27 February 2015

Music for Curious Minds at the Brighton Science Festival - review by Annabelle Spender

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Music for Curious Minds was for me one of the most exciting events programmed for the Brighton Science Festival. This was due to my background in designing bespoke medical equipment for young people with disabilities, including a musical wheelchair for my final year dissertation. 

The event was all about the latest developments that have been made to enable young people with disabilities to access music. Three organisations have combined their efforts for the last three years and we were to see the results.

Back in 2010 I had spent 9 months researching the existing musical instruments available in order to create my own, so I was looking forward to finding out what advancements had been made. I also took along a fellow musician so that I could find out what they thought of these incredible creations as well. The truly incredible singer / song writer Melissa Hubert joined me for the evening and was interested to find out about new instruments, be inspired and pick up ideas for her own music.

Music for Curious Minds at the Brighton Science Festival 2015 by Annabelle Spender

The talk was held in the church opposite the Brighton Dome with chairs filling the room facing a row of screens and technology surrounding a stage. As we arrived we found a place near the front and watched as slowly the room filled with more and more people. It was clear that most people present were interested in attending due to a family member who they had brought along, but there were a number of other musicians or designers present too.

It appears that this was a very popular talk as all the seats were full, people stood at the back and filled the benches all along the walls. After a brief introduction and welcome, a video began that we were warned would be 20 minutes long.

The crowd was also informed about the cost of existing music technology for those with disabilities, such as the Sound Beam, that costs in the region of £1,800 - £3,000 for one instrument. While I was fully aware of this (and the £1,000's needed for specialist training to set up and and use these devices) the shocked sounds from the audience and Melissa put the video into perspective. ­The world of musical instruments and their costs for those in the disability world is even unknown to the parents. This is why so many schools do not have the funds to buy enough sound beams or other similar technology to create an orchestra.

When the video started, it covered the journey of three different special educational needs schools to form three orchestras, and started with the difficulty many young people with disabilities face in using conventional instruments. As the video went on, it showed the delight as young people got to control sound through movements that suited them and explained how and why interfaces were designed with each person in mind. Looking around the room, the awe on people's faces was incredible as these new budding musicians practised alone and then came together. It was when the video climaxed with the three performances that the young people with disabilities in the room vocally showed their joy.­ It showed how it's possible for them to create music, show expression and have a voice like others.

Bristol MUSE Project and OHMI

As the lights came back on applause filled the room, magnified by the churches design. One by one the figureheads of each of the organisations, Bristol MUSE Project and OHMI, stood up and explained their part ­whether it was funding musical instruments, designing them or setting up orchestras within schools across the country. While each talk was short and to the point, it was great to hear about the work that each organisation did but also a brief overview of what plans they have in the pipeline.

A member of the English Para-orchestra, who has found her voice and movement in her arms again through music told her story. Starting from when she was able bodied for the first 10 years of her life it took a sudden dive into a world where she could no longer speak or eat for herself. Her story highlighted the struggles that people with disabilities have accessing music, especially when before it had come so easily. Now as a mentor and inspiration for other young musicians, her story clearly resonates to show the need for more support, funding and awareness.

The second half of the event took a much more interactive turn as 5 of the instruments designed as part of these projects were shown with the use of volunteers with the goal of recreating a celebrated piece of music. The first piece of technology shown was the eye-gaze­ and existing piece of technology used by those with only their eyes as a way to communicate. 

Connected to a special interface, it now allows people to create music with just their eyes. It was at this point that the speaker explained how often it is hard to see that people are performing compared to conventional instruments. He asked us to call out what he thought we were playing while he mimed playing a violin and then guitar before stumping everyone by just using his eyes or slight head movements.

While this technology can allow the smallest movements from the eyes or head to create music, it can often be difficult to show someone how to use it or the difficulties behind it. After explaining how it worked, he called up a volunteer, a teenager in an electric wheelchair to try using it. He confirmed after a minute or so that it was difficult to use but extremely powerful.

Following this path, the head tracking was introduced next with the use of another member of the audience.

After a spot was put on their nose, the young volunteer sitting in a wheelchair was able to create beautiful melodies through moving their head up, down and side to side. Laughter and joy filled the room every time he cheekily played as the speaker went on to the next instrument.

