Bamboostics against tunnel vision
'Moulding human flesh': this is how Antoon Versteegde describes the interactive creative sessions he organizes and supervises in the business sector. Under the name of Art Works And More, Antoon Versteegde focuses on the business sector, working together with a 'wild association of artists'. His art form is called Bamboostics: leaving a lasting impression and memory with a perishable, lightweight material.
'Artists have their own way of looking at the business sector. We only need to work for one day with a team to cause a genuine culture shock. In creative courses we make people do things they didn't know they could. The result is a team that has accomplished a feat together and has developed unity in the process. Creative sessions of this kind can be deployed for team building, but are also highly effective for the development of a corporate identity or for kick-off meetings. Art adds significant value to all kinds of processes, whether a new-construction project, an advertising campaign, product innovation, a reorganisation or a merger. Situations like these usually involve teams of experts who are in complete agreement or bring in even more like-minded people to add to their self-congratulation. It is a kind of macho behaviour with the outcome decided beforehand and little room for alternatives. Involving artists in these processes means involving people who look at a situation open-minded and often come up with refreshing ideas. Whether painter, poet or sculptor, they can all make creative contributions and shed a different light on things by giving their opinion, which is by no means inferior to that of the so-called 'expert'. 'After all, viewed from the moon we are all equally small', says Antoon Versteegde.
In sessions like these, the creative angle works as a catalyst, removing entrenched thinking patterns. Versteegde perceives an increasing need for creativity in the business sector. 'In these times of computerisation and technology, if you are not creative yourself you are done for. Our society is becoming increasingly multicultural, so you have to be open to foreign cultures. As a human being, but also as a company you must try to disengage yourself from your fixed set of values to keep abreast with the times. Pan-European companies and multinationals with branches in all corners of the world will have to be open to foreign cultures if they are to have a corporate culture at all. If you want to do business with foreign companies, you will have to learn about foreign cultures and their values. In the old days, if you wished to do business abroad you used to do a course at the Tropical Institute to get acquainted with the customs and tradition of a country. Global culture already exists, but many people still have to learn to be open to unfamiliar things.'
Instead of monumental expressions of art with a static character, Versteegde believes in ephemeral art to which impression and memory are central. 'Flowers are ephemeral too, and if we do a project in, for instance, an office building, it is not intended to last forever. You have to be flexible; after all, experiencing art is not a static thing either.'
Antoon Versteegde has gained ample experience with large-scale, interactive projects, and bamboo, the material he usually works with, has proven itself highly successful. His self-developed construction technique, called bamboostics, in which sticks are connected with elastic bands, is easily passed on to people who want to join in spontaneously. His art projects include projects in France (1989), Switzerland (1992), Belgium (1996), Denmark (1997), Germany (1997) and a large number of sites in the Netherlands. The majority of Versteegde's sculptures and installations are temporary, and consequently have now vanished. However, the 'makers' can still see their work of art on the internet (on special pages) whenever they feel like it, refreshing the memory of that one very special moment. Antoon Versteegde explains his vision: 'It is the after-image in particular that is of lasting value. The thought of what has passed, the imaginative powers that enable you to remember the image of the project you have been involved in. This way, a collective memory of sorts is created, a cultural heritage living on in memory. Such 'collectivities' generate a corporate culture and team spirit.'
He continues: 'People enter our creative sessions smartly dressed and are all wearing masks they haven't taken off in years. After only a few hours, everybody has thrown of their masks and are using their creativity in finding alternative solutions. Once I was present at a session in which a parallel was drawn between the terms 'managing and 'driving horses' (which sound similar in Dutch: 'managen' and 'mennen') Managers had to learn to drive a carriage and were trained to listen to the horses and talk to them in the right tone. Later, a parody of these 'horse whisperers' was shown on television, in which managers got a rabbit on their lap to talk to: the rabbit talkers. At first this is a weird sight, but by changing the environment and conditions you can make people function in entirely different ways. My bamboostics sessions work the same way. With teams of KLM, TNO, Arcadis or GITP we achieved things undreamed of. In the morning, people gather awkwardly in a meadow, seeing a number of bamboo sticks arranged in a circle with an envelope with their name attached to each of them. Everybody is looking at each other in a 'now what' sort of way. If one opens an envelope, the others follow automatically. Nobody has a clue as to where this should lead to, but by the end of the day a colossal pyramid has been constructed, 12 metres in height and decorated from top to toe. Afterwards, a festive gathering takes place around the collective structure. Events like this leave a lasting impression and are discussed within the company for years afterwards.'
Antoon Versteegde on his plans for the future: 'In the future, we want to focus on receiving companies here in our former PNEM (electricity company) building in Uden. In our vision, managers should allot a day to brainstorm on a new project, packaging design or marketing problem. The managers are inspired in various ways, with creative activities taking place throughout the building. On the roof we want to install a kind of think tank where one can rest at the end of the day and think of new approaches. Overlooking the beautiful scenery from the roof gives one a helicopter view, as it were. This approach is presented as an alternative to those fancy business meetings. To us creativity and inspiration are central, and of course the people themselves. We are moulding human flesh.'
In June last year, with a team of volunteers Antoon Versteegde organized a huge project for the city of Rotterdam: Stonehenge Rotterdam. In the park surrounding the Euromast a copy was constructed of the prehistoric monument in England. Around the structure, a festival was organized with a variety of activities. Antoon Versteegde: 'It was a magnificent project. With a work of art like that you start off an unpredictable process. Spontaneously, all kinds of new age groups and witchcraft clubs came to Rotterdam to meditate and perform their rituals. People were irresistibly attracted and as a result cultures, visual arts, theatre, music, nature, ideas and experiences of every kind were brought together. On the other hand, Christian societies agitated against these 'pagan festivities'. They literally prayed for bad weather to prevent the project and the event from taking place. Then it is really great to see all these different groups eventually become one and work together to turn it into one big party. It is wonderful to see the impact such a project has!'
Bamboostics is what Antoon Versteegde calls his self-developed construction technique, in which sticks are connected with elastic bands. A bamboo structure literally contains many intersections that may serve as a metaphor for patterns and techniques used in daily work. They also correspond with the way relationships are built and maintained. This way, a three-dimensional structure can be a spatial model giving a clear picture of relational structures that also apply to a company's own situation. Familiar schemes and plans get more substance as physical models if they are translated into a model of insight 10 metres high. This way, even rigid organizational models actually come to life to all participants. Intersections and connections made are similar to the relationships with people in the organisation. The pyramid model is very suitable for bamboo projects, as it symbolizes the top-down and bottom-up approaches. A pyramid has a large base, a large bearing surface with a clear top, into which both bottom-up and top-down networks are projected that can be approached from various sides.
Drs. A.F.O. Craanen
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