Meet the Artist: Daan Roosegaarde

Meet the Artist: Daan Roosegaarde


Good evening. And welcome to The Forum,
The Forum at Columbia’s Manhattanville campus. We are the gateway to Columbia’s
new Manhattanville campus, which this week has been
transformed and transported by the technological
play of water and light in Waterlicht, an ethereal,
experiential art installation that we will learn
more about tonight. I’m Mary McGee, executive
director of The Forum. And The Forum is
especially pleased to be co-presenting
tonight’s conversation with the school the arts. Because The Forum, one of
Columbia’s newest resources, is designed to be a center
for intellectual and community engagement that is innovative,
transformative, and forward looking, while nurturing
collaborative thinking. Waterlicht– indeed,
the year of water– ticks off all of these
boxes and then some, challenging us to look at
our world, our communities, our work, and
ourselves in new ways. For this initiative, we have to
thank Carol Becker, professor of the arts and dean of faculty
at Columbia University’s School of the Arts. A visionary
coordinator and leader, Dean Becker envisioned how
declaring our academic year the year of water
could foreground the diverse
educational, research, and creative endeavors among
our faculty and students around the theme of water,
connecting these ideas and bringing them
in conversation with each other and
our broader community. Collectively, this initiative
is driving deeper awareness of a precious resource
that we in the US too often take for granted. Agua, [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]
water. The river of events
that continue to flow throughout
the year of water inspire learning,
reflection, and action. Carol, thank you for the
concept and the challenge and for bringing Daan
Roosegaarde and Waterlicht to help inaugurate
Columbia’s year of water and fuel the conversations
and changes needed to better sustain our world. Dean Becker, come on up here. And thank you. [APPLAUSE] There’s so many friends
in the audience. This is really fun tonight. So there are just so
many people to thank for everything and
for Waterlicht, which, when you see it,
you’ll see why we have to thank so many people. Because it had to– we had to make it dark. And it’s not easy to
make New York dark. And believe me when I tell
you, it’s taken teams. So I think all of Columbia
for the participation and for working
together so brilliantly. So the list really is huge. But I want to thank one
person in particular tonight. And that’s Melissa Smey,
director of Miller Theater and of the Arts Initiative. And I want to thank her
for just helping enormously to pull it all together– but
also because it’s her birthday. [LAUGHS] So– [APPLAUSE] I really also want to thank our
amazing communications team. And Shailagh Murray is here. And Eve Glasberg is here. Who– they just believed
in this from the beginning. They just said, oh,
this thing could be big. This could be great. We’re going to help you. And I have to say, it was
one of the first times I’ve had that experience. So I thought, this is fantastic. This is fantastic. People are just jumping to help
us at the school of the arts. And it’s worked out wonderfully. So Waterlicht, Daan–
none of us say it right. But we all try. Daan Roosegaarde,
interactive light sculpture, which some of you have
already seen and others of you will be seeing tonight– is one of the opening events
for the year of water. And Mary spoke about
this a little bit. It’s our Columbia
wide initiative to bring consciousness
to the issue of water and the work that artists,
and designers, and architects, and urban planners, and writers,
and thinkers, and lawyers, and health workers, and
scientists, and journalists, and others are doing each day
to communicate and address the urgent issues
surrounding climate change and water in particular. In its breadth, water is
perhaps the most central issue to the future of
human habitation. We cannot survive without water. And one fourth of the
world’s population is experiencing water
stress at this time. It is a global issue. And it is also a national issue. The absence of potable water
in Flint and now in Newark has shown us up
close how negligent we have been about water, and
how unjust the repercussions can be when we are, and how
much our consciousness needs to evolve around the issue. And it is in this
developing of consciousness that art can intervene. And Daan is an artist,
and a designer, and an architect, and
inventor, and a thinker. And as he says, he creates
proposals for a future world, which I love. I first met Daan when
he was a participant on a panel I was moderating
at the World Economic Forum. And that year, he had
installed an interactive piece called Dune. And various dignitaries
and heads of state were waving their arms
over a fanciful garden of flexible plastic
reeds with white LCD tips that, when triggered by motion,
would illuminate the space. And I was really
immediately impressed by how he mixed poetry and pragmatics,
and glimpsed future reality, and understood a
collective and urgent need to become more aware of how
we interact with the planet. And almost a decade
since that first meeting, our collective human
actions and behavior in relationship to
the natural world have become that
much more urgent. And Daan’s work and his
thinking about the work have become that
much more relevant. Born and raised in
the Netherlands, he is very aware of
climate change and climate changed and its
consequences, and since half of the Netherlands is only
a meter above sea level– and nature is an aquatic
engineering wonder, made possible by dikes, and
dams, and wind driven pumps, better known as windmills,
canals, and floodgates. The list of Daan’s work
is unique and varied, with many large,
important public projects already in the world. And I’m going to let
his presentation of some of this work and our
discussion about it elaborate more of this
for you in detail. Already well-known in
the US and in Asia, he’s becoming well-known
in the US as well. It is important to note
that his intellectual, artistic, philosophical,
and spiritual influences include Leonardo da Vinci,
Marshall McLuhan, Rem Koolhaas, Buckminster Fuller,
and the earth work artists such as Robert
Smithson, and Michael Heizer, and Walter De Maria,
and of course, Mondrian and the Dutch Golden
Age landscape painters, who all loved beauty. He has a fabulous building,
Studio Roosegaarde– which he’s going to show you
some images of, I think– in Rotterdam, where the
dreaming and the invention takes place with a team of amazing
and excellent fellow travelers. There are few artists
working at this time who can address the issues of
climate and our relationship to the state of
the natural world as brilliantly, seriously,
beautifully, positively, and playfully as
Daan Roosegaarde. He’s going to speak about
a few of his projects. And then he and I are going
to be in conversation. And after that, we’re going
to open it up to questions. And after all of that,
we’re going to have books. He has a beautiful
new Phaidon monograph, which I even have an essay in. And we’re going to
have them in the back if people want them afterwards. So let’s welcome Daan
