by Pallavi MehraFeb 22, 2021
Sometimes art is created to contemplate the present and at other times it looks to the future. At the ‘Niewe Makers’ (New Worlds) programme, three minds of different artistic leanings came together to conceptualise Onderstroom (Dutch for undercurrent). The audiovisual immersive installation was exhibited at Explore the North, a festival of music, literature, art and theatre in Leeuwarden, a provincial capital in the Netherlands.
This futuristic underwater Anthropocene fantastical idea was collectively brought to life by Amarylis de Gryse, a writer from Belgium; Tristan Visser, a sound designer; and Sam van Zoest, a filmmaker, both from the Netherlands. Onderstroom was the result of 10-day creative programme, which encouraged a variety of creators to collaborate with one another in an endeavour to visualise a potential future.
Amarylis, Tristan, and Sam built this universe around the concept of Onderstroom after a five-day long process of discussing their personal visions for the future. Through conversational techniques and exercises, they discovered a few truths about themselves and their notions regarding the current climate conditions. For one, they realised that each held a special connection to the ocean.
Sam was born on a boat while Amarylis had grown up along a coast. Tristan has spent months creating music by studying whale sounds. As residents of the Netherlands, they were all also incredibly aware of the precarious position of the country in a time of rapidly melting ice caps in the polar region. These thoughts brought them to the idea of underwater civilisations. Working on this, they asked themselves a number of questions – ‘Where lay our common interests? What were the resources we had available that week? What did we think about the future? What were we afraid of and hopeful about? What was the message we wanted to bring with our work?’. As a result, Onderstroom was born – it is a journey into the future where, due to the effects of climate change, humankind has adapted to a new life of living underwater. This architectural evolution has led to a feeling of divisiveness between land-people and sea-people. The team of three takes us into the world of the main character in the narrative of the installation. The character, a woman, is caught in an identity crisis when her boyfriend (a land-person) leaves her and their underwater home.
The installation was made with PVC pipes and tracing paper sheets, which was constructed into a large dome, allowing for projections on the surface of blue colours, and rippling waters giving the illusion of being underwater. This is layered with an audio track of waves and bubbles, furthering the illusion. The dome has a large bed in it which belongs to the woman in the story. The story is narrated on repeat in an audio track, inviting the audience to lie on the bed. “Literally, the visitor steps into her home; figuratively, they step into her head,” says Sam, as he talks about the experiential and intimate nature of the installation.
During the course of the festival, the installation transformed into a performance piece with Amarylis sitting atop the bed and narrating the text from her diary. Onderstroom was very well received at Explore the North, triggering conversations about the future and the possibilities of living underwater. The team of Amarylis, Sam and Tristan hope to continue to showcase this thought-provoking installation at more festivals, using more sustainable and durable materials.
The installation was on view from November 22-24, 2019, at Explore the North, Leeuwarden, the Netherlands.