To show in contrast what can be achieved with more conventional technology, he introduced a programme especially created for an iPad. The interface briefly shown by him was quickly taught to another young person with disabilities and joy filled the room as­ this piece of technology provides an affordable alternative.

Music for Curious Minds at the Brighton Science Festival 2015 by Annabelle Spender

It was at this point that he made it clear the costs of each of the pieces so far, with the eye gaze at the upper end ­this lead and the least expensive piece the Xbox Kinect. For those that were not aware of how the Sound Beam works, a basic explanation of only two way movement enables music to be created but it does not contain expression and is overly expensive and complicated.

The Kinect costs £80, tracks 3D movements, is affordable and shows expression. He sat on a chair and showed that even for an able-­bodied person it could create beautiful melodies. He then invited someone up to try. A mother volunteered her son, who at first was following her guidance to move his hand up and down. At first, he was overwhelmed by facing the audience and not able to comprehend the impact of his hand movements but then as the audience's chuckle to the speakers banter of stealing his spotlight ceased, he realised his movement was affecting the sound. A smile quickly spread across his face and joy fluttered through the room as a young man experienced the pure joy of making music for the first time. It was that point that those visiting out of curiosity rather than personal connection or family members got to see the impact of creating music for the first time. This for the family members confirmed the possibilities that lay in front of them. The room at that point changed as a world of opportunity or experience opened in front of their eyes ­ and I experienced seeing pure joy from someone once again being able to communicate through music, ­ something that I have not seen in 5 years.

The final instrument was a head tracking device with an air sensor so that it can be used as a trumpet. By using head movements to select a note, air is blown through to control when and how loud the note is. As this was a more complex system to use, an able bodied volunteer who was an existing musician was called up to show the possibilities. After getting a red dot on her nose with her daughter on her nose, she learnt the notes needed to play a tune­ the same tune that had been playing before the talk ­Pachelbel Canon in D. For those with full cognitive abilities but limited to only head and breath control, this existing musical instrument was awe inspiring to watch as it was quickly picked up to recreate a classic tune.

It was at this point that the speakers cunning plan came to pass ­getting all of his volunteers to help create Pachelbel Canon in D. Starting the piece himself, he asked the others to join in once they realised the slow speed that he was playing it at. One by one they joined in and for a few minutes the audience was wowed by a stunningly beautiful performance from a mix of those with and without disabilities. As they slowed to an end, applause filled the room for almost as long as the performance and echoes of joyful sounds from audience members. The impact of what had been shown before their eyes in the room made the room explode in applause again as the speaker finished the event.

With the talk over, everyone was invited to check out the technology and talk to the creators for the next 30 minutes. Young people too nervous to go out in front of everyone had a chance to try playing music for the first time, while those who had performed got the chance to find out when they might have the chance to play again. As I have played with a lot of the technology before, I only tried the iPad interface to see how it worked but parents flocked to talk to the organisers to find out how they could get access for their loved ones. The room after the talk was full of hope, joy and laughter ­ this talk changed people's opinions or gave them direction.

They have plans for future events so if you get the opportunity, whether or not you or a family member have disabilities, this is an eye opening talk that will make you rethink music but also see pure joy that you will not see anywhere else.

With Huge Thanks to Annabelle Spender for her review and photos - follow @lillyringletLillyRinglet blog

This event was put on by Music of Our Time, follow them on Twitter @MusicOfOurTime and Facebook musicofourtime

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25 February 2015

Brighton Nerd Nite, Science Festival Special - review by Annabelle Spender

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I have never been to a Brighton Nerd Nite before that is not to say I have never been to an event full of talks on nerdy subjects but this was different. Previous talks have been around a specialist theme or subject that only designers, social media specialists or marketers would be interested in attending. This was going to be a different experience of seeing a different array of what we consider to be nerds in modern society from all different aspects of life. This event interested me because of my love of talks and learning new things.Nerd Nite photos by Annabelle Spender

As I was attending the event solo, I wasn't aware of where I was going or what to expect but after getting my name off the guest list ticked and an entry stamp marked on my hand I cautiously made my way down the two lots of stairs to the basement of Komedia. Arriving early and being on my own meant that while I didn't have the front row I did get a seat on the second row of tables close to the stage. As the room slowly filled I was surrounded by other locals who had arrived in groups of two or three and quickly found that none of us had been to a Nerd Nite before. This was going to be an interesting event for all of us. The talk of cake and biscuits filled the table, as we got to know each other while waiting for the rest of the room to fill. Ninja cookies, chocolate cake and wookie gingerbread filled the table as nerdy glasses and pots of mini eggs were placed on all of the tables. The big screen in front of us also projected onto the smaller screens around the room allowing
everyone to see a counter slowly tick down to 0.

