The Carnival season is upon us, and the Afrika Museum in Berg en Dal (Netherlands) is devoting an exhibition this year to the phenomenon “Carnival” around the globe. Appropriately the museum places an accent on Carnival traditions among African inflected cultures in the Americas: Brazil, New Orleans, Haïti, and ancient traditions in Africa itself. But let’s not forget how we do it here in the Netherlands either. Wherever you celebrate, there are some golden threads running through all manifestations of Carnival: masquerades, seasonal rites and general “transgressional” behaviour.
Todd van Hulzen Design created a design for the exhibition finely tuned to the particulars of the museum space, the needs of the visitor and the emotions of the narrative. The story goes: Carnival worldwide is more than you know, familiar but strange, irreverent but ceremonial, ancient but continually reinventing itself.
To enter the exhibition we pass through a carnivalesque maw in a wall that separates the show from the entry corridor. This giant mouth is the entry into another world, the world upside-down. In the large exhibition hall called the “Atrium”, which is full of light, we nested all of the colorful objects —floats, costumes, maquettes— in a background of white and grey. The motif that repeats throughout the exhibition is the lozenge, or diamond. This is a reference to the tradition of jesters and fools dressed in harlequin suits, as well as the ancient origins of the harlequin itself. In the large Atrium we find smaller spaces, the clubhouses of three different associations: the locals, Groesbeek; the bistro-gallery in New Orleans; and the hectic workshop in Rio de Janeiro. The diamond motif is continued into the next rooms which are low and dark. Here are the objects that exude a bit more mystery, and also have lower light requirements. In the high vide of this space we find an ascending pyramid of carnival costumes from Brazil and Africa. And on the mezzanine we continue to the end, where we have traditions of closure: burning, purification and the clean-up.
Thanks to a great team at the Afrika Museum, and to Wendy Jansen, project coördinatrix extraordinaire.
In 2015 I worked as an art director and set designer on the Dutch Western Brimstone, starring Guy Pearce, Dakota Fanning, Kit Harrington and Carice van Houten.Now that it’s in movie theaters and the reviews are coming in (one thing everyone agrees on: it’s memorable) I thought I would share some more set shots. The film has been singled out for its dark tone and its restrained but authentic-feeling architecture. The mood was set by production designer Floris Vos, and he kept to his guns, as they say, throughout the project by making sure we kept it simple. The film was shot largely on location in Germany with a Dutch and German crew.
This year Todd van Hulzen and Studio Louter are submitting some projects together for various awards. For one particular international award we made a little video tour of the new permanent installation at NEMO: World of Shapes / Wereld van vormen. Narrated by yours truly!
So far only positive reviews for our big permanent installation “Dutch Delta Experience” in Zeeland. DeltaPark Neeltje Jans commissioned Todd van Hulzen and Studio Louter to create a large, dynamic visitor experience in their visitors’ center located on the great storm barrier accross the delta of Zeeland. Our answer was to create a filmed panorama of 270 degrees. Here we immerse the visitor in the dark world that was the disastrous night in February 1953 when a succession of dykes broke during a severe storm, thereafter permanently etching itself into the Dutch psyche. When one refers to the “flood disaster” we know they speak of 1953. Todd van Hulzen, as artistic director and designer, determined the size, shape, feeling and historical integrity of the whole. Studio Louter created the storyline and directed the filming and Sho Sho in Amsterdam created the digital animations.
First seen from the viewpoint of a child’s room as the storm gathers momentum, then from upon the sea-dyke as waters rush in and sweep away everything in their path. Finally we see the determination of the Dutch people to protect their country through heroic engineering and (heroic) unanimous cooperation.
In this video, in Dutch, you can get an idea of the elements of the experience.
The concept of the Panorama is actually quite old. We were inspired by the big Panorama Mesdag in the Hague, an original painted 12 meter high Panorama, following the rage in the late 19th century. At the time it was the closest you could come to an immersive artificial experience. What we add to the experience is the element of time. This means that our panorama contains a story that unfolds as you stand before it. WInds blow, shutters creak, children scream, waters lap at your feet.
We went through many phases to arrive at our end product, but we are quite satisfied. Thank you Neeltje Jans.
