installation and mixed media exhibition, Familia Feliz, Spain, 2018

canyas [bamboo-like reed], rope | photos, audio excerpt based on Khalil Gibran, crayon on paper 

lead artist, concept and design

The Heart Ignited was an improvised site-specific installation to burn, built as part of a social art residency in the decentralized living community Familia Feliz in Cervera del Maestre, Spain.

Originally intended in a different form as an interactive installation at the Venice Biennale and Burning Man, morphed into a different installation for Familia Feliz, the project found its final form as a giant abstract heart. The installation was made solely with canyas, bamboo-like reed that is endemic to many regions of Spain, including the Maestrat.

The Heart Ignited burned on December 30, 2018. From its ashes, a couple of hundred ceramic hearts were retrieved by Familia Feliz founder and artist Juan Petry, to be distributed amongst friends and patrons.

Documentation of the project was presented during a group exhibition, dubbed All about Love, at the Familia Feliz residence in January 2019.


Project Origin – Oxytocin

Originally conceptualized in 2016 as a massive interactive art piece for the Venice Biennale and Burning Man, called Oxytocin.

From the original Letter of Intent:

“Imagine.. Imagine being in Venice. Tight streets. Canals. Crowds of people. The Biennale area, with all the pavilions. Then, around a corner, an open space, a big square, or a field. Here you encounter strange big, organically shaped wooden sculptures: spheres and orbs connected by round poles of wood. They immediately remind you of the ‘ball and sticks’ molecules of chemistry class, but they are also vaguely resembling insects, or weird creatures.

In the middle of this ‘circle’ of sculptures, a big wooden sculpture of a heart. Some people are climbing the structures and sitting down on some of the smaller elevated orbs. Other people are walking through the piece, entering and exiting the big spheres at the ends of the molecule sculptures, on either the outside or the inside of the circle.

You enter one of the spheres and are confronted with an interior that invites you to share your thoughts and feelings dealing with the “joy of love”, directly on the surface of the sphere, with markers that are attached to it on wires. An older man is writing a love poem, while a younger woman is making a drawing of two people lying in bed together. You walk on. In another sphere nearby, you see a group of three middle-aged women looking at the work other people made, on the “serenity” of love. One of them takes one of the markers and writes: “looking in the eyes of my grandchild”. A woman that is not part of the group, standing next to her, looks at what she writes. She smiles and they strike up a conversation.

You meander through the piece for a while, and take a rest in the shadow of the big heart sculpture in the middle. Around you, you see people walking back and forth, children climbing the structures, little groups of people making art and writing things in the spheres, and a couple exiting a sphere, stopping, and giving each other a kiss. You are surround by love. You are in Oxytocin.”


Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to make Oxytocin a reality. Then, in late 2017, the opportunity to go and live in an artist residency at Familia Feliz presented itself. After talks with Juan, the idea to create a derivate installation came into being. Originally, that installation took the concept of the “ball-and-stick” molecules that were part of the Oxytocin design. But instead of forming the amino-acids of the love molecule Oxytocin… the happiness molecule Serotonin was born.


Project adaptation – Serotonin

From the project proposal:

“`Imagine being in the garden of Familia Feliz in Cervera del Maestre. The sun shining from above. People working in the vegetable garden. Some students working on a research project near one of the caravans. And, in front of you, the sculpture garden. Midway on the hill, a big structure, an art installation that reminds you of the ball-and-stick molecules of chemistry class, but different.

Some people are walking around the sculpture, entering and exiting the three bigger spheres that are at the far ends. Others are walking or sitting around the smaller elevated orbs, writing and drawing on small pieces of fabric, and attaching them to the structure. You walk up the hill, enter one of the big spheres, and are confronted with an interior that invites you to add your thoughts and feelings on “Acts of Kindness”. An older man is writing a short poem on a piece of fabric, how others help him in this stage of his life. A younger woman is drawing a picture of a person handing out gifts to children.

You walk on and see that on the smaller orbs there are pieces of fabric, with personal texts and artworks on topics such as “nurture relationships”, “cultivate optimism”, and “commit to your goals”.  In another sphere, you see two middle-aged women looking at the work other people made on “forgiving”. As you walk on, you see more small works on the smaller orbs, on “spirituality” and “savoring joys”. In the last big sphere, you stop, and start working yourself on a little artwork on your thoughts and feelings about “gratitude”.

After a while, you attach your piece of fabric to the piece, and walk out. As you look at the sculpture, the hill, the people in the garden, you appreciate life with a soft, affirming quality. You are surround by happiness. You are in Serotonin.”


Final Form – The Heart Ignited

During 2018 I was working on making Serotonin a reality. For months, I was harvesting canyas, letting them dry and cutting them into different sizes, to create the triangles that would create the ‘geodesic dome’-like structures of the molecule.

In the meantime, life happened, and for a variety of reasons I knew that I was not going to complete the piece before leaving Familia Feliz. I decided to change course once again, and after consulting my dear friend and partner-in-crime Wouter van Rookhuijzen, the idea formed to use the material already prepared, to create a sculpture that used the original idea of the center-piece heart. And so, The Heart Ignited took shape.

In the course of less than three weeks, we improvised with the materials at hand the abstract shape of a heart, and prepared the installation for the burn. What remained, were ashes. Particularly enough, also shaped in the form of a heart… The journey from the concept of Oxytocin, to the modified form of Serotonin, to its final form, was complete.

A week after the burn, a mixed media documentation of the piece, in the form of a video slideshow of photos with a soundtrack of “On Love” by Khalil Gibran, combined with ensos that I had been drawing during the process of creation, were exhibited in the gallery of Familia Feliz.