Submerge: Bristol International Digital Arts Festival 2019

Submerge: Bristol International Digital Arts Festival has completed its second edition, taking place from 1 – 10 March across 11 Bristol venues. The festival included audiovisual works from Gazelle Twin Batu, Klein, JASSS, Jan Mocek, Guillaume Marmin, Ultimate Dancer, Vincent Moon and Bean.

Submerge is a UK based digital arts production and events company, working with artists to produce immersive experiences at the intersection of performance, music, visual arts and creative technology. As producers of Bristol International Digital Arts Festival (BIDAF), Submerge present digital arts that foreground live performance and audiovisual experiences that have strong sensory effects on audiences.

In a year fraught with conflict, the 2019 edition was themed Belonging. The programme questioned what happens when objects, people and communities fracture; and how you bring them back together. The festival presented a broad mix of visceral, emotive digitalartworks and experiences that embrace the diversity of the digital arts.

Central to the programme was the UK premiere of Licht, Mehr Licht! by French artist Guillaume Marmin, an immersive digital installation of choregraphed light and sound at Arnolfini Gallery. This was well received, with a high percentage of visitors reporting that this was their first experience of digital installation art. The piece received close to 4000 visitors and had excellent attendance from families, young people and children.

Along with the live programme, the festival also featured a discourse programme, including workshops for those who identify as women, people of colour (POC), LGBTQ+ and other ‘othered’ and excluded groups and panel talks for young people interested in a career in digital arts.

In light of the festival occurring in the lead up to Brexit, the programme celebrated European artists, with performers travelling from France, Spain, Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden and Belgium. Czech Jan Mocek presented the UK premiere of Shadow Meadow; a two person choreography enhanced using LED lights, stroboscopes, extreme smoke and sub bass.

From the UK, Bassline Circus in association with Feral presented Liquid Sky, a circus performance merging sonic art and a laser light scenography. Duncan Speakman presented his immersive sound walk It Must Have Been Dark By Then, which uses evocative music, narration and field recording to explore stories of environments affected by climate change.

Submerge: BIDAF is a festival still in its infancy, and it was heartening to see a successful programme which improves representation of queer, female and POC digital artists. Post festival evaluation shows that festival audiences were also diverse in relation to gender and sexuality.

Bristol has work to do to improve disabled access to its arts venues and there are a number of barriers to participation that need to be addressed. For instance, whilst each of the venues used for the festival were wheelchair accessible and key venue Arnolfini Gallery is accessible, the road outside the venue is cobbled and large industrial bins obstruct the pavement, making it difficult to navigate to the building. Whilst many individual venues are doing an excellent job at meeting the broad range of access needs (such as Watershed’s relaxed viewings, and interpreted screenings) a holistic approach to access is needed across the whole of the city to decrease barriers to participation and ensure that all kinds of audiences can experience the arts.

With BIDAF 2019 Submerge has continued to fill a gap for digital arts, developing audiences for audiovisual arts experiences in the Southwest and attempting to begin to create pathways into the digital arts for diverse artists and audiences.

Categories: Report

Date Posted: 23 May 2019