A short video of my father, Alvin Van Hulzen, winching up the whole timber girders that are going to make the raised floor of my future cabin in Klamath County, Oregon. The beams probably weigh about a ton each, being about 26 feet long and 16 inches in diameter (800cm x 40cm). Our makeshift crane, which was anchored pretty soundly with guy-wires still can be heard creaking under the compression. Rather unnerving, to be sure, but it all went well. Hats off to Dad’s enginering instincts.
It will come as no surprise that the “we” at T. van Hulzen design is often just myself. True, working in symbiosis with Studio Louter in Amsterdam means that with each project there’s a whole team involved doing production, content, multimedia, etc. But rarely do I get around to doing a project that is just for myself. That changed this past September and October when I started building my own ‘cabin in the woods’. More specifically, it’s to be a log cabin in Klamath County, Oregon, USA, on the edge of the pine forests surrounding Fourmile Flats, one of the great seasonal moorlands of the Southern Cascades. Fourmile Flats Ranch belongs —not incidentally— to my generous parents. Granting their children land is of course a sinister ploy to spend more time with them. In their defence, it’s a magical land, volcanic and densely forested at 1300 meters above sea level (4300 ft) on the eastern flank of the Cascade Range and bounded on all sides by National Forest and designated wilderness.
There is of course an architectural concept. I couldn’t just let it be a run of the mill log cabin. Continue reading →
I was so busy I neglected to post anything about a brief stint last year as Set Designer for the Dutch feature film Bloed, Zweet & Tranen about the life of the popular blue-collar folk-hero and singer Andre Hazes. The sets were simple, under the direction of production designer and old colleague/friend Alfred Schaaf. Alfred called to see if I was interested in a bit of work, and since it had been so long since I had done proper film work as a designer, it seemed like it could be fun. We recreated an old record store, a music studio, a television studio and some older apartment buildings in the (then) working class neighborhood of Amsterdam, De Pijp. And in the end I got to do some handwork as well, painting a 3×3 meter canvas as an artistic early 60’s backdrop in a film studio.
This year’s edition of the Amsterdam Light Festival will include another work by Todd van Hulzen and Studio Louter. This year we’ve created a projection on the round surface of Renzo Piano’s NEMO Science Center, which people also call the “bow”, as in ship’s bow.
The objective was to make a sliding graphic for a beamer that projects through rolls of acetate, something like a cross between a conventional slide projector and a film roll. The result is an analog scrolling animation. We did the work on invitation from NEMO itself and were supplied with a projector from the vendor Pani. We were asked to make a design that was relevant somehow to the current exhibition “Wereld van Vormen”, an exhibit on the subject of mathematics and geometry. Since we were the ones to actually do the design of that show, it all just kind of fell into place. Although, not without due effort.
The concept is that the world can be broken down into mathematical elements and pure shapes. We’ve chosen to create an abstraction of the city, in particular a city like Amsterdam. There are some bridges and stepped gables, and at the end the buildings pull out of frame and reveal the piles upon which they are built.
See this fantastic time-lapse film of the festival. Our project is at 1:01.
World of Shapes is the name of a big, new, permanent exhibition designed by Todd van Hulzen Design at NEMO Science Center in Amsterdam. Wereld van Vormen, in Dutch, is all about geometry, mathematics and the world we live in. The “soft” opening was Thursday 24 September, and even though there are a few elements that need fine tuning after the work crews leave, it’s up and running and can already be visited during normal hours. When the final batch of spotlights arrive we can put the cherry on the cake, as it were.
Everything around us is either made of geometry of can be reduced to a kind of mathematics. But the world of mathematics, particularly from a classical standpoint, encompasses more that just numbers and angles, it also includes such almost arcane subjects as proportions, perspective and optical illusions. Even phenomena that seem to be mere matters of perception can be explained through the clarity of mathematics and accurate measurement.
Todd van Hulzen design created the designs for the ‘decor’ of the exhibition. But first we came up with the overall “total concept” in cooperation with our dependable creative partner Studio Louter. Studio Louter also created the marvelous digital applications and interactive games. Drumming up a complete concept is harder than it may look, considering all of the disparate parts involved. We unified it in this case with the Universal, meaning we created a kind of self referential world all constructed out of triangles and hexagons. In fact we created something that had never really been done at NEMO, and that is create an exhibit that is truly a sum of its parts instead of a collection of loose interactive elements. The client was thrilled, the visitors are entertained, and we are taking a deep breath until the next project.
