This festival transforms a Florida town into a giant, beautiful work of art

We report from the Digital Graffiti Festival, where once a year artworks are projected over a gleamingly white Florida town.

Floridian, gleaming white and meticulously designed, Alys Beach is the kind of town where a speck of dust looks out of place. So, that the town annually absorbs aeroplane-loads of international artists and their boundary-pushing, bold artwork, had me a touch more than skeptical: I was absolutely bewildered.  

Digital Graffiti is a three-day celebration of art, architecture and - though oddly unmentioned in its marketing - lounging round the pool discussing art and drinking Mimosas. Submissions by global artists are whittled down to just 20 vastly varying digital works, which are then projected onto the white-walled coastal town for two truly special nights.

Along with the 20 artists from 10 countries - including South Korea, Australia and Switzerland - three 'resident artists' will also showcase their work - last year's winner Yandell Walton from Melbourne, Sean Capone from Brooklyn and Keaton Fox from Detroit, Michigan - after spending seven days in the town with curator Brett Phares to collaborate and create individual pieces.

Up for grabs was $10,000 in prize money to be spread amongst the Best of Show, Curator's Choice, as well as three honourable mentions (which, upon seeing the quality of the work, the indecisive judges quickly rose to four mentions. All were decided by the curator and a panel of art and industry experts. 

Here, we’ve put together an overview of the festival and our favourite of its incredible artworks.

Artist: Nathan Johnson. Los Angeles, California.
Title: Change is Everything 

Though the edgier, grittier back alley of the art world - to which many of these highly cognitive pieces belong - doesn’t immediately lend itself to being projected onto the homes of a luxury beach town, it becomes clear that this festival could be very few places else once the elegant, purely white walls start dancing with colour, patterns and music. 

And winner of the weekend with Best of Show, Nathan Johnson's 'Change is Everything' undoubtedly proves that Alys Beach and digital graffiti fit. It is is both a crowd- and judge-pleaser. In a stop motion video, rubber bands and pins move, pulsate and dance to music to create different shapes - including lips, flowers and stick people. An intricately crafted, unashamedly fun and light-hearted, bouncing work that gets everyone itching to dance. 

Watch the entire animation and the animation on the night. 

Artist: Jinku Kim. Walpole, Massachusetts, USA. 
Title: “What is seen was not made out of what was visible” (2015) 

Winner of the Curator's Choice award, Jinku Kim's work is officially described as an exploration into "what is seen was not made out of what was visible" (2015). There is certainly something strange about Jinku's piece - a buzzing, terrifying, quick-moving mesh of lines and shapes, which both fries the brain and sparks some bizarre thoughts. 

Watch the entire animation.

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More of Jinku's piece. 

Artist: Katina Bitsicas. Columbia, Missouri, USA. 
Title: MMPI (2013) 

From a distance, Katina's piece - which is one of the four honourable mentions - looks more confusing than honourable. 

Only after standing for a few minutes can you make out the tiny figures, each of who are Katina performing a case study from the Minnesota multiphase personality inventory (MMPI) - or, in other words, real people with mental illnesses. The arrangement of the performances mimics a floor plan of a Michigan insane asylum. 

Katina handled the case studies with such thought and sensitivity that the roar of emotion - happiness, sadness, quietness - caused passers-by to stop and share their own mental health struggles in quiet, intimate moments despite the party crowd whizzing by. Just like the rest of Katina's work, MMPI is marked with incredible creativity and research. 

Watch the entire video.

Artist: Emilia Forstreuter. Berlin, Germany.  
Title: Yonder (2013) 

Emilia's work starts off basically at first with simple structures, but quickly comes complicated and gains a whole new power in what seems a weird version of the life we know. No wonder that it also won an honourable mention. 

Watch the entire animation.  

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Artist: Jiyen Lee. Seoul, South Korea. 
Title: Green (2014) 

Freshly coloured, hypnotic and totally out of place against the gorgeous white of an elegant house, Jiyen's beautifully designed work - which also won an honourable mention - was undoubtedly one of the more immediately eye-catching projections in the festival. 

Watch the entire animation.

Artist: Nota Bene. Istanbul, Turkey. 
Title: In Order to Control 

Fun if danced across, but darker if read, this typographic experiment allows for a whole spectrum of responses: here, people play amongst a text about morality, which loops on the floor (shown), quickly distracted from the text by the cool shapes they can create. 