Roosegaarde to Columbia. [APPLAUSE] Thanks. All right. Good evening, ladies
and gentlemen. Carol, thanks for introduction. Happy birthday. [LAUGHS] Very
special to be here. So let’s talk about future. Let’s talk about future. Future is very interesting,
ladies and gentlemen, because some people
think the future is something static, written on
walls, hidden, waiting for us, for humanity. But it’s not. We first have to
imagine the future. We have to build
it up in our head. We have to wonder about it. We have to think, what
do we want from it? And what does it want from us? And then, only then,
we can create it. We can engineer it. We can prototype it. And step by step,
drag it into reality. But how will it look like? And how will it feel like? And will it be good for us? Will we become robot
food for the machines? Or will technology help us
to enhance our human values? That’s the topic I
want to address today. And after that, we
have, indeed, some time for Q&A, and of course,
the opening of Waterlicht. So some people think
about the notion of an artist and a designer
as this crazy, brilliant guy sitting on an attic cutting
off little pieces of his ear. [LAUGHTER] Which is only partly true. [LAUGHS] It is always teamwork. We’re all standing on the
shoulders of the giants before us. So this is Studio Roosegaarde,
a studio that I launched 10, 11 years ago, basically
because I had all those ideas and nobody really knew
how to build them. So after being
frustrated for one year, I’m like, then I’ll
just do it myself, yes. So we found this beautiful
old glass factory that we renovated. So on the left, you have the
team of designers, engineers. On the right, the
project managers. They shape process. They shape material,
working together. And below, on the
ground level, we have a larger space
for the prototype. So it’s very important. We ask ourselves questions. How do we create a better world? What is the price of clean air? How can we use design
and art as a trigger, as an activator to
create a better society? And basically, it’s very simple. You put some smart people in
a room with a pizza hotline on the door. And you say, nobody leaves
until we have a solution. Prototyping,
engineering, failing. A lot of failure. You learn from it. You upgrade. And you go next step. And I’m the son
of a math teacher. So science has always
been very, very important. Technology has always
been very, very important to sort of unravel, to
unveil, to discover, in a way, all the
knowledge which is on this precious planet Earth. And what is also very
important, I love innovation. I love technology. But there is this weird
tendency, sometimes, that a lot of people
say, we want progress. We want innovation. We want advancement. But at the same time, when you
present a radical new idea, people reply your proposal
with two really annoying words, which is, Yes, but. Yes, but. Oh my god. You know it way too well. That’s not good. So this is our very
famous yes but chair. [LAUGHTER] And this is an existing chair by
Friso Kramer a Dutch designer. He just died, unfortunately. But beautiful. But we gave it a little
upgrade, a little hack. So there’s a little voice
recognition underneath it. And it listens to everything
in its surroundings. And the moment you say those
two horrible, really annoying little words, it gives
you a little shock on the backside of your bottom. [LAUGHTER] And it looks
something like this. Yes, but. [BUZZING] [LAUGHTER] So that sort of works, yeah. OK. [LAUGHTER] So no more yes buts. You can what if. We can be critical. We can debate. And of course, we like books. We’ll have a book signing
later, fade, and– the good thing about
a book is that it doesn’t have a battery life. So it’s always on. And it’s a really great
way to share stories. But what really
drives me is this. And this is, I think,
very important. And I wanted to share
this with you tonight. It’s not so much about sort of
decorating reality or trying to make it only more beautiful. I think it’s about
not decorating, but about reforming
it, reshaping it. So World Economic Forum,
Carol mentioned it in the introduction. One of the think tanks
in Geneva made a list, a sort of top 10 skill list. What are the qualities
of you and me that we need to become future proof? This is very interesting
when you look at this. Because it’s not
about money, or C++, or artificial
intelligence, or VR. These are important
things, but they are not the thing that separates us. Look at this. Number three, creativity. Number two, critical thinking. Number one, problem solving,
complex problem solving. All the things a computer and a
robot is actually quite bad at. And this is, I think, ladies
and gentlemen, very interesting. Because yes, we will live in
this hyper-technological world. So the taxi driver will
become self-driving. The accountant will
disappear because of AI. A lot of things are changing,
because of technology. But does that mean that
we will become robot food? No, of course not. The same as when the photo
camera was invented it didn’t mean that that
painting disappeared suddenly. No, it just changed. But it does mean that we need
to invest in our human values– our desire to learn,
our desire to share, our desire to explore. I mean, why did we come here
tonight at Columbia University? Because we want to explore. We want to progress. And so these are the human
values that separates us from the machines,
and therefore, are becoming more
and more important. So I believe as
technology progresses, that we will live
in a world where creativity is our true capital. Because that’s the thing
that computers are actually quite bad at and we humans
are actually really good at. Yes. So that’s very hopeful. Or we just become robot food. That’s the second scenario. So clean air, clean water,
clean energy, clean space– these are our future values. So everything you design– either it’s a car, or a
fashion, or a city, or a chair– should have those
values in its DNA. If you don’t do that,
you’re not future proof. Right now, we still live
in a world where to pollute is for free. That’s not going
to last very long. So let’s talk clean
water as first. So as Carol mentioned, I
am from the Netherlands. Dutch, Holland. And as you may know, most
of it is below sea level. But because of these
kind of beauties– this is the Afsluitdijk, a
famous 32 kilometer dam built by hand in 1932. This ensures that we don’t die. [LAUGHS] That’s the
simplest way to explain it. So on the left,
you have the sea. On the right, you have
Amsterdam, Rotterdam, my own hometown. And this is very interesting,
because my Chinese friends, they see these kind of images. And they are like,
are you crazy? Just move to the hills. Move to higher ground. Move to Germany. Who lives below sea level? It’s crazy. But we don’t. In more than 1,000 years,
we’ve used design, engineering, technology, management,
creative thinking to create our own home. But sometimes even the Dutch– they forget. And so the water council
who manages all these dikes and these windmills– very old, 1,000 year old–
came to us and asked, can you create something
to create water awareness? Since we have been doing our
job so well for 1,000 years, and fight the floods, and
