Untitled, Inspectorate for Consumer Goods, Zwijndrecht (NL), 2003 pijl

Untitled, Inspectorate for Consumer Goods, Westelijke Parallelweg 4, Zwijndrecht (NL), 2003
Commissioned by: Rijksgebouwendienst (Dutch Government Buildings Agency)
Material: polystyrene balls, sand, glue; 8 x 4 x 2 m
Photos: Mels van Zutphen

'Things are not always what they seem'; that must be the motto for anyone who works at the Inspectorate for Consumer Goods. Apparently clean objects can harbour a disgusting world of bacteria, moulds and other worrying organisms that can pose a threat to public health. 'Things do not always resemble what they are' could be Tanja Smeets' motto, and so she was a perfect match for the commission to create a sculpture for the new building of the Inspectorate for Consumer Goods in Zwijndrecht. The building is a stack of semi-transparent cubes, ideally suited to a large amorphous sculpture that appears to eat its ways from floor to floor: 'I wanted to make something that evoked an accumulation of micro-organisms, so the components had to be small. I chose polystyrene balls with a diameter of 3 to 12 centimetres. The balls are impregnated with a flame-retardant material and sprayed with a mixture of sand and glue. They are mounted on a metal frame. Together they form the 'hand of God', as it were, which effortlessly permeates floors and walls and attacks the brand-new building like an assassin.'

The sculpture is eight metres high. It descends from the third floor, through two storeys, ending at the ceiling of the ground floor. At two points on its path, it penetrates the glazed panels of the atrium, attaching itself to the blinds. Because the sculpture was built and finished on site, it really appears to flow through the building.

Something's skulking where it doesn't belong...
Nothing really is what it appears to be. It is the starting point of the inspectors working at the Inspectorate for Consumer Goods. Under seemingly 'clean' surfaces, they discover the repugnant world of bacteria, fungi and other horrific elements that could endanger public health.

Visual artist Tanja Smeets used this theme for the work she realized in the new offices of the Inspectorate for Consumer Goods in Zwijndrecht. Further inspiration came from sci-fi films such as Terminator 2, in which peril takes the form of a liquid aluminum entity that can walk straight through closed doors and other obstacles. This is where she got the idea to have an amorphous figure infiltrate the building of the Inspectorate. The staggering floors in the new building were perfectly suited for such a sculpture.

The result is an 8-meter tall grey organism that permeates walls, ceilings and floors. The sculpture consists of a hand, situated on the third floor, the fingers off which penetrate two floors like clouds of dust and end up in bulges that are suspended from the ceiling on the first floor. The fingers move outside through the windows of the atrium in two places. There they are suspended from the strips in the window panes. Because of the transparent architecture, the sculpture offers different perspectives, depending on the angle from which it is viewed.