February Event: The Geranium Project (R&D) Exhibition

Ian Latham; ianlatham1959@virginmedia.com; www.ian-latham.com/blog

Artist Builds Virtual Worlds in Empty Doncaster Shop

Ian Latham, right, with visitors to the geranium project. The installation is in the background

Release Date 06/01/2020

Ian Latham presents his Arts Council Lottery Funded Project ‘the geranium project(R&D)’ – a combination of installation and Virtual Reality used to create an immersive experience exploring the translation of reality into art through drawing. The installation includes spoken word and film alongside Augmented Reality and traditional painting and sculpture. The Virtual Reality environment takes the participant through a series of gardens made from photographs and drawings accompanied by poetry, sound and film. The project can be experienced in around thirty minutes.

Open, by appointment, from Monday 10th February to Saturday 15th February, or you can drop in between 11:00 am and 4:00 pm on Wednesday 19th February, Friday 20th February or Saturday 21st February. The Geranium Project is exhibited at 13 Scot Lane, Doncaster, DN1 1EW. This empty shop is rented through Axisweb, a national charity that provides studio spaces for artists.

This exhibition marks the culmination of the first stage of the project which began in June 2019. During the past six months over one hundred and twenty people have called into the shop to experience the installation and try out the virtual reality using a HTC Vive headset. The project has been assisted by local creatives Wayne Sables and Mike Stubbs who have been mentors and Iain Nicholls, an established virtual reality practitioner from Barnsley, all of whom have exhibited Internationally.

Ian Latham, BA Fine Art , MA Creative Technology, Senior Fellow Higher Education Academy, is a digital sculptor. After a long career in FE and HE he retired in 2018.

He has worked with organisations such as the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims

of Torture, Oxfam, Doncaster Museums and Archives, Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, Responsible Fishing and the Wayne Sables Project and the Cooper Gallery, Barnsley. Ian makes paintings and sculpture based on real and remembered landscapes that are presented together to suggest non-linear narratives, he works with computer based 3d modelling to create virtual environments reflecting the superimposition of memory over place. He has exhibited throughout the North, there are paintings currently on display at Joro restaurant in Sheffield, and had previous exhibitons, solo and group, at

DARTS in Doncaster, the Contemporary Gallery in Barnsley, the Ferens open in Hull and the Keighley Open. He has also shown work in small galleries like the Brevon in Doncaster, Artscreative in Chesterfield and at Granary Wharf in Leeds.

To book a slot to see the installation and try the VR please use the form ‘Book the Geranium Project’ on the black bar at the top of the page. If you have any difficulties contact the artist, Ian Latham, by email; ianlatham1959@virginmedia.com, or telephone 07596619792. You can call into the studio at 13 Scot Lane without an appointment but bookings will be accommodated before drop in visitors.

The Geranium Project (R&D) 28

On Monday I was back in the studio checking things over and with the intention of working on my 3d models. I forgot to take the disc with me so that went out of the window.

garden painting

One of the garden paintings displayed in the gallery

I took some pictures of the paintings I have on display downstairs and had a look at the VR model, I tried enlarging the sky domes I put on for the last run through but they were awful so I’ve taken them out and am working on some other options.

I also wrote a press release over the weekend and sent it to Doncaster Free Press, Sheffield Star, Yorkshire Post and Doncopolitan. Doncopolitan will put it out through their social media channels so I know I’ll get some traction there, the other press is a fingers crossed affair and unlikely to lead to any publicity. I posted the press release to LinkedIn, a-n (artists newsletter) and Axisweb sites under events and onto the local doncastercreates website where it is now sitting on the front page. I’ve emailed six or seven organisations regionally today and have a few more to do. I also sent the press release to bbc radio. I don’t expect a response from any of these outlets, the bbc have an automated response saying we might use it or we might not, but if you don’t ask you don’t get.

