Unexpected Collective

We create moments of delight, surprise, and play

What we do: public art experiences that build community.

Our toolkit includes: physical materials, interactive technology, light, sound, and space.

Our unexpected collaborators are: people having spontaneous picnics in our field of glowing orbs, joggers discovering a shimmering multi-colored galaxy in the dawn as they run through the park, children giggling as they help build a biodegradable star spiral, fathers visiting from Nebraska making wish after wish in a wishing well with unexpected and unpredictable answers, kids with a mischievous twinkle in their eye whispering a silly word into a tube only to have it hugely amplified while the adults laugh indulgently.

Photograph of a park hill at dusk with hundreds of large white balloons floating three feet above the ground, each surrounded by strands of tiny lights.
Toolbox at FLUX: Grant Park

The work belongs to the community

We create work that is about and for the location and the people who live, work, and visit there.

We give the work to the public because the heart of the work lives in the community.

Ownership by the public, our unexpected collaborators, is a key tenet of our work. We create the piece and shape its initial form but the people who live and work in that location, and those just passing through, breathe the life into it. The work is fully realized through interaction with the public. They have agency over what happens to the work because the heart of the work lives in them not in the objects used.

Photograph of a young boy talking into a pink tube that is part of an interactive sound sculputer at Ponce City Market, Atlanta.
Echo Tube at FLUX: Ponce City Market

Rewarding those who live with the experience over time

We build surprises into the work, which may be subtle or explicit. Our unexpected collaborators are free to engage with the work for however long they choose. The work reveals itself in layers.

The longer you stay with a piece, the more you see and understand its heart. And the more you discover what it does, who it is, and who the other unexpected collaborators are. Those volunteers who have spent hours or days with a piece or who return to it over and over receive a gift of insight into the work that many never get to see.

One of five durational installations created by Unexpected Collective in Grant Park: a crowd looks on as a large galaxy spiral of starch peanuts dissolves into a grass field.
Toolbox at FLUX: Grant Park
A constellation of hundreds of origami balls glow in many colors at night in a grassy area of Grant Park.
Toolbox Constellation

Inspiring human connection between strangers

Our work is not primarily the physical objects we create. It is the tenuous human connection created between people as they engage with the materials. The sense of community and togetherness they feel during the time they are there. This could last a moment or an hour. The heart of the work lives in that moment and in the people experiencing it.

A public artwork is a shared point of connection and communication. Through it, individuals can take part in an experience together where there might otherwise be none. It transcends age, language, and demographic identity.

Ipomoea:Grass, bathed in red fire-like light, strings and points of light hand from suspended shipping palettes around dozens of visitors.
Members of the public join Unexpected Collective at a work table to create illuminated origami balloons.
Toolbox at FLUX: Grant Park

Grounding the history and physical attributes of each place

Our work is a deep exploration of history as embodied in the people and things that have touched a certain location. We do extensive historical research as well as contemporary analysis of the location. Who lives there, who uses that space, what roles has that space played in the past? What roles does it play now? What layers exist underneath the visible?

We bring attention to what would otherwise be unseen. At Grant Park: the sound of an underground spring, the terrain of a hill, a long-forgotten lamppost.

Chilren gather around a telephone installation that connected visitors to an underground spring.
Toolbox at FLUX: Grant Park
A photograph of the Echo Tube interactive sound installation: a series of fluorescent pink tubes with a red button attached. A construction-style sign instructs visitors to 'Press. Confess. Release.'
Echo Tube at FLUX: Ponce City Market

Technology is a tool
not a goal

Interactivity isn’t about technology or showing off new gadgets. It is about creating a network of relationships between people using creative tools. Technology can be the translator or medium through which people interact with the art and each other, but it is not the art itself.

Technology is an essential material in our quiver. However, we don’t use it when we don’t need to, and we don’t show it when we don’t have to. Technology melds seamlessly and transparently into the artwork allowing the true experience to surface.

Two puppeteers rehearse with a white puppet seated on a shipping pallet table. Suspended above are shipping pallets from which string and points of light hang.
A family presses their ears agains a lamppost in Grant Park to hear historical sounds through bone conduction.
Toolbox at FLUX: Grant Park

A romp of artists

Three artists joined by a desire to explore how interactive public art can inspire communities. Our collaboration began in a hotel room in Dallas, following the closing night of a robotic opera we had been working on. We were sitting up late discussing the nature of interactive technology and what you call different groups of animals. Somewhere in between a memory of elephants and a cackle of hyenas the idea of combining our talents emerged. We created a romp of artists: Dr. Peter Torpey, Dr. Elena Jessop Nattinger and Rebecca Makus.

Photograph of artists Peter Torpey, Rebecca Makus, and Elly Nattinger
Artists Elly Nattinger, Peter Torpey, and Rebecca Makus

Peter is a Media Experience Artist based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His work includes media and projection design, lighting design, and interactive technologies for live performance, opera, and virtual experiences worldwide.

Elly is a software engineer and creative technologist based in the SF Bay Area. In her work at Google, she’s built VR/AR experiences and developed technology for interactive physical spaces. She received her doctorate from the MIT Media Lab, where she created interactive multimedia systems for live music and theater performances.

Rebecca is a data analyst and former theatre designer/professor. She designed around the US and internationally and was an award winning arts educator. Now she uses her design and teaching skills to tell compelling data stories. She received her MFA from California Institute of the Arts and her Data Analyst and Business Intelligence training from Emory University.

Photograph of artists Peter Torpey, Rebecca Makus, and Elly Nattinger
Artists Elly Nattinger, Peter Torpey, and Rebecca Makus