Monumental flip books, super-sized odes to one of animation's oldest technologies, sprouted up in an ethereal New Hampshire forest over the summer thanks to an unexpected union between London architects and a troupe of New York City public school kids. UK firm The Mobile Studio designed five massive flip books, which they call Universal Play Machines, for kids from a summer program called Beam Camp to assemble. The 10-17-year-olds built the mechanisms, based on the split-flap displays found in old airports and train stations, then drew nature-inspired animations that come to life in the human-sized contraptions. "As far as we know, these are the world’s largest mechanical flipbooks ever made!" The Mobile Studio says.
Beam Camp, which spawned the Brooklyn-based non-profit Beam Center in 2011, is the brainchild of Brian Cohen and Danny Kahn. Since 2004 they've accepted proposals from design firms the world over, working with students to create a tree-shaped pipe organ, a human-powered paddle steamer, and a massive kaleidoscope, among other hands-on projects.
The Universal Play Machines are works of art, especially framed by the Live Free or Die state's picturesque wilderness. At night they're illuminated from the inside with LEDs, cleverly revealing their inner workings. The only indication that they weren't produced in an industrial workshop or factory somewhere are the childrens' charming 50-panel animations packed into each split-flap display.
More than objects of beauty, they're a vindication of Beam Camp's philosophy of "Building Together," a low-key critique of the public school systems á la American educator and media theorist Neil Postman. Postman writes, “The idea of public education depends absolutely on the existence of shared narratives and the exclusion of narratives that lead to alienation and divisiveness. […] Public education does not serve a public. It creates a public." Alienation and divisiveness are practically rites of passage for American teenagers, so Beam Camp's mission to create a positive narrative is the real takeaway from this project, just as much as the awe-inspiring kinetic sculptures.