ArtsAction Group:Kosovo 2017

What is the role of the arts when the lived experiences of youth are cultivated in war, violence, trauma, and influenced by images and policy that dictate which populations or groups of people are valued- which are entitled to be alive, safe, free, educated, healthy, prosperous …. ?


How can artists collaborate with communities to rebuild and renew after conflict?
How can we foster deep engagement with expressive art in areas of conflict and rebuilding?

Your Utopia, My Dystopia. Graffiti, London, UK by Laser.

The Youth Project

We know that children and youth have the capacity to express hopes for their world and to effect change. To that end, the ArtsAction Group: Kosovo Collective designed two arts experiences, one for youth and one for children with our partners at Fellbach Haus Centre for Creative Education in Therandës-Suharekës, Kosovo.

Critical Questions:

"Where do you see utopia? Where do you see dystopia? and "Where are those spaces between the two?"

The youth expressed responses to these questions through a series of making activities including painting, drawing, and interactive media bringing together sound, sensors, circuit building, 3D printing and projection.

A range of artist/artists collectives that reflect the theme Utopia/Dystopia were shared with the youth.

The sculpture of the angel in the background is Tom Frantzen's New St Michel (Patron Saint of Brussels).

Lilith am Roten Meer (detail). Anselm Kiefer
RMB City: A Second Life City Planning. Cao Fei

We wanted to share a diversity of work across concepts, materials, and time periods, being thoughtful about working with artists/art history from the region.

Vojo Kushi is Still Alive. Çeta
Communist era mosaic on the National Museum of Albania in Tirana.
Femijet (The Children). Spiro Kristo

We also included work such as Bot & Dolly's BOX, art that conceptually explores the illusionary or magic through new media. The five principles of magic explored in this piece can be symbolically linked to the theme Utopia/Dystopia: transformation, levitation, intersection, teleportation, and escape.

Frederico Muelas and Terry Dane's Sonic Graphite 2B (SG2B) was a primary inspiration with regard to building interactivity into the work.

Sonic Graphite 2B (SG2B), Federico Muelas & Terry Dane

We spent time talking about utopia/dystopia in relation to the artwork shared, as well as the youths' responses to the 3 questions in relation to their own lived experiences, wishes, fears, and desires. Taking the time for this kind of exploration and reflection on big ideas and other artists' work is critical to our process.

Once the students talked through and sketched out initial ideas, they began working on large-scale graphite drawings, made interactive with Bare Conductive Touchboards.

Youth took over one classroom to work on their drawings.

At the same time we demonstrated how to work with the technology. The youth starting thinking about what sounds they wanted as part of their drawings and where they would embed them in the artwork.

Working on the drawings
The youth worked across traditional and digital methods of idea generation and artmaking.

This year we were joined by Barrie Maguire, a music producer, musician and teaching artist based in Philadelphia, PA. We love this video as it captures that aha moment when a learner makes a new connection.

Exploring circuit building with breadboards.

As another entry point into understanding the technology behind the microprocessors, we experimented with breadboarding and creating theremins using light sensors and graphite.

With the drawings completed and sound files prepared for upload to the Touchboards, it was time to create the circuits on each drawing. Some youth prepared circuits using graphite as the activation, others used conductive paint or copper wire.

Using conductive paint to act as a touch point to activate the sound.
Taking a break to share the work.

While the theme and narratives expressed required serious contemplation and symbolic translations, there was also a lot of laughter and joy generated during the artmaking.

Coordinating sound files with the artwork.

Each sound point is labeled on the finished artwork with post-its to help us navigate the wiring of the exhibition.

Wiring the drawings.

The installation got complicated. After running copper tape circuits from the microprocessor to all of the artwork, we discovered the wall paint was lead based. This meant that the microprocessor was short circuited. We decided to use plastic coated copper wire to construct the circuits.

Ismet Suka, Mejtim Bytyçi, and Rob McCallum

3D Printing and Interactive Wallpaper

Instant Wallpaper Generator, Purin Phanichphant

This year we also introduced 3D printing incorporated into an interactive digital wallpaper installation, inspired by the work of Cindy Maguire of AAG, and the work of artist and designer, Purin Phanichphant.

Transferring a 2D design into a 3D print file using Selva3D

This was our first year working with the centre's Lulzbot 3D printer. Each youth chose a symbol taken from their Utopia/Dystopia drawing and brought it into photoshop to render it into a black and white 2D image. These these image files were converted into STL files using Selva3D. Each student's printed symbol became the content for our interactive wallpaper for the final exhibition.

3D symbols by the students
View of the interactive wallpaper in the final exhibition

Youth Interactive Drawings

Alliances, are about individuals, they are about love, they are about commitment and they are about responsibility. They are about concrete manifestations of our rebellious spirits and our sense of justice. They are about shared visions of a better society for all of us. Molina, 1990, p. 329.

The Children's Project

The central question for the children was

"What's your secret superpower?"

Working on a e-textile bookmark in the studio.

By focusing on imagination, we validate the need of every child to dream big and feel important. By creating and sharing art about superpower/superhero dreams we invite children to consider what they value and even, thinking into the future, how they might make choices when in a position of power (Jaqueline Jules, Children's book author).

The Process

In the past we designed youth projects that brought together traditional studio art skills with contemporary art practices and emerging technologies. This year we introduced two new technologies to the children to explore technology and interactivity in artmaking with the Makey Makey and e-textiles.


Before engaging in the artmaking, each child decided what their superpower was and made a recording of their name and (not so) secret superpower with Barrie.

Next, the children started designing and embellishing a pair of pre-cut styrofoam hands provided by a donor. These hands were then wired to Makey Makeys to be 'played' at the final exhibition using Soundplant.

The children at work

After the hands were completed, children shared their work with the group and helped to organize the final installation.

The final hands

Bookmark Book Light Project

The e-textiles project was based on a lesson from the book, Sew Electric, a joint project between MIT researchers and the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) by Leah Buechley, Kanjun Qiu, Sonja de Boer, and Tayo Falase. The children worked with felt, LilyTiny LED lights, sewable battery holders and a range of materials to embellish their own bookmark book light.

Cindy demonstrating how to sew a circuit.

E-textiles makes hidden technology visible and tangible. Some of the concepts explored included conductive materials, basic sewing skills, polarized components, and planning a basic circuit combined with personal imagery.

Shannon Kopunek, AAG, working with the children.

By working with sewing, a craft and skill with a long history in the region, combined with electronics, we found that the girls (and boys) were especially motivated to engage. They learned how to sew and design circuits along the way.

The bookmarks

Final Exhibition

The young boy with the purple headphones is Malachi. He did a super job as our primary English to Albanian translator for the children's workshops.

Sharing the art with family.
Playing with the instant wallpaper generator.
Listening to a drawing.

Utopia/Dystopia video by Sasha Spare, AAG.

The healing process fosters hope, which is an important prerequisite for meaningful civic engagement and social change. Together, healing and hope inspire children and youth to understand that community conditions are not necessarily permanent, and that the first step in making change is to imagine new possibilities. For young people, healing fosters a collective optimism and a transformation of spirit that, over time, contributes to healthy, vibrant community life (Ginwright, 2011).



Created By
ArtsAction Group


ArtsAction Group: Kosovo Collective