As the opening cheers of the crowd died down the host took to the stage. He introduced himself, the history of Nerd Nite and noted it was to a much larger crowd than he was used to at these events. It turns out that Nerd Nite started in Boston, which is where he went to his first one while attending Kidney Week, a festival for kidney specialist doctors. Along with finding out which kidney is better (turns out it is the left one as the right one is under the shadow of the powerful liver, while the left is only next to the stupid spleen). Quirky jokes made the room giggle and laugh before a breakdown of the event was described, with­ three talks, a quiz and the chance to meet other self ­proclaimed nerds. Brighton Nerd Nites were the first in the UK and now are part of four others running.

Dr John Wood, specialist in viruses

The first speaker was introduced to the room with light applause and Dr John Wood took to the stage. He gave a very brief but impressive introduction about his history as a specialist in viruses. Starting with a brief overview of what makes up a virus and how they work, he started with the flu and how through genetic re-assortment it continues to evolve allowing it to die off or grow stronger. This gave the audience a basic understanding of concepts that later would be critical to understand. Breaking down the differences between bird based viruses and human based ones, it was clear that bird based flus could be very fatal to humans if they evolved to be more contagious but currently it is very hard for us to get these unless we are dealing with slaughtering hundreds of birds a day.


Dr Wood started next to talk about SARS and the exploration of where it came from. It turns out that bats are behind SARS getting to the human popular and its rapid spread. Next up came MERS, which most people in the room had not hard of. Currently 41% of people infected by this virus have died as it shuts down all the organs. It was at this point that everyone began to feel that this was going to be very interesting but possibly gloomy too. It was only when he was explained how difficult it was to currently get the virus did the room lighten. But the genetic re-assortment means that it could develop into something more infectious. This is why we were warned this is something we are likely to start hearing more about as a possible future epidemic. Originally thought to be from Camels as they had the virus but also the virus increased at times when camels came together for the spring, the virus was found in the local bat population with 95% comparison similarities to the MERS virus. The bats it turns out are behind this but the camels were collateral damage.

Dr John Wood, Nerd Nite photos by Annabelle Spender

Ebola virus

As something that has been in the news over the last year, Ebola was bound to appear in the talk and it appeared as the third virus. As viruses have spikes on the outside so that they can grip onto cells that they then infect and take over, the ebola virus being so long it has hundreds and hundreds of spikes all over making it very easy to grip onto cells. It again appears to come from bats the room was talked through patient zero and how little kids were playing in a forest behind a village in West Africa. It turns out that they were not eating them ­the theory that is among most people ­ but little kids playing under the local trees which turns out to be infected bat dung.

HIV and AIDs

While this virus is now finally starting to diminish, the virus is evolving. As this was said a shudder rippled through the room. The final virus was HIV and AIDs ­and details of how it has evolved through the last hundred years to what it is today showed the complexities of how social changes can suddenly increase these viruses. There are four different types of what we know as HIV but while it was first found in the early 1980's they found it in tissue samples from as early as the 1960's but believe it started in the Congo in the early 1900's.

The talk throughout dispelled lots of myths to do with viruses, such as HIV coming from intercourse between apes and men, as well as the origin of the likes of SARS and Ebola. It filled fear but also comfort to the level of risk of infection in the UK. The level of knowledge was so clear that Dr Wood happily answered questions from the audience, including whether the Victorians saw the connection between death and bats or why they appeared to be such good carriers for viruses.

