GMC – Art and tech’s shared space in event production

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Written by  Ryan Wilmott of GMC Events (Arcadia, Glastonbury Festival, PRIDE, Shambala Festival and more.

Art and technology comprise two of the most integral elements of event production, and the relationship between the two is inextricable. 

Complex softwares facilitate efficient design and decor production, and technologies such as LED serve as energy efficient alternatives to otherwise power-hungry lighting, lasers and projectors. Whilst at once saving organisers vital time and resources, energy efficiency is paramount to the industry’s move towards a more sustainable model – a focus which is becoming increasingly prevalent across the board.

As well as its practical function, technology interacts with art to facilitate better, more innovative customer experiences. Live events have always offered a form of escapism, but when faced with the current social, political and economic climate, people are increasingly looking to live new and different realities. In order for the industry to evolve with this growing demand, it is imperative that organisers find new ways of subverting the two-dimensional performer/ public paradigm.

Developments in immersive technology naturally spring to mind. It is true that, in years to come, we may well see more live events merging with the same concepts and creative overlays as found in gaming, or integrating elements of immersive theatre. Nonetheless, the shortfalls of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology, are largely down to their distinctly individualised offering which mean they suffer in the context of live events, which is centred around shared experience. VR and AR technology are prime examples. The act of wearing, say, a pair of VR glasses, creates a physical barrier that diminishes a live event’s collective appeal.  And although this could, in theory, be remedied by AR technology, it is a long way from being developed so far.

Aside from these technologies, the possibilities for large scale set design have evolved dramatically over the last ten years, helped by developments in autocad, vectorworks and sketchup software. Whereas these technologies used to be the sole preserve of the expert, they are now much more widely used as a tool to develop creative ideas. The potential for developing technologies such as CNC cutting machines or new lightweight fabrics also extend as far as site planning. The room for more creativity can improve customer experience, and more complex models benefit a site’s functionality. This is in part driven by the Netherlands and Belgium, in particular the belgian music festival, Tomorrowland, where high-impact creativity prevails.

Vital for any event that wishes to use these technologies, is an understanding of sustainability. Economic, environmental and emotional sustainability are the bedrock of success, and in order for an event to succeed in the long term, it must consider them the foundation for all decision-making. Those that consistently allow these three pillars to inform their practice will be sure of continued evolution. In practice, this includes: the sole use of local and organic produce, encouraging shared transport, using bio-fuels, reusable set materials, and programming local artists; exercising more consideration for the impact on local wildlife; and offering fair wages and a balanced workload to staff members. 

All of these new possibilities are enabled by the interaction between art and technology, and increase the capacity of  live events to offer escapism from the drudgery of everyday life. Nonetheless, these developments should not be designed with the purpose of offering a temporary release, but should reach further to inspire peoples’ lives long after the event is over. Whether it simply be lasting memories, or a continued engagement with post-event activities.

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