Trial and error has been part of the scientific discipline for ages; it is how we test hypothesises and how we eventually solve problems. But these practices sometimes go beyond the scientific and move into the artistic – in Rogier van der Zwaag’s case it is an integral part of his work.
Rogier makes amazingly immersive videos of shadows slowly shifting across geometric forms, luring the viewer in with their slow movements. His short animations are both predictable and suspenseful; although we know what will happen, we still wait to see what comes next.
The artist calls his process a visual exploration. He starts with a basic idea and experiments with this concept in front of his camera until he hits on something visually appealing. “It’s like sketching; you do not necessarily know exactly how it is going to look in the end,” Rogier says.
“I start with a hypothesis; there is an idea, but it never turns out to be that. It will never be exactly what I imagined it to become in the beginning.”
It is this experimentation that pushes Rogier to try out new forms and ways of visualizing his concepts. Whereas his previous work has been based on up-tempo beats with his imagery closely following the fast-paced changes in the music, his intriguing new shorts focus on small transitions in the little worlds he creates.
Like all of his projects, the shadow experiments began with an idea that evolved over time. Trying to build an alphabet out of shade, he accidentally hit upon something way more alluring. “I got really triggered by the serenity of the slowness of the shadow’s movement. There was great beauty in there. I didn’t try to let it do anything else, it didn’t have to be anything; it was just the movement of the shadows and the reshaping of the environment. The more basic I made it, the more beautiful it became,” he says.
These small transitions remind Rogier of the unnoticeable change that happens all around us. “I like that idea that everything is in constant movement, not only light and shadows, but also molecule-wise. If you could live for a million years and watch a mountain, you would be able to see the whole thing deteriorate or reshape over time.”
And it is exactly this notion of subtle progress that makes Rogier’s videos incredibly captivating; they put you in a trance and when they’re over you are left craving more. “There’s definitely a suspense thing going on. Maybe it is a bit disappointing that there’s no climax – it just keeps on going, but I think that is the cool thing about it.”
Currently he’s working on a music video in which he only uses smoke to visualize sound. “I discovered this subculture of guys smoking electronic cigarettes and they do all kind of tricks with the smoke they blow out. So I bought myself a few vaporisers and started to experiment,” Rogier says.
“Once I found the material, the next phase was how: how is this going to be interesting for three minutes? How are my heroes going to move to the music? I want to make that smoke dance – it is a choreography of smoke.”