As the talk finished, and the clapping died down, the audience eagerly wanted to talk about the incredible facts that they had learned during the break. With only 10 minutes until the next talk, the room erupted in talk and shuffling as people went to top up their drinks. It was a shame then that the organisers decided to constantly put up the music as­ this ruined the event for many people. These breaks, should have been an exciting time to discuss the evening, instead made it the lowest point and made almost everyone on my table consider leaving during the first break to escape the wall of noise.

Professor Jonathan Bacon about Game theory

As I managed to get through the break, I was able to enjoy the second talk by Professor Jonathan Bacon about Game theory. If you are not a fan of spiders, this may be something that you want to skip as the talk was full of videos, images and talk of spiders, and not little ones... His talk was all about how spiders puzzled even the great Darwin when it came to game theory and his own research. He started the talk by showing the thick lines of silk that they had come across that had led to a giant wall of webs. It turns out that spiders in this part of Africa live in spider bags during the day and come out at night. Over the course of an hour they make their way along the silk and started making webs in there was space. In an hour this commute of 250 spiders was complete. While making their web, they ward off others by bouncing. Early on in the hour the intruding spiders leave but as the hour goes on they ignore the bouncing and stay around the web.

Professor Jonathan Bacon, Nerd Nite photos by Annabelle Spender

Prof. Bacon then, bringing the crowd to laughter, brought up figures exclaiming how he wanted to show that he did more than just watching spiders for an hour each day. The data showed that they stayed later as it was in both the owner of the web and the intruding spiders interest for them to stay in case there is a big prey ­ a spider on its own would not be able to capture a big prey on its own. This is where Darwin got confused because these normally very solitary creatures would happily work together.

This is where game theory came in, and Prof. Bacon used Doves and Hawks to explain. He relayed this with an image of two doves (well one dove and one evod) fighting over a worm. When two doves meet they don't fight but share it 50/50. Mutations though occur in nature so finally one day a dove will get stronger. In his example the dove now gets a gun to a loud laughter erupting in the room. This is when it becomes a hawk, and when a dove and hawk meet, the hawk gets the worm. As more hawks appear, they meet and fight over the worm. Now this may sound boring and simple but as the talk went on, the laughs got bigger but also more interesting. His research shows how spiders are using game theory naturally to make their decisions to their benefit. This is how they work together so well. They determine whether or not to ignore spider that built the web or try to find
space for their own web. His ground breaking research thrilled the audience when mixed with his humour.

Rather than a break straight away, a quiz took place with everyone using the nerdy glasses handed out at the start of the evening. Questions were asked and people had to answer by putting glasses on their face or nose. As the questions whittled away the crowd to the final 6, they were asked onto the stage to answer. The questions were a mix of different subjects from light­ years between earth and Pluto to questions about the name of Donald Duck's father. It got the crowd to giggle and chatter throughout to the final question as only two remained ­ the crowd buzzed as they kept everyone in suspense to who won! We would only find out at the end of the night.

Following a loud applause, our host informed everyone of another break ­ this time just for 5 minutes. Again, the organisers killed the atmosphere with their need for music rather than allowing the crowd to talk. This time they decided sooner to crank up the noise making it another hellish time. Again the temptation to leave at this point was very tempting.

Punk Science duo from the British Science Museum

Punk Science, Nerd Nite photos by Annabelle Spender

Punk Science, Nerd Nite photos by Annabelle Spender

Finally the sound was lowered to a bearable level as the host introduced the final talk ­ or quiz, by Punk Science duo from the British Science Museum. With their excitable nature and quirky jokes, they had the crowd giggling away. Now they asked everyone to stand up and to only sit down until they got to a film on the top 50 IMDB Sci­Fi films that they hadn't seen. As they made their way down the list only a few people at a time would lower ­ until it got to number 8 when everyone in the room sat down. Continuing down the list, after getting back to their feet, they made it to another film no one had seen. It was at this point that they picked the only person in the audience who had not seen any Star Wars film and 3 others who had been standing near the end of the film list.

