Interactive sculpture made with the Touch Board

The interactive sculpture ‘Edge to the Big Sky’ was made by Artist & Creative Educator, Graham Elstone.

Graham was commissioned to produce an artwork that encompasses ideas of heritage, specifically working with a windmill in Lincolnshire, that engages people of all ages. The initial challenge was creating a work that encompasses a wide variety of stakeholders but also allows him to express his own artistic freedom.

He spent roughly a month researching and developing ideas for the interactive sculpture. This led him to the concept of creating a large, visually intricate, free-standing sculpture using the touch technology to relay audio collated during the research period.

The overall shape is that of a millstone, initially created in wood and acrylic. Each aspect of the overall image is made up of factors associated with and drawn from visual research, which includes a visit to Stanage Edge in Derbyshire -where the original millstones were hewn from the rock.

The audio includes voices, sounds and music. In workshops, Graham recorded voices from people; memories, thoughts, short lines of poems, sounds of the mill working and he also produced his own music compositions.

The visual material was designed and created using drawing apps on an iPad and compiled in Photoshop, alongside photographic images, to produce the final images. The symbols denote the touch points for audio.

From his experience, interacting with an artwork often requires a signifier or a lead in aspect. For example, if someone touches a symbol and it triggers a sound, they will often make the connection and realise that other symbols will make sounds.

Making decisions about which sounds and visuals to utilise is always complex, especially as he always tries to match the sounds and visuals in some way. This gives a sense of symmetry but also allows users to gain understanding and knowledge.

The design process is a matter of balance, producing elements, taking time to consider things, leaving sections to concentrate on other areas of the designs, then comparing and looking at the overall image in relation to each part. Often getting external eyes and ears on it is important to get differing perspectives.

Once complete, the design was printed onto vinyl and attached to the surface below the plastic. Having explored this before, using glass windows and plastic sheet, Graham knew that if the conductive paint was on the underside of the vinyl, so unseen by the viewer, the connection can still be made. Wires running from the conductive paint to the Touch Board relay the interaction, the board is connected to a small amp and speakers, again hidden within the sculpture.

Sound quality is another factor that often requires attention. A poor recording is not usable, and he produced a number of works, where making his own small amps and speakers from kit form have by-passed the need for a larger amp and speaker arrangements (which might be fine for a larger or outdoor presentation). The smaller units are easily built into the sculpture and produce levels of volume suitable for a small room/gallery presentation.

Consequently, the interactive sculpture ‘Edge to the Big Sky’ is the largest free-standing sculptural structure that Graham has made using the interactive technology. It is visually eye-catching, in both shape and images, in partnership with the audio it makes for a comprehensive outcome. The final work is now on display at Moulton Mill in Lincolnshire and has been integrated into the mills’ heritage tours and on display as a contemporary exhibit alongside the many older artefacts.

The project has allowed Graham to explore new ways of working and ways of expanding his creative process when it comes to sculptural interactive work. It has already triggered ideas of creating larger and more intricate artworks, including projects for outdoor events and multi-platform/ sculptural exhibits.

Images & Video: Graham Elstone

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