In Summer 2020 we worked with Spotlight Creative Youth Space, our Poplar-based partner organisation, on a pilot project that led to the formation of the Young V&A Collective. As Young V&A, we wanted to find a programme model that would develop ongoing relationships with 11 – 14 year olds and inform decisions for the new galleries, ranging from informing interpretation to co-creating elements for on-gallery case studies. We knew this would take some time, and that working in the context of the first full school term out of national lockdowns would be a challenge. But we began in earnest starting with a Summer Transition Programme to reach year 7s starting at Langdon Park School, which shares a building with Spotlight, for onboarding.
Over a week in the summer holiday we met 60 Year 7s in sessions with Dan Mayfield of School of Noise, Lead Artist for Project 1 of the Young V&A Collective. We explored beat-making using objects from the handling collection and learnt about Foley, recording and editing skills and about objects from across the new Play, Imagine and Design Galleries. These ranged from Froebel’s Gift 5 (insert link: ) to a robot, to a pair of shoes that are nearly 300 years old. We explored their design stories and their sonic opportunities. “The outcomes were extraordinary – and we came away with several tracks of collaborative beat making created with handling collection objects.” We saw immediate links with the needs of a particular space planned for the Imagine Gallery, called The Living Room. This space will explore ideas of surreal design subverting function with form – and we hope will feel like the collection objects inside it are indeed ‘living’.
In September we began our weekly sessions on Tuesday afternoons. Working from collection objects in The Living Room we created soundscapes using Foley practices to bring the objects to life. We considered what the objects would want to say if they could talk, how they would speak and what they would be interested in. Working in software programme Ableton, members of the Young Collective developed recording and editing skills as well as the playful and creative skills to interpret objects in this way.
While attendance was restricted in the early part of the term, we gradually built up a community and, in half term, went to visit the V&A in South Kensington. Visiting on a Tuesday meant we were the only people there, save for some staff filming. We were able to see one of objects we had been exploring, Meret Oppenheim’s table to develop ideas: ‘If it were a person, they would be bold as brass’, Nahir said, ‘They would be fashionable and rich, and not like having a butt or stinky shoes on them. Maybe they’d like food on them, but nothing greasy. Only tiny French foods.’ ‘They would be self-conscious and tip-toe around’, was another response. ‘She would be like Baba Yaga in the Russian Folk tale,’ said Shaheen.
We also visited the Design 1900 – Now galleries, and applied the same playful practice to the objects we were most curious about there.
We also looked to other creative practices that would help us explore the V&A’s collection and its opportunities. The Young Collective created multi-media collages and Lydia, Creative Youth Worker at Spotlight, taught them the skills to heat transfer the designs on to clothing.
To celebrate the creations, discoveries and connections made over the term, we hosted an open exhibition at Spotlight. We displayed the design journeys and the items of clothing made and played the tracks we had created to an audience of friends and other Spotlight members along with details of the collection objects that had inspired them. You can hear Young Collective’s track for Killer Cabinet and Meret Oppenheim’s table here.
The appeal of designing and making was clear in feedback, and this has informed how we are thinking about the next Young Collective Project.
What Young Collective members said:
‘I have enjoyed grabbing things from history in the museum’s galleries and putting them into a piece of clothing.’Ella
‘I like it when new people join the Young Collective and we get to know more about them and their ideas.’Letaya
‘I enjoyed now everyone was helping me and liked learning about heat transferring.’Sami
‘I enjoyed being in touch with my creative side not just with me but with everyone, because you get ideas.’Lily
‘I liked learning about the objects and liked designing a poster around it – whatever we wanted.’Aryan