make sure everything is safe, that everybody thinks
we’re not there anymore. We don’t care. So we created Waterlicht. This was five years ago, a
combination of LEDs and lenses which actually shows how
high water level would be if we stopped, if we
take life for granted, if we think somebody else
will take care of it. Short movie. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC PLAYING] – [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] – [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] – [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] – With the waves above us. And it’s magnificent. – [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] [END PLAYBACK] So how can art be an
activator to embrace change? We all know sea level is rising. We all know, but
somehow we don’t act. We’re sort of waiting for
permission or government. And I think that’s
the beauty of art. And it’s also the
beauty of Waterlicht, that it creates a
notion of wonder where we’re not scared of
the future, but curious. Should we build floating cities? Can we generate energy
from the changing in tide? And it was really special
to see what happens when you do these kind of public– I like control. I’m an artist. I’m a designer. I like control. I like details. I like control. When you do public space,
you are out of control. You do not have control. So what happens when
you do public space, people start to customize it. Got to personalize it. This was in Toronto
one year ago. People started to
dress up as mermaids. [LAUGHTER] You know, I mean, how
did she get there? Like, it was freezing cold. And we were there like,
what are you doing? She said, yeah, I
just felt like it. I don’t know. OK, fine. Interesting. Or Daft Punk came and sort
of recorded this video clip. So we’re very, very curious. And of course, so you guys,
New York tonight and tomorrow when we’re showing
Waterlicht here, you’ve got to beat the mermaid. So we’re really– we’re putting
our hopes and dreams in– but what I’m trying
to say, what is interesting these kind
of public artworks is that people start to
occupy it in their own way, to personalize it. And I think that’s
really beautiful. And I, as a maker, can only
look at it, take a photo, and try to learn from it. So the place here in
Columbia University and when we started
the conversation with Carol and her team– it’s a much more compact,
more dense location. This is from the top
part from one day ago. A beautiful Renzo
Piano building. And it creates a really– like a place of wonder. This was yesterday night,
raining cats and dogs. And what I like about that,
when the rain hits the light, it gets reflected. So you get these
little water diamonds. So we actually made an artwork
where the shittier the weather, the better the artwork. [LAUGHTER] I think that’s pretty cool. I wish I would have thought
of that in the beginning. People laying on the ground. So we’ll have a look
tonight what’s happening. But I think the beauty
of a project like this is that it creates a collective
experience where we’re thinking about water, the power of
water, the poetry of water, the threat of water,
the danger of water. But also that world
is already there. So how do we deal with that? And maybe art is a
beautiful activator to make people curious
about the future world instead of just being scared. Clean air. Four years ago, this was the
view from my room in Beijing. Ugh! Good day, bad day. I love China. I learned from it
for many, many years. But our desire for
progress creates pollution. We live five to
six years shorter. Children have lung cancer
when they’re six years old. So somehow the city has become
a machine that is killing us, that is hurting us. And how do we deal with that? We don’t know. And it’s not just Beijing. New York, Rotterdam,
my own hometown– if you live next to a
highway, 17 cigarettes per day that you passively inhale
through your lungs, without the pleasure
of the nicotine. [LAUGHTER] That’s not the definition
of a smart city. When did we say yes to that? So looking outside
my window, I became inspired by Beijing smoke. That’s the beauty of it. You can be inspired
by many things. And I remember being this boy
playing with plastic balloons at this children party. When you polish it with
your hands it becomes– guys, I’m not being rhetorical. Charged. Yes, thank you. Yeah, charged. They become static
and start to– eek! It starts to play
with your hair. What if we would
use that principle to build the
largest smoke vacuum cleaner in the world which
sucks up polluted air, cleans it, and releases it? This is how this
project started. I was an amateur, unhindered
by any kind of knowledge. And also here– [LAUGHTER] I am aware
that I’m in a university, so I can provoke
a little bit, yes. And then you put
some smart people in a room, the
experts who’ve been working on it for many years– same principle. Pizza hot line on the door. And say, nobody leaves the
room until we have a prototype. A lot of people saying
it’s not possible. It’s not allowed. It’s already been done. You completely ignore them. And we built the first
one one year later. So this sucks up 30,000
cubic meter per hour, capturing the PM2.5, PM10,
and the ultra fine particles and then releasing
the clean air. So we have parks which
are 20% to 70% more clean than the rest of the city. So if the city has become
a machine that kills us, let’s build machines
that can heal us. China started to call. How much? How much, in Mandarin. So we started to produce
these smog free parks all around the world. And it’s really beautiful. One tower will never
solve the whole problem. And of course, we need long term
investment in electrical cars, green energy– yes, I know. But I, as a maker– I’m not going to
wait for government. I’m not going to
wait for permission. I’m not going to
wait for the future. I am going to do
what I can do today. And by creating
a place where you can feel the difference,
where you can share the difference, where you
can show the difference, that’s a way to activate
people and to show the beauty of clean air. It’s about the
dream of clean air. This is Krakow, Poland. Beautiful, snowy. Day of the opening, I arrived. Tens of these little dogs were
hanging out around the tower. You see them here on the right. [LAUGHTER] They look really happy. So I asked my project manager,
what are these dogs doing here? They were, like, a lot
of them, like hanging out around the tower. It was like this weird David
Lynch movie I walked into. [LAUGHTER] This sort of secret meeting
I wasn’t invited for. So I’m like, what are
these dogs doing here? This project manager
is like, I don’t know. You already asked me four times. I don’t know. [LAUGHTER] That was Nick. He’s on the left. That’s me on the right. So I say, OK, we have three
hours before the opening. Everything is working. We did the scientific research. The press is coming. Let’s find out. And so, of course, we
found out dogs have a very high sense of smell. So they can smell way
times better, like 20– 200 times better than us human
beings, something like that. And so they were suffering from
the smog way, way more than us human beings. They were just like, ugh. And they’re tiny. They can’t walk away. So they could smell the
