Artworks come to life

The Programme for Innovation in Artform Development (Piad) is an initiative of the Vrystaat Arts Festival and the University of the Free State (UFS), supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

It mainly focuses on how technology, ­interdisciplinary and experimental art can connect with and impact on communities.

Piad fosters innovation in artform development through a series of First Nations projects, critical debates and Piad forums, arts or science and inter­disciplinary residencies, OPENLab artist laboratories, as well as the production and presentation of challenging new work.

For the 2017 edition, Piad presents as forum keynote speaker Prof. JoAnn Kuchera-Morin, director of the Allo­Sphere Research Group at the California NanoSystems Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The Piad forum, titled Complex Intersections: Transdisciplinary Engagements Across the Arts and Sciences, will be held on 20 July from 10:00 to 13:00 in the Naval Hill Planetarium in Bloemfontein.

Prof. Francis Petersen, vice chancellor of the University of the Free State, says Kuchera-Morin is one of the most acclaimed thinkers on arts and science internationally.

“As the inventor of the Allo­Sphere, she single-handedly developed a one-of-a-kind immersive instrument that is the culmination of 30 years of research.”

The AlloSphere consists of a three-story cube with extensive sound absorption material, making it one of the largest near-to-anechoic chambers in the world. It is differentiated from conventional virtual reality environments by its seamless surround-view capabilities, ability to accommodate 30 or more people simultaneously in a shared virtual world, and its focus on multiple sensory modalities and interaction.

“Prof. Kuchera-Morin’s presentation will focus on how pushing hard science with advanced art can assist us in understanding the large amounts of data generated by research through what she terms ‘spatiotemporal data creation and ensemble-style data mining’,” says Anna­lize Dedekind, chair of the Vrystaat Arts Festival.

“In layperson’s terms – how can we visualise a large amount of information so that we can better comprehend it?”

Kuchera-Morin’s keynote will be followed by a panel ­discussion with national and international cultural thinkers, including Rosemary Mangope (CEO, National Arts Council of South Africa), Dr Keith Armstrong (associate director, Creative Lab, Queensland University of Technology) and Dr Ella Ziegler (initiator of Salon Universitas: Art and Science Conversations, University of Kassel). DeBeer Cloete of the University of Groningen and the UFS will facilitate proceedings.

Other projects that are part of Piad include inter­national work such as Giidanyba (Sky Beings) by Gumbaynggirr artist Tyrone Sheather, consisting of seven figure-like sculptures depicting nocturnal spirits that impart knowledge and guidance to the First Nation Gumbaynggirr people of Australia.

There is also Onesie World by Adele Varcoe, which sees 1 000 onesies designed and made by fashion students and manufacturers in Bloemfontein given away to festivalgoers.

Furthermore, Dr Keith Armstrong’s Seven Stage Futures will be presented, a series of events created by local “change agents” who are part of Qala Phelang Tala (Start Living Green), set in informal settlements in and around Bloemfontein and Mangaung designed as community-led “Meraka”, or gathering spaces.

Work by South African artists, all participants in the biannual OPENLab interdisciplinary laboratory of the Piad include. In These Streets by Wezile Mgibe, a live art and dance performance which speaks about his personal journey of self-discovery.

Also on offer is PIE: Planning Impossible Errors by Ella Ziegler, Karin Tan, Skye Quadling and friends around the phenomenon of unexpected errors, as well as 29°06’S 26°13’E by Lhola Amira and Vasiki Creative Citizens with support from Johandi du Plessis. This a performance work that explores significant past and present narratives in South Africa, including the Cattle Killing of 1857, Ukuzika kuka Mendi of 1917 and the Shimla Park Brawl at the UFS in 2016.