We Designed This Surreal And Trippy Passageway In Amsterdam To Show The City’s Free Spirit (29 Pics)
I am Arno Coenen and I have pretty much been an artist my whole life. In primary school, I was that kid that was drawing and doodling all the time. The teachers knew that I was actually paying attention and that when asked not to doodle and sit up, well, that would be a problem.
When I look back, the reason I really wanted to be a professional artist, especially in the public space, was because of my father Huub Coenen, who was an art teacher. He took me as a kid to these big biennales, like Documenta. I really liked these big outdoor installations way better than the stuff shown in the musea.
I went to art school in the nineties when digital media was emerging. However, in the autonomous art department, you had no access to computers, only the applied arts. I was in painting, so I waited every Tuesday night outside the magic computer room where the graphic designers and illustrators were having classes, and if someone did not show up, I could take his or her place.
Some years ago, with Hans van Benthem and Iris Roskam, we designed this out-of-the-world passage in Amsterdam, a new tourist attraction in the very center! The passage is an ode to the famous canals in the city. On the ceiling is an almost 1 million-piece mosaic that looks like you are submerged in the canals and see a psychedelic underwater world with all kinds of stuff floating in the water.
The canals are famous for being a burial ground for thousands of bicycles, everyone here knows the image of a crane on a boat dragging these “skeletons” from the bottom of the canals. But way more is happening, together the floating elements form the ingredients of the free spirit of Amsterdam.
The Tiffany lamps, made for us in the Czech Republic, are in the form of a bag of french fries, a herring, and of course a joint.
There are golden chandeliers made of bicycle parts inspired by the Czech church in Kutna Hora, which are made of human skeleton parts.
The 3rd famous tourist attraction we were inspired by is Lourdes, like Lourdes you can take some Mokum (jidisch slang for Amsterdam) with you, it reads on the sandblasted, 3 meter high, and goldplated art deco mirrors. You can actually fill a bottle of water in the mouth of a huge bronze fish.
The whole passage is designed and executed in long-lasting old-school materials, the walls with custom tiles and the floor is a terrazzo masterpiece by the Dutch Italian family Zuliani.
The whole thing was inspired by the beautiful subways in Moscow, actually, my big dream is of doing a new station there, let’s see if that will come true!
We were lucky to work with a lot of very good craftsmen, like the Zuliani family who executed most of the artwork, especially the terrazzo floor, the mosaic, etc. This was part of a much larger real estate project, that came with both an astonishing budget and also the help from the main contractor, a team of engineers, etc. It is a very ambitious project made with costly materials.
Nothing was overlooked, when the whole passage was done, there was one more thing… The commissioner wanted to place 3 typical “Ämsterdammertjes”. They are basically old-fashioned metal poles you find all over town, by the roadside, etc. They traditionally feature 3 Andreas crosses, part of the Heraldic weapon of Amsterdam. To finish the project properly, we were asked to design 3 custom-made bronze Amsterdammertjes, not with the 3 crosses, but with symbols we used all over the passage. We got a lot of professional support and budget, which made the whole project, which took over 3 years, very efficient.
It is the perfect example of what I like to do as an artist. Art that stands in relation to its environment and the history of the city it is built for. It was a great honor, the location is in the very center of Amsterdam and thousands of tourists have already walked through and tapped the “holy water” from the bronze fishmouth. Across the street is the famous Beurs van Berlage, a very well-known architect who build beautiful blocks of houses in Amsterdam.
It was in the days that architects also designed the furniture that came with the building, the lighting armatures, the decorative tiles in the bathrooms, etc. Total design. We took that as great inspiration, I even called my company Arno Coenen Totalkunst. What can we learn from that? That art always was a very present and important part of daily life. Art and crafts were naturally part of every building, church, or other things manifested in public spaces.
I never felt comfortable in the artificial environment in the somehow pointlessness of autonomous arts, I wanted my work to be seen. When I was asked the first time to participate in a competition, I went crazy! I had to win it, and I did. Every time, every competition, I am both nervous and fanatic about winning it, just like the first time. That never changes, like sparring in the ring.
I might look like a satanic ogre, but lately, I somehow got into projects related to churches. This summer, a series of sculptures for a cathedral are completed, something I worked on for 3 years.
The older sculptures on the Cathedral arches are all about Noah’s Arc, lots of animals, and an actual arc. When the people involved in the restoration of the church decided to give a contemporary artist an assignment for new sculptures and organized competition, I won with my proposal “Black Hole Sun”. It’s an abstained glass window-like object resembling a galaxy with a black hole in the middle, a black glass sphere. Out from that centerpiece crawl all kinds of little microscopic creatures that they probably did not even know when the church was built: the main characters are 3 tardigrades accompanied by bacteria, viruses, and sperm cells. All made from natural stone, crafted with CNC techniques from 3d models I delivered, and goldplated metal parts, most hand-forged. They liked it so much that I was asked to make a cathedral filling installation next year, which will be on show for 2 years.
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