On Monday evening I got a reply from the Doncaster Free Press and they will be running a piece in the paper, as things stand they’re sending a photographer next Tuesday afternoon to take pictures for the piece. I got a lot of traction on LinkedIn, including new local connections and interest in viewing the piece.

On Thursday I had a visit at the studio from Marcus and Tim who are associated with the Doncaster TedX organisation. They suggested that I could showcase the work at the TedX Youth conference in April, and potentially have some involvement with TedX in October. We also discussed several other options for this piece and the installation as a stand alone piece. The Hexthorpe Park idea I had also got some traction with Marcus and he’s going to connect me with someone who might be interested in collaborating.

Luke came to the studio and with his help I managed to get the animated garden working, he also managed to get the AR element for the installation working, we now just need to finalise the interior and the installation will be finished.

Friday I started by painting the interior of the new installation, I got the first coat done before my meeting with Mike Stubbs.

one wall of the new installation drawing

one wall of the new installation drawing

The meeting was interesting and quite challenging. Mike commented on my blog that he wondered about my ‘philosophy’, and couldn’t pin it down, so this meeting went over some ground around this. Essentially he complimented the blog on its detail and comprehensiveness but questioned the lack of any discussion placing my work in an ‘art’ context. He believes that a clearer understanding of where you want to place yourself as an artist improves your work. He also gave me a list of artists to look at who he felt I might want to position myself against (not ‘counter to’, just relatively) and I’m pondering.

I shot a short video in the new installation, where the drawing has to be very bold and busy to aid the AR, but its incredibly dark.

The Geranium Project (R&D) 27

Over Christmas I continued work on the VR element of the project. I’m working towards the AR animated birds for the installation and the photographic gardens using paper tied into knots.

bird knots drawing

bird knots drawing

This drawing is A1, charcoal, pencil and pastel and I’ve made a couple of 3d models and animated a short section.

bird knot models

bird knot models

I also tied a few pieces so that I can try out using them as an AR trigger.

I went into the studio for the first time on Friday 3rd January and met with wayne, details of this meeting follow.

Discussed current progress of work, what needs to happen next and what help wayne could give in achieving that.

Outlined the plan going forward.

  1. Tidy up current iteration of Geranium VR – skies, edges, tunnels, etc.,

  2. Introduce animated sections to painted garden

  3. Introduce animated birds to photo garden sections

  4. Finish spoken word sections, quotes and explicatory texts for tunnels, gnomic utterances for gardens

  5. make birdsong soundtracks for drawn and phot gardens

  6. Work with Iain Nicholls on build for VR space

  7. Work with Luke Roberts on AR birds for installation

  8. Finish rain section for installation, run PIR off tower PC if necessary

  9. Organise press release for Invitees week beginning 10th February 2020

  10. Invite appropriate people (get the invites out by end of next week 10/01/2020

  11. Get feedback from Kim & Luke for report etc.,

  12. Plan the next steps – meet with Mike Stubbs, Wayne, Luke & Kim to propose and develop next bid for funding

Wayne agreed to email me introductions to key people in Doncaster.

In discussing the next steps for the project wayne proposed several people it would be worth contacting in Doncaster Council, Doncaster Archives, Barnsley Museums etc.,

Two things particularly need establishing as part of the future display of the object, firstly the entrance to the space can be remade for each location it is placed in, and secondly that the photographic elements of the VR space provide potential for a number of future works utilising archival photgraphs and contemporaneous images. Hexthorpe Park springs to mind.

I need to put the press release information out onto my Linked In page, through Twitter, send to Doncopolitan for Facebook, onto the Doncaster Creative wotsit, onto a-n, Axisweb etc., as well as the blog and send it to Doncaster Free Press, Yorkshire Post, The Star (Sheffield?) and anywhere else I can think of.

The Geranium Project (R&D) 26

As it has been Christmas I’ve been a bit desultory about the blog, and concentrating mostly on things like celebrating and visiting relatives. I have done some work on the animated sequences for the VR and the narrative. The next post will address these and forwaard planning for the end of the project in February. This post is a copy of the self evaluation exercise I have completed, as far as possible, using the form I submitted to get the funding. I pulled out all the aims listed and addressed each one. It does show that there is a good amount of overlap in the submission sections but it also shows that I’m well on track to meet all the expected outcomes.

