Museum & exhibitions

A world of light

From video mapping in the Miffy Museum and projections on iconic buildings, to shows for Kensington and DI-RECT: the Utrecht company Mr.Beam has been creating sensational light art for fifteen years. Co-founder Mo Assem: ‘I want to take audiences on an adventure.’

Mo Assem and his friend Bucko Arends came up with the idea for his design studio Mr.Beam during his degree course in Image & Media Technology at Utrecht School of the Arts. ‘We planned to launch our light art secretly in random places, creating a sense of mystery around the name. A bit like Banksy,’ Mo explains. Now, fifteen years on, Mr.Beam has developed into a mature ‘innovation lab slash art collective’ employing  17 people. Their gigantic light projections shine proudly on towers, in and on museums, and at shows, concerts and festivals.

How did the idea for Mr.Beam come about?

‘During my course, I learned to take a broader approach to moving images and animation. The economic crisis in 2008 had a huge impact on the cultural sector and so as art students, we had to think of ways to stand out. Did I really want to produce a predictable graduation film, like everyone else? It was a highly innovative period, with the arrival of new technology such as SLR cameras, YouTube and iPhone giving us countless opportunities and room to experiment. Together with Bucko and a few other students, I was commissioned to create a video artwork for a public space. We used a beamer to design artwork for the illuminated walk through Utrecht Trajectum Lumen. I realised that I was able to think much more freely than during my training, i.e. outside the confines of a square screen.’

Were you excited about breaking conventions?

‘Yes, discovering this lighting technique was definitely our way forward, but we had to work it all out for ourselves. There weren’t any tutorials for the type of video mapping and light installations we wanted to create. But we were free to experiment and that was energising. And we got noticed because we were different and innovative. We set up projectors in my old student digs with white furniture, and discovered that it was technically possible to make light occupy the space by adding different colours and patterns. Our video of it on our Tumblr blog was soon picked up on. We found ourselves on Japanese television shows, in mini-documentaries about modern imaging technology and were invited to speak at international festivals for animation and media technology.’

What was your first real job?

‘Before we graduated, we got a phone call from an advertising agency in New York working for Coca-Cola. We created a room that looked like a filling station and as people took bottles of Coca-Cola from a vending machine, they were amazed by a spectacular light projection. We were then commissioned to do a light show for the opening of the H&M store on De Dam in Amsterdam. This was an exciting period, but the technology was so new that we spent nights on end looking for the right shapes and creating the animations. Looking back, it was crazy. My role’s changed from maker to inventor now, but I still enjoy experimenting.’

What do you like about it?

‘It’s exciting to make something out of nothing, to think  on a huge, theatrical scale, and turn my problem-solving ability into creativity. But the most satisfying part is when we show our work to the public. Like our latest project STEM for the light festival in Gent. It’s an interactive light installation of a flower. If you talk inside it, the flower grows in response to your voice frequency. You’d think that people might run around inside shouting, but it’s quite the opposite. They congratulate each other or call out: ‘I love you’. There was even a child who talked to her late granny through the flower, and waited to see if it would grow all the way up to heaven. You couldn’t make it up.’

For Utrecht you made Colour the City.

‘We came up with the idea during the pandemic. We asked people to colour pictures of buildings in Utrecht and send them to us. Then we brought them to life by projecting them onto the buildings themselves. People from all over the city joined in, young and old, from all sorts of backgrounds. They told us how happy the project was making them – and this was a fairly desperate time for a lot of people. I was really moved; making this connection is what it’s all about for me. Being able to connect with audiences and take them on an adventure. It’s great that Colour the City has become such a tradition.’

What are your dreams for the years to come?

‘I want to keep pace with the latest technology. We’re hooked on the quest for improvement: how can people and technology be used to reinforce each other? And I’m very excited about interlinking different disciplines such as film, music, opera and technology. But my ultimate dream would be to totally envelop the Dom Tower in light. That would be the icing on the cake.’


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