Science meets art at Light Nelson

JACQUETTA BELL
Last updated 11:44 14/06/2014
Life in the Luminarium
MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ

COLLABORATORS: Digital artist John-Paul Pochin, left, and Nelson landscape designer James Wheatley in the Life in the Luminarium they created at Founders Heritage Park last year.

Light Nelson
MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ Zoom
Space on Earth by Lori Davis in the Chinese Gardens at Light Nelson on Saturday evening.

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Jacquetta Bell talks to one of the prime drivers behind next month's Light Nelson project.

There was a dual passion at work from the start in John-Paul Pochin. He grew up taking his mum's radio and the toaster apart, went on to study physics and then became a photographer.

The twin strands of art and science were already there, but when he had the idea for Light Nelson, they really fired up and started something that some are saying is (at last) Nelson's replacement for the WearableArt Awards.

Exceeding all expectations last year with a crowd of 16,000, Light Nelson is set to brighten up the Queen's Gardens and surrounds again from July 11-13.

You could say there's a third strand coming into the Light Nelson projects Pochin is working on himself this year - politics. Not in the sense of the coming election, but in the wider sphere of the way we live in the world.

Pochin sees the rapid growth of technology in our day-to-day lives as a "two edged-sword". "I use an enormous amount of technology in my work - it has given us some amazing tools and it's also made science and information more accessible," he says.

"But the surveillance side of it is scary. We've lost a lot of privacy with the way we hand over information, whether that is through loyalty cards or giving our details to online retailers."

In all three of his Light Nelson installations Pochin takes a look at surveillance, and the way various technologies can trace us.

Painting with Sate-Lights is a play on words alluding to satellite tracking, and poses the question: "How much of our movement is being tracked?"

Before going to Light Nelson you are asked to download an app, then as you walk around Light Nelson you'll become part of the show, through a constantly changing abstract image that is projected on to the side of a building.

Pochin says depending on the number of people in the park with the app running, the results might be quite interesting: "As they move it creates a painting within a simulated fluid to represent both their position and their movement."

The next project, Wire Tap, poses the question: "Who is spying on us when we talk on the telephone?" An interactive laser projection visualises sound and allows everybody to see the voice of the "caller".

"Depending on how they use their voice - if they yell or whisper - the laser will react and display the sound wave in the air and on the water," Pochin says.

Pochin's third project, Facial Recognition, demonstrates how little information our brains need to be able to see a face in a pattern, through an array of 256 LED balls configured in the shape of a simple mask.

"Facial recognition is now used in everything from our cell phones and Facebook to surveillance cameras that check our terrorist status or just what we buy," he says.

"My inspiration came from the Mask Parade organiser Kim Merry's view that masks take away shyness and allow people to be free. Surveillance has the opposite effect - it takes away anonymity and the ability to be ourselves."

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The LED balls in Facial Recognition act like the pixels of a very low-resolution screen.

"In this project they'll be configured as a three dimensional shape similar to a theatrical mask with changing facial expressions such as laughing, smiling and frowning." As with many of his projects, Pochin is not sure what the final result will be until he has finished writing the software.

"There are layers of complexity, a fair amount of guesswork, a bit of the unknown and some very exciting innovations, " he says. "That's the beauty of these things - you put an idea in and you hope you can pull it together and along the way you learn something new."

Pochin is very enthusiastic about the collaborative side of Light Nelson, where professionals with technical expertise work alongside artists, helping them to realise their concepts.

"Light Nelson creates an environment where people want to help and create accessible art. It's not about money, it's about doing something good for Nelson. Working with people like that is an amazing motivation."

Light Nelson is on nightly at 5.30-9.30pm in the Queen's Gardens across the three days, spilling into Albion Square, the NMIT campus and some other sites around the city. Entry is free.

TREASURE HUNT

To encourage more people to download a special Light Nelson and to see how it works, John-Paul Pochin is planning a treasure hunt at Queen's Gardens on Sunday June 15..

Details and wet weather postponement will be on the Light Nelson Facebook page.

The app has been updated to display 'Hot Spots' on the map. When the user is in those areas the app will display a code which the user must write down.

Once they have all the codes they need to email them to 'lightnelson@lightnelson.org.nz'.

No data is sent from the app when the user is outside the park and no personal data is ever recorded or transmitted.

The treasure hunt will run from 10am to 12 noon tomorrow morning and codes must be emailed in by the end of that day.

A winner will be selected at random from those entries and they will receive an invite to the Light Nelson opening night for two people.

If you have an Android device you can download the app at http://lightlimited.com/apps or directly from Google Play at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.lightlimited.paintingbysatelights

- Nelson

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