clean air from far, far away. And they would start
to abandon their owner and hang out around the tower. [LAUGHTER] And they’re really happy. Yeah, this one is very happy. [LAUGHTER] This one tries to be
happy, but it’s too small. [LAUGHTER] That is very interesting. So if animals, if nature can
sense what is good for them, why can humans not? We learn. This is Beijing smog. This is the stuff that
we were sucking up from the polluted skies. I believe– we believe– waste should not exist. Waste for the one is
food for the other. Think like a circle. Think like a network. Marshall McLuhan,
circular thinking. 30 years ago, that book. Waste doesn’t exist in nature. They don’t understand. So why do we do that as humans? Weird. So we put this under a little
microscope, what you see here. 42% is carbon– 48%. Carbon under high
pressure, you get– Diamonds. Diamonds, yes, very good. So inspired by that, we started
to make smog free rings. [LAUGHTER] So compressing it by
hand by 30 minutes. So by sharing a ring, you donate
1,000 cubic meter of clean air to the city where
the tower is in. And this, ladies and
gentlemen, changed everything. We put this online,
Kickstarter campaign. And so the money, the finance
we made with the jewelry helped us to build more towers. So the waste wasn’t the waste. It was the activator. It was the enabler. Because we were struggling. What is the price of clean air? Nobody knows. It’s a poetic, utopian question. We live in a world where
to pollute is for free. So it was so beautiful
to sort of create this and actually using it to
make the project grow. And I think I– I have one here. Yeah. Yeah, this is one of them. This is Rotterdam smog. Yeah, this is Rotterdam. [LAUGHTER] I have Prague smog. I have Beijing smog. I have Delhi smog. I have Rotterdam smog. Yeah. You can show it around. I’m not going to
propose, don’t worry. [LAUGHTER] She said yes. [LAUGHTER] You can show it around. So what is interesting– hmm? It looks great. It looks good, yeah. Yeah. We never thought– we thought,
oh, designing jewelry, we can do it in four days. Took us four months
to make it worthwhile. What is interesting
is, not just money– because maybe we live in
a world where there’s not a lack of money or
technology, but a lack of imagination, how we want
that future world to look like. And if we can’t imagine
it, we can’t get there. You understand what I mean? Future is not the today
reality and saying, oh, we’re going to do
it 5% less worse. That’s not future. Future is something different. We don’t know yet. So it starts in the brain. What I like about this is it’s
about money, making it grow. But it’s also about community. These are photos which were sent
to us by wedding couples who purchased it to get married. This does not actor. New York Times did an article
about this, validated, interviewed them. So you can check it online. 20, 30 couples purchasing
it where he proposes to her with the smog free ring. Not a blood diamond
from Africa, but this is a beauty of hope, true beauty. And so we were really
excited about this photo. We never imagined
this would happen. So we called them to check. And she said yes. I’d like to– [LAUGHTER]
him not to be– who is that lady on the top? No idea. And it’s really cool. Sometimes I sort
of check on them. And they’re still good. They’re still married. They’re still doing–
somehow I feel responsible for this marriage,
[LAUGHTER] which, of course, I am not. Well, maybe I am. So we need science. We need technology
to improve the world. Absolutely important. But only technology in
itself makes us lazy. And only the numbers somehow
don’t trigger us for change. It’s horrible, I know. But it’s reality. So we also need the
notion of beauty, of love, of the symbol, of the
story, working together to create impact. Clean energy. This is a commission
four years ago from this famous Afsluitdijk
that I showed you. Living with water, fighting
with water every day. These are the floodgates to
keep the water in and out. So they move these walls
of water to control. Designed by Dirk
Roosenberg in 1932, the great grandfather
of Rem Koolhaas, the famous Dutch architect. As you can see, they
look like temples. The first architect,
actually, which was invited by Dutch government
to think in an aesthetical way about functional architecture. Beautiful. We saw them for the first
time four years ago. And they looked like the
insides of a smoker’s lung. Like, [COUGHS]. Everything’s broken, and
brown, and not so pleasant. So we were commissioned
to highlight the beauty of this famous iconic
dam, and dike, and structure. So we got the money
to renovate them. But we also wanted to–
future, progress, poetry, all these great words. But we realized that everything
we would use with LEDs, cables, wires, microchip, firmware, et
cetera would break down because of the salt and the rain. These are brutal
sea environments. And on a cold night
two, three weeks later, walking with Chris, my head
of design, walking on the dike there, suddenly we
realized, of course, there’s already light
present on this dike, which is the light of the– Cars. Cars, thank you. There is the light of the cars. What if we would use that? Inspired by the
wing of a butterfly, which uses reflection
to create its color– so my jacket has toxic pigment. Your fashion has ink,
toxic ink to create color. Not the wing of a butterfly,
which uses reflection, mutation, structural texture. And that’s why a wing of a
butterfly always remains vivid. It’s incredibly fascinating. So we dragged our minister of
infrastructure into the story. So mimicking the
headlights of the car– daytime, nighttime. No battery, no cables,
no wires, no LEDs. Purely the headlights
of the car reflected. And this is permanent
work of art. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC PLAYING] [END PLAYBACK] So why do we have street
lights burning the whole night when nobody’s there? That’s really stupid. And how can we use
what is already there, which are headlights, and sort
of upgrade it, upscale it. So this is an example
of a landscape which is energy neutral. There’s an example of a
landscape which only provides lights when people are there. So there is no light pollution. When the people are
gone, there is no light. But it also shows that you– and I think that’s part
of the creative thinking, that you can be super,
super practical. But practical thinking
pushed to such an extreme becomes poetry again. And that’s really cool. I really started to
get into this notion of the infrastructure. We always talk about
cars and design. But what about the roads? What about highways? What about bicycle paths? This is the most publicized
bicycle path in the world. I can honestly say this. Commissioned by the
Van Gogh Foundation, who wanted to celebrate
its 125th anniversary. And they came to me and
asked, can you create a place where he feels alive again? We don’t want to hide him
in a museum with a sign, please do not touch. So I tracked his footsteps and
found a weird beautiful bicycle path where he lived
and worked in 1883 until 1885 in the Netherlands. And after that, he
moved to France, made the famous
Starry Night, which is hanging in the new MoMA here. And working on
