using sound and making alternative controllers.

Janey Muir, Education and Outreach Officer at NEoN said: “I hope that by offering these workshops, we can inspire young adults to pursue careers in digital. Dundee is renowned for it’s thriving design sector, which has a huge emphasis on technology and by making digital skills accessible, we’re breaking down barriers for participants. Joining forces with Helm has been brilliant – we hope to continue collaborating with them in future to help other people in the city and beyond.”

The four week programme, targeted to young people from the most deprived data zones, recruited participants via The Job Centre and will bring a greater understanding of a growing economic sector to areas that have high levels of unemployment. The aim is to encourage young people to explore options that they would otherwise not have.

NEoN believe that everyone has the right to fully participate in and contribute to community life. Without this, individuals may be deprived of political, social, economic and cultural rights. By working with Helm to provide professional qualifications, it is hoped that young people will be inspired to work in Dundee’s growing digital sector.

7 Years of NEoN

As we’re letting our creative juices flourish behind the scenes to plan NEoN 2017 and beyond, we’re reflecting back on NEoN’s evolution. Having successfully executed 7 thought-provoking festivals and delivered an exciting series of pop up events, we felt it’d be brilliant to round up 7 installations, exhibitions and celebrations we’re proud to have under our belt. This of course was no easy task, with so many activities providing innovative responses to our annual themes, we found it tricky to whittle them down to just 7 – we wanted to include them all!

Knifeandfork: Oh Dear Me – 2016

With lots of people still chatting about our 2016 festival, it seems hard to believe that we took over the Blackness Industrial area of Dundee and beyond 4 months ago! An event we were very excited about was American artist collaborative, Knifeandfork’s Oh Dear Me. A series of brass players from Red Note Ensemble plotted themselves along a winding path in the Blackness Industrial Area of Dundee. Visitors were then invited to type a message into a computer which would encode fragments of The Jute Mill Song (Oh Dear Me), a folk song written about 1920 by Dundee mill worker and labour activist Mary Brooksbank. Sounds was passed from musician to musician, and their messages were decoded on a terminal – with some of the messages changing their meanings.

Ei Wada: Sounds from Stripes – 2015

Image: Kathryn Rattray Photography

Image: Kathryn Rattray Photography

We were thrilled to welcome Ei Wada to the city of Dundee for his UK Premiere of new work commissioned by NEoN! Launched in the Visual Research Centre, DCA – Ei Wada used old electronic instruments and computers to create multiple instrument performance arrangements and installations. The commission, supported by New Media Scotland’s Alt-W Fund, invited attendees to wear striped clothing to create sounds by walking, running or jumping past equipment which captured the stripes and turned them into noise.

Sound Narratives Creative Workshop – 2013

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NEoN transformed Dundee’s Olympia Swimming Pool into an engaging, collaborative piece of art and sound in an installation by artist Joel Cahen. Inspired by Sir David Brewster’s invention of the kaleidoscope in 1816, attendees were able to hear the audio underwater first hand. As sound travels 4 times faster underwater, a fascinating audio display is revealed with a clear sound and, for those who donned their swimming costume, the event was a surreal experience.

NEoN 2009

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Whilst technically a whole series of events, the first festival in 2009 was over the course of an afternoon whilst we dipped our toes in Dundee’s digital arts sector. On the day we invited attendees to join us to play games from major publishers and Dare To Be Digital’s 2009 winners. We also had an exhibition of games characters by 4J Studios and Realtime Worlds as well as digital arts projects by Yann Seznec, Tom De Majo, Colliderscope, Dundee Medical School, Derek Linton and Abertay Computer Arts students. Posters and photography by Super Fly, Ross Cairns and Tommaso Lanza embraced digital arts and gaming.

We didn’t stop there though – in an exclusive lecture Bud Luckey, a member of the Pixar team, shared his concept drawings for family favourite films including Cars, Boundin’ and Toy Story as well as several classic short animations created for Sesame Street.

