When the museums across The Netherlands re-open this weekend many are doing so in a fairly hesitant manner, cautious even. The Stedelijk Museum in Schiedam has raised its profile considerably over the last year or so despite the pandemic and its re-opening exhibition is truly spectacular. The Museum is back in business with a bang – although bang is probably an ill-chosen word as the focus of the new show is, in effect, a giant balloon.
Stadscocon – City Cocoon – is an installation on a truly epic scale by Arnhem-based artist Florentijn Hofman. The exhibition takes place in the splendid Sint Janskerk in the centre of Schiedam while the Museum itself is undergoing major work.
As you enter the church expecting to see stained glass windows, majestic, ornate pillars and a vaulted roof you find yourself, not in a calm ecclesiastical environment but in a small, but quite noisy, green room with alcoves, arches and a giant mirror. Here you don green fabric overshoes before moving to the main event.
The room you are in turns out to be an airlock and the two meter high mirror is in fact a door which resists and hisses with escaping air as you open it. What confronts you on the other side will cause another movement of air as you gasp in surprise. You will find yourself standing in a huge green fabric tube like a giant airship or soft storage tank.
Measuring twenty-six meters long and nearly ten meters in circumference, it is truly spectacular and a breath-taking environment the like of which you will never have experienced. And because it is all soft curved surfaces and there is a slight difference in air pressure I, for one, found it a little disconcerting, a little disorientating, affecting my sense of balance.
You completely forget that you are in a church, although the scale of the space could easily represent some cathedral in an unknown, distant world. In fact, it is very science fictiony and I very much felt I was in the set of some space-based movie.
But there is a very serious element to this work as well. It questions our expectations and establishes that it takes only a very thin substance, in this case green fabric, to separate two vastly different truths or realities. The colour was not chosen by chance. Green is the colour of nature, the colour of hope but also the colour of creativity. And hope and creativity are certainly things we all need emerging from the tragedy of the past eighteen months.
This is a monumental installation and one that will surprise and stimulate you – and take a little of your breath away. Recommended. Michael Hasted 3rd June 2021
Stadscocon continues at Stedelijk Museum in Schiedam until 12th September. For the moment it is necessary, like with all museums, to book online and be allocated a time slot.