materials which charge at daytime and glow
at night, inspired by the glow in the
dark little stars that you had on the ceiling
when you were a boy or girl. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC PLAYING] – It’s just like we’re
laying on The Starry Night. [END PLAYBACK] So how can we make landscapes
which are good for people? And how can we think
about combining different disciplines,
different sectors? Heijmans, big
infrastructure company, artists working together. I don’t know how
to build a highway. I don’t want to know. I want to work with the
experts with the craftsmanship. And how can we make
our landscape sort of like an interface of
information, of expression, of history, of future? I think that’s the
way we need to start to think about our reality if
we want to find a new balance and create a world which
is sort of good for us. And last one, and then we
can open up for the room. It’s on the list, so
you know what this this. What are we looking at? Space. Space, yes, very good. A little bit more specific. What we’re looking at? Satellites? Satellites, no,
you’re getting close. Saturn. Sorry? Saturn. Saturn. It’s a good answer,
but it’s the wrong one. Yeah. What are we looking at? Sun? Sun? No. I’m not going to say. [LAUGHTER] Space waste. All the stuff
forming around Earth. Very good. All the stuff which is
forming around Earth, also called space junk. Yes, space waste. This is the– thank you. This is the 8.1 million kilo of
space junk which is currently floating around our Earth. So it started, actually,
with you guys, 1957. Sputnik, Apollo 8. Pieces of satellites, missiles,
rockets started to collide. Created this layer of
junk around the Earth. So somehow we’re not satisfied
ruining our planet Earth. And we sort of keep on– and why should we
care, you can wonder? Well, if a tiny particle
hits an existing satellite, it’s a threat to
our communication. It’s like a bomb– poof. No more internet. No more banking. No more Columbia
University website. [LAUGHTER] No more Instagram. No more Today Show. No more Instagram! [GASPS] So we launched
Space Waste Lab, because nobody really
knows how to fix it– with ESA and NASA, European
Space Agency, the experts. Phase one, track it. Visualizing real time space
junk above your heads. All of them have a name. It’s quite interesting. So Delta is American. Cosmos is China with– [INAUDIBLE] is China. Cosmos is Russian. And everybody sort
of agrees that a net is the safest way to capture– not proven yet, but cube
satellite, 20 nets– grab it. But then we had a problem. To clean up is not fun. We live in a world where
to pollute is for free. And so they were struggling
to get the finance. They were struggling to
activate people to say, this is important. We need to clean up this stuff. And then, ladies
and gentlemen, we introduced the power of
creative, of creative thinking, in a way, of design, of art. So we start to do
workshops and saying, OK, but if you have 8.1
million kilo of stuff, what if it’s not a
problem but a potential? What can you build with 8.1
million kilo of LEGO blocks? 2,000 workshops with– sorry,
a workshop with more than 2,000 students and the space experts– so amateurs and experts
working together, asking ideas. And one of them said,
collect the space waste and put it in a black hole. [LAUGHTER] Well, I’m not so
sure about that one. Or here, we need to build
a wall from space waste and make the aliens pay for it. [LAUGHTER] Make space clean again. [APPLAUSE] No comment. No comment, yes. It’s not me. It’s not me. I’m not doing anything. But everybody sort of
agrees that the following is the most realistic. NASA is going to 3D
print on the moon. It’s already on their
agenda for habitats. Why are we shipping very
expensive, beautiful, complicated material all the
way from Earth, all the way up? Can we not just
capture space junk and use it to 3D print
houses on the moon? Why not? Or can we create a sort
of solar reflector shield to reduce global warming,
to reflect the sun? In a way, climate change
is unconscious design. It’s bad design. We have created it. Can we engineer a way out of it? Or can we create a
sort of garbage truck, garbage rovers which
capture space junk, burn it up for plasma fuel
to recharge satellites which ran out of battery– give them a second life? Big problem. But the most
realistic– and that’s the one I’m personally pushing
right now– is this one. When you have a net,
space junk is captured. In a controlled reentry, it
hits the Earth’s atmosphere. And what happens when it
hits the Earth’s atmosphere? It– Burns. Burns, thank you. So waste is light. Oh, that’s my language. Can we create artificial
shooting stars as a replacement for fireworks,
for heavily polluting traditional fireworks? And it turns out, yes, we can. So Dubai is spending
$8.2 million US dollar per year on fireworks. Netherlands, 70 million
Euro on fireworks as well. So basically we’re
going to the ministers and saying, take that budget
that you’re already spending and invest it in this project. You clean up the universe. And at the same time,
you have a new way of sustainable fireworks. And so far, nobody
has said no yet. So that’s really good. [LAUGHTER] To conclude, because I want to
have some time for interaction with you. This may sound like a utopia– clean air, clean water,
clean energy, clean space, a perfect world, a
rainbow on the horizon that we will never, ever reach. And I think that’s not true. I don’t believe in utopia. We need to be more active. I believe in a protopia,
which was coined by Kevin Kelly, founder of the Wired. Prototype, step by
step, trying to improve. We don’t know the final answer. Nobody knows. But we know several things. We can’t go back. That doesn’t exist anymore. Holding onto old ideas– it’s gone. We have to improve. So we have to invest in
new ideas to survive. So from utopia to
protopia, that’s the way– forward thinking. And maybe what
better place to start than in Columbia University. I also realize that there
is a layer above it, which is about creativity, which
is about imagination, about curiosity. And that’s why we
have our solo show now in the Netherlands, Presence,
which is a museum show which shows the impact you make on
the landscape in a very physical and a very emotional way. Everything is please touch. I hate these, please
do not touch, signs. Ugh! So everything is please touch. It is made for that. Up and running right now. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC PLAYING] – Presence is a dream
landscape, which interacts with your behavior. I wanted to create a place
where you feel connected. It shows the impact you have
on the world around you, in which you make the artwork
and the artwork makes you. [END PLAYBACK] All right, thank you. Yes, yeah. [APPLAUSE] I was ask– am I on? Yeah. I was asking Daan if he wants
to just take questions or talk to me first. But– I want to talk to you first. I know, OK. OK. But I’ll be quick,
because we do want to give everyone a chance– I agree. –to ask some questions. And then we want to– I have 289 slides left. But we’re not going to do that. Yeah. If you all have nothing
to do no for the– No. That’s why I love
