Dutch contemporary artist Leonard van Munster usually makes site-specific work. A graduate from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, Munster’s installations reflect much of the school’s theory: art is something you experience.
Even though Leonard’s pieces seem cheery, even boyish, at first, he has been known to express themes such as desire, homesickness and sentiment: a frozen moment of happiness or a childhood memory. Take his fatamorgana, “Under heaven 02,” in a desolate Amsterdam tunnel surrounded by a fence, impossible to get to, no matter how tempting that plastic oasis looks. Or the tree house on top of a fifty story building. His permanent fireworks in Amsterdam West declare his love night after night. Then the Stadsschouwburg of Amsterdam commissioned a piece. And so “The dancing White Man” was born.
At first, Leonard thought of a statue. But not just any statue. He wanted a hyper-realistic one. One that would dance to reggae, just like he does. “You know that feeling. You’re at a party, the music is right, nice girl in front of you. But your moves are not that smooth. I liked to isolate that feeling. In a moment in time.”
So he went out and bought a dancing Santa Claus, undressed him, put him in a grunge shirt and jeans and played reggae for him. But that wasn’t good enough. However he did like the seemingly uncontrolled movements.
Easy enough right? Wrong. Uncontrollable. That’s something technicians are not fond of. Edwin Dertien, a hi-tech technician, got involved. He explains; “I know how to design a robot with controlled movement, not one that loses control (i.e dance like Leonard) while still being in control.” Edwin goes on to explain some of the technicalities mentioning a spring at the center of it all. The heart of the robot. He explains that they moved to models and experimented with backbones connected to hip bones and hip bones connected to leg bones. Moving one, makes the other one move.
In the end, Edwin still had a problem. He can makes things move and now also make things move that are not controlled, by coincidence. But Edwin couldn’t dance. So Leonard stepped in. He danced. They filmed it. And Edwin analyzed the moments. Now, thanks to a midi sound system, the hips jiggle that way, the arms and shoulders shimmy this way. And by golly, he dances just like Leonard.
The robot dances when you dance. It’s motion censored. You have to dance pretty frantically to get it to move, though. That results in some funny impromptu shows. However, what with the crisis, they are thinking about changing it to a coin machine.
You know. To pay the maintenance bills.