NEoN Characters – 2010

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With ‘character’ taking the theme of our 2010 festival, we were super excited to work with Berlin-based Pictoplasma to bring submissions for characters to life. Launching a competition for people to create characters which would be brought to life, we were blown away to receive over 5000 entries from across the globe. Thrilled that so many people took the time to think about the festival and create their own designs, we decided to give the characters a guided tour of our city.

Party in the car park – 2010

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Car parks can sometimes be uninspiring to look at. Granted, they provide an excellent service to their users, but we wondered how we could inject some life and creativity into these day-to-day services to engage with people in a different way. That’s where our car park party idea came from! Quick to set NEoN apart from other festivals in the city, we brought performers, musicians and culture to a multi-storey car park in the centre of Dundee.

La Lumière – 2011

NEoN Dancers on The Law

NEoN Dancers on The Law

For our 2001 finale, we combined LED’s, movement, sound and image to bring to life one of Dundee’s most loved landmarks, The Law. Bringing together 60 local dances, the performance saw glowing hands moving to an original score produced by local musicians Andrew Mitchell and Raz Ullah. Choreographed by Lesley Farquhar and Clare Brennan, the evening responded to the festival theme of collaboration and the nature of complex patterns created from interaction.

Did we include your favourite event? Let us know which NEoN activities you’ve loved over the years!

 

NEoN achieves Volunteer Friendly Award

We are delighted to announce that NEoN has achieved the Volunteer Friendly Award from Volunteer Dundee, an independent voluntary organisation that provides a ‘Volunteer Centre’ service in Dundee.

Volunteer Dundee exists to involve more people more efficiently in volunteering to help make Dundee a better place to live. Originally established in 1997 as “The Volunteer Information Point”, Volunteer Centre Dundee is an independent voluntary organisation that provides a ‘Volunteer Centre’ service in Dundee by:

  • Gathering up to date information about local volunteer opportunities
  • Putting people in touch with organisations where they can volunteer
  • Providing information and advice to those who work with volunteers
  • Promoting and publicising the values of volunteering

In addition to the above, Volunteer Dundee celebrate organisations who look after their volunteers through their ‘Volunteer Friendly Awards’, praising organisations that meet their requirements for effectively managing volunteers.

Each year NEoN takes on volunteers to help make the festival a success. This includes everything from artist liaison, marketing, events production, exhibition assistants and an installation team to help assemble exhibitions that take place throughout the festival.

Over the past 7 years we have found the input from our dedicated volunteers invaluable and inspiring, and as the festival grows even bigger each year, new volunteer opportunities come up.

Kirsty Cameron, a Master of Arts Culture-Language-Media student at Europa-Universität Flensburg volunteered with NEoN for 3 months. She stayed with relatives in the city and took the opportunity to advance upon her knowledge of digital art for her University work. When asked about volunteering with NEoN she said:

Volunteering with NEoN was a great and important experience for me. The people from NEoN (colleagues and other volunteers) were very friendly, welcoming and helpful whenever I needed their support. It was able to experience different fields of work, which was important for me since I wanted to have a look into different things. I was given some responsibilities whist volunteering with NEoN which was a great experience and not too daunting.

I carried out a number of different activities such as research, drawing plans of exhibition spaces, helping to build parts of the exhibitions and assisting artists at workshops. The things I enjoyed most were assisting the artists, helping out with the workshops, and liaising with visitors. It was really interesting to hear thoughts and experiences from attendees.

The whole team-experience was wonderful and I can only hope I’ll have the chance to work with a team like those working on NEoN 2016 in any future job. For my university work the volunteering has given me a direction to focus on and the experience of taking part in an internship abroad has increased my self-confidence and skills set.

We are thrilled to receive the award and would welcome anybody who wishes to volunteer for NEoN to get in touch via neon@northeastofnorth.com.