Tomorrow, at the University of Twente's Dies Natalis celebration, it's one year ago that His Majesty King Willem-Alexander of The Netherlands unveiled an art installation in the newly launched TechMed building. The artwork, known as 'the Eye Catcher' and officially named 'Neura Automata', was produced by the DreamTeam students of DesignLab in collaboration with TechMed Centre. We celebrate the first year of the art installation's presence in the building while looking back at this immense creative project with its initiator, (former) DreamTeam project coordinator Edo de Wolf.
Edo, please tell us about the object itself: how did you come up with the idea?
"After Remke Burie's request to make an eye catcher, we interviewed various stakeholders. There was a recurrent theme mentioned of technology and biology. We felt that we wanted to capture the essence of TechMed Centre into something which could live in the building alongside everyone else, almost as if it and the people in the building are all part of one larger organism.
At the same time the idea that TechMed Centre is such a large umbrella where people from different disciplines work together and build on each other’s work in the pursuit of healthcare innovation, led us to work with the concept of neura (plural for neuron) and connections.
The artwork is a reflection of past, ongoing and new connections across different fields to innovate in the healthcare domain. Things are always developing, new connections made, and there is a growth that comes out of it. The artwork itself is also changing constantly - it is able to decide for itself how to light up its surface. In this way it lives alongside TechMed inhabitants."
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So it's living art indeed! Which challenges and successes did you encounter along the way?
"Because we started with a blank canvas completely, we encountered some creative blockades (and differences) along the way. But as a team we were able to come together and land on something we are proud of. Involving our clients in the process also helped.
To produce and deliver something so large and with great care in safety and durability was an incredible endeavour. It really tested our knowledge as students and taught us a lot about working with the ‘real-world’, forcing us to think of material properties and risks that would normally be forgotten and forgiven in prototyping projects. In this case, it didn’t just have to work, it had to work well, hang up in the middle of nowhere, and last for years. There was a lot of trial and error.
We learned so much during this period, both as a group but also in our individual areas of expertise, but it took a lot of guts to dive in and believe in ourselves, despite the risks and uncertain outcome."
That sounds like an unforgettable experience. Actually, exactly what does the name Neura Automata mean?
"The name teases about the way the artwork ’thinks’. But I won’t explain beyond that and leave the rest to your imagination ;)"
Some final thoughts?
"In all of scientific history, art has played a major role in breaking boundaries and shifting perspectives. Creativity enables innovation and there is art in scientific practice. I find it inspiring that our university commissioned this art project (along with many others) on campus. I think it says something about the way we are willing to look at things differently as scientists, to imagine new beginnings, to collaborate and, most of all, to welcome creativity into everything we do."
DreamTeamers Nefeli Kousi and Jasper-Sebastian Häsler dedicated their first podcast to the EyeCatcher, giving a voice to an impactful project! They interviewed Edo de Wolf on the challenges that came along with building the Neura Automata. Listen here:
Thanks so much, Edo. And for those of you who have now become curious about this piece of art: it's right there in the TechMed Centre for you to enjoy and be inspired by!