Festival explores symbiosis between craft and digital art

Separated by more than 100 years and seemingly different principles, the Arts and Crafts Movement and digital design would seem unlikely bedfellows, but Lovebytes – a digital festival opening this month in Sheffield – will show them to be underpinned by the same mode of thought.

Lovebytes, which will run from January to June, and feature events and exhibitions across the city, will aim to show how the creative impact of computer programming on design and art is evolving – and how a resurgence of traditional craft is being driven by its symbiosis with digital culture.
In particular, the impact of open-source code will be demonstrated by designers as they seek to find new ways to manipulate it and develop traditional design disciplines, including sculpture.

Lovebytes creative director Jon Harrison compares the parallel disciplines of code and craft with an Arts and Crafts school of thought. He argues that Arts and Crafts was about ‘being true to materials, thinking about natural materials, their properties and the social environment’ despite the pressures of industrialisation and mechanisation.

Harrison says whether digital artists’ work ends up on screen or as sound or light, code is their enabler to interact with the real world, and they aren’t brutalised by the technology.

Programmer and designer Casey Reas, who co-developed the program Processing, ‘uses skills, techniques and tools freely, in the same way as traditional craftspeople would’, Harrison says.

Reas will show a new work at the festival, Network A, commissioned for the purpose using his software. Processing is an open-source program which can teach computer programming to designers, allowing them to use the software for prototyping and as a professional production tool.
Reas’ generative animation will appear at the festival exhibition Code: Craft, and look at ‘the development of natural patterns and evolution, exploring lifecycles through graphic art made through code-making’, according to Harrison.

Another commissioned work, by Microsoft user-experience designer William Ngan, will look at brushwork through coding in a generative artwork called Mosumi, inspired by Japanese and Chinese ink painting.

Ngan says, ‘As the theme is Code: Craft, I decided to explore the craft of a single visual element – the line, which often retains its primitive look in digital art.’

In traditional Chinese and Japanese ink painting, brushwork is seen as coming from a spiritual resonance between artist and subject. ‘I want to examine the tension that exists between traditional art forms and digital art – specifically, how subtle humanistic qualities can be integrated into digital art,’ says Ngan.

He believes the future of open source in art and design is healthy. ‘It’s not just about code any more, it’s about the spirit of community and the sharing of both tools and thoughts,’ he says, adding, ‘The medium and the techniques might be different between traditional craft, design and experimental art, but the approach of openness and community, revolutionised by the Internet, is probably exceptional in human history.’

Consultancy Hellicar and Lewis works with open-source technology for clients. It recently designed an interactive Baroque mask installation, Mirror Mirror, for London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, using open-source technology which founders Peter Hellicar and Joel Gethin Lewis are ‘very happy’ for other designers to use.

Lewis believes that creating and developing code is vital in the design world and the wider world. ‘Open source is there to be shared and you don’t need to be a computer scientist to know how to program,’ he says. There is a limitation in the scope of off-the-shelf software, according to Lewis, who says, ‘People need to make their own tools, like a carpenter or a blacksmith might once have done.’

Lovebytes

  • Running from 27 January to 16 June, the Lovebytes festival will take place across venues in Sheffield
  • The Code: Craft exhibition is to explore the creative impact of computer programming, showing the work of digital artists including Golan Levin, Casey Reas and Mehmet Akten
  • A weekend of events starting on 12 February will explore the relationship between open-source software and traditional craft

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