Digital placemaking for the arts

Layered Realities, Night Walk for Edinburgh, Brutalist Tapestry, Symbiosia… all recent intriguing projects that involve the artistic exploration of our public spaces through the use of digital technologies and searching storytelling. Whether developing data-driven systems, utilising image and audio AR or pushing the boundaries of 5G infrastructure, arts, culture and technology are inseparable. This article highlights a range of ways in which artists are employing technologies to foster a sense of place in beautiful, playful and engaging ways. Originally published in May 2017.

Art in its purely physical sense, be it octopus murals or favela painting , has been a feature of successful placemaking even before the term was coined. And art has been blurring the lines between the physical landscape and the technological one for decades, in the same way that digital technology has augmented modern placemaking efforts.

In the search for new mediums in which to express their creativity, artists are often first to embrace emergent technologies. A new wave of artists are using digital technology to quench our thirst for interactivity and to foster a sense of place in beautiful, playful and engaging ways.

We’ve already examined Bristol’s Playable City phenomena, complete with its origami animal projections that interact with passers-by and lampposts that can converse with the public via SMS messages, but these examples are very much the tip of the iceberg.

Encapsulating pure critical explorations, themed commissions and art in the name of advertising, we’ve pulled together a diverse range of installations that have technology as their foundation and participation at their core.

Good vibrations

A fantastic example is Theremin Bollards (see video below), an interactive sound sculpture created by a multi-disciplinary team who blend digital and analogue Theremin technologies with sculptural forms to create sonic art works. The project is playful, interactive and social, all tenets of great placemaking. It also takes something everyday and ordinary, and turns it into something special — a concept with echoes of proto-surrealist, conceptual artworks like Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain .

From temporary installations at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Natural History Museum to permanent exhibits at London’s Science Museum and the Strong Museum in New York State, the bollards have proved to be hugely popular with visitors, thanks to their accessibility and eerie interactive soundscapes.

The Play Table was a large, elegantly designed, multi-touch screen designed table, installed in parks and gardens which allowed friends and strangers to sit, and play a variety of games. The juxtaposition of traditional park playthings and contemporary gaming embraces the modernisation of shared spaces, as well as their multi-audience, multi-use nature.

Sensors and the sensory

For other artistic avenues, the future is already here. It may seem that society is retreating into a virtual world, interacting with others via the glowing screen in the palms of their hands, but artists are even using this as a conduit to connect with the built environment.

Art of reality

By embracing Augmented Reality (AR), the technology behind the briefly ubiquitous Pokémon Go, artist Ivan Toth Depeña has ‘hidden’ artwork across the city of Miami. Only by downloading his Lapse app and visiting one of six locations can his art be experienced on-screen, superimposed on the urban landscape.

Head south into Mexico and artist Josue Abraham has used the same technology to bring his Virtualidades exhibition to life. What may seem like a simple collection of mundane and discarded objects is transformed with the help of an iPad and the Metaio AR software platform.

In this way, Abraham has taken sculpture out of the physical realm and could have a dramatic impact on the shared spaces of the future and the art within them. It is no accident that Apple purchased Metaio and its technologies in 2015, such is the convergence of art, technology and the built environment.

While the concepts and settings of these examples may be varied, they all share the same goal — creating a participatory experience that draws people into the environment around them and allowing them to connect with it in new, interesting and revealing ways. Whatever the disruptive technologies of the future are, we can be pretty sure that it will be artists who introduce them to the world of placemaking.

Want to find out more about the impact of technology and the spaces that matter to us all? See Calvium’s other articles on Featured image credit:digital placemaking .

Susanne Seitinger and Pol Pla i Conesa, LightBridge, 2011. Photo: Andy Ryan


Originally published at on August 29, 2019.



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