We use apps for almost everything these days, from banking to navigation, but what about art? SOLAR is a new art walking app for Sheffield, funded by Sheffield Hallam’s Catalyst Fund to explore how mobile technology and art can interact.

The concept for the app originally came out of the university’s Walking Arts Research Group. Group leaders Annie Watson and Jeremy Lee told me: “We set up the group as we found there was a group of artists at the university that were interested in how walking can help inspire artwork. It can give you a degree of abstraction from day-to-day life, while being inspired by the multitudes of different environments you pass through.”

Mark Parkin, a member of the group, came up with the idea of creating an art walking trail across Sheffield inspired by the solar system. The concept was to scale down our solar system, while keeping the ratio of distances between each planet the same, and transpose it onto Sheffield. The idea was developed into a digital trail of artwork inspired by each individual planet, housed in a downloadable app. Local arts and technology organisation Epiphany VR were drafted in to build the app and Opus Independents, publishers of Now Then, are managing the project.

The app is a fascinating mix of a walking trail and digital artwork which asks you to inhabit a physical space whilst looking at artwork through your phone. Too often the digital world asks us to step back from physical environments or real connections with people, whereas SOLAR aims to combine them. Ben Carlin of Epiphany VR said: “What I like most about SOLAR is that not only does it showcase original artwork from within the city, but it also allows you to discover Sheffield’s unique landscapes in a fun and interactive way.”

The walking trail begins with the Sun in the Peace Gardens and ends with Neptune at a bridge near Ladybower Reservoir. As you pass each location, you unlock the piece of artwork related to each planet. The artworks in the app are incredibly diverse, created by award-winning artists and lecturers from Sheffield Hallam University. The first four planets in our solar system are unlocked by a short walk from the centre of town to the end of the Moor, but the distances dramatically increase after that.

One of the enduring experiences of completing the walk is getting a sense of the scale of our universe. After finishing it, you can’t help but be reminded of the sheer unlikelihood of us being here at all, and how fragile the world around us is.

The SOLAR app will be launched on Wednesday 8 March, available on iOS and Android devices. Just search ‘SOLAR’.

An exhibition for SOLAR will be held at SIA Gallery at the Cantor Building, Arundel Street from 14 March.

Joe Kriss