Painting with projectors: Revamp at Mondriaanhuis
Tinker imagineers uses multimedia technology to provide an insight into the life, mind and development of the artist Mondrian. Anna Mitchell reports on how a story was told using only music and images.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the De Stijl art movement and group, Mondriaanhuis, the Amersfoort house where Piet Mondrian was born, was renewed with two exhibits to explore the life and works of the Dutch painter.
Mondrian was a contributor to the movement that was founded in Amsterdam in 1917. As well as the Netherlands, he lived in Paris, London and New York with each city shaping his artistic output in different ways.
The Mondriaanhuis tells Mondrian’s story through multimedia – modern, immersive and unique in the world – rather than museology. Curators wanted an exhibit to explore Mondrian’s time in New York and approached creative consultancy Tinker imagineers.
“The show starts inside the cube and expands out to envelop the visitors.”The revamp was the first part of a two stage plan that Tinker designed for the museum that saw the company redesign the reception area and two main rooms. Plans for an update to explore Mondrian’s time in Paris as well as an interactive workshop are also in the pipeline and awaiting funding.
Mondriaanhuis doesn’t own any of Mondian’s works. The stories the museum wants to tell are about Mondrian as a person, his life history and about how the man and his art developed. “A journey through the Mondriaanhuis is a journey through his life, where he worked and how his style changed,” explains Michel Buchner, creative technologist at Tinker.
“We had to tell the story of Mondrian’s time in New York but we gave ourselves the restriction that we wouldn’t use a voiceover,” says Itamar Naamani, the creator of the New York room. “We had to tell the story with just the art of Mondrian and offer an impression of the vistas, the feeling of development he had during his stay in New York. We didn’t want to explain it, it’s not designed to be an educational experience. We wanted to immerse the visitor in the mind of Mondrian. You step into his dream world in which his work, the city and his favourite music all melt together.”
Mondrian’s art is dominated by vertical and horizontal grids, black lines and primary colours and Buchner notes “we were bound to certain shapes”.
The project started with content and a storyboard was developed. In finding a way to show that content, Tinker went through various ideas, creating mock-ups at its own studio.
“We made miniature models and VR mock ups. Pre-visualising the installation in VR was really helpful to the process,” notes Naamani.
A plan formed around the idea that a cube could be used to show the narrative. “The cube is the most abstract form of Mondrian’s studio, but it’s also what is happening in his mind,” says Naamani. “The show starts inside the cube and expands out to envelop the visitors.”
Eight Canon WUX450ST 4500L projectors are used to project on to the inside and outside of the cube as well as out into the room. The show is controlled by Christie’s Pandoras Box. “With the size of the room, we could only manage the cube projection with this particular Canon projector,” says Buchner. “It has an immensely great lens opening, the only downside was it was not LED.”
“We use semi transparent projector screens from ShowTex that allow us to project from the inside out, and the outside in,” says Naamani. “This gave us a really flexible canvas that we can use in many ways.
“The development story of Mondrian’s time in New York is a story of his liberation as an artist. At first he was stuck making only squares and lines and then in New York he exploded into all these different little shapes. So we started the show very confined in the cube before breaking out into the space.”
Tinker wanted to manipulate the projection beams to use the light that hit the cube out into the floor surrounding it. The entire room surrounding the cube was spray painted grey for this purpose.
“We realised that we needed more control over the light,” notes Naamani. More projectors were added so the projections in the room are powered by separate units.
Naamani continues: “It’s very effective and looks as if the light is bouncing off the cube. It’s like a layering system. We first go from the inside to slightly outside and then reach out throughout the whole room and paint the visitors with Mondrian’s colours.
“One of the challenges was to see how the inside and outside projection worked together, how the screen transparency worked out and how images could be mixed and interact on the front and back of the cube. We had to map the entire space, get it exactly right and get the light pointing correctly at the visitors.”
The team also hit another challenge when installing the cube with the amount of light created by the eight projectors. “You want to create a magic atmosphere but when I first tested it on site I was disappointed,” says Naamani. “There was so much light coming off the projectors it was like somebody turned the maintenance light on. We made some changes to the content, used much less white and more black backgrounds to fix it.”
A soundtrack was specially composed to complement the story and accompany the animation. Naamani says music is a really important aspect of the show and Buchner adds: “Mondrian was a music lover and very fond of the dancing scene in New York city”.
In addition to the New York room Tinker also designed an introduction space that provides an overview of Mondrian’s oeuvre with a multiscreen installation using 13 LG monitors ranging from 32-in to 55-in in size. Each display is powered by a Brightsign LS 423 player.
The frame (the carrier) is the empty white canvas, made up of black-rimmed planes that refer to the layered structure of his abstract work. The installation takes the visitors from Mondrian's early landscapes and colourful seascapes to the abstract world he is famous for. Again, accompanied by the contemporary music that he liked, from Ravel to jazz, from Stravinsky to boogie-woogie.
In the redesigned reception area some digital signage was added as well as access to the Crestron control system. The design also took into account that the museum wanted to be able to use the reception area for private hire.
“The museum is mainly run by volunteers,” says Buchner. “Control needed to be bullet proof, simple to operate, literally just on and off to power up the system.” The AV installation was supplied and integrated by Tinker partner Phantavisual who handles ongoing maintenance.
It took just four weeks on site to carry out the installation and Mondriaanhuis was able to unveil its redesign to the public on the anniversary of the De Stijl movement. So far the new exhibits are proving popular and have provided Amersfoort with a re-energised visitor attraction.