Rapenburg Plaza

Q&A: Marc Heinz, Lighting Designer, Canon Exhibition Of The Netherlands

Award-winning lighting designer Marc Heinz has been following his passion for 25 years – a passion that has seen him deliver critically acclaimed designs around the world for a diverse range of clients in music, dance, events, theatre, television, museums and architecture. Recently, he worked with Dutch experience technology company Rapenburg Plaza on the Canon of The Netherlands at the Arnhem Open Air Museum, which tells the story of Dutch history.

Katinka Allender: From a lighting point of view, please describe the project and its objectives. How did you work with Rapenburg Plaza?

Marc Heinz: Two of the big challenges we faced were that, first, the shape of the space meant that there was nowhere – no grid or fixed rail system – to hang the lights.

Second: for the exhibition to really engage and immerse visitors, it had to maintain 100% historical accuracy – meaning that, however we lit the ten different sets, it was imperative that the source of any lighting couldn’t be seen.

We came up with the idea of designing dedicated light clusters above the ten sets, each of which represents a different time period in Dutch history. Our thinking was that, by clustering the lights and hanging them quite high, there would be a good distance between the historical sets and the technical ceiling. Beyond that, we were aiming for a clear light angle for each time period to create, in a theatrically-designed way, ‘natural’ light.

In both preproduction and execution, the Rapenburg Plaza team’s flexibility and willingness to share their experience and expertise with us made them a pleasure to work with.

(c) Mike Bink / Rapenburg Plaza

KA: Can you explain how the lighting requirements differ for fixed installations in comparison with other projects such as big dance festivals, theatre or television? Were there specific challenges or obstacles that needed to be overcome? 

MH: In a project like this, all the positions - light clusters, projection surfaces, projectors, fire extinguishers and so on - have to be determined at a very, very early stage. That’s because, once everything is installed, it’s very difficult - or even completely impossible - to make changes. Because of this, we spent considerable time on drawings, checking angles, choosing the right fixtures - and all of this in relation to the exhibition design.

You also have to obey the rules when it comes to light restrictions concerning the collection: most of the collection is only allowed 50 lux or less.

(c) Mike Bink / Rapenburg Plaza

That’s all very different to lighting design for a dance production, for example. Of course, you don’t have the limitations in terms of lux – but the real difference is that most theatres, studios and venues are equipped for flexible installations: they have, for instance, a grid, trusses, fly bars, hoist systems, power supplies and data connections. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have to do the same preparation for shows - but you have much more flexibility to change things around if necessary when the show goes into production.


(c) Mike Bink / Rapenburg Plaza

KA: How did you build your business into what it is today?  

MH: First of all, by loving the job, and everything about it. I love being creative, and I love working and creating with some really interesting people.  I love working with different people and in different places on each project – and I love working on crazy ideas!

When it comes to working on projects like this one - exhibitions and museum – with Rapenburg Plaza, I think our success comes from our understanding of stage lighting and how it can enhance any scene. That, plus our flexibility and fresh ideas, is what our clients appreciate.

KA: What are the biggest trends in lighting design and production right now?  

MH: Unless you have a collection of pictures by Van Gogh, Rembrandt or Caravaggio - my favourite, by the way – then what most visitors want is to be entertained. More than that, though – they want to be involved, to be engaged, to be a part of the experience. In museums and exhibitions, that’s definitely the trend – and The Canon of the Netherlands is the perfect example of this: an interactive and engaging mix of exhibition and experience.

It’s all about telling a story with a collection of artifacts, multimedia and scenery – and  theatrical lighting design can help create an atmosphere in which the story is enhanced and, can I say, illuminated? 

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