Visitors entering Futurecade at Sheffield’s Millennium Gallery this September will find themselves immersed in a new digital reality.

As part of this year’s Festival of the Mind, the University of Sheffield is inviting festival goers back into the city, to its exhibition of immersive technologies designed to make us question how we perceive our world and how we perceive ourselves.

It is one of the two festival areas to hold in-person exhibitions and is safely inviting people from communities in Sheffield and beyond to immerse themselves in a world where cutting-edge University researchers collaborate with the city’s creatives.

The exhibitions question if robots can make great works of music, explore how the data everyone creates in everyday life can be used as a dialogue to influence and converse with artificial intelligence, explore how technology can change perceptions of our environment and ourselves and investigate how engineers could be the heroes of our future.

Nick Bax, from the University of Sheffield’s School of English, presents Schema at Futurecade, a surreal journey through time and space, where past and present collide to explore non-linear time.

Working with the internationally-known musician, writer and creative, Rotherham-based Mark Fell, and Sheffield’s HumanVR to create a lush soundtrack and visual world, Nick wants to explore how immersive storytelling can affect our perception of memory and time and space.

He said: “We will see the proliferation of ‘extended reality’ technologies in society in the future, so I want to explore how that will change our perceptions of ourselves, and the world around us.

“We are only beginning to explore the unique cultural and emotional impact of this new technology and using it as an artform offers a very different narrative opportunity to literature, music or film. However, as it becomes more and more accessible, how will it impact society, will we be able to tell simulated from real?

“Futurecade is the perfect experience to look at these questions in new ways. The Festival is a gift to the city for the people of Sheffield, who will see familiar scenes, reimagined with cutting-edge technology.”

Tom Millen and Mark Atkin, immersive media specialists at XOLabs, have again curated this year’s Futurecade exhibition.

Mark said: “One of the amazing things about Futurecade is, every festival we see a few common themes, such as climate change, in the work exhibited. So those visiting the event will get to recognise the parallels between their real and virtual worlds.

“Some of the installations are simple, but dramatic, and through artistic eyes, attendees can connect with the very real research of the University through both physical and virtual experiences. This year has given us the chance to experiment with providing both physical and virtual events to make it accessible to everyone.”

Tom added: “The unique nature of Futurecade is important in fostering a community relationship between the University and the people of Sheffield. We see the optimism and boost to the wellbeing of the city through the engagement with cultural events and its importance in the unprecedented situation we are living through to remind our community that events such as the Festival of the Mind can still bring us all together to ask the big questions and inspire change.”

Some festival highlights from Futurecade include:

  • Uncertain Awareness – An installation by Arantza Pardo that uses augmented reality to reveal the true impact of climate change.
  • Brain Orchard – Sheffield artist Kate Sully explores how we perceive our own health through an exhibition of artwork interpreting research from the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SiTraN) on how brain cells interact and change.
  • Dynamic Reactions – Can artificial intelligence create music? Experience an interactive sonic experience that uses your data to create live music, exploring the issues around privacy and surveillance in the 21st century.
  • LifePathVR – Trevor’s Story – Immerse yourself in virtual memory making, looking back over the life and times of Sheffield resident Trevor and imagine how we tell our own stories in the future using virtual reality.
  • Pipebots – Explore the altruistic side of robotics, using interactive augmented reality to follow tiny robots and other new technologies that are helping us do jobs to reduce disruption to our lives.
  • Project 2050 – Become an engineer and save the world! Deal with global challenges posed by famine, water shortages, disease and natural disaster to find out what engineers, our everyday heroes, do to create a better future.

The University of Sheffield’s unique collaborative Festival of the Mind is returning to the city for the fifth time. The festival, for which many events will be held and replicated online through the digital festival hub, sees academics from the University of Sheffield collaborate with some of the most talented professionals from the city’s cultural, creative and digital industries through a series of exhibitions, performances and events to showcase their world class research.