Project Evaluation:

A: Tell us more about your project and what you want it to achieve.

AIMS From A:

  1. Create a space that tells a story

    1. I created the original space as a rectangular environment, with a 4.8m x 3.6m footprint and 2.4m high, with drawings on three sides. Entry was intially through a door in one of the long sides, this was later changed to a corner on the same side to allow for a ‘light lock’ to keep the interior dark. I made a series fo films which were projected onto the short side furthest from the entrance, and recorded a set of soundtracks to accompany the projections. The drawings in the interior of the space were developed from drawings of the original garden from which the project is developed, the films are all of the same space, one simply a long take of the space from a static camera with a soundtrack of background nosie recorded at the same time, birdsong, faint road noises, distant machinery etc., the other films are made from sections of motion captured film during early morning and late evening, edited together to exploit the characteristics of the light. Over these are played two recordings, one combines a section of TS Eliot’s ‘Burnt Norton’ from the ‘Four Quartets’ combined with Tennyson’s ‘Tithonus’, the other is a paraphrasing of this combined poem in my own words. The space was presented to the public on several occasions and used with groups of students and local artists. After evaluation of these events I dismantled the space and reassembled it in a more organic form, to build in more sculptural elements, increase the opportunities for interaction and render the environment more confining.

  2. Make a virtual reality space or online space that is explorable and has a narrative component

    1. I began the VR space at the end of July, after opening the studio for the Doncopolitan Crawl, and had a working prototype by the end of August. The space has developed considerably since then. At the end of December the space has three garden spaces made of photographs and four gardens created from drawings reimagined as 3d models. The poetry from the installation has been split into parts and used as a voice over. The Vr space is now entered from a simple model of the studio and I intend that this space can be created for each location that it is shown in. From here you enter a 3d model of the installation, with the same interactions, and progress through the video screen (now presented as a split cloth moving in the wind) into the first garden, the ‘summer garden’, from here you move to the end of the garden and towards the first drawn garden through a mist filled tunnel. At the end of this garden you pass through another tunnel to the ‘rain garden’ and at the end of here through another tunnel to a version of the drawn garden which is massively raised in scale. From here a long tunnel takes you to the ‘frost garden’ from which you pass through a tunnel to the ‘painted garden’. Passing through here takes you into the longest tunnel through which you enter the ‘drawn garden’ which uses elements directly taken from the drawings and lofted to create a space littered with forms which you must navigate through. At the end of this space a tunnel brings you back into the studio where you started. Each of the spaces can be fully explored and each features sounds, birdsong, snatches of conversation or reading, that are encountered only in certain sections of each garden. In the tunnels there are longer narrations indicating what you might expect and how you might proceed in the space you are about to enter..

  3. Present to an audience and use them to help refine the experience.

    1. The installation was presented to the public at an open event for Doncopolitan Crawl on July 23rd, I set up an exhibition with work by my two graduate artists, Kim Haines and Luke Roberts, as well as installation installed downstairs by Andrea Berry, a local artist recently raduated with an MA from Sheffield Hallam. On the night we had around 80 visitors, 62 of whom visited my installation in its first iteration. After this I staged another event in October with talks by Andrea and me and had 13 attendees, 9 of whom tried the VR environment. On the following two Wednesdays I had students from Barnsley College BA Fine Art visit with lecturers, a total of 36 visitors, 21 of whom tried the VR. Visitors to these events were invited to feedback their thoughts and suggestions on whiteboards and through conversations. I blogged this feedback at the end of October. Additionally 14 more people have visited the studio at various points abd tried out the VR space. All of this has been useful for the overall development of the experience.

B: Tell us how this project will help to develop your work.

