Visual Designer and Senior Lecturer on the University of Waikato’s Bachelor of Design degree Chin-En Keith Soo knows a thing or two about art. The award-winning visual artist has exhibited all over the world under the name CEKS (his initials) and was recently asked to showcase two pieces at the Tauranga Art Gallery as part of the interactive Art That Needs You exhibition.
Keith’s art lives where visual design and technology collide, so he is right at home in the University’s Faculty of Computing and Mathematical Sciences. “Most of what we do in visual arts is done on the computer,” says Keith. “The Bachelor of Design degree is not just computer work, it takes in aspects of graphic design, art and media to give students a broad understanding of design. Computing is just how we express our ideas in the modern world.”
Expressing complex ideas is what Keith’s work is all about. His exhibits use technology to visually demonstrate large amounts of data in ways that are aesthetically pleasing. Cadence, which is being shown for the first time in Tauranga, is a software programme that takes an API feed from Twitter and displays any mention of specific colours in real time. These colours are represented as shapes and sounds which, using an algorithm, dance on screen to a unique soundtrack made up by the notes generated.
To make the exhibit more interactive for visitors to the gallery, Keith decided to display the Twitter feed in black and white. “But if people push a tweet to Cadence directly, Cadence will perform in colours on screen for 10 seconds.”
Cadence has uses beyond just colours. “It could be used to demonstrate how certain people, brands or ideas are trending. It’s about how we can absorb large amounts of information in the shortest possible timeframe.” Keith hopes to take Cadence to a conference in Berlin later this year.
His second piece Heueu is a visual representation of well-loved movies using colour and sound. It debuted in Ravenna, Italy at the Generative Art Conference. “I created an algorithm that takes the dominant colour form every 60th frame of a movie and flashes those colours over the sped-up audio.”
Keith says Heueu is most enjoyable for the viewer if they are familiar with the chosen movie. “You will be able to recognise certain scenes, and you get an appreciation of the way movie directors use colour to portray certain emotions.”
He says there are both functional and purely artistic aspects to all his work. “Design is for a purpose, but art is for humans to enjoy; it has an emotional angle.”
Keith began working at the University of Waikato in 2005, coming from the internationally recognised Wanganui School of Design. At the time, the School and the University were undertaking a conjoint visual design degree, which Keith taught on. He took some time off from 2009 to 2010 when his passion for visual arts took him to the Shanghai World Expo, where he designed the installations for Monaco, Brazil and Liverpool, and he also won the Shanghai Science & Arts Exhibition Award in 2009.
Art That Needs You is on at the Tauranga Art Gallery, Cnr Wharf and Willow Streets Tauranga, until 3 June.