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Digital artists take on Durham Heritage

Published March 31, 2021 3.38pm


A new interactive virtual artwork, inspired by the Victorian 'spar boxes' of Killhope Museum will be available for everyone to explore online this Easter weekend.

As part of County Durham's new digital culture innovation partnership, 'Digitale', Killhope Lead Mining Museum teamed up with two digital artists to create an experimental art piece.

Digitale is a joint project founded by Durham County Council, Durham University, and Durham Cathedral.

Spar boxes

The artwork 'Vug' is inspired by Killhope's large collection of spar boxes - an example of County Durham folk art whereby miners would collect interesting minerals and strange formations found underground to display in glass boxes.

The two artists breathing new life into this tradition are Petra Szemán and Sam Aaron. The former, a moving image artist working with animation and game-like immersive installations and the latter a coder and musician.

Exploring a new world

Of the project, Petra notes: "Working on Vug has been a great experience and I have developed a new fascination for spar boxes.

'Vug' is a colloquial word for a natural chamber in a rock that's lined with minerals. It is where many of the miners found their minerals for their spar boxes.

"To me this chamber represents leaving the overworld behind and descending into the underworld. While the rock appears solid, the inside is hollow, lined with minerals where each face reflects a shard of the world around it.

"The vug sits at the cross-section of different worlds and I have created a virtual chamber that allows the viewer to exist in both places at the same time."

Digital art

Sam said: "I have relished the opportunity to bring my creative live coding philosophy to the Vug project. Drawing from my experience as a professional programmer, I initially took an engineering-led approach and built a basic yet fully-formed prototype that was ready for deployment.

"Once this was established, I then closely collaborated with Petra and Killhope Musuem team. This enabled me to quickly iterate the prototype to explore the creative opportunities available providing continuous feedback to feedback and enhance the collaboration."

Collaborative work

Maria McArdle, operations officer at Killhope Museum, said: "Weardale is known for its rich local heritage, including its spar boxes.

"Having never done a virtual art collaboration before, working with Petra and Sam via Digitale has allowed us to see these familiar objects in a totally new way.

"At the time, the boxes were viewed as mesmerising and otherworldly and we hope that today's audiences will feel the same when they view the interactive artwork."

Durham University Librarian Liz Waller said: "Vug is one of several digital cultural experiments we are running as part of Digitale.

"The Digitale project demonstrates the University's commitment to supporting innovation in Digital Culture and fostering open source collaboration across the region."

From Good Friday the exhibition will be free for everyone to view at events at Killhope, the North of England Lead Mining Museum.

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