Daan Roosegaarde's Presence exhibition encourages visitors to make their mark
Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde has opened his first major solo museum show — an interactive experience meant to awaken its audience to human impact on the environment.
Staged by the Groninger Museum in Groningen, the Netherlands, Roosegaarde's Presence exhibition takes the form of a sprawling, 800-metre-square installation of darkened rooms and phosphorescent light.
At every turn, museum visitors are encouraged to touch, move, push and hug objects in the space, and in doing so leave an imprint for those who come after.
Roosegaarde, whose work often focuses on the environment and sustainability, created the exhibition to make visitors aware of the traces they leave behind on their surroundings, and to make them feel empowered to act differently.
"I wanted to create a place where you feel connected," said Roosegaarde. "You make the artwork and the artwork makes you. Presence shows your relationship with the environment and how we can influence it."
Presence opens with a dark room ordered around grid-like markings and large plinths.
A beam of blue light constantly scans the space, like a photocopier, leaving behind a ghostly imprint wherever a visitor blocks the light. Visitors often climb the plinths, so that shadows of bodies lie across them.
The same principle is at work in the next room, which is the most minimal space in Presence and was partly inspired by the work of light artist James Turrell.
The empty room, bathed in alternating blue-green and red-orange phosphorescent light, "takes pictures" of its inhabitants as the colour transitions.
Roosegaarde restricted himself to a minimal visual language for the exhibition — "light, dark, big, small, hard, soft, square and round" — with the following three sections of the exhibition built around spheres.
One is a dark room filled with millions of tiny balls, like grains of sand making up a dune or, in the words of Presence co-curator Sue-an van der Zijpp, "a kind of universe made of luminous stardust".
"It's like walking through the stars," says Roosegaarde in an exhibition video. "It's very fairy-like but also tangible."
There's also a room combining large spheres with the photo-taking light effects found elsewhere in the exhibition, and finally, a room of jellyfish-like balls, called Lolas after the intern who helped design them.
When pushed around, the Lolas leave tentacles of green light on the dark ground, inviting visitors to draw patterns or write words.
Roosegaarde is best known for environmentally orientated projects, such as the air-cleaning Smog Free Tower and the energy-generating Windvogel kites.
The designer wanted Presence to explore the same themes but connect with audiences on a more emotional level.
"One of the problems around sustainability these days is that we have a rising sea level, carbon dioxide, smog, light pollution," said Roosegarde. "We blame politicians, talk about numbers, we tighten up, get angry. That doesn't work. So we've lost the connection."
Roosegarde believes that one way to grow those societal and environmental bonds is through touch.
"If you're too far removed, it's too abstract and academic," he said. "I think that's one of today's problems — we've created too much distance. We're all a part of this network. The more we forget this, the harder it will be to keep it inhabitable and humane."
The exhibition ends with a quote by philosopher and media theorist Marshall Macluhan: "On spaceship Earth there are no passengers. We are all crew."
Presence opened at the Groninger Museum on 22 June 2019 and runs until 12 January 2020.