New media artist Jonas Denzel explores his projection mapping practice

“For me, an important part of artmaking is to involve the audience within the artwork. I think interaction is becoming more important than ever before.” These are the words of Jonas Denzel, a new media artist from Germany who focuses on creating large-scale projection mapping works in public spaces. They range widely in their topics and inspirations, but are generally site-specific and respond to the architecture that they are mapped over.

explore at Art on theMART, Chicago, USA, 2022 Video: Jonas Denzel, Courtesy of Art on theMART

One of the artist’s grander offerings was the award-winning beatlights, a project that saw him undertake a projection mapping intervention at the Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest, Romania. The project invited audience interaction and used the clapping of hands to manifest various shapes and colours across the walls of the building. These patterns were accompanied by a collage of sounds that came together to create a rhythmic beat. explore was another such performance wherein Denzel involved his audience within the work, and was cast over the walls of theMART, Chicago, and also resulted in a symphony of tapping and clapping.

‘The Shape of Sound’, Neues Bauhaus Museum, Weimar, Germany, 2019 | Jonas Denzel | STIRworld
The Shape of Sound at Neues Bauhaus Museum, Weimar, Germany, 2019 Image: Henry Sowinski, Courtesy of Genius Loci Weimar

Denzel emphasises the importance of sound in his new media art practice, explaining that it enhances the interactivity of his projects. He tells STIR, “I work with field recordings in many of my large-scale projection mappings. This means that I use actual sounds, drawn from the building that I am projecting onto. I knock, rub, and play rhythms on the building, and then the sound artist Sören Schaudel collects these, putting them together to create a rousing musical composition. As a result, the final work is not just visually adapted to the structure, but sonically as well.”

beatlights at iMapp, Bucharest, 2021 Video: Jonas Denzel and Sören Schaudel, Courtesy of Genius Loci Weimar

Denzel studied film and media arts at Temple University in Philadelphia, in the United States, and received his Master’s degree with honours, in time-based media from the Hochschule Mainz in Germany. Between these qualifications, he spent time at the highly regarded ZKM Center for Art and Media, in Karlsruhe, Germany. With due consideration to the importance of beat-making in his craft, Denzel expresses a longstanding appreciation of music and sound art and says that he feels a great inflow of inspiration while playing the drums in particular. Projection mapping would find its way into the artist’s toolkit during his studies in media art, and his first formal usage of the medium was with the work hands-on in 2018, which already displayed a preoccupation with human hands. This project entailed an interactive projection mapping show for the castle façade at Schlosslichtspiele in Karlsruhe. Since then the artist has been combining sound, visuals, and interactivity to enthrall audiences in locations around the world.

‘beambike projection’ at a container port, Karlsruhe, Germany, 2021 | Jonas Denzel | STIRworld
beambike projection at a container port, Karlsruhe, Germany, 2021 Image: Jonas Denzel

Denzel discusses the breadth of his digital art practice, telling STIR: “I do often work on large-scale projection mappings, for example at iMapp Bucharest last year, but I also enjoy working on smaller surfaces as well.” In order to enhance smaller-scale projects, the artist developed beambike, a converted bicycle with built-in projection gear that makes it possible to screen performances on the go. The artist has used it to project on surfaces as small as bus stops and tree trunks; a far cry from his work on theMART for example, which is one of the largest commercial buildings in the world. Denzel expands on his intent with beambike, saying: “I like to explore abandoned places such as industrial areas, construction sites, and derelict urban spaces, along with natural environments like forests and parks. There are almost no creative limitations to projection mapping, and that’s what makes the medium so fascinating for me.”

‘blickpunkt’ at Zauberwald, Lenzerheid, Switzerland, 2021 | Jonas Denzel | STIRworld
blickpunkt at Zauberwald, Lenzerheid, Switzerland, 2021 Image: Jonas Denzel

The digital artist begins each project undertaking with a site visit to get a feel for the scale and proportions of his “canvas”, along with the physical ambience of the surrounding area. The artist also takes a particular interest in exploring the buildings in the vicinity in order to develop a relationship with their ambient sounds. These are gathered and fed back as the bedrock for the audio component of his projects.

‘Ballet of the Cities’, Temeswar RO, 2023, Jonas Denzel, Staatsballet Karlsruhe and UNESCO creative cities of media arts | Jonas Denzel | STIRworld
Ballet of the Cities at Temeswar RO, 2023, Jonas Denzel, Staatsballet Karlsruhe and UNESCO creative cities of media arts Image: Jonas Denzel

It is unprecedented for projection mapping practices to involve their audiences in the manner that Denzel’s does, and the artist has achieved great recognition for his efforts in this regard. For example, the aforementioned beatlights was the 2021 winner at iMapp, Bucharest, which is the world’s largest projection mapping festival. Another work by Denzel, The Shape of Sound, won from among around 100 submissions at Genius Loci festival in Weimar.

Portrait photograph of Jonas Denzel, 2021 | Jonas Denzel | STIRworld
Portrait photograph of Jonas Denzel, 2021 Image: Tim Kaun

As the particular segment of new media art associated with projection mapping and its manifold possibilities continues to grow, we can be certain that Denzel will be among its foremost practitioners, and shall continue to push audience interaction to the forefront of his craft while he creates mesmerising, publicly accessible works across the scale.

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