AIMS from B:

  1. Develop my practice through collaboration with specific individuals…

    1. Wayne Sables (Film and Presentation)

      1. Met with Wayne on six occasions so far, really good discussions about the direction of the work and where it fits in a larger perspective. Good contacts established with Doncaster organisations, Marcus Isman-Egal from dcstrust and Tim Hazeltine from Doncaster Council, as well as Sally Lockey from RUOS. Wayne also encouraged me to enter the Aesthetica Art Prize and provided good contacts and opportunities for Luke and Kim.

    2. Iain Nicholls (VR – Technical)

      1. I met with Iain on three occasions and he provided significant support for the development of the VR space, the navigation would have taken so much longer without him. Had some difficulties sorting out another meeting due to diaries.

  2. Develop my Understanding of Large Scale Presentations…

    1. Mike Stubbs (Creative Doncaster)

      1. Mike has visited the studio on three or four occasions and provided a lot of food for thought as well providing encouragement for the development of the environment. Some suggestions have been difficult to implement and maybe point towards things I’m not ready to consider, others have contributed to radical developments in the work itself.

    2. Dan Tucker (Sheffield DocFest)

      1. Dan never answered my emails so I didn’t establish contact.

  3. Employ Two Graduate Artists and help them develop their practice

      1. Luke Roberts and Kimberley Haines have been working with me since July, they have attended all the meetings with mentors, helped set up the exhbitions and taken photgraphs and helped shepherd people through the installation and VR. They have also spoken to Mike, Iain and wayne about their work and opportunities to develop their own practice.

  4. Test the work with other Doncaster Artists

      1. Eleven Doncaster creatives attended the event in October, and all experienced the work and fed back on its merits. Additionally three other Doncaster based artists have visited the studio occasionally and tried out the environment, giving me valuable feedback.

  5. Become more collaborative in my approach to my own practice.

      1. The project has encouraged me to be more collaborative in my approach to work, and challenged me to consider the degree to which you can lose your voice when working with other artists. The greatest challenge through the project has been to keep the direction I wanted to travel in especially when that direction becomes more difficult to articulate and other influences are precise in their opinions.

C: What will your project focus on?

AIMS from C:

  1. Develop my professional practice

    1. My professional practice has been validated by the allocation of ACE National Lottery Project Grant Funding. One of the most significant results of the allocation was the change to way I was perceived as a serious artist in regard to a commission with the NHS. Early in 2019 I was meeting a brick wall when discussions options to advance a project, when I subsequently backed off because my commitments to The Geranium Project limited my time the client decided to wait for my availability. This professional acceptance has been the most revelatory effect of my experience this year, considering that I am highly qulaifed and experienced as an arts educator I was pleased to be recognised in this way by ACE and gratified that it opened some previously closed doors. In short I’m taken much more seriously now.

  2. Try out new approaches

    1. Whilst I have worked with 3d modelling and installations in the past, the virtual reality world building is a new departure and the project has served the purpose of allowing me to try out ways of displaying this material to the public.

  3. reach new or different audiences

    1. The audiences who have experienced this piece have been largely new to me, and I am seeking more opportunities to display the work for all sorts of people.

  4. work with new people

    1. As I have indicated earlier I have worked with three artists in a collaborative manner and assisted with professional development for two recent graduates. I have also provided exhbition opportunites for three local artists during this project and built up a number of contacts for future opportunities.

Public Engagement

D: Who will engage with your project?

AIMS from D:

  1. Stage Exhibition in Early February presenting VR world and Installation.

  2. Secure opportunity to display the piece during Doncaster Creates, Donny Debates in 2020

E: How will people engage with your project and what experience do you

want them to have?

