Stuart Forster reports from the Netherlands on what to expect from the STRP art biennial in Eindhoven.
Lying face up on a metallic mortuary table and being rolled into a stainless steel box that looks like something from an episode of CSI is an innovative way of appreciating art. Some people will undoubtedly say that Famous Deaths, one of the exhibits at Eindhoven’s 2017 STRP art biennial, is provocative.
Inevitably, others will label the artwork offensive, purely on account of the subject matter. The mortuary box on the left recreates the sounds and scents in the last moments of the life of Lady Diana while that on the right represents those of Whitney Houston. The four-minute-long sequences within them explore the role of odours in creating memories. The work is by the Dutch designers Marcel van Brakel and Frederick Duerinck of Polymorf.
An enthusiastic bystander volunteers to enter the box depicting the death of Lady Di. As she’s rolled in somebody behind me shouts, “enjoy your death.”
I explain to Van Brakel that I’m not sure about getting into such an enclosed space to experience Famous Deaths. He tells me that he’s never sure what emotions he’s going to experience at the precise moment of death.
Experiencing The Entangled Body
Polymorf is also the team behind The Entangled Body, another of the works displayed at STRP. Visitors have an opportunity to enter a cube where their brain activity is read to produce a tactile representation via ultrasonic sound waves.
Van Brakel explains that what people feel like they are touching is “a sound sculpture” of their consciousness.
“You are interacting with yourself, touching your own mental state. The feedback goes back into your body,” he adds.
A festival in ‘the Forbidden City’
The first STRP Festival was held in 2006. Featuring art and music, it has evolved into one of Europe’s largest art and technology festivals. Over ten days, the 2015 edition of STRP attracted 30,000 visitors. DJs and bands also perform at STRP.
“We look at technology and try to make it tangible,” says Jorge Alves Lino, STRP’s business manager.
“We are proud that many of the works we are presenting are new commissions,” he adds.
The event is held within four zones within the Klokgebouw, formerly a factory used by Philips to produce goods. It is on a former industrial site two kilometres north-west of Eindhoven’s central railway station.
“Until a few years ago it was called ‘the Forbidden City,’” explains Alves Lino, because only Philips employees then had access to the district of Eindhoven known as Strijp-S. It is now the Netherlands’ largest urban redevelopment area, covering around 67 acres.
Eindhoven’s biennial art and music festival
“In 2012 we made the decision to make it not yearly but biennial,” says Angelique Spaninks, the artistic director of STRP, at the entrance to the exhibition. A driving factor behind that strategic change was the desire to make it a quality art exhibition.
“There are so many electronic music festivals now, so, organically, we’ve grown into a bigger exhibition,” explains Spaninks.
The theme of the 2017 exhibition is Sense and Sensors, which explores our bodies’ senses.
“We have 12 senses,” she says. In addition to taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell we have senses of which we are largely unconscious. Technology is opening up opportunities for sensors to measure sensitivities that extend beyond our perception.
“We use just 20 to 25 per cent of the capacity of our nose to smell,” adds Spaninks before asking what kind of world would open up to us if we utilised all of our senses.
Artworks AT STRP 2017
Fight, by Memo Atken, is a virtual reality experience that explores binocular rivalry — the experience of viewing two different images simultaneously through the left and right eyes.
Atken hails from Turkey and lives in London. His work raises issues about social polarisation in the modern world.
Sitting in leather armchairs — the front line from which so many people experience the planet — participants view cubes, shapes and words through VR goggles. It explores tendencies for people to perceive what they would like to see.
Treehugger: Wawona, by Marshmallow Laser Feast, is another of the VR works displayed at the festival. It provides visitors with an opportunity to interact with a sequoia tree.
Culture of Fear, by the Austrian artist Bernhard Lenger, is partially a comment on contemporary politics. People enter a darkened room where the installation measures and interacts with their movements and psychological changes.
Leanne Wijnsma’s Smell of Data makes visitors aware of the personal data that they leak from devices.
The 23 installations at the 2017 STRP explore opportunities being opened by technology and are part of an interactive avant-garde.
The STRP Biënnale is held in Eindhoven, at the Klokgebouw building within the city’s Strijp-S district.
A four-course surprise dinner, costing €50, is offered onsite. Me and Chef Watson is a performance dinner combining suggestions generated by IBM’s Chef Watson, a computer, and the cooking of Margriet Craens.
Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.
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