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How to Build an Art Collective with 850 Kids


INFLUENCERS: 72andSunny Amsterdam's Wendy Richardson and Lee Boulton on the 'Nachtloerrrders' project

How to Build an Art Collective with 850 Kids

Meet Disco Juan, Foxephant, Slurk and Purple Ghost. 

Just some of the unexpected results of a collaboration between a collective from 72andSunny Amsterdam and hundreds of school children in our home city - as we joined forces to create an installation for the Amsterdam Light Festival in answer to the theme ‘Disrupt!’. 

The new installation, titled ‘De Nachtloerrrders’ is in place at Artis, the Amsterdam Royal Zoo, through to the end of the Festival on Sunday 19th January. It features the glowing nocturnal eyes of imaginary animals that escaped from the minds of the 8-12 year olds, their designs appearing on 20 pairs of continuously updating LED screens.

We set out to lead a collaborative project from the beginning by organising workshops in the agency that allowed anyone to submit ideas, not just from the creative department. Our goal was to find hidden skills along the way that weren't always obvious in people’s day-to-day working lives, and maybe push some of us out of our comfort zones.

And the participation of more than 850 children added so much to the piece. This was a rare opportunity to work with not just the next generation of young creatives but the one after that. Their sometimes bizarre creations, and the surprising ways they tried to break the design systems we put in place, made this artwork so much more valuable and disruptive.

Ensuring children experienced what it felt like to be a successful light artist was top of our agenda. We wanted them to be inspired, to learn new skills and, most importantly, not to be disappointed by their end product. To achieve this, we crafted a workbook and workshop plan to guide them through the process. These led them from initial sketches, through storytelling the unique character of their Nachtloerrrder, to the all-important transfer from paper to digital using a heavily customised version of the programming language ‘Scratch’.

In technical terms, we were very lucky to have our creative technologist, Gabor Szalatnyai, on this journey in everything from producing a generative coding design system that allows infinite variations, to ensuring the eyes on the final artwork play in a truly disruptive way. We wanted to avoid anyone easily finding a sequence, and there was a lot of planning behind this chaos. The eyes seem to appear across the installation randomly so you have to keep your wits about you to spot the next set appearing, just like trying to spot nocturnal animals in the wild.

We learnt so much from this working process, and hope that the children did too. It’s very rare for art installations or commercial work to be completed by a single person these days, especially as they become larger and more technologically advanced. We wanted to make sure that everyone who touched this was instantly another ‘artist’, including the children. When we uploaded the children’s designs we shook their hands and said ‘Congratulations, you are now an artist, welcome to the 72andSunny Creative Collective.’

Finally, the success of ‘De Nachtloerrrders’ points to a new kind of collaborative future. We believe that the open source nature of the project means that it can live on elsewhere. Imagine pensioners in Canada designing eyes for an urban environment. Or farmers in the UK for a rural one. The animals they conceive and the context they are in could give the Nachtloerrrders concept an entirely different meaning.

Wendy Richardson, Lee Boulton at 72andSunny Amsterdam

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72andSunny Amsterdam, Fri, 20 Dec 2019 09:56:42 GMT