Nerd Nite photos by Annabelle Spender

With their final four they got them to operate buzzes... which sounded when you put your finger in a glass of water. While one person had to be replaced due to health reasons related to contact with electricity, each contestant found out what their buzzer noise was with sound clips or theme tunes from Star Wars, Star Trek, Men in Black and Super Mario Bros. Each was given a costume item to make it clear who had each buzzer sound and the quiz started. All the questions were science themed and had the audience erupting in laughter. As they ran out of questions, they found that a problem that two people were tied for second place so their final round was going to get a bit complicated. Sending away one, they started the sudden death round ­ to stay in you had to eat the edible bugs each time they brought them out. Yucking out the audience showing what these contestants were about to digest. While "ewwww" and "yuck" filled the room, the presenters acted far more shocked that all three kept eating what was being given to them... even when they had to eat a half bitten bug. At the end, they were very open that they thought most or all of them would give up at the first bug so all three drew.

Nerd Nite photos by Annabelle Spender

While this talk was funny and interesting, it was harder to take any new information away when memories of jokes, bugs and laughter fill your mind. This, for the science festival special, was a good choice as it was memorable and exciting but was also a great contrast to the first very sombre talk.

The final talk brings the night to an end, the crowd buzzing from all the fun and new found information. Wrapping up the whole night with the winner of the first quiz, highlighting the next Nerd Nite and farewells, it was clearly an exciting night for everyone as chatter erupted.

The event itself was amazing with the mix of great talks, quizzes and meeting other local people with similar interests to my own. While it is a shame that half the guests wanted to leave with overzealous use of music in the breaks but the rest of the event was incredible. It was great to hear from two amazing doctors about their work and meet some other great people.

If you love great talks, company and fun quizzes, this is a monthly event that you should check out!

With Huge Thanks to Annabelle Spender for her review and photos - follow @lillyringletLillyRinglet blog

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23 February 2015

How the Victorians ruined the world, Brighton Science Festival review

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Think flushing toilets, beard proliferation and immigration of the squirrel kind. The sprightly and amusingly competitive Arney sisters offered us a subversive take on the Victorians and what they did for us.

Bouncing on to the stage in bosom enhancing corsets the gifted pair with science backgrounds, one in Physics, the other in Biology introduced themselves as the thinking man's Sue Perkins and a member of a steam punk band.

Their intention for the evening was to discuss four topics and show us how the reign of "Vicky Regina", as the doughty old Queen got dubbed, should not be "Hurrah'd" but rather "Bah'd" instead.

I had ended up going to this event as a last-minute replacement so I wasn't sure I was actually going to enjoy it.

Although I love history I'm not so interested in the Victorians as I associate them with a clamp down on free thinking and enlightenment that had flourished in the previous century.

Anyhoo, what I did know about them was that they had a pioneering spirit and that much of the world around us has its origins in this era. This I thought in my innocence was at least something to Hurrah.

Ms Helen Arney was the first to offer her rebuttal of this attitude with a diatribe on "chin furniture". We have now reached peak beard, she said and we should as a nation desist from growing any more. Otherwise she said it would lead to women growing them too just to be taken notice of.

Ms Arney then took the craze back to the beginning when only one MP, Muntz wore a beard. Back then he had been forced to defend himself from attacks as it was considered that only cranks or artists would wear one.

This situation began to be reversed when soldiers of the Crimean war were encouraged to wear beards as protection against the freezing conditions. Then back in Blighty the great stink of 1858 caused more beard acquisitions as a way to filter out air-born infections.

However, despite her best efforts the Brighton audience decided to keep the beard and Hurrah it's popularity. Ms Helen seemed disappointed.

Next came an assault on advertising and the celebrity endorsement. Dr Kat Arney took us back to a Mr Barratt who married into the Pears soap family and persuaded them to increase their advertising budget from 80 to 100,000 pounds. He created the slogan, Good Morning, have you used pears soap? and it was seen everywhere.

He then introduced the first celebrity endorsement with actress Lillie Langtree. Dr Arney it appears is not a fan, nor it seems is she of Katie Price horse wear or Bill Wyman metal detectors.

Her lively argument won over the crowd and celebrity endorsement was well and truly Bah'd. Except can I say, I still like them!

The sisters kept the pace moving on rapidly with an extract revealing the Victorian dislike for the female bicycle face and their responsibility for introducing the grey squirrel into Britain.

Ms Helen came back for her next proposal, this time the flushing toilet. Surely she couldn't win this argument?

With pictures and information to back up her argument she explained that this technology had ended up being exported across the world and to places where it shouldn't have gone.

