The projects are the result of cooperation among artists from different parts of Europe. They are conceived as workshops, with a particular emphasis on participation by the audience and the participants. Nedyelko Delchev (Sofia, Bulgaria) and Maciej Salamon (Gdansk, Poland), creators of the Birdhouse Gallery project, aim to establish a European gallery network by organising children’s workshops spanning multiple days. By making and decorating small mobile houses, they create a personalised gallery space with a particular emphasis on the power of children’s imagination in art making. The project deconstructs the adults-children relationship through equal interaction and cooperation, moving away from the common one-sided communication where children are merely the recipients in the adult world. Encouraging imagination and developing artistic skills is mutual, and artists get to rediscover themselves and the world they live in as much as the children do.
The Playground project, a collaborative effort by four artists, is based on compiling and creating a collection of games from different parts of Europe. The artists – Miha Horvat (Ljubljana, Slovenia), Riccardo Spagnulo (Bari, Italy), Gianfranco Mirizzi (Rijeka, Croatia) and Simon Farid (Gateshead, Great Britain) – discover and learn local games by cooperating with the community and at the same time presenting games they encountered in workshops in other parts of Europe. This postmodern-ethnologic-folklore project promotes the idea of participation by including the local community into creating new game forms from those they are familiar with and those presented in the project. Zagreb project has included local children who did their research on a multimedia playground made exclusively for active participation. As much as the previous project, Playground can also be considered an ode to childhood imagology and its power in the production of innovative and different art.
Although both projects are based on the idea of participation, artist are careful when using the term in question. Different political and ideological implications have made participation a controversial field that is not studied enough, but artists use their projects – particularly the Playground project – to re-examine its driving forces and create a more positive image of community participation. Apart from the idea of participation, both projects promote the significant role art and culture play in educating children and developing artistic skills. The idea that art and culture make a supranational, universal language that encourages children’s imagination and enables them to discover themselves and the world they live in is particularly relevant today when the formal education system is ideologised and politicised. The element differentiating these projects from formal education is an equal and honest exchange of ideas between children and adults, as well as not dismissing children’s interventions in public and artistic space as something irrelevant.
The importance of investing in children’s imagination was recognised as early as the first half of the 20th century by a French professor and idea historian, Paul Hazard, who considered it the only uniting force. His idea of a universal children’s republic promoted the concept of childhood universality and children as supranational subjects. According to Hazard, precisely this type of republic should triumph over national interests and be based on mutual regard, irrespective of language, origin or geographic affiliation. However, apart from being neglected and underappreciated elements in society, the children and the notion of childhood are strongly influenced by ideological, political, economic and cultural driving forces. Accordingly, perceptions of childhood and children are in effect constructs created by adults on the basis of their vision of what childhood should represent. Paradoxically, it would seem that childhood does not belong to children and their view of the world, but to the nostalgic memories of adults who create it.
Hazard’s idealistic children’s republic is subtly outlined in projects such as Birdhouse Gallery and Playground, which enable children to reclaim childhood and encourage them to construct their own world without adults intervening. However, much like children’s literature that is often characterised as a “separate form of literature” on the fringes of literary science and literature in general, projects in question are “separate” artistic interventions, but also an idealistic and utopian moment in reconstructing the notion of childhood.