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Art + Tech


‘Poème électronique,’ you’ve probably seen these two words before. I’ve been gazing at them with a sense of amazement for years now every time I walk past them on campus. Do these words mean anything to you? They have something to do with a world-renowned architect and an avantgarde composer, but also with our very own Philips.

Philips was present at Expo 58, the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels. This event provided countries with the opportunity to showcase their major achievements in the fields of technology and art, and to impress the world with their wealth. World Fairs have led to several well-known objects, including the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Atomium from Expo 58. Philips built its own Pavilion alongside the Atomium.

The building was composed of hyperbolic paraboloid surfaces of up to twenty meters high. As if someone had set up a tent with sheets tightened around a few poles that went askew. Only it wasn’t fabric stretched between those poles, but seven-millimeter-thick concrete.  

Inside, a spectacle was going on. The huge central space was filled with music, projected over hundreds of loudspeakers. The curved, concrete walls created a special acoustic effect that carried the sound. In addition, visitors could see images projected on the walls. This multiple art spectacle was dubbed ‘Le Poème électronique’ by its architect, Le Corbusier. Even though it was created over 64 years ago, it wouldn’t be out of place at GLOW.

The entire pavilion was designed as a platform for all kinds of interesting collaborations. Philips, Le Corbusier and composer Edgard Varèse closely collaborated on an almost incredible story. Philips felt challenged by the imagination of the two artists, who in turn felt challenged by the technological side. To me, this is one of the most inspiring examples of what I like to call Art-Tech projects, a breeding ground for innovation.

In 1958, visitors to the Philips Pavilion were welcomed at the entrance by an artwork titled ‘L’Objet Mathématique.’ Today, it is located between Vertigo and the Auditorium. Every morning I drive past it on my bicycle and become enthusiastic again when I see the words ‘Poème électronique,’ written in neon blue letters. Wedged between a polyhedron reminiscent of Dutch avantgarde movement De Stijl, it symbolizes the Eindhoven chapter on the synergy between art and technology.

A chapter that is far from closed, because I hear people talk about Art-Tech projects increasingly often at TU/e. Such as innoSpace projects about Artificial Intelligence in music, and the first two Artist in Residence programs with Spinvis and Arnon Grunberg. I want to be a part of that! Don’t you?

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