“I’m an outdoor artist. I work with light, weather, wind, the sun, reflections. When I was asked for the Groninger Museum, I thought “that won’t work”. Old art with do not touch signs. It felt frozen, like wind in a glass jar, which is no longer wind.”
As he says himself, Daan Roosegaarde’s work does not belong in a museum space or any confined space for that matter but that’s what makes his new exhibition, Presence — now on show at the Groninger Museum in Groningen — so special and unique.
Daan Roosegaarde (b. 1979) is a Dutch artist and founder of Studio Roosegaarde, which develops and designs projects which merge technology and art environments. The studio’s work investigates the Dutch word Schoonheid, a word with two meanings: beauty as in sublime aesthetics and creativity and cleanliness as in clean air, clean water and clean energy. As a landscape artist, Roosegaarde’s work takes place in public spaces, often site-specific and at large scale making use of natural elements and occurrences such as air, water, light and wind.
Several years ago Roosegaarde was approached by the Groninger Museum to create an exhibition in their space. But how can an artist whose work is so associated to the landscape, create something that lives inside walls? This is something that is detrimental to this exhibition and something the Groninger Museum wished to explore: to focus on artists who investigate and redefine the boundaries of their own disciplines; stepping outside of their comfort zones and creating something unique through of this. Presence is this unique something, born from this investigation and a radical change of mindset from Roosegaarde, something he felt was like learning a new language.
Many of Roosegaarde’s projects explore the landscape in today’s context, such as water through rising sea levels (Waterlicht 2016–2018) air through the abundance of smog (Smog Free Tower 2015) or wind through wind turbines and renewable energy (Windlicht 2016). As the starting point for Presence he took the iconic ecological footprint and the idea of visualising the human impact of their environment; thus the exhibition is 100% interactive and welcomes visitors to touch; in this case through the specific way in which light and light-sensitive smart-materials are used. Its about you being there and having an impact on the space and landscape around you. It doesn't exist without you, its about touching and being there and your (at times literal) footprint.
The structure of Presence allows visitors to follow a route through different atmospheres and visual means: light and dark, big and small, hard and soft, square and round. This is a visual language characteristic of Roosegaarde and one that is found in much of his geometrically abstract and minimalistic work. In his words “It looks simple but it isn’t. It’s simplicity, that’s very different.”
As such an interactive exhibition its difficult to explain in words the experience one feels whilst in this space; it requires an open mind and the willing to explore and play. At once you feel like a child again; seeing how you can interact with each room, each object and each material.
In some instances the greater the physical interaction, the greater the visual reward, it certainly does not appease the passive onlooker. Walking into each room you change from spectator into maker and from maker into part of the artwork, subsequently looked at by other visitors. Presence is supposed to trigger your imagination and curiosity and it does without any second thought. If you’re too far removed, it’s too abstract and academic.
The sections of Presence can be explained very simplistically but require your own personal interaction to fully understand and appreciate:
“At first it’s dominant, rigid, structured. Holland from above, a Mondrian grid. You’re there and the room scans you as if you were in a photocopier, from above, top down. The second room is empty. There’s light and suddenly, flash, flash… You see imprints of yourself on the wall, the floor and then it fades. It’s very empty but it’s filled with ideas and your interaction.
There’s a corridor with light drops and as you walk through the space it becomes more liquid, more playful. And your impact gets bigger. Little luminescent balls that are scattered across the floor. It’s like walking through the stars. It’s very fairy-like but also tangible. You can touch it and play with it.
You end in a room with Lolas, named after the intern who helped design them. The floor is fluroescent and the Lolas are like little jellyfish; if you push them they draw lines of light on the ground. On one hand they refer to the prehistoric cave drawings in France but it’s also futuristic, like a UFO moving through space.
You don’t see LEDs, there’s no beamer, screen or switches. It’s immersive and you’re one with the landscape. It’s a layer that pervades the space.”
Presence closes with a quote from the Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan (famous for his quote “the medium is the message” which is also applicable to this exhibition) which is Roosegaarde’s favourite quote and has been applied to much of his work: “There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew”. Implying that no one is simply here for the ride, we are all on this planet together and we all have a role to play. It also strengthens the idea that this exhibition is about doing something; not just looking by.
Too many art galleries and museums lead with the idea of “please do not touch”, a stuffy and sober image which is expected considering artworks and museum artefacts are very valuable and fragile and after all art is usually only meant to be looked at. However just looking at something doesn’t necessarily allow one to experience it fully. The fact that this exhibition eliminates this “do not touch” image is something that almost doesn’t surprise me with the Groninger Museum.
Since visiting it for the first time in early 2017 I knew straight away that this was not a ‘normal’ museum thanks in large to its exterior Post-modernist architecture and it’s interior design which is a whirlwind of colour and material; a very unconventional museum indeed.
Presence by Daan Roosegaarde is on display at the Groninger Museum in Groningen for a long time, until 12.01.2020, allowing many people to experience it first hand.