Buckminster Fuller. He gave lectures– like
eight hours, nine hours. I know. Crazy. It used to be the thing to do. But people don’t have the
kind of time or patience, especially in New York. OK, here we go. So I’m going to just
ask very few question. Hit me. Yeah. Hit you. [LAUGHS] Oh, here’s
your ring, by the way. I’m not breaking up
with you, though. [LAUGHTER] It’s just– OK. Just because these– I have so many things I
can talk to you about. But just to move us into
the next conversation, we were already talking
about what should we do together next. And this will sort of move
us to that conversation. First of all, I want you
to talk about something that’s very dear to my heart,
which is being an amateur. I’m an amateur. Like, I say, OK, we’re going
to do the year of water. What do– I mean, Columbia
is full of the most brilliant people, some of whom
are here tonight. Amazing scientists, people–
why the school of the arts? So there’s an advantage
to being an amateur. So I wanted you to talk
about that a little bit. Well, I think when you
learn something new, you’re always an amateur
trying to become an expert. And I think, for example,
take the space waste there, the space junk. I’m not smarter
than ESA or NASA. I mean, because these
guys are really smart. But what I can do as an
artist, as a designer, is add a new perspective,
a new dimension. They’ve never thought
of saying, hey, can space waste be
artificial shooting star? And so to be an amateur and to
intervene, to listen, to learn, it forces you to rethink,
to re-look at the situation. And maybe that kind of new
way of thinking, and looking, and acting is the way to solve
the problems that we’re facing. Because in the current
linear way of thinking, we’re not going to make it. I mean, there is obviously– and Columbia is such a
good example of this. I’ve been in rooms with
people who knows so much. And we need that. We need that. Yeah, of course. You need that depth
of understanding. I mean, I’m surrounded by
people who are smarter than me in certain things, of course. But what you do is you
jump off the cliff. You just say, why
don’t we try that? Because you’re not coming in
with one paradigm of thinking. And I think that’s a really
important lesson for now. Because I see– increasingly,
I see artists who are working in ways like this– I mean, there are very few
people like you in the world that I’ve met, anyway,
who are willing to take the whole problem
of the world as part of a process as an artist. But this notion– and
so connected to this notion of the
amateur is the notion of the cross
disciplinary thinking. Exactly. So would you want to talk
about that a little bit? Well, when I was 16,
my parents asked me, so what do you want to do,
for education, for job? And I said, I want to do art. I want to do science. I want to be entrepreneur. I want to travel the world. I want to upgrade. And then everybody got
really worried and confused. That’s why you left home at 16. Exactly, yeah. And for two weeks, they did
job review tests, et cetera. And after two weeks,
results came in. And basically they
said to me, Daan, what you want does not exist. [LAUGHS] And I was very
depressed for one day, because you’re 16 years old
and the world says no to you. But at the same time, I remember
the second day that I woke up. And then I said, well,
forget about that. Then I’ll just do it myself. And in a way, that mentality
of taking ownership– and of course, listening
to those people, but also sort of, with love,
ignoring them and trying to find your own way
of hearing everything, but listening to a
little bit is crucial. Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. That’s in my blood, in a way. And it’s also in
the Netherlands, as we live below sea level. The fight with– who
lives below sea level? It’s a bit crazy. So it’s sort of interesting
how you try to find harmony, try to make sense. And maybe I create
these kind of projects to keep myself sane as
well, to make the world understandable for me. Because I look
outside my window. I’m very confused. There’s air pollution,
traffic jams, CO2 rising. It’s very, very confused. My students in Shanghai
University, very confused. So maybe we need to– we create to make sense of
it all, don’t you think? In one of your– and I
think it’s in the book– an interview, you say that
you hope your grandchild, when you say– when they ask you, well,
what is that machine you made, that
smog free machine? And you say, well,
I was addressing the issue of pollution. And they say, what is pollution? That’s your dream, right? Yeah, that they have no idea
what pollution is, because it doesn’t exist anymore. That pollution will be gone. And no one will remember
what pollution is. But until that moment, there’s
still a lot of work to be done. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So I want to ask
you something else. Right now– and we see
this with our students, and we see this
with young people– there is not a lot
of future thinking. And partly because
people are feeling overwhelmed by the problems
of the world and not– just sort of hanging on in fear. So would you talk
about that a little? Because I know you
think about that. Yeah, I think it’s weird. Because when you look at the
’60s or the ’70s, when you go to TWA terminal in JFK– Saarinen building. Yeah, amazing. Go there if you
haven’t been there. It’s amazing. 1972. You feel the futurism. You feel the hope. You feel the curiosity. We’d go to the moon. We had the Jetsons cartoons. We would fly a Concorde. And today, when we
speak with each other and when you read a
newspaper or watch the news, it sort of seems that
we’re scared of the future. The robots will
take over our jobs. The Chinese will come
and buy everything. But no. So how can we
create a world where we’re curious, not scared. And I think that’s part of
the beauty of art and design, that it can show
different scenarios. It can trigger. It can activate people. Because the problems
that we’re facing, climate change, for me– I’m the son of a math teacher. But for me, it’s a way of bad
design, or of conscious design. We have created it,
the human beings. So we can do two things. We can either hide in a
room, blame somebody else, cry, or wait for permission. Or we can say, well,
we have created it. Let’s design, let’s
imagine our way out of it. And I think that’s the
mentality we need to embrace. And at least, that’s the reason
why I, and I think the team, makes these kind of projects. It’s not utopia. It’s a protopia. So you’ve said the best– It’s really important, yeah. You said the best thing to
fix bad design is good design. And we can design
our way out of it. Well, what’s the alternative? But that’s a
tremendous optimism. So how do you keep
that optimism alive? I think that’s important
for students to hear. How do you do that? Well, there’s always 80% BS. Like, [LAUGHTER] bullshit
to get 20% beauty. And that’s a good day. So I have the same stuff
as you have, as you have. But I don’t know. It’s just– you wake up– every night at 4 AM I
wake up for two minutes. It’s really weird. Every night. It’s really weird. Just for two minutes? Yeah. And then I have to
write something down. And it can be like
a genius idea, or did I just want a