Artist: Sean Capone. New York City, New York. 
Title: Rehearsals (2016)

Sean Capone's fantastically large, yet detailed work is set away from the busy main street of the festival. And I can see why. I'm not sure you'd even be aware of any works nearby with the scale, technique and ever-changing mood of Sean's work.

As one of the resident artists, Sean was able to map his work perfectly to the site and the benefit really shows. His characters prance up and down the wall engagingly, as if they might step out into the Floridian night. 

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Watch the animation for Sean Capone's work.

Artist: Robert Crispe. Sydney, Australia.  
Title: Die Slow (2015)

Over 3500 frames were captured in-camera to create Robert Crispe's incredible stop-motion music video. Meant to express the aquatic struggle in life and death, it looked ideal reflected onto the lake - and, for a piece about mortality, stunningly beautiful. 

Watch the animation.

Artist: Michael Denton. Hastings, East Sussex, United Kingdom. 
Title: Aquatint (2015)

Though the dancing light and colour is clearly, unashamedly artificial in Michael's work, there is something natural about its creeping slowness: almost as if you are looking at a beautiful landscape, but in broken chunks. As it was bent round a corner of a building, Michael's work looked different to how he intended - an interesting example of how the curator and architecture can interact with the art. 

Watch the entire animation.

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Artist: Keaton Fox. Detroit, Michigan, USA. 
Title: *crying emoji*

“I’m just hoping to find someone else who still wakes up every morning feeling like they’re stuck in a strange sci-fi film of sorts," writes Keaton.

Judging by the Instagrammed/Tweeted/Facebooked/whatever-ed posed shadows of festival goers against Keaton's work, she is still searching.

Simple, effective and pretty disturbing, Keaton's projection doesn't just neatly show the evolution of communication over time, but exposes the blind stereotypes that seem impossible to shake off (even after 1000s of years of working on it). Any girl out there aspire to be anything other than a bride or permanently wear pink? Emojis don't think so. 

Artist: Michael Fluckiger. Zurich, Switzerland 
Title: Elephant Walk (2015) 

The shadow of the artist's bike is a shadow elephant. Pedal slowly, it walks; ride quickly, it runs.

"Shadow modification of a bike. What you see is not what you get," says the simple explanation.Which it totally true on the undoubtedly deeper level the artist intended. But not on the immediate level most of the crowd were operating on: shadow modification is fun, bikes are fun and so, most definitely, is an elephant. After all, sometimes Floridians get bored of their dull native wildlife (alligators, sharks, Bobcats, sigh). 

Watch it in action.

Artist: Olga Guse. Dresden, Germany. 
Title: The Astronaut (2015)

In my notes, I simply wrote "weird, cool astronaut work" - which, though clumsy, pretty much sums Olga's wonderful piece up: it is both undeniably cool - with the gorgeous design and eye-grabbing character - and undeniably strange, with a slightly creepy human striding the moon. 

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Here is more of Olga Guse's piece. 

Artist: Hyoyoung Jung. Paju, Kyungki-do, Korea
Title: Nature of Things (2015)

Simple pencil drawings on a white background it might be, but Hyo-Young's work is engaging despite - or perhaps because of - its simplicity. 

Artist: Linda Loh. Brunswick East, Melbourne, Australia.
Title: Lure (2014) 

Like portals to another world (not that you'd like to be anywhere else), Linda's creation - which changes colour - is seductive and compelling. 

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Artist: Phyllis Ma. Brooklyn, New York. 
Title: Beauty Secrets (2016)

A remarkable stop motion short where lipstick wriggles, colours and patterns flash, and terrifying, long green nails retract back into fingers.

Watch the entire animation.  

Phyllis's piece had enough colour and playfulness to stop anyone in their tracks (as you can see from the accompanying image, it did). 

Artist: Yandell Walton. Melbourne, Australia. 
Title: Bon Voyage (2016)

Yandell won Best of Show in 2015 with her environmentally conscious work Human Effect. In the past year, she's lost none of her green beliefs - or her talent for boiling down controversial, hot topics into one striking, brutal and - most importantly for the planet she wants to protect - unavoidable message. 

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Artist: Kathryn Whitesides. Charlotte, North Carolina, USA. 
Title: Cyprinus, Spectre (2015)

Kathryn's beautifully captured the movement of a fish, but its the visual echo and ghostly extras that really captivated us. 

If not for the incredible art (are you mad?), at least come to Alys Beach for the mesmerizingly fun party that gives the white town one last burst of colour.