Litres and litres of fresh water are used to flush out our waste. It then takes chemicals and energy to extract the unusable sludge from the water that is reintroduced into our homes.

If only we'd gone down the earth closet route instead and our waste, containing valuable nitrate could be used to fertilise the earth.

The crowd won over, Ms Helen received the looked-for Bah! for her efforts.

Finally, the Biologist Dr K Arney attacked Darwin. Shock. Ok, it was indirectly, as it was his weird cousin Galton with the extraordinary eyebrows who was held up for scrutiny. Nevertheless said Dr Kat it's still Darwin by association.

It turns out Galton popularised the notion of eugenics, widely rubbished today, as well as amongst other things, inventing the Gumption Reviver, a method of waking up dozing students. So he wasn't all bad was he?

After an hour spent in the company of these jolly and erudite sisters I left not loving the Victorians but big fans of their entertaining show. Go and see them if you can, you're bound to give them an Hurrah. Sorry that's very cheesy of me.

Thanks to Otherplace productions for complimentary tickets to review this event.

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22 February 2015

Weald and Downland Open Air museum

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Weald and Downland Open Air museum

Weald and Downland Open Air museum

Bayleaf at Weald and Downland Open Air museum

inside Bayleaf at Weald and Downland Open Air museum

laying live hawthorn hedge at Weald and Downland Open Air museum

Weald and Downland Open Air museum

bedroom at Weald and Downland Open Air museum

beehives at Weald and Downland Open Air museum

After having spent quite a lot of time staring at computer screens and feeling stuck inside, the first chance I had to enjoy a spring-like day I was bouncing to get out and go somewhere.

This is what made us travel west to the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum in Lavant. Covering 40 acres there are 50 buildings to wander in and out of for tantalising glimpses into the past.

Each building has its own story to tell and has been saved from destruction and carefully reconstructed at the Open Air Museum.

They come from all over south east England and represent different periods in history from the medieval, Tudor to Victorian.

There were two cute cottages from Ashtead in Surrey (where I went to school), a medieval hut from Hangleton and a Toll house from Beeding in Sussex. Inside were wood burning fires, beds left crumpled as if someone had just got up and jugs and plates to show how previous generations used to eat and drink.

As we walked around we saw men laying a live hawthorn hedge, a stonemason at work and a smithy bashing out a new tool.

There were ducks by the pond having a fine time of it as well three plump looking hens and their very proud cockerel pecking the earth opposite a shire horse in a shed.

It was quite empty when we were there, which was lovely for us as it felt really peaceful! But I have a feeling this was only because we're at the end of winter and everyone's still waking up from hibernation mode.

They have lots of special events, including Mothering Sunday next month on 15th March, when mums and grans get discounted entry and a bunch of daffies.

Expect to see some new-born lambs and spring buds bursting into life. There will be demonstrations in brewing and baking in an authentic Tudor kitchen, along with period music for an immersive experience.

And if you're feeling peckish head to the Ashtead cottages for some freshly prepared simnel cake, a traditional Mothering Sunday, mid-lent treat.

Check out their website for more events and opening times, Wealddown.

Weald and Downland Open Air museum

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Where would you recommend for a day in the country? Please let me know and share your tips.

14 February 2015

Happy Heart Day! #heartsfoundallovertheplace

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For the past couple of years I've been celebrating Happy Heart Day with a collection of hearts found all the over the place.
pakora heart #heartsfoundallovertheplace

I still keep finding them and I've even started collecting them on Pinterest at irishaggers/hearts found all over the place too.  I just can't help myself.

Anyway, whether you've got a Welsh cariad, a mum who loves you, a cat who won't leave your side, or BFFs that make you feel special, there's someone out there that loves you!

So, to celebrate this fact and share some more hearts that I've found, here are some from the last twelve months.

Brighton beach heart #heartsfoundallovertheplace

pavement heart #heartsfoundallovertheplace

Brighton beach heart #heartsfoundallovertheplace

Close up Brighton beach heart #heartsfoundallovertheplace

Check out last year's heartening look at love, 2013 hearts of Brighton and 2012 accidental heart shapes.

I'd love see any you've found, please share your favourites with me!

