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Jaap van den Elzen

A caged bird
cannot fly

“A strong theme,” these are the words Jaap van den Elzen uses in response to Façade 2022’s theme: “‘Freedom from Fear’. “I was asked for a response. First, I visited Middelburg to determine the best place for engaging into dialogue with the city. At the time, we were in the midst of the pandemic. There was a tangible fear in society. It was a common fear. I dove into the theme without specifically linking it to the Covid era.”

“After my training at Design Acadamy Eindhoven, I experienced a festival of lights for the first time in 2006. During Glow, light artists turned Eindhoven’s entire city centre upside down. Philips had a few lamps left and asked if I could use them. They were so-called Gobo projectors, a type of very powerful slide projectors. That’s when I discovered how to reach a large audience in an accessible way. At that moment, the light bulb switched on in my head. Earlier this year, I was in Diever, Drenthe, for a large project. I worked on the lighting installation for the Diever ‘Village of Shakespeare’ for two and a half years. I connected the route from the village to the theatre with light. Not coloured, but white light. In Shakespeare’s time, they had torches and light wasn’t coloured. Playwrights in those days took the amount of time torches could burn into account, it was the exact duration of a scene. I have incorporated this ‘burning time’ in my installation: ‘To see… or not to see’. Light is my medium, just as bronze is to a sculptor, and paint to a painter. I create dynamic works, there are always the factors of time and spatial context.”

“To see or not to see”, it fits in Middelburg’s theme.  There is a contradiction in the theme ‘Freedom from Fear’. Freedom and fear; it is this duality that I wanted to do address. You could see people wanting to shut the fear out, but in doing so locked themselves in ; they built fences around themselves. That lead me to the following question: are you going to cage yourself? A caged bird is completely safe,  but it can’t fly.”

“That’s how I came up with a cage-shaped light construction. At the Stationsbrug bridge,  there is this area with special trees on the side of the hotels. I chose that because of its natural effect of the leaves. My installation will be placed in Middelburg in the lightest period of the year. The trees provide shade, so that during the day, you can also get an impression of the light installation as it is beautifully located by the water. But of course, my light loses out to sunlight. The work of art therefore has a day and a night value, it has two faces. During the day, it is a physical object and the light is only minimally visible. When it’s dark, you get a totally new experience. If you step into the shelter when it’s dark, you become part of the work.”

“A cage-shaped construction has been set up, measuring three metres across and three metres high. The cage is made of steel profiles. You can step inside voluntarily. Together with electro-acoustic composer Augusto Meijer, I have made a sound composition. The sounds and the light make up a whole, they react to each other, it’s like a bath of sounds and colours. Like a composer works with music, I work with light. Timbre, rhythm, that’s what it is about in this sound-lightscape installation which I named ‘Shelter’. Whoever steps into the cage enters a calming environment where all evil, all fear can be forgotten for almost four minutes – that is how long the composition lasts, before it starts all over again.”

“Fade in, fade out, move around ; there’s a lot that you can do with light. No, it will absolutely not be a fairground performance. By using colours, I want to emphasise a sense of security. A computer controls the whole thing. About seventy metres of LED have been incorporated, about a thousand small lights. With the colours red, green and blue, I make fluent transitions to form a refined light composition .


Jaap van den Elzen (Boxtel, 1977) is a light artist, living and working in Eindhoven. In 2004, he graduated from Design Academy Eindhoven at the Man & Living department. On commission, he creates light installations for museums, festivals and the public space. In cooperation with composer Anthony Fiumara, in 2009, he created ‘Waxing, Waning’: a sound-lightscape in Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ in Amsterdam, in which light becomes an instrument in a symphony. In 2018, Van den Elzen created the interactive light installation ‘Evolution of Light’ for Glow Eindhoven, together with electro-acoustic composer Augusto Meijer.

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