Interview with Henk Stallinga; designer of the light sculpture in Extremalism

Door: Henri J Sandront


"The light sculpture has really become the 31st dancer, it has its own act, its own dance."Extremalism Alwin Poiana 7 Ballet National de Marseille and ICKamsterdam, the platform for contemporary dance initiated by Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten, treats the Holland Festival (Young) 2015 programme with Extremalism - Het lichaam in opstand - Le corps en révolte. The multidisciplinary piece is performed by thirty dancers from Ballet National de Marseille and ICKamsterdam together with a light installation by Henk Stallinga. After a short boat trip to Amsterdam North, I met with the Dutch industrial designer and artist who created this light sculpture, which has become the 31st performer in Extremalism.

Friesland-born Henk Stallinga graduated in the 1990’s from the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. While you may know his work Clojo, a simple metal clothes hanger repurposed into a toilet-paper holder, Stallinga has produced a wide range of works - from furniture to light design - that are in the collections of several major museums, amongst which MoMA in New York and the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.Clojo Opt

Credits: Henk Stallinga, Clojo, 1997

“I am no stage designer.” Nevertheless Stallinga has grown a certain inclination for the world of performing arts. It probably has little to do with his 1994 exhibition at Frozen Fountain in Amsterdam with the theater group Alex d' Electrique: “I had a fight with them and they threw me out, but you can still read about it online”, he laughs.

For Stallinga, working within the blackbox of the theater space has proven itself more enjoyable than the sterile 'white cube' of the museum: “White museum gallery spaces, white corners, they have become laughable”. Chain Reaction is one of the thirteen installations that Stallinga will be presenting in 2017 at the freshly-built Oita prefectural art museum (OPAM) in Japan. Every three months a new installation is completed by Stallinga and his studio. Chain Reaction, a precisely choreographed daunting light installation, will have its grand premiere on June 12th on the stage of the Koninklijk Theater Carré in Amsterdam. For Stallinga, Chain Reaction also belongs in a theater.Extremalism Alwin Poiana 1 Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten's Extremalism deals with the idea of the body under extreme circumstances. Stallinga's Chain Reaction introduces the audience with a different form of the extreme: “The extremalism of Chain Reaction lies in its extreme minimalism” explains Stallinga. “The piece could not be more minimal. The 144 circle lamps, the three motors, nothing is superfluous”, he adds.

Just like the movement of a dancer, Chain Reaction is also extreme in its precision. “The tube is full of electronics”, he says. In its exhibition context, the 144 lamps of the sculpture correlate to the 24 hours of a natural day. The intensity of the light gradually changes in the course of the day and provides a sense of time. Placed precisely on the same angle as the earth, 23,4 degrees, the position of Chain Reaction also responds to seasonal changes throughout the year. The notion of time is thus translated into both light and movement.

When asked to introduce the installation to Extremalism, Stallinga did not feel like he had to compromise the idea behind the piece. “It is the 20th anniversary of the collaboration between Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten. Although the notion of time here has a different meaning, I had to do something for them”. Chain Reaction was thus adapted to the duration of the performance, and the dancers evolve with the choreography of the light installation. "The light sculpture has really become the 31st dancer, it has its own act, its own dance."

According to Stallinga, it is the first time that mechanics and lights are combined in such a way. “It was never done, never asked before” he claims. The lamps, aligned together measure twenty-four meters. How was such an enormous and precise work  transported to Marseille for the rehearsal? How will it get back to Amsterdam in a few weeks and will it be shipped intact to a provincial area of Japan in a few years? “Impossible to load onto a truck”, he quickly concludes. So by some ingenious and cautious folding tricks, the Dutch designer, who in his practice keeps himself busy with both creative and the production aspects of his creations, managed to reduce it to a 'mere' ten meters.Extremalism Alwin Poiana 9 Extremalism, Ballet National de Marseille & ICKamsterdam, friday 12 & saturday 13 June at 8.30pm, Royal Theatre Carré.

Photos: Alwin Poiana