Q&A with ‘When We Were Kids’ artist Sam Gazal

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Vivid Sydney

What inspired the ‘When We Were Kids’ theme and what did you hope to achieve with the installations?

The experience of childhood has changed dramatically over the last 20 to 30 years, with technology a key factor that’s altered how we interact with children and families. In the age of smart devices and the individual experience, the theme ‘When We Were Kids’ presented an opportunity to return to the shared experiences and simplicity of toys and games from the 70’s and 80’s. Having said that, I cannot take credit for the theme, my client (Westfield Sydney) has an incredibly creative team who are constantly looking for innovative experiences for the centre to showcase. They submitted a creative brief that my team responded to. 

What drove your creative process and guidance to the students for the installation?

This was a true collaboration, ideas were flying everywhere! We also consulted with Mike Day, a lecturer in the School of Design at UTS and Director of the Beams Festival in Sydney.  Mike relished in the opportunity for his students to work on such a wonderful commercial space. For the first two weeks on the project, the students spent most of their waking hours in Westfield Sydney to get a sense of the space and to develop their ideas. We love the idea of ‘blue sky’ thinking in all our work – it really encourages maximum creativity. We brainstormed in parallel and that’s how we got started. Mike, Laura (my colleague) and I then had the difficult task of selecting and developing the best, most workable ideas.

How did you help drive the UTS students’ creative processes?  How did this process differ from their usual projects?

Our guidance was really ongoing; we were constantly feeding back on ideas whilst in development stage. We also attended tutorials to review and critique the actual work as it was being built. The key difference on this project compared to others they have worked on was the accountability in the commercial space.

How do the installations tie in with current trends in the digital installation space?

The snakes slithering up the three levels of the centre is the result of complex programming by robotic engineer Dillon, from Pink Cactus. It’s a really exciting piece of work, pushing current trends, and is looking forward to exploring these possibilities in future installations.

We were excited about using lighting installations that interacted with and responded to the viewer – something that is at the forefront of the current trends. The concepts that used that technology, however, didn’t make it off the drawing board. In the end, we kept coming back to the simplest and most impactful way to achieve to the original brief. I think what’s exciting is that the installations have fostered a sense of engagement – the ‘Jack in the Box’ with his windows looking into a retro world of toys sparks the interest of parents and kids and encourages that dialogue ‘When We Were Kids’. 

We walk around the centre and see the fun that families are having discovering these retro toys.  Families are interacting with the ‘dress up carnival photo wall’ and the ‘larger than life toy box’, which is great. When we witness the joy that it brings, I am satisfied we’ve achieved our intended goal of the installation. 

What materials were used to create the installations?

A huge variety of materials were used in these installations. The choice of materials is a make-or-break part of the creative process.  This is often the most difficult part of the project and the most exciting, it is the difference between the failure and success of an idea.  

Which is your favourite installation?

It’s difficult to choose my favourite installation. I love the ‘Jack in the Box’ for many reasons – it involved pretty much every single person that worked on this project.  The ‘Jack’ himself is a massive achievement – we worked really hard to make him a happy-not-scary ‘Jack’, carefully following rules of animation to achieve his look.

There were three teams alone that worked on him. This installation also embodied the best of the UTS collaboration. The windows in this toy box were a work of art created by 10 different teams of UTS students that each celebrated a retro toy: yo-yo’s, roller skates or Astro Boy to name a few. I also love the snakes and ladders; I could watch them slither for hours. 

Tell us about your signature style - how does the ‘When We Were Kids’ installation differ to your usual work?

We aimed to be cheeky, vibrant, and hopefully ingenious in what we created. We’d like to communicate joy and wonder in our installations and engage the viewer.

An element of each of our installations is created (handmade) in the studio, hence the term ‘extreme crafting’ that was coined years ago. There were so many large scale elements to this installation that there was less scope to create in the studio and that was a key difference for us. 

What is coming up in the pipeline for you?

First, a well-deserved holiday!

Having just come off the back of an intense few months with both Vivid Sydney and Wool Week 2017 for The Woolmark Company, we are all taking a break. I will be in Paris at the end of June and am looking forward to getting the creative juices flowing whilst over there.

Samantha Gazal is a Sydney-based artist and an expertise in ‘extreme crafting’. 

See Samantha’s work in collaboration with UTS students at Westfield Sydney. 6pm-11pm nightly, ends 17 June 2017.