AIMS from E:

  1. Develop a non-linear narrative for the space

    1. ongoing but see 2.1

  2. Build an immersive environment that can be experienced alongside a Virtual Experience

    1. see 2.1

  3. Test the installation with groups of students

&

  1. Invite audiences to consider the narrative and feedback

    1. The installation was presented to the public at an open event for Doncopolitan Crawl on July 23rd, I set up an exhibition with work by my two graduate artists, Kim Haines and Luke Roberts, as well as installation installed downstairs by Andrea Berry, a local artist recently raduated with an MA from Sheffield Hallam. On the night we had around 80 visitors, 62 of whom visited my installation in its first iteration. After this I staged another event in October with talks by Andrea and me and had 13 attendees, 9 of whom tried the VR environment. On the following two Wednesdays I had students from Barnsley College BA Fine Art visit with lecturers, a total of 36 visitors, 21 of whom tried the VR. Visitors to these events were invited to feedback their thoughts and suggestions on whiteboards and through conversations. I blogged this feedback at the end of October. Additionally 14 more people have visited the studio at various points abd tried out the VR space. All of this has been useful for the overall development of the experience.

F: Tell us how you will make sure your project reaches people.

AIMS from F: (Future Developments)

  1. Arrange exhibitions away from the studio

  2. Publicise the piece through local media

G:People who will benefit from your project

Beneficiary Type

How many people will benefit from this project?

Actual Participants

Artists/ creatives/ museum specialists

10

21

Participants

40

39

Audience (live)

40

139

Audience (broadcast, online, in writing)

40

150

Total

130

349

H: Tell us how you will evaluate your project.

AIMS from H:

  1. Maintain blog of progress weekly

    1. blog address www.ian-latham.com/blog has been kept each week, with two breaks for holiday, during the project, currently this post is number 26.

  2. Keep a record of mentoring sessions with WS and MS

    1. Mentoring sessions have been recorded through contemporaneous notetaking and written up as blog posts with analysis.

  3. Get feedback from Graduate Artists

    1. will be provided at the end of January as part of the review/reporting process.

  4. Get feedback from Local Artists and people viewing the project as it progresses

    1. see above and blog posts etc.,

  5. Produce a reconciled budget statement

    1. Presented as an appendix in the submitted report.

The Geranium Project (R&D) 24

Another truncated week spent sorting out the space at the studio and organising the VR space at home.

The video shows how far I got on Wednesday with the installation, I’ve got until Thursday next to sort it out to a finished state.

I should be working on getting an exhibition together in a few days, instead of which I’m studying procrastination. Yesterday I spent time clearing the garden, today I cleaned off the yard and washed the car. I have at least four ictures to frame for the exhbition and hang next week, all the labelling to be done, and I still need to title the pieces. I’ve got two drawn gardens to put together and import to the VR that I need to be working and I’ve still got to work out the transitions between the gardens when I’m there. The projection needs to be resolved for the installation and I’ve should really change the video and work out the sound. Additionally I’ve not yet bottomed the PIR for the raining section of the installation. All this needs to be resolved in the next four days!

I’m rounding this post off with a few shots of the space as it stands today.

View of the Gallery

View of the Gallery

Progress of Drawings

Progress of Drawings

There are a combination of drawings and paintings which have informed the content of the installation and the VR world. The user should be able to recognise the paintings inside the VR space, how far that works remains to be seen.

The Geranium Project (R&D) 23

Late again with the blog post. My excuse is the febrile nature of the world currently and the difficulty ignoring it. On Monday 25th I had a catch up meeting with Wayne Sables about where to take the project next. I am determined that I’ll have a new set up completed for a weekend event after the election!

These videos give a sense of where the project is and where it’s going.

The major thing to do with the physical installation is to get some light into it wirhout interfering with the projection, so on wednesday I got some Christmas lights and installed them along on wall.

I worked out that my issue with the VR world gardens having the same textures was because they were copies, essentially Unity appears to ‘instance’ copies as a default. I had to reload the gardens as separate files to maintain their differences.

I made a layout drawing to help me position the gardens so that the world functions as a circle, the idea being that you follow the succesive gardens and end up back where you started.

The Geranium Project (R&D) 22

After a desultory effort at last weeks blog due to a truncated week this week was better focused and, eventually, more productive.

