Iona Scott has had an illustrious career creating immersive experiences that take you into the submarine microscopic world of plankton using Visual Art, Stereoscopic 3D Animation and VR. As part of her mission to celebrate and promote marine wildlife, Iona is currently developing and exhibiting her recycled plastic light sculpture ‘Discosphaera’.
With mainstream media featuring the importance of climate change and protecting the environment more than ever and certain movements like Extinction Rebellion going from strength to strength. We thought it was long overdue to chat to Iona to see how she managed to get so ahead of the curve and what she had planned for the future…
Hello Iona, can you tell us about your yourself?
Hi! I work as an Artist under my own name; Iona Scott. You can also sometimes find me and some of my work under the name Planktonworld.
And how long have you been a FuseBox resident for?
I’ve been a resident since around December 2016.
What attracted you to using natural forms such as plankton in your work?
It was quite random. When I was doing my degree, the head of sculpture, was an avid scuba diver and he would show slideshows of underwater photography and I was blown away by the shapes and colours of the submarine wildlife. At the time, I didn’t realise that a lot of the pictures are very close up, and they’ve got bright bright lights on them. In reality, now I’ve learnt to scuba dive myself, the water can be quite dark and murky, and you can’t always see very much.
I also borrowed my teachers book on the Great Barrier Reef in which I was drawn to a picture of a lobster and plankton. And when choosing which road to go down, I said to my friend Lisa on my course ‘Should I make a giant lobster or a giant plankton?’ And she said ‘giant plankton’ so I’ve really got her to thank!
Can you tell us a little bit more about your background
It all started with a BA in Fine Art (Sculpture) followed by a video production course and an MA in computer animation and special effects. I also completed a 2 year acting course that lead to some acting jobs and from that, founded a Theatre In Education company, performing in plays and leading drama and art workshops in schools, which developed my interest in storytelling. The company was eco themed and so we aimed to incorporate the importance of environment and recycling into all of the productions.
Moving on from that, I started working in a computer games company as a 3D Artist and also at the Institute of Contemporary Arts: ICA as an events assistant. And throughout all of that, I had been developing my artwork and hiring out my sculptures and had regular commissions independently and through friends who put on events. I was based in London, and then I went to San Francisco, because I knew a lot of music people out there through my network of friends. And it was great, every week I would just go and hang my sculptures up at events and in clubs.
What motivates you?
For me, it’s all about education and communication. It’s about empowering people and also teaching the next generation. I think this was the result of leading so many workshops. A lot of my artwork is about helping the planet and working out who we’re meant to be.
I’m very sociable and I like talking to people and I love it when things connect up. Being a part of something bigger and meeting people is really important to me, getting out there and meeting people and being part of a community. If I hadn’t have gone out and made connections then I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere.
What has the FuseBox helped you to do?
There are so many things I have learned through being here, it’s quite hard to put them all down. From the start I learnt a lot about the platform Unity and also how to utilise 3D printing in my artwork. It really helps when you’ve got other people in a similar space, physically and mentally, trying to learn the same thing as you.
I’ve been in Brighton for 9 years now and I find it so much more friendly than anywhere else, so much more supportive. And I’ve found a community of people that I never, in my wildest dreams, thought that I could find. Back in London, it would be so hard to find out how to get a one to one with enterprise schemes and even then, they’d be very business minded and wouldn’t necessarily understand artists.
All the residents have been brilliant. For example, I first met some of Curiscope in a restaurant whilst having a meeting with Paul Hayes about doing a VR project together. We saw a few people playing with some VR headsets and after chatting to them, we realised we were both doing things in education. I kept bumping into them and once I explained something I was struggling to do and one of the programmers, Javier said ‘oh god, I could help you with that!’ It was so amazing to have that helpful reaction which then turned into a collaboration.
Andy Baker is great, really helpful with teaching and offering workshops. Rachel Henson, we’ve also worked together. Maf’j Alvarez has helped me with getting to grips with 3D printing. I’ve had my light sculpture registered as a design for 18 years and now it’s suddenly alive through 3D printing and her encouragement. I was an extra in Kate Aidley’s immersive video; Wonderland X as a playing card, which was really fun.
Through the Arts Driva new residents, I know Nick Sayers from the Brighton Science Festival, Valerie Furnham from Fabrica and Becky Lu, from Pop Up Brighton’s event Bring Your Own Beamer. You bump into the same people in Brighton again and again, it’s great when that happens.
Do you think the relationship between art and technology is important?
Yeah, I do. The background that I’ve come from, I’ve always thought about: what’s the idea? And: what’s the best materials to use? I realised that computer animation lends itself to plankton really well because of the complexity and fragility of the shapes. That’s why I kind of got interested in using tech in the first place, because of the different possibilities of it and I’m still amazed.
And the same thing I sometimes feel overwhelmed by and working in virtual reality can be challenging because I can’t always see the process. If it was nuts and bolts, it would be easier to see how things fit together. When making virtual things, it’s very easy to forget, which bits go where and how to do something and it can take a long time to get results.
