Leiden University: Leiden researchers work on exhibition about growth addiction

Museum De Lakenhal issued an open call for creative solutions to the problem of growth addiction. From over 500 submissions, they selected 15 artworks for the exhibition ‘If things grow wrong’. These include the creations of Leiden researchers Peter van der Putten and Evert Jan van Leeuwen.

The aim of the exhibition is to get us thinking about our own growth addictions. We always want faster, better and more, but what are the consequences of never being satisfied? Different artworks show us what growth addiction does to us humans, and how it impacts the natural world.



Protest letter from the Wadden Sea to the king
It’s the first thing you see: an obelisk-like object that stretches to the ceiling and is decorated with dozens of letters on A4 paper. Its creator, Peter van der Putten, is an assistant professor and researcher at the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science (LIACS). He made Letters from Nature together with artist Jeroen van der Most. Van der Putten: ‘We want nature to have a say about climate change. We used Artificial Intelligence (AI) to write letters from nature to world leaders.’

Given just a starting sentence, the AI language model automatically completed the letter. ‘It’s a way for nature to warn us about the climate crisis. There are international letters but also ones directed at the Netherlands. The melting glaciers write as does the Wadden Sea. The AI makes the letters very diverse. They’re not just protest letters: some are poetic even. Ultimately, it’s to warn us. Nature will survive.’

The true message of adverts
Evert Jan van Leeuwen, a lecturer at the Leiden University Centre for Arts in Society (LUCAS) also contributed to the exhibition. He made the Doublespeak Translator, which reveals the truth behind the adverts. This is shown in different posters and a teaching module. Van Leeuwen: ‘The Doublespeak Translator comes from irritation at adverts. The posters are parodies of adverts. You see ads everywhere nowadays, in all media, but it’s usually cunning lies that play on people’s weaknesses. This is dangerous for young people in particular. They are often more sensitive to adverts, so it’s good if they learn to translate them.’

Evert Jan van Leeuwen didn’t work alone on the project, but also asked students from his master’s course to make a parody poster that reveals the truth behind the advert. These posters can be seen at the exhibition. ‘The students all approached this differently, so the posters are very diverse. But they do have the same goal. We hope that the posters will open people’s eyes.’

The exhibition is at Museum De Lakenhal from 15 October 2021 to 20 February 2022.

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