Pyrotechnics, projected video and sound". These are just three components of London-based, video-artist Sumit Sarkar's dynamic artwork, which is to be shown for free in Belmont Park, Exeter on Saturday 23rd February at 6.30pm. Admittedly, the work is not – what Sumit calls - his "baby". It's been a group effort, overseen by main directors Ian Smith and Angie Dight from performance company Mischief La-Bas. Collaboration lies at the heart of the piece. And as part of a diverse programme, the Animated Exeter Festival and Mischief La-Bas have been keen to absorb creative contributions from local students, artists and musicians. The artwork will act as a finale for the Exeter Riddles Festival and - as the icing on the cake for an exciting week of creative events across the city – it is set to be an unmissable event.
Taking its audience on a journey across the city's history, the interactive 3D video-mapping art piece will incorporate both stage and screen in a bid to draw the citywide festival to a dramatic conclusion. The show will use fantasy ideas, footage from around the city, and live performance in an attempt to create a truly memorable spectacle. Sumit, the AV director, summed up the ambitions of the artwork: "I think the main thing we want to come out of it is that it's fun and that it's engaging - not just for young people but for the whole family. There's lot of elements in it that are very playful - like having Roman soldiers walk through town - but then we're also keeping to this narrative of the Exeter Riddles story. So, the aim is to make a show in Exeter, about Exeter."
Video artwork, like the upcoming piece, appeals to Sumit because in art "it's the final image that matters not the process or how you've done it." Sumit argues that "there has got to be a reason why you move from non-digital to digital" and for him it's about being able to "zoom in, change things and correct things in a way you can't with paint".
But with all this emphasis on the "final product", Sumit admits to being nervous about how the "public art" for the Exeter Riddles Finale will be received: "There's something slightly different about making art for inside a gallery. You can own it more, maybe. But I think that all it adds is a healthy amount of pressure to make something good and make something that people enjoy."
Being supported by funding from the Arts Council through Lottery Funding, Exeter City Council and the Extreme Imagination Festival, the commissioned piece is really 'a gift' to the people of Exeter. Working for a specific purpose and context changes a work but it seems that's all part of the fun: "It's good because it puts you out of your comfort zone. Normally, if you're working with your own ideas and your own motivations as an artist, that's a very particular and very insular thing. That's good in itself but working with other people's projects and briefs, that's when you get new ideas."
The Exeter Riddles interactive and collaborative artwork shows that art is something that can prompt discussion and community involvement. Sumit argues that, "it's always important for young people to get involved in the arts. And perhaps more so now because we've had pretty serious arts funding cuts across Britain. I do a lot of workshops with young people, and often when I'm working with disaffected youth, art is something that's very rewarding. And for people who aren't necessarily that academic it's just as fulfilling." It's this kind of ethos that the Exeter Riddles Finale has been fuelled by. The fact the piece has been actively worked on by a number of different students and different creative groups across the city means that the artwork definitely is not a one man show.
The unique and spectacular event is sure to be a treat for all who attend. And perhaps even the kind of significant community story that future projects of the city's history will one day seek to retell.