It’s rare that I do any sculpture work anymore for film like I used to. But this particular assignment really appealed to me for reasons that have nothing to do with money: recreate the stern carvings of the royal flagship that Michiel De Ruyter seized and towed from Chatham during his great naval triumph over the English at the Raid of the Medway in 1667. It just seemed to historically interesting to ignore. The film in question is the Dutch production “Michiel de Ruyter” being filmed in Zeeland (the Dutch province) and the wharves of Lelystad. But the relevant scene concerns De Ruyter’s presentation of his trophy, the royal stern carvings, to the States General of the United Provinces, which was the republican government of the Netherlands at the time. This was being filmed in gothic city hall of Middelburg in Zeeland.
The original stern carvings, or “counter” as it’s officially called, are hanging in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in a gallery devoted to the De Ruyter era. I had to scale it down a little bit for technical reasons (the original is 2½ x 3½ meters) but even making it out of high density polyurethane foam I still had an enormous challenge of volume. With an assistant Rik and some more of the great folks in the De Ruyter art department we managed to get the still wet project in just under the wire. It was heroic! And it looked beautiful in the (artificial) late afternoon light of the location in Middleburg.
Looking forward to viewing the film when it’s released.
Another sculpture assignment I received from the production of the film “Michiel de Ruyter” was to recreate the cruelly lynched bodies of the brothers De Witt, a prominent Dutch politician from the 16th century and his brother who were attacked by an Orangist mob and lynched in the Hague. Obviously there’s a serious story here, and I won’t try to commit it to this page (read it here), but it was famous and compelling enough to make me want to take up the job.
You might ask, why not just use actors? But these corpses had to be eviscerated and lacerated to such a degree that that would be impractical. But engaging the services of one of the excellent special effects studios was budgetarily out of the question. A compromise was found: me. The production designer Ruben Schwarz and myself settled on the idea of culling various body parts from display mannequins, cutting them up and reattaching them. Then we covered them with layers of hard casting wax colored with powdered pigments (from the paint mill De Kat). This allowed us to cut into the surface skin to expose flesh. Wax is actually quite forgiving, as long as you aren’t filming in the extreme heat of the day. Using wax kept the costs down and is a rather low-threshold material to work with. We were rather pleased with the results, and so was the director.
Our competition in the category International Award (the award is a primarily British affair) will be: The Olympic Museum in Switzerland, The Springbok Experience in South Africa, The Gemeentemuseum in the Hague, and The Red Star Line Museum in Antwerp, Belgium.
The winners will be announced in May and Todd plans to be there with our colleagues at Studio Louter and Het Nationaal Archief. A good excuse to iron the tuxedo!
A little write up –or rather a series of quotes– in the most recent issue of Vanity Fair magazine (April 2014). The story explores the ins and outs of creating reproduction artwork for films, specifically films about art. In the case of Todd van Hulzen it draws on his experience as a designer and artist for the film Girl with a Pearl Earring. For this film from 2003 Todd organized the creation of approximately 75 different painting from historical sources. Most of them were reproduced digitally, but several were painted by hand, particularly the paintings on the easels seen in various stages of development. Todd was also a hand double for Colin Firth, an instructor in the techniques of painting and grinding of historical pigments and an art-director creating the set designs of the canal-side house of the artist Vermeer.
Several weeks ago we dismantled our exhibit in Münster (see below) and now we’ve just built it back up in Sittard in a very different location. The very secular exhibition has gone to a remarkably godly place: in the cloister of the Mariapark in Sittard, which contains some of the most stunning examples of 19th century religious architecture and sculpture in the Netherlands. So after 2 days of hard work on the exhibit about the Dutch annexation of German territory after the War, we were filled with an extasis of a different Passion altogether. Not to diminish the pain of Dutch occupation, but the stations of the cross at the Mariapark are hard to outdo in suffering. It also offered some interesting contrasts and disconnections, as if Jesus of Nazareth was looking out from under the weight of his cross saying, “Suck on that, whiners”.
For images of the show as it was first exhibited in Münster, Germany see the album on that subject.
Thanks to Manuéla Friedrich for spearheading this whole project and for persevering when the prospect of ever getting this show off the ground looked increasingly bleak, and to Studio Louter for production.