Ben Lycett (United Kingdom) is a visual artist, filmmaker, technologist and programmer whose work investigates where art and science come together. His outputs range from interactive installations for museums and galleries to immersive sound reactive performances in nightclubs nationwide. We met up with Ben to talk about his participation in the 72U programme and how it has made him reflect on his own projects. 

What might the future of city making look like? One answer may come from an unexpected place: the advertising agency 72andSunny Amsterdam. During this series of interviews we will explore the ‘hybrid city maker’ talking to the makers, artist, and thinkers that were involved in the creative residency 72U that lived within 72andSunny Amsterdam.

Can you tell me, in short, something about who you are and what you do?
‘I started off as a photographer and filmmaker. The live aspect of filmmaking has always fascinated me, so from filmmaking I got more involved in VJing: making real time visual performances. When extending my programming skills I got involved in the creation of software programmes for art-galleries and museums. So, essentially I have a very disciplinary background and would call myself a creative facilitator.’

What made you apply to the 72U residency?
‘The thing that attracted me to 72U was its undefined vibe. It felt like we as participants could shape the programme into how we wanted it to be, and how we wanted it to work. Up front we did not know what kind of partners we would be collaborating with. All we knew was that we would get involved in social enterprise projects, but we did not have any details what these projects would look like and who would be working on them. The outcome of the programme was left very undefined and that was what I really liked about it.’

What does being a ‘creative hybrid’ mean to you?
‘A creative hybrid is someone who has skills in more than one discipline and has a body of experience to draw from. Those two things are very necessary for the creative hybrid. Having to learn new things with each project can feel like an obstacle, but I believe it is actually a strength.’

You have been working on projects that have quite a lot to do with the city of Amsterdam, did you have projects in the past that also were connected with the city or public space?
‘It is never been a conscious theme in my work. However, I did make a film for the community of Seahouses. Seahouses is an area in the north east of England, which had a ‘second house problem’ within their community. It is a very popular area for people in the UK to buy a second house, but the result is that the people who actually worked and lived in this area could not afford to live there anymore as prices went up. So we produced a series of films in which we interviewed local people on their housing problem. We then screened it in a portable cinema that we took around the town. A local farmer and landowner saw these screenings and later donated his land to the development trust, so that they could then build affordable housing for the community. That was very exciting to be part of.

And, there is of course a project of mine called Glue, which is an ‘Internet Of Things’ platform for the public sector. It’s a project that is all about people interacting with their public space and using their phone to control the environment around them. An online bonding tool for people to connect.’

How important is it for you to make work that is ‘socially motivated’?
‘It is becoming more and more important. Especially during my time at 72U, I have been starting to look back at my previous projects to see how I can make them into social enterprises that can benefit people. For example Vertechs, an audio-visual music software that I created together with a friend. Vertechs is software that lets you visually create electronic music, without having to know any of the full on complicated digital music programmes.

It was especially during a workshop at the Cinekid Festival in Amsterdam that made me see how kids are playing and how fast they are at learning new things. It made me realise that Vertechs could be a really nice tool for children to help them start making their own sounds and music. Although we initially did not aim for Vertechs to be used by children, the 72U experience has made me rethink and shift my views.’

Can you talk us through one of the projects working on at 72U, that you feel particularly excited about?
‘I think De Ceuvel will be an amazing project to work on and really has the chance to make a cultural difference in the North of Amsterdam. De Ceuvel, who is one of our partners for the 72U creative residency, asked us to find a means to connect De Ceuvel with the rest of the neighbourhood, as they realised that neighbours aren’t particularly part of their community. What we wanted to find out was what the people living in proximity to De Ceuvel thought about it and what their ideas were on sustainability. We did this by interviewing and talking to people on the streets to find and explore the common ground between the people of the North of Amsterdam and De Ceuvel. Right now, it is all about collecting and understanding the research that we’ve done.’

And how is being a creative hybrid manifested in your working process as a group, can you give an example?
‘I think we kind of go through a classic motive of teams. We have times when we all think we are in agreement, but  often we’re actually not. Especially that frustration leads to inspirational thinking and ideas. It seems to really work when we keep true to our own perspective. When we take those different interpretations and bundle them together into an idea where the commonality is the same, we become much stronger. Going through all these projects together as a team, I believe is a lovely place to be in.’

At the end of this project, what do you hope to have achieved as a 72U resident?
‘I am finding that I am learning a lot about how to present a creative idea, which is a very valuable skill to have. But also, why building an interdisciplinary team is valuable.’

As a final question, is there a City Makers project in the UK that you’ve come across that you admire or find inspiring?
‘There is a very interesting project in Manchester at the moment, which they are still working on, but I think will be finished in two years. In Manchester City there is this very busy road called Oxford road, which is the main road that connects the university with the residential area for the students. The plan is to incorporate the ‘Internet of Things’ technology on to that commuter passage. I am not quite sure what it is going to look like, but they have the funds and the scope to essentially make something really amazing out of it and to use new technology to improve public services.’

Since conducting the interview with Ben, the collaboration between De Ceuvel and the team of 72U has resulted in Het Ware Noorden: a label that promotes creative re-use sessions and its resulting products. The main ambition was to find the common ground between De Ceuvel and the people from Amsterdam North. 72U created Het Ware Noorden as a label to celebrate the creative re-use in Amsterdam North, tapping into existing behavior and enhancing its possibilities. In the coming months Het Ware Noorden will grow into a label connecting all various initiatives around creative re-use in Amsterdam North.

 On the occasion of the Amsterdam Light Festival, creative residency 72U Amsterdam has partnered with local artists and makers from Amsterdam Noord to create light installations on the longest outdoor catwalk of Europe, located at De Ceuvel.

The installations are made through the “HET WARE NOORDEN” philosophy and will showcase up-cycled objects turned into lights. They will be on view during the Amsterdam Light Festival until January 22 2017.

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