Eighteen years of his life, from 1956 to 1974, Dutch artist Constant Nieuwenhuys built the ideal place for homo ludens: New Babylon. It was a direct reaction to the, in his eyes, mind-numbing reconstruction districts of that time. New Babylon consists of dozens of drawings, collages, paintings, lithographs, texts, films and models. Together they represent a network of ‘sectors’, lifted from the ground and sometimes consisting of several floors. A labyrinthine construction where man is free, his creativity is nurtured, and art enriches everyday life.
New Babylon is intended for a future in which technology has taken over all work. That way there is plenty of time to wander around situationally, by feeling. It was an influential project. It is rumored that the architects of Hoog Catharijne in Utrecht were inspired by New Babylon around 1965. Which was still detectable in the beginning, in the different levels of Hoog Catharijne and the presence of a theater, but eventually turned out completely differently. Mind-numbing capitalist consumerism was not what the outspoken left-leaning Nieuwenhuys meant. For example, land was collectively owned in New Babylon.
Enter New Babylon shows that it is still not easy to take up the ideas of Constant Nieuwenhuys. This quadruple VR installation with mixed media, i.e. digital and analogue attributes, was recently on display at Impakt Center for Media Culture in Utrecht. At the initiative of the Fondation Constant, six young writers from Poetry Circle Nowhere worked out scenarios, scripts and designs with five designers from the HKU under the supervision of Joris Weijdom. Frank Bosma digitized it for VR and scenographer Guus van Geffen made the design plan for the exhibition space.
At Impakt, the four VR setups are located in a large room, with a corridor along one wall with waiting booths and ‘private’ entrances to the setups. There are anarchist protest posters in the waiting room and manifesto slogans by Nieuwenhuys in the exhibition hall. Three assistants subtly guide visitors in their digital world to ‘live’ objects such as a bucket of sand, a hanging bucket seat, a mountain of cushions, a bicycle or a telephone booth. And help with those weird, top-heavy glasses.