Light shows and AR art to brighten up the city

Winter Arts Festival

Vancouver’s award-winning Winter Arts Festival will return to the city from Feb. 11 to 27 after debuting last year in the middle of the pandemic.

Produced by the team behind Vancouver Mural Festival, the event will fill public plazas in downtown Vancouver from Canada Place to Science World with 11 augmented reality (AR) art and light installations by local and international artists that are intended to blur the line between the virtual and real world.

“This festival combines the spirit and the values of the Mural Festival with live experiences to still connect communities during one of the year’s darkest months,” says Ben Cooper, one of the founders of the Winter Arts Festival and the head of creative production and technology, “We want to put physical safety and mental well-being at the forefront and design events around inspiring joy and creativity, connecting communities, and encouraging outdoor activities to support local businesses and local artists.”

Connecting the communities

At the centre of the effort to connect the community is the Winter Arts Hub, located at šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl’e7énḵ Square on the north side of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

“There are augmented reality light sculptures. There are DJs, dance performances; Cirque du Soleil is going to be doing some performances too,” Cooper says.

The Winter Arts Hub will also feature a special programming Dynamic Diasporas as a tribute to the annual Black History Month. It will introduce the public to some precious Black history in B.C. in the 19th century through visual storytelling and dance.

Winter Arts will also illuminate a number of large lighting structures in the city with Coast Salish weaving colours and patterns to express visual solidarity with the Indigenous communities. It is part of the Blanketing The City series from the Mural Festival that began in 2018 – a public art series and Reconciliation process designed by Musqueam weaver Debra Sparrow.

Art in the time of Metaverse

Exploring the exciting intersection between the fast-growing digital spaces and our physical realities, this year’s festival will present a number of exciting new media artists from all over the world with the assistance of AR technology.

“Part of my job this year was to work with the artists to create physical expressions of their digital art because we really wanted to make it even more accessible to everyone. We use Instagram for AR, because most people have that on their phones. This year we also decided to do some large, soft sculptures and lighting elements that are tied directly to the digital artworks. So even if you don’t have a phone, you can still enjoy it,” Cooper adds.

According to the curator’s statement, the artworks this year explore the theme of meta identity – what it means to choose what one looks like in digital communications, what can one’s avatar do that the physical self cannot, and how does one learn and express oneself in the metaverse.

Glitch Goddess – morphing the digital female form

One such example that asked all the questions above is Glitch Goddess by Iranian American artist Marjan Moghaddam who explores the female body figure and identity in the 3D digital space.

By glitching the historical depiction of women in a singular animated sculpture from slender, heavy, pregnant, stylized to abstract, among other forms, the artwork examines the possibilities and representations of the female form.

Moghaddam is an award-winning veteran 3D CGI artist with masteries in multiple disciplines including animation, sculpture, video, AR, VR, print and installation. Over the decades, she has developed a uniquely original approach to figuration and animation which she describes as chronometric sculptures.

“For me, it’s really looking to sculpture as a key to understanding how moving digital bodies become a new artistic medium. I mean, there are sculptures that look like a lump of clay but not every lump of clay is a sculpture. There is a deliberateness in how I create volumes in the figure, that’s why I call it chronometric sculpture,” Moghaddam explains.

Glitch Goddess was originally born out of her #Arthack project on Instagram in 2016, which went viral in the following years. Her artworks have been exhibited in galleries, museums, and international art festivals in both physical and virtual spaces.

“I was sort of playing with the female form and commenting on inequality. But I think that’s something that somehow a lot of women felt connected to. I think it was also like the peak of the ‘Me-too’ era,” says Moghaddam, “we are our bodies and how we present those bodies carries over into the digital and the metaverse. Mostly to me, the glitch Goddess is the statement of the contemporary female experience.”

The artist regards herself as following the avant-garde tradition in art practice and says she is driven by the idea of discovering and creating artistic visuals that have never been seen before.

As one of the top female digital artists in the world, Moghaddam feels that digital arts haven’t received the same respect in the legacy art world, but things are changing with the development of metaverse.

“Technology has already made a huge difference to art even before the metaverse. Instagram has already created the largest ever audience for the fine arts in the entire history of civilization. What it has done is democratize the fine arts, not necessarily by breaking up boundaries in terms of access to elite spaces but just by eliminating the whole physical aspect so more people can see art from all over the world,” she says.

However, the downside of it, she points out, is that it also creates a flatness in the culture where the depth and the profound aspects could disappear in a junk food culture. “I think this has increased the onus on artists like me to create the works with depth and substance and meaning,” asserts Moghaddam.

For more information on the festival, please go to