When Ruth Saxton, Arts & Projects Manager, of Eureka, the UK’s National Children’s Museum, first rang me to ask if I’d be an ambassador for the museum, I was skeptical. Lumen artists, I felt, weren’t making art for children. What could we bring? But the more I thought about it, the more I realised I was completely wrong. Art is for children and particularly art that children can interact with. Children are natural experimenters and are uninhibited about diving into something new.
Since that first phone call, Lumen has been fortunate to be selected by Eureka, the UK’s National Children’s Museum to create a new show for their Spark Gallery, which opened in June and runs to the end of November. The show, called Fusion: Adventures in Digital Art and features 11 Lumen artists. As we’re now nearly half-way through the run, with more than 70,000 visitors to the gallery. I asked Ruth to speak to the hard-working staff members who work in the gallery all day – called Enablers – what they thought of how the visitors were enjoying the show. Here’s what they had to say:
Why do you think interactive digital art is particularly suitable for children and families?
Normally when you go somewhere where there’s art, it’s art that you can’t touch. This is art that you can play with and change, and make more personal to you. This art you can press buttons and change the colours, and you can change the patterns and the sounds. And you can just have fun with it. Every time people come into Fusion, I say, “This is not just art, it’s art that you can change.” Then they see other people interacting with it and they get excited by it. And they feel like they’re actually a part of it.
Do different age groups interact differently with Fusion?
The toddler age group, it’s all to do with the senses: the colours, the noises, the feel of it. And as you get slightly older, going into the 4, 5, 6 age, it’s more the imaginative side of it and how can I use this in my own scenario? And then as you get even older, I’ve noticed the 9,10,11 year olds like the logical element to it.
It’s funny to see the adults. When the kids have run off to play and left them with the coats, you’ll see a parent who tries to act as if they’re just looking around and then they’ll try something, like just put a foot in and then they’ll get drawn into the exhibit and find it fun.
What do you enjoy most about working in Fusion? What are the challenges?
I enjoy showing a kid that maybe having trouble understanding the concept of a piece or introducing the idea of the art piece and letting them run away with it is my favourite part. I let them try to figure it out for themselves to begin with and it’s only if they seem to get uninterested that I step in and show them. Otherwise I think it’s counterproductive to show them straight away and not let them have that time of trying to figure it out for themselves because that’s the fun of it and where the learning comes in. So it’s important to give them that freedom.
I think with older kids they tend to lose focus quite quickly if there isn’t an objective to the art piece. I had an older kid ask, “How do I get to the next level?” because they’re used to gaming. It’s confusing art with gaming.
But maybe it’s a good thing that they have to think about it in a different way. This is a relaxing experience and they are learning to be more peaceful, that playing with some of these helps you to unwind. It’s kind of therapeutic really: it’s getting people to take a breath. It is more about exploring than progressing onto higher levels.
And there are a couple of gaming elements in Fusion, like getting your ‘Squidlet’ to survive, that’s like a game. Most of the pieces encourage creativity which is fantastic. If that’s the message we want to give, be creative and watch what you can make. Digital art is a new thing, it’s not been around that long in the grand scheme of things, and people are adjusting to it.
Why is Eureka! great for families engaging with digital art?
Eureka! is a place where you can touch everything and interact with everything. And you don’t have boundaries around things. Everything is: touch this and see what happens. So to have that in an art form makes complete sense. And it’s the best type of art to have!
And it also creates a lot of personal experiences. For example, with ‘Passage’ they create their images and a lot of people take pictures of them, and they’re really proud. And that’s a little experience they’ve had.
Special thanks to Fliss, Josh N and Josh C, the Eureka enablers, who shared their thoughts with Ruth.
And even more special thanks to Eureka for inviting us to Halifax and learning that art that engages with technology is a natural for children.
Image by Jonathan Pow
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