Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Hertfordshire
Unit of AssessmentArt and Design: History, Practice and Theory
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Film, Television and Digital Media, Visual Arts and Crafts
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
Summary of the impact
Plenum is an installation conceived by Simeon Nelson in 2010 as a
collaborative art-music artwork. It was performed six times between 2010
and 2013 at sound and light festivals in Poland, Estonia and the UK, at
the Cambridge Music Festival, and at an Australian contemporary arts
venue. Audiences totalling over 240,000 saw the work, with website
visitors extending its reach to over 300,000; the Durham Lumiere alone, of
which Plenum formed an integral element, created an estimated £4.3
million for the local economy. Festival and arts curators have described Plenum
as `thought provoking' and `inspiring'.
Simeon Nelson, professor of sculpture, proposed Plenum, a light
and sound installation, in 2010. The work was completed that year in
collaboration with composer Rob Godman (Music department) and
artist/programmer Nick Rothwell; the entire work underwent substantial
revision in 2011.
Plenum, a computer-generated real-time architectural light
projection, was a contributing work to a multi-city series of exhibitions,
seminars and lectures, entitled `Lux Scientia', that linked European
academics, scientists and artists in a discourse about the relationships
between art, science and belief. Informed by Nelson's conversations with
Durham University astrophysicist and theologian Revd Professor David
Wilkinson, Plenum's significance lies in its combination of
cosmology and complexity theory, a new scientific paradigm that sees the
cosmos as comprehensible at all scales and contexts. People's engagement
with the material world is arguably masked by the limitations of their
senses and habits of thinking. The aim of the project was to show the
possibility on an underlying order at both micro and macro-cosmic scales.
The work takes the form of a projected grid of dots. This is the first
instance of the application of the grid, much used in twentieth-century
art, to the transformation of structures in science used in a public
rather than a gallery context. The originality of the work is its
depiction of states of matter at simultaneously very small and very large
scales, linking the vast distances between stars with the vast emptiness
inside atoms. The drawings for Plenum were based on the
illustrations of crystal lattices found in modern physics textbooks. A
perfect crystalline grid of dots underpins the work's projection cycle:
random dots begin to appear within the projection, forcing the surrounding
dots apart; the top layers of the grid begin to disintegrate into what
appears to be a gaseous state, shooting off in seemingly random
trajectories. Thus the projection runs a full sequence from a graphic
representation of a frozen state of absolute order through increasing
entropy to a state of complete chaos.
The structure of Plenum's musical component is shaped by the same
algorithm that determined the position of the position and the trajectory
of the projected dots. Image and sound came together in a public forum to
articulate in visual and sonic form the passage of states of matter and
our ability to perceive them.
Plenum was presented at three festivals in 2011 (in Toruń, Poland;
Tallinn, Estonia; and Durham, UK) and twice in 2012 (Cambridge Music
Festival and in Australia); its earliest incarnation appeared at Toruń's
Skyway '10 light festival (2010). The art-science dialogue that lay at the
heart of Plenum's conception continued during the three Lux
Scientia festivals (2011), which included symposia held at each event,
with contributions from scientists, artists, curators and commissioners.
These colloquia drew upon the expertise of cosmologists, psychologists,
artists and musicians to explore some of the ways in which art and science
articulated belief, specifically the ways in which the narratives of
science and art — each with their own subjective world-views and
presuppositions — can collectively contribute to a fuller picture of
reality. The discussions culminated in an EU-funded symposium entitled
`The Future of European Collaboration' in London.
References to the research
Nelson, S., Godman, R. and Rothwell, N. Plenum. 2011
(Computer-generated real-time architectural sound and light projection.)
August 2010: Sound and light projection presented on Collegium Maximum
Façade, Toruń, Poland. Skyway '10 Festival. This was an early version of Plenum,
substantially revised in 2011.
August 2011: Sound and light projection presented on Church of the Holy
Spirit, Toruń, Poland. Lux Scientia, Skyway '11 Festival.
September 2011: Sound and light projection presented on Tallinna Raekoda,
Tallinn, Estonia. Lux Scientia, Valgus Festival
November 2011: Sound and light projection presented on St Oswald's
Church, Durham. Lux Scientia, Lumiere (produced by Artichoke
June-July 2012: Gallery presentation, Kick Arts, Centre of Contemporary
Arts, Cairns, Australia.
November 2012: Sound and light projection presented on King's College
Chapel, Cambridge, Cambridge Music Festival.
Details of the impact
Plenum was presented on six occasions in Europe and Australia
between 2010 and 2012. As a site-specific public work, each time it was
projected onto different buildings and surfaces the configuration of the
space created a unique visual experience. Festival and event curators
confirm that, over the six performances, the installation was experienced
by over 240,000 people; if website visitors are included, this rises to
well over 300,000.
The organisers of the Lux Scientia festivals — at Toruń (Poland), Tallinn
(Estonia) and Durham — reported that a total of 240,000 visitors attended
the three festivals, which also generated over 500 press, online and
TV/radio features. The festivals' combined reach was further extended by
125,980 website visitors and 2,294 views of the Lux Scientia micro-site.
