Most art and design fairs aimed at young people encourage them to create something to take away. The Inventgenuity Festival does that too, but emphasizes a rarer and possibly more sonorous principle: to create something that you can leave behind.
This is exactly what visitors will do on Saturday and Sunday during the 11th edition of the festival, which is taking place outdoors for the first time on Governors Island. Presented by Beam Center, a not-for-profit educational institution based in Brooklyn, the free event invites attendees ages 6-18 to take part in workshops on crafts, technology, music, science, and even sports. However, the focus is on the completion of “Constellation”, a public art project and a sound installation by the interdisciplinary artist Ye Qin Zhu, which will remain on the island at least until mid-October.
“I want to show that even though we are all separated or feel separate, we are inextricably linked during the pandemic,” said Zhu during a tour of Beam Camp City, the new governors of the island’s outpost center.
This idea drove the design of “Constellation”, which includes six separate tree-like structures or “stars”. Each is made up of three vertical, 10-foot-high steel rods set into a fiberglass base shaped like a body part. (One sculpture sprouts from one eye, another from a foot.) More steel tubes branch out from the top of the poles in an interconnected canopy hung with dozen of differently shaped and patterned ceramic bells, each with a copper clapper. When one of the sculptures rocks in the wind or someone shakes it – yes, Zhu really wants it – the vibrating bells ring. During this weekend, festival goers are invited to cast, decorate and hang their own bells.
“We are not only layered under the constellations and under the experience constellations,” said Zhu, but the constellations themselves also have layers. It was inspired in part by asteroseismology, a scientific discipline that measures seismic waves in stars. Researchers say that if these frequencies were translated into auditory rhythms, they would sound like bells ringing.
Inventiveness is itself the product of innumerable compounds. Now a New York institution, it has its roots in Beam Camp, a still thriving summer sleep program in Strafford, NH that Brian Cohen and Danny Kahn, former Elektra Records executives, started in 2004. Beam, whose name variously refers to lighting, smiling, and structural support, was founded in part in response to the so-called maker movement, a drive for do-it-yourself crafts and problem-solving that reminded adults of the value of creativity.
That approach aimed to “serve primarily white men who made things,” Cohen said. Although the movement has diversified since then, it “pissed me off” at first, “he added,” because the kind of projects they were doing were exactly the kind of projects that had to be in classrooms that were in playgrounds had to. “
The New Hampshire Beam Camp was established to bring this hands-on learning – invention and ingenuity – to youth of all backgrounds, and the Inventgenuity Festival, which Cohen and Kahn launched in Brooklyn in 2010, was one way to bring that experience to the public do . Like the summer camp, every festival revolves around the joint completion of a great work of art and engineer. (Beam Center sends an open call to artists every year.)
Previous projects included “Mechanical Marsh,” by kinetic sculptor Andrew Brehm, a three-tier set full of motorized wooden birds flapping their wings, and “FlipNYC,” an animation that consisted of giant, illustrated books with solar-powered lighting and cranks that did the pages turned. Designed by the architect Chee-Kit Lai and the artist Ebony Bolt, these machines were exhibited in Dumbo, Brooklyn in 2019 (Inventgenuity did not take place in 2020 due to the pandemic.)
But the festival also offers smaller projects. This weekend, for example, in several sessions of the 10 workshops, participants can make clay pendants that will awaken their favorite senses, build calderesque mobiles inspired by Zhu’s sculptures, and create postcards using the cyanotype process, a printing process using sunlight. (The staff will even send them out afterwards.)
The annual festival is also responsible for establishing the Beam Center itself, which has been offering school and extracurricular public education programs in New York City since 2012. But Cohen, the center’s executive director, is particularly excited about Beam Camp City, which is helping create a revitalized arts center on Governors Island, just a short ferry ride from Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.
“We want to help the island expand, both where it’s known and who’s coming,” Cohen said, adding that the site “puts us in exactly where Beam should be, under tall trees and under the sky. “
Beam Camp City, which opened in July and will become a year-round addition to the Beam Center in September, offers a free four-day camp program for high school groups every week during the summer, as well as free weekend public craft workshops through to invention. The campers helped to build “Constellation” and lay the foundation stone for the festival, which will officially open on Saturday with dance and music performances by young people. (Visitors must register online for the festival, which takes place on both days from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
The new location has allowed Inventgenuity to be both health conscious and more expansive. Beam employees, who erect massive tents in the rain, plan to wear face masks and enforce social distancing in the workshops, which include two additional sound explorations.
The first, Cicada Symphony, will translate into “a bevy of kids making cicada music,” said Kyle Luntz, an interdisciplinary artist and project designer for the Beam Center. You will discover that composing with “the organic rhythms of animals and nature” is possible.
With a keyboard to change the pitch of the recorded cicada sounds, participants will create their own works which will be recorded on the tiny modules found in musical greeting cards. After attaching the modules to brightly colored insects that they created from handicraft materials, they bring the beetles to a “Constellation” sculpture for a nature-inspired jam session.
Visitors can also partner with Building Beats, a New York-based organization that teaches digital music production and DJ skills. With music samples or their own singing, young people arrange and record 16-bar audio loops. Recently trained students will be offering DJ sets, which the organizers hope will get the participants moving.
“This is what we teach our students – make people dance,” said Phi Pham, founder and CEO of Building Beats.
But the site’s biggest perk may be its ability to get dirty. The Billion Oyster Project will establish Inventgenuity’s first oyster research station. And the association behind Circle Rules Football, which uses a yoga ball and is far less combative than the NFL, will encourage teens to invent an outdoor sport
Cohen’s ultimate goal is to turn Beam Camp City into a year-round sleep and study center. It’s the same overarching vision that drives the artists and young people involved in Inventgenuity.
At every festival he said, “You will be part of the effort to create this thing that is bigger than you.”
The inventor festival
August 21 and 22 at Nolan Park, Governors Island; beamcenter.org/festival.