Eindhoven’s STRP 2017 Art Biennial

Stuart Forster discovers innovative contemporary art in this upbeat Dutch city

The theme of the 2017 STRP art biennial, being held in Eindhoven from 24 March until 2 April, is Senses and Sensors. This contemporary festival is a celebration of the possibilities presented by technology and electronic music.

The first STRP festival was held back in 2006 but in 2013 it became biennial. The STRP Festival is one of Europe’s largest art and technology festivals. In addition to the installations, bands and DJs bands help attract people. The 2015 edition drew 30,000 visitors over ten days.

There are so many electronic music festivals now, so, organically, we’ve grown into a bigger exhibition,” explained Angelique Spaninks, STRP’s artistic director, at the entrance to the exhibition in one of the former Philips factory buildings in Eindhoven’s Striijp-S district, two kilometres from the city’s central railway station.

A total of 23 art installations are exhibited in four different zones. The desire to make STRP a quality art exhibition was one of the factors that shaped the decision to switch from an annual to a biennial event. Several of the works on show this year were commissioned by and for STRP.

Many people think that humans have just five senses: hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch. “We have 12 senses,” said Spaninks, during a preview of the exhibition.

We also have senses of which we are only subconsciously aware. Technology is opening up opportunities for sensors to measure sensitivities that extend beyond obvious human perception.

We use just 20 to 25 per cent of the capacity of our nose to smell,” said Spaninks before raising the thought-provoking issue of how our might could open up if we utilised the full capacity of our senses.

The first installation that visitors to the 2017 STRP see — and perceive in so many other ways — is Sensory Gym. Like many of the others at the biennial, it is interactive and, according to Spaninks, “gives people a sensory workout.

We look at technology and try to make it tangible,” explained Jorge Alves Lino, STRP’s business manager.

The location of the event, Strijp-S, is the Netherlands’ largest urban redevelopment area. The district spans 67 acres. “Until a few years ago it was called ‘the Forbidden City,’” says Alves Lino. That was because only employees of Philips then had access to the area’s factories and industrial spaces.

Philips has moved its administrative headquarters to Amsterdam and many of the company’s production lines are now located elsewhere. Eindhoven, however, remains a hub for high-tech research and development. The city and surrounding area is recognised as one of Europe’s design hotspots.

Several of the installations on display at the 2017 edition of STRP are provocative. Others heighten people’s awareness of the possibilities and risks posed by technology. Leanne Wijnsma’s Smell of Data makes visitors aware of the personal data being leaked from devices.

Fight, by Memo Atken, utilises Virtual Reality (VR) to explore social polarisation. Atken is based in London but was originally from Turkey. He invites people to sit in leather armchairs and pull on VR goggles displaying different images to the left and right eyes. It raises the issue of whether people see only want they want to.

The use of VR looks set to grow in the years ahead. Marshmallow Laser Feast’s Treehugger: Wawona is another of the VR works displayed at STRP, providing visitors with opportunities to interact with a giant sequoia tree.

The Austrian artist Bernhard Lenger’s Culture of Fear, reflects on contemporary politics. People enter a darkened room where their movements and psychological changes are measured, prompting changes in the installation.

Polymorf, formed by Dutch designers Marcel van Brakel and Frederick Duerinck, invites people to sit inside a cube as part of The Entangled Body and have their brain activity measured. Ultrasonic sound waves produce a perceptible depiction of that activity. “You are interacting with yourself, touching your own mental state. The feedback goes back into your body,” explained Van Brakel, about the work.

Famous Deaths, another of Polymorf’s works, requires people to enter stainless steel mortuary boxes. The spaces within recreate the aromas and sounds associated with the last moments in the lives of Lady Diana and Whitney Houston. The four-minute sequences within explore the role of scents in forming memories.

As for measuring reactions to this avant-garde show, social media provides a sense of how it is being perceived. Nothing, though, matches the array of emotions and thought processes unleashed by visiting in person.

Getting to Eindhoven

KLM flies from 17 airports across the United Kingdom to Amsterdam Schiphol. Eindhoven is an 88-minute journey by Intercity rail from the station at Schiphol Airport.

Ryanair flies to Eindhoven Airport from London, Manchester and Dublin.

Where to stay in Eindhoven

The Inntel Hotels Art Eindhoven (Lichttoren 22, 5611 Eindhoven; tel. +31 (0) 40 751 3500) is a chic, four-star hotel with 230 individually furnished guestrooms. The hotel occupies the site of a former Philips factory building, dating from 1909, where lightbulbs used to be made. The rooms have high ceilings of exposed concrete, conveying the location’s industrial heritage.

A buffet breakfast is served in the lobby, next to a spacious bar which serves a wide range of refreshments until late into the night. The drinks on offer include craft beers from Eindhoven’s Van Moll brewery. The hotel has a sauna and displays artworks in the vestibule between its two wings.

Where to dine in Eindhoven

Radio Royal (Ketelhuisplein 10, 5617 AE Eindhoven; tel. +31 (0)40 780 0971) is a roomy restaurant in a former Philips factory building in the Strijp-S district of Eindhoven. Pizza-like flammkuchen, oysters and steaks count among the dishes served in a setting that proudly displays machinery and metal walkways conveying the venue’s industrial heritage. The restaurant is well-placed for visiting the STRP art biennial and attending events at the Dutch Design Week.

When to visit

The STRP Biënnale is being held at the Klokgebouw building within the Eindhoven’s Strijp-S district, from 24 March to 2 April 2017. The STRP website holds an overview of the artworks being displayed and a programme of discussions and musical events. Entry to the exhibition costs €12.

The annual Dutch Design Week will take place in Eindhoven from 21 to 29 October 2017. Visiting provides a chance to view contemporary designs utilising state-of-the-art technologies.

Glow, Eindhoven’s annual festival of light, sees the facades and interiors of several buildings around Eindhoven illuminated. The event, held during November, draws artists from around the world. Installations and son et lumiere shows feature during the week-long event.

Useful Information

This is Eindhoven has information about the city of Eindhoven.

The Visit Brabant website is also good source of information about Eindhoven and the province in which it is located.

Visit Holland has practical information about travel to the Netherlands, including ideas on what to do and see in the province of Noord Brabant and city of Eindhoven.