Talk to trees in an augmented reality treasure hunt or help the king and queen of Scentopia defeat the evil Weedo in a hands-on digital art park in Southend. Don’t forget your smartphone Digital playground … NetPark at Chalkwell Hall in Southend-on-Sea.
Digital playground … NetPark at Chalkwell Hall in Southend-on-Sea.
Photograph: Simon Fowler/Metal
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Step into NetPark, the invisible art gallery, where there is absolutely nothing to see – unless you want to. Tucked away in Southend-on-Sea, the “world’s first digital art park” is quietly opening its nonexistent doors. On hearing this claim of a global first, people may be incredulous. But the gallery’s creators are sure: this is the one and only time a Wi-Fi network has been built specifically to house a curated art collection – and further, a collection created specifically for that space. Find more info on www.onrecycle.co.uk here.
NetPark is the latest project by arts initiative Metal, which consists of GPS-located art to experience via a free “industrial-strength” wireless signal. Signs at all the main gates of Chalkwell Park direct visitors to the website, from where they can download apps on to their smartphones or tablets. Each one reveals a different digital artwork.
This combination of public space and public digital space creates a third plane in which art can be metaphorically hung. “The intervention is invisible but all-pervasive,” says Malcolm Garrett, one of the project’s founders. “You can build up an infinite amount of layers in any place without changing it.” Which is lucky because NetPark’s owners are nothing if not ambitious. Colette Bailey, Metal’s artistic director, sees the space like any gallery: “We will commission new work, we can show temporary work, we can have event-based digital work.” And as in any other gallery, public tours are available, with tablet computers available to borrow free of charge.
NetPark has opened with five diverse pieces from 90 proposals by artists around the world. All draw on the park for inspiration. Matmos, a Baltimore electronic music duo, offer up a “sonic interpretation” of the park with recorded sounds, some turned into tunes, and one with a lighthearted (and occasionally sweary) monologue. A map guides users and, when they wander into certain areas, the appropriate piece of music starts playing. You can listen to the tracks outside the park too, although they are meant to be experienced in specific spots. Have a listen to the Intro, then try Rose Garden or Peacock if you’d like a sample and can’t get to Essex to “touchulate the peacock”.