Space is a matter

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We tend to perceive space as the emptiness between matter. Like the blank space between letters or the air between walls. Through the installation ‘Space is a Matter’ I have tried to enhance the fact that the in-between space has a body of its own. A visible and tangible atmosphere that affects the movements of ones body. In the space of lines the in-between space becomes dominant as orientation and sense of depth is distorted.

In my early teens I had a recurrent dream. I would wake up from this dream feeling the pressure of the atmosphere on my skin. To escape it, I would get out of bed and walk around the house desperate to find free space. I was able to walk, talk and shower but I could not rid myself of the feeling that emptiness cannot be found anywhere on the surface of the earth. I was scared by the massiveness of the world, and would try to discuss the matter with by parents, but was frustrated that they did not share my realization or fear. In the space of a dream I was realizing that in-between space is merely a less dominant body surrounded by a more dominant one. That in-between space does not equal emptiness.

The installation consists of a 9 meter long corridor with 3000 white elastic cords stretched vertically between the wooden floor and ceiling. With each meter you progress into the space, the amount of cords is doubled and in the end they stand one cm apart. By the last meter the elastic abruptly stops and one enters a small enclosure of open space.

The elastic is white, but appears black when lit from behind. Natural light from the window at the end of the corridor is the only light source, so when you enter the installation, you look straight through the mass of elastic, focusing instead on the space and the silhouettes of people manoeuvring through it. As you reach the other side and look back, the whiteness of the elastic entirely blocks your view; from one side you see space, from the other side, matter.

When I planned the installation, I imagined the effects the space would have on the body: The pressure on the skin, the whip sound of the elastic, and the optical tricks it plays on your eyes. Still, I was surprised by the many different ways that visitors engaged with the work, from little kids proudly conquering the space, to adults overcoming their fear of the unfamiliar conditions.

At first, some people did not dare to enter the space, but as soon as one of them reached the window they would encourage each other to try it. At times it became quite a social event. As people reached the middle they would often get stuck. Some people gave up, some developed new ways of moving. Some felt claustrophobic while others enjoyed the gentle pressure from the elastic. When people turned around by the window and all of a sudden lost view of their friends and the space they had just moved through, they were struck by surprise at the sudden change of perspective.

I think there is a shift from a public scale to an intimate one, or rather, two different modes of intimacy: one of complete involvement with ones own body, an awareness of your own surface and a focus on adjusting your movements to the new environment. The other is a visual intimacy. When you reach the window and step out of the mass of elastic, your body is released from pressure, but visually you are isolated behind a white curtain of strings. Some people found this a very emotional experiences, one person said he felt it was like dying.

Photos by: Mels van de Mede, Robin Verdegaal, Taro Lennaerts, Manon maatje and myself

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