Digital workshops entertain youngsters

You have a room full of lively young boys on half term holiday, scissors, felt-tipped pens, and battery-operated milk frothers – what could possibly go wrong?

As it happens, nothing at all, because the robot workshop at QUAD in Derby engaged the dozen or so children from the outset and within 30 minutes they were watching their creations spinning around, drawing on to a paper-covered floor.

Well, maybe there were a few friendly robot wars and maybe one or two of them wandered off the paper into the out of bounds area, but all in all it was great fun and most importantly the boys all learned something about digital technology.

And that was down to Ashley James Brown who was at the city centre arts venue as digital artist in residence and staging special half term creative digital activities for seven- to 11-year-olds.

The session I got to watch was based around rebuilding technology for new purposes to create ‘Hex Bug’ style racing drawing machines.

I confess I was new to Hex Bugs but my excuse is that my children are now adults, but every child in the room knew what they were even if they didn’t have one themselves.

Ashley explained to them that they could make their own robot very simply and inexpensively by hacking something (in this case the frother) to make something new.

“From now on you are all engineers,” he said to his enthralled audience as he finished outlining the plan of action.

“It is all about demystifying technology and being playful with it. This is the way I like to teach them and I am quite fierce about it,” Ashley told me in a break during the workshop.

He is an internationally respected artist and developer based in Coventry and he was just finishing a six-week residency at QUAD.

During his time there he had created works which people could discover as they travelled around the building rather than works which were confined to a gallery space. He saw it is an experiment in how the diverse audience which uses QUAD (some maybe just for the cinema or cafe, and others for the gallery or workshops)accept digital art in a public space and their perceptions of what it actually is.

He spent his first day in the cafe engaging people and at the end he created a cutlery piano with three pieces of cutlery wired to play a musical note when they were touched.

“Overall I wanted to create work which engages and encourages exploration and interaction with digital technology and I have really enjoyed my time here.”

Ashley was invited to QUAD by the centre’s digital participation curator John Whall. Go to http://www.derbyquad.co.uk to find out more about some summer digital workshops.