This month Geelong Arts Centre and Deakin University will host Reflex Symposium, gathering together creatives, academics and community members from the region, and across Australia, to explores the interconnectivity between artist, infrastructure and community partnership and promote and encourage excellence, innovation and cultural leadership within the creative industries.
We sit down with keynote speaker Dr Betty Sargeant, an award-winning media artist and co-creative director of PluginHUMAN ahead of the event.
First up, can you tell us a bit about your journey into your career as a digital artist?
I have always been interested in technology, science, and new ideas. I did a PhD in Creative Media and that made me a lot more focused on digital futures and the opportunities that technology offers in regard to creative practice. I collaborate with Justin Dwyer, he helps extend my interest in art-technology. Justin has a music background with a strong practice in digital/electronic music. We are both very curious people and our careers have been shaped by this curiosity – we seek out the new.
Talk us through your process. Are your projects time-consuming, do you work on multiple things at once?
We tend to work on multiple projects at once. Often the projects we are working on are at different stages of development. One may be an idea in early development, another project may be ready to be installed in an institution. We tend to work quite quickly, that is partly because you have to work hard in the arts to survive, yet it’s also because we have so much work that we want to make. We have a huge amount of ideas that are waiting to be developed and presented. Although we work quickly we also prototype and test our artworks before presenting them. Prototyping and testing are important when working with technology.
Where do you source your creative inspiration from?
I’m really inspired by travel. I find that when I’m in a different culture my sense is more highly attuned to my surroundings. This makes me see, hear and feel new experiences in heightened and new ways. Justin is inspired by new technology and innovations in science. We have regular ‘ideas’ sessions where we share our latest thinking and our new project concepts. This is one of the most fun parts of our job as it is where we get to dream things up without thinking about practical things like the resources it would take to create the project and the restrictions of budgets.
Tell us a little bit about your installation ‘Breathe’, which translates weather data to the columns in the Geelong Arts Centre’s foyer space. What was the thinking behind this? What do you hope people take away from it?
Breathe is the first work in a series of environmental artworks that PluginHUMAN is currently making. This artwork features LED light sculptures that are surrounded by recycled acrylic tubes. The tubes are printed with enlarged photos of microscopic elements from trees. The colours and patterns seen in the LED lights are controlled by data we have collected from the environment surrounding the Geelong Arts Centre. This data includes information on wind speed and direction, temperature, humidity, sounds, and air pressure. We look to uncover hidden parts of nature.
You’ve got many credits to your name for your work; what’s been the highlight for you?
In 2018 we created an artwork called DREAM 2.2 for the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts. We opened the exhibition with a series of performances where two sleeping teenagers controlled the exhibition audio-visuals using their neural function (brainwaves). This was a really complex work to make as we had to design our own brain-computer interface – a computer system that could be controlled by a person’s brainwaves. We had over 65,000 people through that installation and it was probably the most complex work we have made. It is probably also my favourite work to-date.
The relationship between art and technology seems to be getting stronger as days go by; with immersive environments becoming more important to audiences wanting hands-on interactive experiences. What are some of the major shifts that you’ve noticed in how people digest art? Is there still a place for traditional art?
Immersive digital art is really gaining momentum at the moment. There is still a huge market for traditional art, traditional art is the cornerstone of the art world. Yet increasingly, audiences and institutions have an expectation that art will be responsive – that an artwork will react in real-time to the environment around it. Audiences want to have an impact on the work. We have made quite a few of these “inter-reactive” artworks, for example with DREAM 2.2 people could see this artwork respond to a person’s brainwave input in real-time.
With the growing popularity of immersive art, Justin and I have seen a shift in the way that audiences engage with our art. Many people come and interact with the work and take selfies. This is OK, yet we don’t want to just create “Instagramable” moments. Our current series of work allows the environment, rather than people, to have the biggest impact on the work. We want to encourage people to come and be immersed in an otherworldly evocative environment, one that is controlled by nature. We hope to build empathy between audiences and the natural world so that people are moved to take action on climate change.
You’re heading to Geelong as part of the Reflex – The Future of our Creative Community symposium this month. In your opinion, why is an event like this important to an emerging city like Geelong?
Regional Victorian hubs like Geelong are in a powerful position right now. Victoria is one of the best places in the world for innovation, future technology development, and cultural exchange. This progress is not only happening in Melbourne, but the Victorian government and Creative Victoria have also been keenly focused on ensuring that regional areas, such as Geelong, take a key role in leading the way. The new Geelong Arts Centre is underpinned by a vision to engage the community in future-focused cultural exchange. It’s an exciting time to be in the area. Geelong has a long history of industry leadership – in the recent past that has involved the automotive industry. Now it is poised to be an industry leader in digital cultures and creative technologies. This is super exciting. The Reflex symposium and the opening of the rejuvenated Geelong Art Centre mark an important moment in time for Geelong.
You’re a keynote speaker at the event – can we get a hint as to what you’ll be discussing?
I’ll be talking about PluginHUMAN projects. I’ll focus on our work with art centres and organisations around the world where we engage communities in creative technologies and future-focused art projects. As the Reflex symposium is in partnership with Deakin University, I’ll also talk about our connection with international universities. PluginHUMAN are creators-in-residence at the Exertion Games Lab, RMIT University. Being affiliated with a university research lab helps us make our projects accessible not only within academic circles but within the community and industry. You can find more info at www.pluginhuman.com and @PluginHUMAN
Reflex | The Future of our Creative Community will take place on Friday 15 and Saturday 16 November at Geelong Arts Centre, 81 Ryrie Street, Geelong. Ticketing and further information is available through geelongartscentre.org.au
IMAGE CREDIT : PluginHUMAN (Betty Sargeant and Justin Dwyer)