Crucible Network Research Projects

Defining Pi

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This Arts Council-funded project in collaboration with Wysing Arts commissioned five visual artists with mixed technical abilities to undertake a six week R&D project using the Raspberry Pi, Sonic Pi and new camera module. The work and associated process will be shared with young people, artists & the public via local talks and documentation on the web.

Crucible team:

Other collaborators:

Defining Pi aimed to

  • create new digital opportunities for artists to produce new work using extraordinary technology that has yet to be tested in this way
  • to develop new artistic practices that engage new audiences with the arts and inspire them to create their own work
  • to develop new partnerships between the arts and Cambridge’s world renowned technology innovation sector

We commissioned five experienced visual artists to undertake a short R&D project using the Raspberry Pi and it’s newly released camera module. The Pi, developed in Cambridge as a charitable, open source venture to encourage coding amongst young people, has quickly become a global phenomenon, and at just £25 per computer, is low cost and extremely portable, presenting many creative opportunities for artists. The artists will be amongst the first in the world to use the camera, making their finished work valuable to the huge online community that has sprung up around the Pi. They were the first people in the world outside of three pilot schools to have access to Sonic Pi, a tool designed by Sam Aaron, to allow children to program their own digital music.

For this project, Sonic Pi was extended to support the new high definition camera module to allow the programmatic interaction of imagery and sound. This extension was written exclusively with the artists as a specific audience using the test workshop as a requirements gathering exercise. The artists work was the first to showcase this new technology which will then be adapted for a classroom context. After the project, this tool will be made extensively available for use by artists and anyone else via the open source Raspberry Pi website.

A key aim of this project was to test and support new ways of creating art using this new technology and the process of programming the Raspberry Pi will be an intrinsic part of the artistic output. To this end, we will deliberately use an invitation-led strategy, led by Wysing Arts Centre, to ensure that the ‘sample’ of five artists commissioned are not just those who would ordinarily chose to work in this way. The artists’ brief is attached. Prior to the start of the programme, 10-12 artists will be approached to attend an introductory session at University of Cambridge (CU) Computer Lab, to help them to understand and appreciate the scope of the project, the technology, and the expectations of the artists. Following this, if our funding bid be successful, the artists will be invited to submit an expression-of-interest to be considered for these commissions, summarising their experience of the session and describing how they might apply what they have learnt to their work; to demonstrate both artistic potential and technical commitment. The final five artists will be selected by the project team.

The programme will start with a one day workshop for rapid prototyping, allowing the artists time to experiment and get hands on advice on what may be possible. A second half day workshop will be held two weeks later to support the artists’ developing project. Between the two workshops, artists will feed back to Sam on their developing project so that he is able to provide focused support at the second workshop. Both workshops will be held at Wysing.

In order to test the potential of this technology with artists of mixed technical abilities, the artists will deliberately receive only a limited amount of technical support. Beyond the two workshops, it will be up to them to source ideas and support online, through the Raspberry Pi Forum and other similar sites, accessing the worldwide open source community, and by joining Makespace. However, if an artist is genuinely struggling, there will be safety nets in place to help them get back on track. Despite this, it is possible that, due to the experimental nature of the project, not all of the artists will achieve a final piece of work but we see this as part of the risk taking nature of introducing artists to new technology. If this happens, it will still be interesting and important to discuss and share this experience as part of the learning process.

The artists had around six weeks to develop their project after which they came back together for a half day session to share and discuss their work with each other and the project team before embarking on a series of ‘show & tell’ talks and workshops.