My mum is a weaver and her practice involves doing the same thing over and over again. I understand that as a process, it’s like once you know what you’re doing, then you can get creative. But if you’re always problem solving, and always up against the wall, it can put you off. When I do a painting, there’s a workflow. But when I work on a computer, sometimes there isn’t a flow. I have to remind myself that there’s a balance and not to get too obsessed in one area.
The other thing I’ve learned about creativity is that it’s about the process, the delight of it. It’s not necessarily the results.
There is also this whole idea that technology degrades because it’s not the latest thing or it’s not relevant anymore. I had my installation at Kew Gardens for 13 years and I think, well, if it still does what it was meant to do then why not? It’s all about valuing art as communication, irrespective of what kind of technology used. It shouldn’t matter as long as it gets the point across.
And how do you feel about the relationship between science and art?
I think it’s a similar issue. When I started doing science and art collaborations, I struggled to find scientists that I could work with, who valued Art as well. Art and Science have become quite different, quite separated, which is a pity. For example I exhibited my animation at a Plankton Symposium at the Sir Alistair Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (SAHFOS) and he was a philosopher, scientist, and artist all at the same time. I wanted to say something at the end of the Symposium but felt like I couldn’t follow on from what they were talking about as it’s such a specialist area, but I feel passionately that people need to know about it and I’d like to bridge the gap.
Having said that, I have met lots of lovely scientists who really get that we need to collaborate, and that the purpose of Art in this situation is to communicate and move things forward so we can help the planet and help each other stay alive.
We need to go back to the point of nature. We’re on a planet and it’s not ours, nobody owns it. it’s not owned by scientists and it’s not owned by artists, we all have a right to a view about it. And we don’t have to run loads of tests and scientific experiments in order to prove that we’ve got a right to express that view. For a long time, I thought I needed to find a scientist to validate my work but then I just thought, Actually, I don’t, I can just do it myself. That was a nice empowering moment.
Who have you met through the FuseBox?
So many people, I’m going to forget a few but I’ve already mentioned I worked with Andy Baker, Maf’j Alvarez, Rachel Henson. I also worked George Butler from Mutiny Media, helping to connect him and Andy Baker up with my aerial acrobatic friends for the Circus XR project.
I’ve really enjoyed meeting Louise Winters and Alex Peckham. There’s Peter and Jack from VRCraftworks and the Gorilla in the Room guys who introduced me to Jake Slack with whom I made a VR app called ‘Shrunk’ which I then incorporated into my exhibitions. Scott Appleton came along to the FuseBox to give IP advice and he was great. Stuart Wilson helped me find someone to work with at American Express to do some VR experiments. Of course it goes without saying how grateful I am to Phil and Rosalie (and all the Wired Sussex crew) for their continual encouragement, feedback and support.
I love just meeting those people. Everyone is really interesting. It’s a really sociable thing as well, I don’t always get a lot of work done!
What do you think makes Brighton so special as a city?
I do love London but I’ve always felt a bit like a minority in London, it’s just mostly suits, people in business and all that stuff. It’s always hard to find people and you can feel quite isolated. I do have a lot of friends and family there but there are so many people competing for the same things.
Whereas, when I came to Brighton, immediately people were much more open. I just got in touch with the Booth Museum, the Science Festival, the Digital Festival and the Children’s Parade and they were like all like ‘yeah, come show your work!’ Instead of people going; ‘I don’t know, I’m not sure who you are, show me proof of your work.’ I felt so welcomed.
Also, because it’s so small, if you go somewhere, for example, the Spiegel Tent during the Fringe Festival, you’re going to see people you know. When I was younger, I didn’t like seeing people I knew all the time but I’ve definitely earned the knowledge, understanding and the appreciation of being somewhere small and knowing so many people. It’s really lovely and I love it.
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on my 3D printed light, I’m looking at either producing or exhibiting more of these pieces. I’m trying to work out what the best way to do it, because the aspect of using recycled plastic is really important to me.
I’ve just got the verbal go ahead to do an exhibition at the Amsterdam Zoo. I’m going to make three 3D printed plankton sculptures with lights in them to coincide with the Festival of Light there in November.
I love doing projections and large scale stuff. I’m currently trying to work out how to use Unity for projecting real time visuals. I’ve got two friends who are doing music and want me to do visuals for them. I would love to get back into more theatre and singing and aerial hoop. And I also want to carry on being involved in the Extinction Rebellion marches and activities.
So I just want everything to come together really!
How do people find out more and why should anyone get in touch?
You can find me on Twitter here. I mostly share work on Instagram, I’ve got an account for my light sculpture you can find here. People should contact me if they’re interested in getting involved or finding out more. I’m especially looking for people to collaborate to make my lights have sound and be interactive for Art installations.
I just think we need to join forces and appreciate all the different things that we’re doing!