strawberry cheesecake ice cream the next day? It gets really stupid. It’s sometimes brilliant,
sometimes it’s really stupid. But it doesn’t matter. But it’s interesting when
you have an idea, when you have an idea,
or you have an idea, you become a sort of voluntary
prisoner of that idea. It’s in your brain and
it needs to get out. And I think to take
ownership in that and to take action
in that is also a way to relieve that tension. And so after I write it
down, I fall asleep again. And so it’s a way to
make sense of it all. So creation is not just
personal expression, it’s a way of
dealing with reality and trying to improve it. And it seems like moving
from project to project is your way also. Oh, we’ll be designing cities in
the future in five to 10 years. We’ll be designing landscapes. When you say we, you mean– The studio, yeah. The studio. Yeah, of course. No, we, we. Yeah. No, I feel that. We feel that with the
mayors and the developers that you want to have landscapes
which are good for you. And a new generation
doesn’t want a Louis Vuitton bag or a Ferrari, but they
want clean air or clean water. You can feel it– Flint, or the air
pollution– it’s a topic. This is not just tree
hugger hippie anymore, it’s a whole
different generation who has new sets of values. And if we don’t design
or facilitate that, we’re not future proof. I was saying to you earlier– Let’s take questions
from the audience. Just one last thing. Yeah, you’re in charge. We’ll just have a “Waterlicht.” Everybody’s waiting. It doesn’t matter. No, no, no. You’re in charge, Carol. Yeah. OK, give me back the ring. Just the last thing. I talked to you
earlier about something that I don’t think you’d
actually thought about, which is I hear it from
climate journalists and I hear it from
scientists that there’s this thing called climate
grief that people are feeling. Especially people who
really are studying what’s happening on the planet. They’re suffering it. The people who know
the most are the ones who are suffering the most. Yeah, because you know it
all, but you can’t express it. Or you can express it, but
there’s no interaction. Do you have any
thoughts about that? Well, I think that’s the
beauty of “Waterlicht.” I mean, we’ve all
experienced Sandy in 2012. We all know sea level’s
rising this century a lot. But the numbers won’t change us. But once you see it,
once you share it, once you experience
together, maybe that is the part in our brain
which is a trigger. And everybody will have
his or her own personal interpretation. Some will try to
create a solution, other will think about
it when they buy a house, other people will say,
no, no, no, no, no, we’re going to generate energy
from the changing in tide. But I don’t want to be just a
consumer, I want to be a maker. I want to make solutions,
I want to make new ideas, I want to make new dreams. And I think that’s the
mentality which is future proof, and that’s also the mentality
which makes you happy. I want to say one
thing, and we’ll turn it open to the audience. Last night it was
raining, raining, raining, raining, raining. Cats and dogs. I almost felt at home,
like in the Netherlands, because it’s always raining. It was a little like that. Thank you for that. And it was fantastic experience. It was weird, no? Everyone was wet, and
everyone was soggy. And everybody stayed. And everybody stayed. And everybody was thrilled
because the rain looked like diamonds, and
everybody was excited. And so– Tonight is going
to be different. It’ll be beautiful
in a different way. Because you have a
clean, clear sky, so you don’t have
the light pollution reflecting in the clouds. So it’s going to
be a bit more dark. It’s a little bit more wind. So it’s always different. It’s beautiful. So what was beautiful? And I’ll really stop
and end with this. It was beautiful to
be part of the water, to be wet and be in nature. It was beautiful to see a
whole collective of people having an experience together– With water. With water, but
also with beauty. And people were in a
great mood about it. So I think everything
that you say which sounds
utopian or protopian and doesn’t seem possible,
in a sense last night I think we were feeling that. So bravo, Daan. Yes, we did it. Bravo. [APPLAUSE] You’re on your own. Let’s do some questions. Questions? Anybody? There are mikes. Nobody leaves the room
until we have two questions. Hi, thank you for being
here and for your words. I appreciate what you said about
amateur and cross discipline. I think if we went to Midtown or
to a lot of architecture firms in this city, we would have
a lot of people in power that are not ready
to hire an amateur or someone without experience. And we also talk about Silicon
Valley and failing last. But are we really ready? And what is it going to take for
a much larger part of society to be ready for amateurs, cross
discipline, and real failure? Yeah. No, I agree. And it’s scary. So every time when I start a new
project, I have the same fear. There’s always this little devil
on my shoulder which is saying, but what if it’s
going to go wrong, and are going to laugh
at you, and the media? But there’s also a little
angel on the other shoulder which said, but what
if it would work? And it’s going to
be really cool. And you don’t want
to miss that one. So they’re always there,
the fear and the curiosity. And they feed me, and
they’re part of me in a way. The same like when you have
to decide to hire an amateur. It’s scary. But at the same time,
I think the only thing I can do as a human
being is to decide on what I base my decisions. Am I going to be driven
by fear or by curiosity? And it’s very, very interesting
if you become aware of that and you start to implement
it in your daily life, and I’m going to react
to fear or I’m going to be driven by curiosity. That’s, I think, the
way to build it up. But, easy? No. Important? Yes. Hi. Are your artistic
and design creations done to bring
attention to an issue, or do you take into
account economic viability to see if they can be
used on a larger scale? Yeah, that’s a good question. I think all the projects,
they have a poetic agenda– awareness, notion of beauty. But there’s always a
practical agenda as well. For example, the
gates of light I showed you, light
reflective buildings. That can be our street light
or street lamp of the future. So why do we have LEDs? Cables, wires, maintenance. So what we do in the studio
is we do the first one. We show that it can be done. We make it work, we
make it beautiful. And then it’s also
up to the world to say, yeah, yeah, we
want it, and make it grow. It’s not bowling,
it’s a ping-pong. I need somebody else who
says, we want to invest, we want to make it grow,
we want to take ownership. And that does happen in
all of these projects. For example, SMOG FREE
launched in Korea last week, China, Poland. We find smart highway,
the bicycle path. We find people who take
ownership and make it grow. But personally, I’m the most
interested in the beginning. We’re really good at that. So I think in the end it’s
about showing it in such a way that it’s not special
anymore, but it becomes part of a new standard. And scales up. So scaling up, making it
grow, super important. But we need to find the