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13 February 2015

Correspondence exhibition - Brighton Science Festival, review by Annabelle Spender

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The science festival in Brighton has begun! The first event that I attended this year was a free exhibition and next to Preston Park. On reading the adult programme, Correspondence seemed like a perfect start to it due to my interest in art, marketing and technology.

Correspondence exhibition - Brighton Science Festival


Initially, I wasn't thrilled - when I walked into the office block where I met a grumpy door man who wasn't very helpful, but finally after making my way to the 6th floor the view was stunning as you walk out of the tiny lift and look over at Preston Park.

When you first walk into the exhibition itself, there is a warning of sorts - "Beware of Spybot!" That should have been the first clue that this was going to be a very different type of exhibition and that images of you could be beamed on to the internet as part of one of the art installations.

Correspondence exhibition - Brighton Science Festival


There are only a small number of displays so if you had only gone to look around and were feeling anti-social then this would have been the wrong event to go to. With little information explaining the projects, it can seem like a very disjointed exhibition, which you could whip around in 10 minutes flat - in fact the group of people I arrived with were gone after that. 

There was an interactive music section, various videos, images with more displayed around the room but the exhibition really came to life when you talked to the artists. These artists are passionate about their work and talking to them made all the pieces make sense, as well as the theme as a whole.

Correspondence exhibition - Brighton Science Festival


The first artist that I spoke to was Alexander Glass while he photographed his piece. His piece I felt mirrored the event so well - at first his piece looked like a martini glass full of cream next to a pot of strawberries with a stray paint can on the side. It is only when you stop for a second and realise that it is paint filled within the glass, that you realise the depth of this piece. Alexander's piece was all about the methods that are used in advertising to best convey products; using paint instead of cream highlighting how those yummy food photos or adverts aren't as appetising in real life. The video advert he created as part of his piece looped behind as he went through all the mind boggling things used to represent different things in adverts - such as ice cream for mash potato and mash potato for ice cream!

It is only then that it forces you to think about how they convey the amazing food in adverts and films, showing you something that looks incredible to eat and yet cuts away to a different angle or shot of someone eating it.

Correspondence exhibition - Brighton Science Festival


The next artist I spoke to was Jacob V Joyce concerning the fabric based art piece that dominated the room with its vibrate colour and size. The statement on it only becomes more moving when you hear the story behind the piece and what it conveys. For Jacob, it was clear that whenever artists create a piece about current affairs, they are seen as either opinion pieces or the artists themselves are seen as authoritative about the topic. He wanted to create a piece based on the recent race fuelled riots in America without this happening. On knowing this, you can view this fabric art piece as it really is - a statement about the struggles faced by artists and how easy it is to look at just the surface of art.

Now having talked to two artists, the theme of Correspondence was becoming so clear - this thought provoking exhibition really was about making you re-think how you perceive the communication in the world.


Having seen the difference talking to the artists made, I tracked down the mind behind the spybot - only to find out that originally it was planned to be a goat looking spybot rather than the final file on wheels appearance, and that it was called Susan. The whole exhibition was recreated on Second Life, a game where you can build or live how you like. but the team wanted to make the whole event more engaging and interactive. With the high level of media interest in drones used for spying, or the fact that you are seen by over 300 CCTV's a day on average, Susan was born. This camera on wheels was beaming everything it saw live onto a screen in the Second Life Exhibition, allowing people from all over the globe to see it all from a different perspective.

The mastermind behind Susan was Nick Smith, but unlike everyone else he had a second project.

Leading on from how our images could be being beamed across the world very easily - his mapping project was about how much information we put on the web and whether there was any demographic divides to how we acted on the web. Based off all those in the exhibit, he tried to see just how much information he could gain off the web about each person - this quantified and out into a special program created a map of the exhibition with a difference. Depending on how much information he could find on each person, depended on how much floor space they took on this new map. His results were clear - all the white British exhibitors shared a lot more information readily available than all the other demographics. With an understanding of SEO, our conversation about this quickly got very nerdy but it went along the lines of "Facebook and Google know you better than your friends".

