Soft Opening of a World Wonder

P9255888World 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.

The Stern Carving of the Royal Charles

P6185210newIt’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.

The Corpses of the Brothers De Witt

!cid_C7E832DB-C4DA-4524-B4AA-FBFE04EECCC1Another 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.

Het Geheugenpaleis is shortlisted for the Museum+Heritage Awards

DSC_2593The National Archives inaugural exhibition Het Geheugenpaleis (the Palace of Memory) has been shortlisted for the 2014 Museum and Heritage Awards in London.  Apparently our designs for this project were innovative enough to garner attention from abroad, and we are rather proud of that.

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!

Publicity bump in the April issue of Vanity Fair

vanityFair2A 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.

Mariapark in Sittard: “Round Trip Netherlands” gets its second wind.


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.

Exhibit “Einmal Niederlande und Zurück” opens in Münster, Germany

“Einmal Niederlande und Zurück” is an exhibition that Todd van Hulzen Design created at the Haus der Niederlande in Münster, Germany about German areas under Dutch control after the Second World War. Artifacts and archive materials tell the story of Dutch indignation, retribution and dreams of expansion after the war, as well as the life of Germans living under Dutch rule, cultural shifts and enduring identity. Continue reading

Amsterdam GVB Streetcar now rolling with our designs on it.

With all the commotion around the opening of “Temporal Tower” we almost forgot that there was an Amsterdam tram (streetcar) of the GVB (Municipal Transport Company) about to roll out with our name on it. And sure enough, there she is.  Dirk Bertels of Studio Louter and Todd van Hulzen worked together on the concept, which is part of the marketing and sponsorship between the GVB and the Amsterdam Light Festival. But Dirk did all of the actual hard work, Todd just stood back and watched and gave self-evident advice. What looks like a white sticker is actually light-reflective film that lights up when directly lit by traffic lights. We settled on light-reflective film after a long search for materials, from glow-in-the-dark to holographic foil. Now that it’s going to be on the rails, we are curious to see if it will make an impression. But our names are printed on it, and that’s what we’re the most proud of. On the rear is a section of illustration dedicated to the Temporal Tower. You can see the scaffolding. Let us know if you see it around.

The Haringpakkerstoren “rebuilt” in scaffolding and light

compositeWe can’t describe how giddy and proud we are of our new big baby, the impressive reconstruction of the historic Haringpakkerstoren (Herring Packers’ Tower).  Of course our tower is not made of masonry and wood, but of scaffolding, mesh, and most importantly, light.  30 meters high (100 feet), the tower, which we call “Temporal Tower” rises up along the quays of the old harbor of Amsterdam, adjacent to the Central Station and is lit by 36 LED arrays dispersed around the spire.  The light is very gradually animated in something of a churning cycle of one color group.  Each week we will change the color scheme and configuration.  For more information on the history of this tower, the original of which was demolished in 1829, see some of the entries below.  For now we just want to publish some of the most recent photo’s of this little giant. There are more to come, as the project is getting quite a lot of media attention. Continue reading

The Making of “Temporal Tower”

Here are some pictures of our tower project in the making.  The first step was agreeing on a budget and a technical design, which we ploddingly accomplished with our world-class international scaffolder StageCo.  Then with the help of a crane, postponed several days due to a fierce storm, we hoisted the sections which we had built at street level into position.  After that came the mesh wrap.  We were already pretty charmed by the pictures of the tower with only scaffolding and no wrapping.  Now the story is complete, but we secretly long for the purity of the scaffolding on its own.  What do you thinnk?

And here is a video interview I did, explaining the concept in the early stages:

 

Wayang Kulit Belanda: shadow puppets of Dutch characters in Indonesian style.

For an installation in Het Geheugenpaleis (Palace of Memory,) currently on exhibit at the Dutch National Archives in the Hague, Todd created a series of shadow puppets based on both caricatures of Dutch “types” and on traditional Indonesian style shadow puppets made of punched leather, or Wayang Kulit.  This was in turn for the archival theme “Opgevangen in de spruitjeslucht”. This treats the subject of the repatriation, often forced, and the reception of Dutch colonials and  Dutch subjects from Indonesia after Indonesian independence.  Instead of the traditional subjects from Indonesian Wayang Kulit drawn from the Bhagavad Gita or Mahabharata, we see here much less heroic figures drawn from Dutch life and fantasy: for instance Saint Nicholas, but also a bicycling preacher, a public servant, and a housewife in traditional attire with a rather threatening cheese slicer.  In the middle we see a simple and proud “Indisch” woman who is the hero of a digital game being played in a console just in front of the display.  The puppets were installed within the cardboard boxes along the wall, and each illuminated independently with LED lamps.

Finally a National History Museum at the National Archives: a sustainable festival of the Past.

 

Anne-Reitsmacollage

Photo Anne Reitsma

After three years of hard work, the Geheugenpaleis (Palace of Memory) has come to completion. This project represents the crowning achievement of not only our studio, but of the long term ambitions of the National Archives itself. It is grand, evocative, fascinating, touching and above all it offers deep immersion into the stuff of archives and the stuff of history. T. van Hulzen Design and Studio Louter were engaged from the early beginnings to help forge a sound program, a gripping concept and a cohesive design. We’ve conceived a Memory Palace like no other, which like Bluebeard’s castle offers mysteries behind every door, a world of history in every archival box. 11  uniquely decorated chambers, enlivened by 11 creative installations (music, documentary, video, radio-show, etc.) surround a central “courtyard” allowing for that “a la carte” feel that festivals have. Every room has a unique experience and a unique interpretation of the material, but it is all tied into the history and the utility of the Archive itself.

From a design point of view, we are particularly proud of our all-cardboard “fortress”—this for all the physical qualities that paper and card have to offer: warmth, acoustics, recyclability, and sustainability.  Never have we created so much volume with so little mass. An exhibition of 800 square meters was virtually carted in on two pallets of stacked and folded cardboard boxes. This cardboard, supplied by IHC interior builders, is recycled and emission free. And after the exhibition is retired at the end of 2014 the whole exhibit will be sent to the recycler yet again, to be chipped, separated, and reprocessed. This is a stark difference with the conventional waste created by an exhibition made of wood, plywood, plaster and paint. And with the exception of the printed information panels, all our color is created with the use of filtered LEDs; so no paint required.

Yet not only is our cardboard solution particularly sustainable, it looks remarkable too. The cardboard carries one of the central tropes of the exhibition: a memory palace created of stacked archival boxes, a kind of dream-idea of the Past, made concrete, as if you are walking through Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities or one of Borges’ fantasy libraries. By stacking hundreds of boxes in an oblique bond, we create patterns that catch the colored light in continuously changing waves. Continue reading

New NEMO project for 2014

NEMO

Amsterdam Science Center NEMO has accorded us (T. van Hulzen Design and Studio Louter) their latest contract for the concept, production and design of an all new addition to the permanent display.  The subject is mathematics and geometry in all its facets.  We will touch on pure mathematics, but also on platonic solids, perspective, fractalization, and even proportion and aesthetics.  The concept is “Meetland” or “Measureland”, and our aim is to create a whole world, with streets and buildings and landscapes all of measurable surfaces, all reducible to pure mathematics.  This will be our big project for 2014 and should open at the end of the year.  Keep posted!