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Art repurposed - An eclectic mix of creativity, technology

Published:Sunday | July 7, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Artists in residence at Roktowa teach students to create musical instruments from wooden boards, nails, and rubber bands.-Photos by Amitabh Sharma
The musical instruments and LED lights used to create unique art.
Stringing the beats: Students play sounds on the improvised musical instrument.
Don Miller draws a circuit diagram of LED lights.
Artist in residence Drew Burrows holds an LED light artwork.
A circuit diagram, battery and LED lights ... converging arts and technology.
Innovative musical instrument made from board, nails and rubber bands.
An LED light artwork.
Drew Burrows teaches students digital dimensions, creating an LED light artwork.

Amitabh Sharma, Contributor

"Don't be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth," Persian poet, Sufi mystic Rumi once said. A tale was being hammered, stretched, and soldered on by a group of youngsters in Roktowa, downtown Kingston.

The tale, narrated via a range of media by digital projection artists, Don Miller and Drew Burrows, strived to converge the arts with sciences.

"As an artist and an educator in New York, I have always felt there is creative potential in children, which needs to be harnessed," said Don Miller.

Miller, who started his career as an English teacher, gravitated to making designs with nearly obsolete repurposed electronics to create psychedelic, low-resolution video art.

This, according to Miller, is a fun way to help children understand concepts of science and appreciate the learning process than making it cumbersome.

One of the projects, Burrows explained, was to create a musical instrument using a wooden board, nails, and rubber bands.

The eager participants - teenagers from Tivoli Gardens, Spanish Town and Alpha Boys' school - got cracking, hammering nails at symmetrical intervals, to create a platform to stretch rubber bands and connecting an amplifier to resonate the sounds.

"My interest is in interactive installation design, and using new interfaces for musical expression," Burrows explained, which, he says creates immersive audio and visual experiences.

Both artists have been experimenting and implementing interactive art in their works and installations - marrying creative thought processes with technology.

Miller, who works with nearly obsolete repurposed electronics to create psychedelic low-resolution video art, says that it is imperative for children today to learn computer programming. "This (computer learning) is being slowly implemented in the United States, and I would love to see such initiatives germinate in developing countries like Jamaica," he said.


To affirm this trait, Burrows and Miller did a demonstration using LED lights, nine-volt battery, wires and switches - a physics lab scenario, but used to create 'glowing' art.

"Ensure that the negative of the bulb is on the negative of the battery," instructed Burrows, as the young participants concentrated to meticulously twist the fragile wires.

The bulbs connected to the battery, created a three bulb LED synergy, emitting hues like fireflies fluttering.

"We are, through the workshop, trying to create innovative and positive work," said Melinda Brown, creative director of Roktowa.

Working with soldering iron, batteries and connectors would traditionally not been seen as an artist's tools, but Burrows and Miller are out to change that. The rustic setting of Roktowa provided that eclectic mix, housed in an asymmetrical building, dotted with art created from packing boards and abstract sculptures.

The setting could be right out of a Mad Max movie, a group of people creating solutions to save the world from annihilation by dystopic society ... might be stretching the creative licence a wee bit too much. For here were a bunch of teens huddled to challenge their minds to create.

"The idea is to mix and match, and to create," Miller said. "This is a mix of a hacker, scientist and an artist.

"These are viable skills that they can use to create and also appreciate and learn science," Miller added. "It is to make learning fun by mixing arts and crafts with electronics."

Burrows and Miller were in Jamaica to participate in Kingston On the Edge.

Miller said such initiatives involving children and teens are critical, and helps them to integrate with the wider society and the trends worldwide.

As we live in a shrunken 'global village' it is crucial that there is a flow of thoughts among people across physical boundaries.

"There are communities online and the most important thing is to collaborate, get exposure and learn from each other," said Miller, "I also strongly believe that the children should learn computer programming as this is going to be a viable and necessary skill to have in the next 10 years."

In the words of American animator John Lasseter, "The art challenges the technology, and the technology inspires the art"... with two men on a mission, this seed of confluence has been sown in the Jamaican soil - with persistence and out-of-the box thinking, these path-breaking ideas can pull the creative acumen and scientific fervour to the next level.