Correspondence exhibition - Brighton Science Festival


The final artist I had the privilege of talking to was the lady behind the event, Katie McCallum. Giant photos of walls with blocks of different colours hung from the wall and on my first time round had seemed the most disjointed from the theme. What did these photos, while interesting, have to do with communication or correspondence. Oh what a fool - this was again about the story behind it all! With graffiti occurring on so many plain walls these days, often they are painted over. In all of the instances though captured by Katie, they were not painted over with the same colour but a differing shade. These blocks of paint are a statement rather than hiding what others will consider art - this is telling artists loud and clear "I'm in charge here and this is my mark of authority". Again here is a piece that once you understand the meaning or story, the depth of it overwhelms the senses and makes you think for days.

Correspondence exhibition - Brighton Science Festival


It was at this point that Katie also made it clear what the biggest piece, an almost metal cage with a very long length of paper weaving throughout it, was the cornerstone of the whole thing. The paper that weaved in and out of the metal had e-mails, images and all the correspondence about the exhibit. It showed how it came about to planning down to the last minute - it was everything communicated electronically to everyone involved.

There were still many pieces left without stories but with 2 hours gone and most artists recovering from a night of celebrating the opening of the show, I left the show knowing that I now will think about the world a little differently. If this band of artists creates another collaborative experiment, I will definitely go with more time (and not the night after the opening!) but I would suggest it to anyone who wants to open their mind to the inner workings of these highly creative minds. Do not expect fine art but do prepare to come out looking at the world a little differently.

CORRESPONDENCE -  5 – 9 February, 10:00am – 6:00pm

With thanks to Annabelle Spender for her review and photos - follow @lillyringletLillyRinglet blog

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8 February 2015

A Guide to Art and Architecture in Reykjavik, Iceland

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Wherever I go I tend to walk with my head tilting upwards as I look at the buildings around me.   Reykjavik, Iceland was no exception.  In particular their brand-new show-piece concert hall Harpa, which only opened in 2011, gave me a whole ceiling full of refracting light to turn my head towards.

Harpa, Reykjavik, Iceland

There were birds suspended from the ceiling, which reminded me of birds I once saw suspended from the ceiling in the Royal Festival Hall, London along with hexagonal shapes that reminded me of the Giant's Causeway.  I wasn't too far off in respect of the latter as the formations at the Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland and Iceland's own geology share the same volcanic roots.

Harpa, Reykjavik, Iceland

The building in other respects visually reflected the spectacular natural landscape that surrounded it, including how the wide open space and scale of the foyer had been created.

On one side a walkway from the top floor appeared to cascade down to ground level, like a river from a mountaintop.  It was impressive and had clearly had the input of a visual artist to realise such exciting story-telling, in fact it's the work of Olafur Eliasson who has managed to do this.

Harpa, Reykjavik, Iceland

The other building that captivated me was equally impressive from a distance as it was from within. The mighty Hallgrimskirkja, is Reykjavik's Lutheran cathedral and can be seen for miles around.

Viking Leifur Eiriksson, Reykjavik

Standing proudly guarding its hallowed grounds is a statue of the Viking Leifur Eiriksson, a gift from the USA in 1930 to commemorate the first European to discover America.

Although Hallgrimskirkja was designed by Guðjón Samuel 60 years before the Harpa they strikingly share the same natural influences on their design, each creating a powerful impact.

Inside, the Lutheran interior maintains a simplicity in design, that impresses without ornament, flourish or decoration with a ceiling that rises to extraordinary heights.

While we stood there staring upwards one of the organists sat down to practise and suddenly we were struck by this powerful, transformative sound that propelled out of the organ's 5,275 pipes bringing the whole space dramatically to life.

Upstairs one of the ladies of the church took my Welsh cariad and I to look behind the scenes at the workings of the organ and while we were there we admired up close the stained glass commemorating Iceland's most treasured hymn writer Hallgrim.

Then we took the lift to the top where we enjoyed a 360 degree view of Reykjavik and it was marvellous.

Back on the streets sculptures and wall art caught my eye and I took pictures as we walked around getting to know Reykjavik.

viking boat sculpture, Solfar meaning Sun Voyager
Viking boat sculpture, Solfar meaning Sun Voyager
The final sculpture is actually the first thing we stopped to look at. A Viking boat called Solfar, which means Sun Voyager that sits on a piece of polished marble where it points out to sea, by Jon Gunnar Arnarson and made in 1971.

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