The UK curatorial team, the Artichoke Trust, drew 150,000 visitors to the
Durham Lumiere alone, significantly more than the other two light
festivals combined. Durham County Council estimated that the Lumiere
generated £4.3 million for the local economy.
Figures are unavailable for the Skyway '10 festival appearance (Poland,
2010), but two other Plenum performances saw audiences of just
over 2,000 each: KickArts Contemporary Arts in Cairns, Australia reported
2,100 visitors over June and July 2012; while the Cambridge Music Festival
(November 2012) attracted an audience of around 2,500 over the two-night
projection onto King's College Chapel. Again, the work's online presence
extended the audience, with almost 3,300 Youtube views (in aggregate) of
six videos of Plenum posted at various times between early 2011
and July 2013.
Festival curators have commented on Plenum's significance and its
reception by audiences. Mário Caeiro (Toruń), who commissioned the
original 2010 work, described Plenum as `thought provoking and
exciting', noting in particular that it had:
the capacity to manifest most complex facts as proposed by scientific
knowledge through both sensorial and artistic language . . . in a way
which isn't didactic in the worst sense, but truly aesthetic . . . the
work explores the urban form in an idiosyncratic and unexpected way . . .
after some minutes, the whole ecosystem of the artwork becomes patent,
[and] it was frequent to see people absolutely fascinated with the
After the 2012 Cambridge Music Festival, during which King's College
served over two nights as the venue for the light and music projection,
the festival's director said of the installation's visual aspect:
It shows how art can be inspired by science and how science is
fundamentally beautiful, both visually and intellectually. It makes a
nonsense of the supposed `boundary' between the arts and sciences and it
is important that both artists and scientists work to break this down —
especially in Cambridge, a city renowned for its culture but also for its
`technology cluster' which is sometimes perceived not to engage with local
This particular performance created press interest from sources as
diverse as Gramophone, technology publication Cabume, the
BBC, and student newspapers Varsity and The Cambridge Student.
The latter reported that `many King's students appeared to enjoy the show,
despite not seeming to know what it was about', and included humorous
impressions alongside more considered observations of the artwork: `One
third year medic described the show as, "impressive, weirdly hypnotic and
seriously atmospheric in the fog" . . . Another third year medic said she
felt she "was going to be abducted if she stared at it too long".'
The installation's Australian curator reacted positively to the work's
seamless blending of visuals and music:
The combination of the sounds and the visual made that I felt I was
WITHIN the work; there were no boundaries between sound, visual and
myself, it was an experience of being entirely "present", all "thought"
becoming "non-thought" . . . I found the work utterly inspiring.
Plenum is now migrating from public art to concert-hall
performance, in which the visuals will be projected inside the buildings
rather than onto exteriors. In this form, it has been booked for three
separate music festival appearances during 2013/14: the Huddersfield
Contemporary Music Festival (November 2013), Frome Festival (July 2014)
and Kings Place Festival, London (January 2014). This shift demonstrates
that Plenum has succeeded as a customisable piece, capable of
presentation in a wide range of environments and able to reach different
Sources to corroborate the impact
`Lux Scientia: A European Collaboration', 2012. Vital Statistics from the
three European Light Festivals, compiled by Helen Marriage and Nicky Webb
(Lumiere, Durham); Przemysław Draheim (Skyway Festival, Toruń); and Indrek
Leht (Valgusfestival, Tallinn), 12pp.
Selected Media Coverage
`Durham Lumiere festival "attracts over 150,000"', BBC News Tyne &
Wear, 21 November 2011. <www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-15826943>
`Durham's Lumiere festival of light "brought in £4.3m"', BBC News Tyne
& Wear, 11 April 2012. <www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-17674458>
Bara Golonova, `The creation of the universe at King's', Varsity,
23 November 2012. <www.varsity.co.uk/culture/5325>
Anthie Karavaggelis, `"Plenum" light show illuminates Kings Chapel, but
is too "artsy fartsy" for some', The Cambridge Student, 22 Nov
2012, p. 9. Available from TCS downloads page (Michaelmas Issue 9 2012):
`King's College Chapel illuminated for Cambridge festival', BBC News
Cambridgeshire, 16 November 2012. <www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-20359362>
Justin Lee, `Joining the dots — Technology and music meet at Cambridge
Music Festival', Cabume <www.cabume.co.uk/blog/joining-the-dots-technology-and-music-meet-at-cambridge-music-festival.html>
Interview with Simeon Nelson, BBC Newcastle. Sound file available at <http://2011.lumiere-festival.com/programme/installations/plenum/>
Report on the Durham Lumiere, including an interview with Simeon Nelson,
BBC Arabic News (report in or dubbed into Arabic): <www.youtube.com/watch?gl=US&v=NwqlQcY_bMg>
Several videos of Plenum are available on Youtube (including
Toruń Skyway 11 (2011): <www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcsirsXCEPU>
Lumiere (2011): <www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkGaUd3D_bQ>
Skyway 10 (2010): <www.youtube.com/watch?v=cysjxHzCoh0>
Contact details are supplied separately for representatives of the Toruń
Skyway Festival, Cambridge Music Festival and KickArts Contemporary Arts,
who provided comments and visitor statistics cited in section 4.