right partners for that. Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. No, thank you. It’s a good question. Over here. Hi there, thanks for your
amazing presentation. I’m from the climate museum. Oh yeah, yeah, I know. Yeah. Awesome. I have a couple of questions– Here in New York, no? What’s that? Here in New York. Exactly. Yeah, yeah, I know. Yeah. You did the billboard,
to matrix board project. Exactly, yes, yes. Thanks. I am wondering if
your work intersects with public policy, and also
movement building and activism. And also a second
curiosity is, have you thought of doing a
project that, in addition to dealing with sea level rise,
deals with health of oceans? Sorry, what was
the first question? First question is
about, does your work intersect with public policy
and/or activism and movement building? OK. Well, I think that’s what I
love about the public space. It’s a space that everybody
uses, not so many people really care about. So in a way, all the
projects that I showed are sort of prototypes to
show we can have clean air, or we can have clean energy. And then you talk with the
policymakers and the mayors or the ministers, and say,
hey why can this not be part of new standard? So when our minister
of infrastructure saw the bicycle path
or the gates of light, she said, hey, we
should embrace this. And so now it’s part of
government regulation to say light pollution is not
allowed, et cetera, et cetera. A lot of times, the discussion
is, government should do this, or regulations should do this. Yes, but– I’m aware of it. I’m aware. Artists and desire
can also inspire governments to accept change. And so it works two ways. And I think that’s the type of
role that I want to embrace. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I also was wondering if you have
pondered dealing with health of oceans in a future project. Ah, the ocean, yeah. It’s the plastic
pollution you mean. And acidification and
all that other stuff. Not yet. I want to first do
this space waste thing, and then I’ll put my
teeth in that thing. Yeah, thank you. Thank you. Questions? More questions? Your country is far
older than ours. By comparison, it’s ancient. And– Thank you for
making me feel old. I’m wondering if you have
the peculiar breed of humans called climate deniers– climate change deniers– there. Yeah. Yes, we do. Same here. It’s the same story. Yeah. It’s the same old story. It’s weird. We as human beings,
we’d rather hold on to what we know, although
we know it’s really bad, than that we accept something
new on which we know is better, but we don’t know
exactly what it is. You know what I mean? And that’s the idle we are in. It’s not a lack of money,
because the money is there. The money is there. We’re spending billions
every year on things. The technology is there. Read Drawdown, Paul Hawken. Big book, 100 ideas how
to fight climate change. It’s all there. He shows the science,
he’s done the math, he’s done the
economical measurements. It’s our Bible. When we design
something, we read that. It’s all there. But somehow we’re
waiting for something. And it’s exactly the same
question that I ask myself. How can I do more? How can I do more? And maybe that’s why
I create, and that’s why we do “Waterlicht,” to
add the notion of imagination, to add the notion of
wonder to it with the hope to move beyond the
conversation of opinions– you’re right, I’m wrong– and say, let’s move
towards proposals. So if you disagree
with me, that’s fine, but what’s your proposal then? And maybe to conclude
your question, two weeks ago I was
in Korea, and one of the top guys of space agency
said, we should find aliens. Aliens? Aliens, yeah. I’m like OK, fine. Yeah, OK, super. This high top scientific guy. I won’t mention his name, but it
was a really cool conversation. And he said, you know why
we should find aliens? Because the chance that
they are there is quite big. Space is big. It’s not just because we want
to figure out the aliens, but it’s because we don’t
have the notion of the we as humanity. There’s no we. It’s us. We’re separated. And so the moment
we will find aliens, suddenly as humans, there’s
a we and there’s them. So we will always have
this kind of separation that you just address. We just need to
change the scale. Yeah, so let’s find the aliens. I thought that was pretty good. Yeah, that was a good answer. I can’t wait to live
in a Roosegaard city. And thank you for your work. I’ve been a fan for a long time. You are all invited. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was wondering. You talk about failure, and
it’s such a precious thing for an artist. And I wonder if you’d
share a failure that you learned from in your practice. Oh, you’ve got
another two hours? Yeah. I think every project
sort of failed. It’s always there. Oh, with the present show. Three weeks before opening
we were installing, and all the prototypes in
the studio they look good. And then we started to
install it in the museum, and it just looked like shit. It’s just like, oh, this is
clunky and noisy and not good. There was no poetry. And then I called my
head of design, Chris, and I’m like, dude, this
is not going to work. We have to cancel the opening. And then he’s like, Daan,
you’re always calling me two weeks before the opening. With every project
you’re always doing this. And I forget. And he says, don’t think
about the technology, don’t think about the time,
don’t think about money, focus on the idea,
focus on dream. Let the idea guide you. And we got to work with the
engineers and the managers. And we made it work,
and we had the opening. And now it’s one of the
most successful exhibitions they’ve ever had. So there is always
this piano music from the Titanic in the
background where you’re like, what’s this piano music doing? But that’s the moment where
you have to be idea driven, and then somehow, somewhere
you figure it out. But yeah, it’s always there. It’s always there. But you have to deal with it. I think that’s it. So you’ll join us,
I hope, at 7:30. We’ll hit the switch. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Carol,
for bringing Daan. And I’m going to ask
Gavin to take Daan out. His book, his monograph,
will be for sale, and he will be signing copies of
his book out in the foyer here. For those of you that
will be lingering– so Gavin’s going to tell
you– those of you that will be lingering, to stand
in the queue for “Waterlicht.” It’s a beautiful night. You might want to walk down
to the West Harlem Pier to experience our
beautiful great Hudson. Restaurants down the street. The Forum Cafe downstairs
is open till 7:30. What you do need to know is– Carol referenced– that we
go dark in this building in order to experience
“Waterlicht.” And we will start that
process in this building in about a half an hour,
between 6:45 and 7:00. And so that’s why I want Daan
to get out to the book signing. But the rest of you, please
join us there, or down in the urban layer, which
will be open until 8 o’clock. But it will be dark on the
west side of the building. Thank you all very
much for coming.

Danny Hutson

1 thought on “Meet the Artist: Daan Roosegaarde

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