'The Fair Grounds: Bumber Ballet' by DROPSTUFF.

Photo: Barbara Medo

In the spotlight: art installation or fair ground attraction? The international story of Dropstuff Media

The Dutch pioneer in media design for public spaces was selected for the SXSW 2020 Art Program in Austin, USA, and will also travel to France and Austria.
24 February 2020
By Renske Ebbers

To be selected for the Art Program of the prestigious South by South West festival (SXSW 2020) is a real milestone for many artists working on the innovative crossroads of art and technology. DROPSTUFF MEDIA was the only Dutch selection this year with their interactive installation Bumper Ballet, part of their ongoing project The Fair Grounds. Although the festival in Austin has unfortunately been cancelled due to the corona virus outbreak, the installation will also travel to Dunkerque in France and Lienz in Austria this summer. 

Bumper Ballet appears to function like any playground attraction with bumping cars, but after a few minutes of childhood-resembling-fun, the system takes over the steering wheel. The cars start performing a ballet of movements on their own, approaching and rebounding each other, paralleling a historic video of famous Dutch DAF cars. The interactive installation cleverly reflects on the implications of autonomous technology, and brings together popular culture and art in an intriguing way. We talked to director René van Engelenburg and head editor & education Tim Meijerink from DROPSTUFF.nl, about international networking, the universal appeal of fair grounds, and creating coincidental opportunities.

DutchCulture: Looking at your past projects, there is a strong international element; the Venice Biennale, THE BRIDGE project with Sweden. Have you been internationally orientated in your work from the start or how did you develop this ambition?

DROPSTUFF: For our sector, the Netherlands is just too small. The essence of our work is about making connections, between people and places: to take that which is far away and bring it closer. We did the #BigArtRide through Europe for example, and our projects have toured many European festivals. The fact that we create installations not just for big museums but especially for festivals, fairs and other public spaces, means there are also more places to travel to.

We have international ambitions and a vision on where we would like to take our projects, but we also depend on coincidence as to who encounters our work and wants to program us. Of course you can have a hand in that, guiding chance so to say, by presenting your work places where you know the right people will see it.

DC: Why do you think a project like The Fair Grounds: Bumping Ballet has such a strong international appeal?

DropS: The concept of a fair ground attraction is quite universal and the experience of it recognizable. With the element of bumping cars you touch upon popular culture and reach out to a broad audience. For example on the Venice Biennale, we presented our work on a square where high art lovers, tourist families and curious Venetians were standing in line together to experience our work. Within the playful frame of fair ground, there are many deeper layers of autonomous technology, machines as performers, artificial intelligence and the aesthetic quality of the screened images and movements aligning. But to which level they take their experience, is up to the audience itself.

'The Fair Grounds: Bumber Ballet' by DROPSTUFF. Photo: DROPSTUFF
South by South West is in reality less an American festival and more an international platform, maybe the international platform, for art, music and technology
DC: SXSW will be your first time presenting in the United States. Are there particular institutions or developments in the United States that you wish to connect with?

DropS: South by South West is in reality less an American festival and more an international platform, maybe the international platform, for art and technology. The whole world will gather there. Being part of New Dutch Wave, it will be easier for us to connect with important partners in Germany, Sweden and many other countries in Europe, that will all be present in Texas. This is what makes the extensive preparations and efforts worth it, because getting our Bumper Ballet to the other side of the ocean is not an easy mission! Our cars and equipment are already packed and on a ship as we speak. But then we will be able to present our work both on the trade show and in the art program of SXSW and we will reach thousands of visitors from all over the world, and the right people from not just the United States but everywhere else, will see our work.

When and where to see The Fair Grounds: Bumper Ballet?

15 March—21 March 2020 at SXSW in Austin, TX, USA: Cancelled

June 2020 at La Bonne Aventure Festival in Dunkerque, France

July 2020 at the Olala Festival in Lienz, Austria

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DROPSTUFF MEDIA is the media network for digital and interactive experiences. They are fascinated by public artistic experiences and create video art, artistic games and interactive installations. In 2019 they received the NICE Award by the European Centre for Creative Economy.

The Fair Grounds: Bumper Ballet has been realised in close collaboration with Eindhoven Museum and the designers Peter de Man, Douwe Hibma and Thomas van den Berg. Its realisation was made possible by the VSBfonds and the BankGiro Loterij Fonds. The presentation at SXSW is made possible by Creative Industries Fund NL.

New Dutch Wave is the rocking trade-mission representing the Dutch creative and innovative industry at the global stage of South By Southwest. By providing a joint-effort platform for networking, knowledge exchange and collaboration for all Dutch individuals and organisations, they deepen the SXSW experience and enlarge the impact. In collaborating with other international delegations like the EU House, the German House, the Canadian House and the Scandinavian House, they open many doors for the Dutch creative and innovative sector.

In the spotlight

Are you a Dutch or Netherlands-based artist performing abroad in the (near) future and would you like to be in the spotlight? Send us an email with detailed information and two horizontal high res images. The editing team will make a selection and get back to you.

Check out the complete overview of Dutch cultural activities in the United States in our database. If you are a cultural professional who wants to go to the United States, feel free to contact our United States advisor Renske Ebbers.