Mike Rijnierse (1974) is a Dutch artist, performer and educator working in the fields of light, sound and architecture. He is intrigued by sensory experience, whether visual, acoustic, spatial, or cross-sensory and synesthesia, creating installations, performances, public interventions and often collaborating with other disciplines. For over a decade, Rijnierse has developed a meticulous study on the interaction between light, pigment and the retina. He gave a concrete form to his discoveries in installations, projections and light designs with CYMRGB, Lumokinese, and CUBE, which have been widely exhibited in and outside of Europe. His most recent installation RELIEF, based on the principle of echolocation by means of ultrasound, premiered at Novas Frequencias Festival 2016, in Rio de Janeiro. Furthermore Mike Rijnierse is known for his monumental sound installations in public space, such as THX: INT’L (landing strip) (TodaysArt 2007), Station to Station (TodaysArt 2008), KLOK (TodaysArt 2015), 5,4,3,2,1…Lift-Off (TodaysArt 2015).
Have you always been interested in both sound and image?
When I started I was looking for something that was more open to any medium. I noticed that, for instance, fine art was still focused on very old media. And I studied at an art school that encouraged interdisciplinary investigation, involving music, theatre, abstract cinema and sound art.
So you never leant towards one specific medium, even as a child?
Never. I grew up with parents that worked very hard and didn’t have much of a cultural background. The next James Bond movie was usually the cultural highlight. In 1984, I saw Wim T. Schippers’ work on primetime TV news. Wim T. Schippers is one of the most prominent Fluxus artists from the Netherlands, whom I’ve admired since then. He directed a theatre play with shepherd dogs (it’s called ‘Going to the dogs’). All the celebrities went to see the play at the City Theater of Amsterdam, including the actress Monique van der Ven whom I adored as a ten year-old kid. When those celebrities came out of the theatre they didn’t know how to respond to the piece. I was so impressed that someone had managed to execute that – that made me decide to become an artist myself. When I was 16 I wanted to become legally separated from my parents – not that I didn’t like my parents – I just wanted to get the hell out of the place I was living in, Epe, a small town in the east of Netherlands. But in retrospect, I’m happy they didn’t allow me to do so.
And then you moved to the Hague?
First I went to Tilburg and started studying journalism. I wanted to make documentary films, and I realised that it was not possible at that university. Then I applied to the film academy in Amsterdam. I was rejected and eventually found the Interfaculty Image and Sound at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, today known as ArtScience Interfaculty.
You now teach at an Art Academy where you also develop instruments.
Yes, I teach Interactive Media Design at ArtEZ, Arnhem. I encourage students to break apart old devices so they start to understand how they are built. They have to modify them and create new interfaces and instruments so they don’t have to spend 30 euros on a new motor, but can grab an old washing machine from the street and use its motor if they need one.
Do you notice any differences between the various generations of students that you teach?
There’s one student in the course that I’m teaching who was home-schooled by his parents. And he excels! He has always done what he wanted to. I noticed people who go to regular schools only start finding their way when they get older.
How did you start doing public installations / interventions?
When I was studying at the conservatory, I attended concerts with quadraphonic setups, which in the 1990s was quite exciting. And then they would put chairs for the audience, which I thought was ridiculous. You make a spatial sound piece, and expect the audience to sit down and listen to it that way. After those experiences I started playing around with other kinds of setup with sound and light. The light work in general doesn’t exist without an architectonic context.
But you prefer an environment outside of the white-cube gallery space?
It depends. I don’t have a preference. When I start working on a piece, the work will demand what it wants. A work for a white cub is another sort of work, you can repeat it. In most public interventions, there’s no sense in copying it to another context.
So you don’t restage interventions in different cities?
If you open up the concept, of course you can adjust it to a different location, but without doing so, it would be just a copy. That wouldn’t make sense in most cases.
As a band, you have the same setlist during a tour.
That is something else. I also collaborate with a music-theatre group, Rosa. We develop performances as an ensemble, a band. When you make live performances, you get better each time you play.
What is the motivation behind these site-specific projects – to engage with the city and the public or test your ideas in such an organic, albeit contingent environment?
We all experience public space differently, but if you look around you realise people should enjoy it more. If you see the possibilities in your environment, you will enjoy it more. My motivation is to make people appreciate it more.
So in your work, you are also interested in improving the environment rather than creating an artwork for its own sake?
Absolutely. I want to share my joy.
Can you talk about the project that you presented at Novas Frequências?
That project derives from another project I was working on in 2005 during TodaysArt Festival in The Hague. It’s a large-scale spatialisation of sound. I was approached to do something on the main street of The Hague. I had the opportunity to play sound for two days in the city centre, from noon to midnight, listening to reflections from different buildings. Afterwards I went to have a beer on the central square and realised that I lost my short-range hearing. I had to adapt back to the human range. I hadn’t been communicating with people during those hours, but only with the city and its architecture. I was on this square and I couldn’t hear the conversations, but I could hear the noise of the crowd reflected on the facade of the building on the other side of the square. I literally could hear the relief of the facades. Then I thought about offering this experience back to an audience. Later I worked with ultrasound speakers. I admire the work of Jan van Schoonhoven, a Dutch artist from the Zero Movement, who made reliefs. So I got inspired by the idea of an audible relief. That is where RELIEF derives from, the project I presented with Rob Bothof at Novas Frequências.
Your landing strip THX: The Hague Int’l project, which transformed the city of Hague into an international airport, was also impressive.
That was very lucky. It came two years after the echolocation experience in the city centre. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I got approached to do it again, but I didn’t want to repeat the same project, so I suggested to make a landing strip for spacecrafts. I was looking forward to challenge myself to make spacecraft sounds.
When you do installations and projects, do you consider them a commentary or statement?
Fine art can focus a lot on creating objects. But for me, the object is not so important. It’s about the interaction between objects and their architectural context, the experience that if offers to the audience. I’ve actually never sold anything. If it makes the work better, I don’t mind not selling it. I have my view on the world, which is then translated into the work. But this is not done literally.
Could you specify – how does it manifest?
For example, I like the Zero Movement because they tried to open previous situations, Fluxus did it as well. If you want to really make a difference in this world, then art should do that just like an engineering would improve the world. I get very frustrated when people don’t create spaces for each other.
Nowadays, the tendency is to close down spaces – privatise them and remove them from the public realm.
People are absolutely not aware of it. I’ve noticed that a lot of artists are very ignorant about this as well. As long as you have a gallerist, everything is fine. And that’s the wrong direction.