A royal visit marked the 10th anniversary of Dutch artist Simon Heijdens’ Lightweeds last week when King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands visited the Chicago Cultural Centre.
The royal couple were there on official state business, but taking over the stage - both literally and figuratively - were the living light trees of Heijdens’ site-responsive installation.
Lightweed, as the piece is titled, first appeared in Rotterdam and has since taken over the walls of Hong Kong, London, Shanghai, Cannes, Amsterdam and Salt Lake City, to name but a few; about 50 installations in the past 10 years. This latest incarnation in Chicago is another significant growth of its already impressive lifespan.
Like the organisms they reflect, these digital beings grow and live in response to the actual sunlight and precipitation from the world outside, effectively recapturing the space - the architecture - they now inhabit through virtual (rather than physical) means. (See Lightweeds in motion here.)
'To have the plants grow along the King’s speech was grand, a great honour,' Heijdens told Wallpaper*. An impression which is surely mutual, such is the wonder these light beings incite.
Alas, the artistic paradox of using technology to bring us closer to nature is simply a byproduct. The original intention was 'to soften the static surface of the built environment and open it up to make it legible again,' says Heijdens. 'To reveal a narrative about its character, place and use.'
The work is not so much about nature as an entity - a tree or plant - but nature as 'an overlap of unintentional processes that makes one place uniquely different to another,' he explains. 'As in nature, the actual shape of the plants is not the point but just a physical excuse, it’s not about what it is but about what it does.'