Daan Roosegaarde

Working at the intersection of art and technology, Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde is a pioneer for clean energy art projects, through which he designs solutions for a better world. Fuelled by ingenuity and imagination, the artist strives to connect audiences with the world around them. His award-winning lightscape Waterlicht is set to do just that when it is exhibited in Western Australia this November.

A mentality of change drives Roosegaarde, whose creative design solutions show the potential for a greener world. Developing projects that merge technology and art in urban environments, Roosegaarde puts clean energy at the forefront of his vision for a new global landscape. Through his namesake social design lab, Studio Roosegaarde, the artist works to epitomise ‘Schoonheid’, the Dutch phrase that couples the notion of ‘beauty’, from creative ingenuity, with the notion of ‘clean’, from clean air and energy. His team of designers and engineers work across a range of projects that connect people and technology to improve daily life, and ignite the imagination.

This year marks the second iteration of the Fremantle Biennale and, according to Roosegaarde, the port city is an ideal host for his work.

Waterlicht is a virtual flood that demonstrates the power and poetry of living water with mesmerising waves of light. The artwork is designed specifically for the site, using software and a combination of LEDs and lenses to build up layers of light, shaping the dreamscape. The result is a virtual submersion of audiences beneath its surface, which has already awed spectators in major cities around the world. Some 60,000 visitors went to see it in a single night when it was shown in Amsterdam.

A new and unique iteration of Waterlicht is made for every city it visits, so Roosegaarde and his team have been busy researching Fremantle to inform the design of this newest work. ‘It always changes,’ says Roosegaarde, ‘there is always a new conversation developing.’ Importantly to the artist, he feels the ethos of Fremantle resonates with the values that underlie Studio Roosegaarde; the ephemeral, site-specific Waterlicht responds harmoniously to the transience and transitional flow of a port town.

Embracing transformation and change is key to Roosegaarde’s creative ingenuity. New projects are spurred at times by personal inspirations and, at other times, by irritations. Roosegaarde embraces both, turning irritations into solutions. Typical of this solution-driven attitude is the success of his Smog Free Project, which saw Studio Roosegaarde develop towers to clean pollution from the air and make jewellery with its filtrates. The catalyst for this work had been Roosegaarde’s vexation at the smog he encountered on a visit to Beijing.

Undertaking projects of this scale requires an expansive, collaborative approach to creative practice. Each new project compels detailed research before artist impressions and prototypes can be made. Roosegaarde admires minimalist aesthetics, explaining, ‘Like Japanese design, you remove a lot of what is not necessary, and a unique aesthetic is the consequence.’

Removing the unnecessary allows the artist to emphasise qualities such as form and scale. For Gates of Light, Roosegaarde made use of retro-reflective layers to illuminate sixty buildings along a busy motorway, which catch and reflect light from the headlights of passing cars. As cars pass through, strips of light appear to outline the buildings, creating the look of a vast expanse of illuminated archways, a futuristic landscape of light, created without electricity. If there are no cars on the road, the structures are not illuminated. In this project Roosegaarde sought to highlight what was already there, and made use of the energy readily available on a road traversed by 20,000 cars each day. ‘We work with elements like colour and contrast, and it starts a conversation relating to clean air,’ he explains.

Ambitious scale is another defining feature of Roosegaarde’s work. ‘Scale means that you can really surrender, you can really lose yourself, it immerses you,’ he says. This mindset, coupled with his desire to trigger social connection, has brought Roosegaarde’s practice to the public domain: most of his works are shown in urban environments. ‘You want to show (the audience) that it is real,’ he says, ‘to trigger the imagination.’

On what to expect of Waterlicht in Fremantle, Roosegaarde says, ‘You’re going to see a lot of people coming and hanging out.’ There will also be a podcast to share stories about water, which speaks to a key motivation of Studio Roosegaarde: to use art as an activator to inspire people and start conversations. Waterlicht creates a collective experience, not only about the importance of water innovation; it also prompts visitors to think about their role in harnessing the energy of the oceans.

It would be easy to see a political mesage in Roosegaarde’s work, but the artist steers clear of such associations. ‘There’s not a political agenda. It’s more an activator to inspire people, to make them curious about the future, to make them feel more connected with the world around them.’

Despite his success, Roosegaarde’s art is not without trials. ‘There are so many challenges, these are brutal, harsh environments,’ he says. But for Roosegaarde the biggest challenge is not lack of funding or technology, it is lack of imagination. ‘We need space for creative experimentation, and we need space for failure.’ And he finds the greatest success in his work is when it moves beyond the technology that created it and inspires personal experiences, builds new connections and shapes a new reality.

What does the future hold? ‘That’s the million-dollar question, and that’s what we are going to decide,’ says Roosegaarde. And we are only limited by our imaginations.

This article was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 48, 2019

Fremantle Biennale: UNDERCURRENT 19
1 – 24 November 2019
Various venues around Fremantle, WA
(Waterlicht, 1 to 3 November, Esplanade Park)

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