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Why is De Stijl still important today for such diverse cultural fields as art, design, architecture and digital media, which have each developed or founded their own cultures, economies, traditions, jargons and canons in the intervening century? One of the most powerful lessons we may take from De Stijl is its rejection of the distinctions between these disciplines. The founders of De Stijl believed that a common ethos and understanding of the moment as a decisive fulcrum — politically, technologically, and socially — could guide all forms of material and visual culture, from advertising to urbanism. In particular, the idea of art as something separate from the surface of everyday life was broken down. As Van Doesburg wrote in his 1926 manifesto “The End of Art”, “Let’s refresh ourselves with things that are not Art: the bathroom, the W.C., the bathtub, the telescope, the bicycle, the automobile, the subways, the flat-iron…Art, whose function nobody knows, hinders the function of life. For the sake of progress we must destroy Art.” On the other hand, the Austrian artist Raoul Hausmann’s 1918 text “Synthetic Cinema of Painting" showed the voracity of artists for new technologies, especially film.

Spatial Composition in Red, Blue and Yellow by Studio Sabine Marcelis

An interdisciplinary understanding of fine arts, popular culture and multivalent design practices is reflected in this installation and the process of its creation. In 2017 EYE International and the Netherlands Film Fund collaborated with Het Nieuwe Instituut to create a Dutch Pavilion inspired by De Stijl at the Cannes Film Festival. The designer Sabine Marcelis (born in the Netherlands, raised in New Zealand, and now based in Rotterdam) was chosen for the commission based on her extensive investigation of colour, light, geometry and space since her studio’s foundation in 2011. Here, she has reinterpreted Mondrian’s iconic painting Composition in Red, Blue and Yellow (1930) as a three-dimensional experience. In this space, black lines become thin structural elements, and rectangles of colour are extruded into volumetric forms. As in Mondrian’s paintings, the black lines structure the empty white space with a unique rhythm, while the red, blue and yellow fields highlight points of focus to invest the space with meaning.

Yet Marcelis’ installation also reveals many evolutions in architecture, design and film that have taken place in the last century. Her coloured prisms appear solid when seen from the front, but break down into transparent planes with gradients of colour when viewed from different angles. Marcelis’ work shows the significance of craft and material experimentation in contemporary design. At the same time, the collaboration with EYE International and the Netherlands Film Fund points to the renewed relevance of design for a screen-mediated culture. Marcelis revives the avant-garde spirit of De Stijl by dissolving the barriers between the creative fields of design, architecture, film, art and experience, and proves that deep collaboration between these disciplines is the path to visual, technological and cultural innovation in the present day.

Spatial Composition in Red, Blue and Yellow by Sabine Marcelis was commissioned by Het Nieuwe Instituut in collaboration with EYE International and the Netherlands Film Fund. It was first presented at the Dutch Pavilion in the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, where it was awarded the Special Jury Prize.