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New Work All Play, Manchester, UK

Issue 76 December/January 2014

As part of this year’s Manchester International Festival, The Neighbourhood, a Mancunian creative agency, developed ‘New Work All Play,’ an impressive light projection artwork.

The 2013 Manchester International Festival was held during two weeks of tropical July sunshine, bringing a whole host of new music, theatre and art to the city. Its innovative decision only to programme newly commissioned work always leads to a high calibre of boundary breaking creativity and this year’s festivities were no different.

Aside from the headline grabbing appearances of Sir Kenneth Branagh, Goldfrapp and Mikhail Baryshnikov, there was a great deal of art on show that could be appreciated for free, aside from the major events. One such project was ‘New Work All Play’ developed by The Neighbourhood, a creative studio based in Manchester’s Northern Quarter.

New Work All Play was an interactive light projection installation that captured the vibrant pulse of Manchester during the Festival. The piece was summoned into life with the rhythm of work and play, conjuring the spirit of the Festival through animation and filmed footage projected onto a large head structure.

Funded by Festival sponsors Bruntwood, the artwork was located on the upper floors of Faulkner House on Faulkner Street in Manchester and could be seen glowing through the upper windows.

The face of the project, quite literally, was comprised of a three dimensional structure of complex planes, laser cut and built by hand over several days. The static structure gained its dynamism from moving imagery projected on to the head and its surroundings. This imagery was constantly in flux, moving from freshly minted Festival footage to specially created animated sections and visions of Manchester culture and society.

The installation was also interactive, streamed onto a specially constructed website via a webcam in order to reach a wider audience. By interacting with a word game mechanic on the website, ‘New Work All Play’ generated a bespoke job title unique to the person participating and their entry.

The interactive element of the installation followed on from a Twitter competition The Neighbourhood organised during the run up to the Festival, which asked users to get involved by changing the words ‘work’, ‘play’, ‘jack’ and ‘dull boy’ in the popular phrase “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”.

The interaction was then projected on to the installation itself for all simultaneous site visitors to share in the experience. It was also possible to interact with the artwork using a mobile device. The head itself was modelled in order to be as asexual and androgynous as possible, the idea being to provide a projection surface that was suitable for both male and female faces.

Once designed the head was then ‘unfolded’ using Pepakura, a software program that digitally unfolds any 3D model to a 2D template, providing the appropriate flaps and folds to allow it to be stuck back together in the physical world.

This template data was then taken to Fred Aldous, a century-old arts and craft shop and Northern Quarter institution, where a laser-cutting machine was drafted in to apply the Pepakura design to 30 x A1 sheets of 300gsm white card. The laser cutter even managed to do the scoring along the fold lines.

Then the team at The Neighborhood, complete with 80 strangely cut pieces of card, started to assemble their creation, putting the head back together by hand. The whole process took about four days from start to finish and produced a 5ft tall physical model ready for video and animated footage to be projected straight on to. The space at Faulkner House, where the head was located, was an enclosed, blacked out room and the head was illuminated solely by the footage and animations which were light projected on to the head’s surface.

This was achieved by using a simple setup of a single Epson consumer level HD projector. A multiple projector set up was originally considered, however, due to the single-viewing angle planned via the webcam, multiple projectors didn’t need to be installed.

The projection mapping and the interactive projection for the project was carried out in VVVV+ and a combination of a Logitech 920 Webcam and Wirecast were used to run the broadcasting online.

This project, with a fraction of the budget, created an artwork that was both engaging and inspiring, tiny in comparison to some of the bigger productions staged as part of this year’s Festival, but just as innovative.


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