This is a better photograph of the drawing begun last week, I’m hoping to be able to interpret this into a 3d model for the hedges in one of the garden versions. The main thrust of the week was developing the interior of the installation upstairs while preparing for an event in mid December where the new installation and the VR need to be presented.

I spent Monday doing some work on the drawing and installing the projector for the new installation. I’ve raised the height to limit the shadows now that I’m not having the revealed texts, and need to limit the width of the projection to the eight foot square backcloth that you will be able to walk through. Doing this on a shoestring means that I’ve used a drip cover I had as the projection screen, after testing I’ve had to paint the centre of it white so that the video shows up better. The next stage is to limit the space, making the environment more oppresive and confining. This will limit the audience to two or three at a time, but that will (may) allow for the ‘player’ to leave the installation and enter the VR world.

Alongside this we had a heavy frost on Tuesday so I took the opportunity to photgraph the garden and on Wednesday I adjusted the VR to make the frost garden. The two pictures below show scenes from within the ‘frost garden’ in VR.

colour adjusted garden

Frost Garden in VR (the ground is icy now)

On Friday I worked on the installation, using the ‘Snow Line’ scultpure to build up one side of the installation.

Composite views of the new installation

Lit view of the new installation

Lit view of the new installation

The installation is taking shape now and I’ve created a couple of niches where some interactive elements will be installed – I need to introduce some lighting and at a low level and the sound needs significant work.

The Geranium Project (R&D) 21

Just started to write this weeks blog and realised I didn’t post last weeks!

This is a very bad photograph of a drawing I started on Friday. I missed most of the week as I was away for a few days. So all I had time to do was hide the gaps in the installation and give it an extra coat of paint.

This is an equally bad video of the installation in its current state.

The Geranium Project (R&D) 20

The video shows the work I did on the virtual environment last week. I reordered the layout of the gardens and made a pathway from one drawn garden to the other. I altered the 3d model of the new garden, with the splashes, to use high poly models in unity for a better finish. It still needs work and more coherence. I’m thinking now of having alternative routes through the space and denying the ability to return.

building the new installation

This is Monday morning’s work on the new installation set up. By the end of the day all the panels are up, the next stage is to paint it all and attach the screen to the bar at the back. The idea is that the viewer enters the space, explores the alcoves (which will be sculptural) with the video projected to the back as before, and can then leave the space through the video, replicating the experience in the VR world. I’m also building a model of the studio so that is the space you begin in and then you view the installation in VR as in life but passing through the video takes you to the new spaces.

On Thursday I painted the new installation with an undercoat and worked on the VR world, but only after bailing out the buckets on the top floors.

I tried out making a photographic garden with all the planes mapped as videos, I don’t have the processing power.

I had to remove the videos because of the continuous glitching.

After Thursday the VR space looks like this…

The positive thing about the experience on Thursday is that it helped me resolve an idea for the arrangement of the gardens. I’m now thinking of four gardens, possibly arranged seasonally, which gives me a target for the modelling and textures I need to make.

The Geranium Project (R&D) 19

This week has been about rebuilding and thinking. I’ve decided not to attend the VR section of the Aesthetica Short Film Festival, even though its just up the road in York, because I don’t want to get over influenced by anything I might see. Equally I’m not at all interested in FPS or general RPGs. I think I need to solve the problems I have now rather than find new problems to further cloud the issues I encounter.

One of the key things I found during my open events was that the piece lacks coherence for an audience, there is no target so there is nothing that guides a user through the navigation. If you’re not going anywhere in particular it’s difficult to know which way to go, or what to be drawn towards.

The list of things I need to do begins with the rebuilding of the installation and the need to make textures for the VR environment. I began by taking the space apart this week.

Installation piled up in the studio

I then laid out the new arrangement and cut some wedges to position the panels on Monday.

New installation layout

It doesn’t seem a lot to have achieved in a week.

Alongside this I did some work on the VR space but won’t have video showing the changes until next week.