Lonely Planet Writer

These Dutch woods are hosting a magical, twinkling art installation

A unique installation has opened in a forest in Drenthe, the Netherlands for the winter months that features over 1000 LED lights that communicate wirelessly and lead visitors along a magical, tree-lined path.

Pixi features 1,250 responsive LED lights mounted to trees in a forest in Drenthe.
Pixi features 1250 responsive LED lights mounted to trees in a forest in Drenthe. Image by Knelis

Created by Groningen-based artist collective WERC, Pixi is inspired by complex patterns that exist in nature, such as flocks of birds and schools of fish. Located at the Buitencentrum Boomkroonpad Staatsbosbeheer, the lights are programmed to react to each other and to visitors, and have been labelled a “digital organism” by the designers. “The pixies are the closest we could get, when using digital technology that still has natural behaviour. There are 1250 little robots with lights in the forest that together create a behaviour. Yet the experience remains subtle and in tune with its surroundings. They need each other to function and they are programmed and designed on an individual level with the flock in mind. This means we were unable to design the flock itself, we as designers did not know what was going to happen once they were grouped in the forest,” Olav Huizer of WERC told Lonely Planet Travel News.

The lights are programmed to react to each other and to visitors, and have been labelled a “digital organism” by the designers.
The lights are programmed to react to each other and to visitors and have been labelled a “digital organism” by the designers. Image by Knelis

Each Pixi contains a pulsating light, and when viewed in small groups, no discernible pattern can be noticed. However, looking at the group from a larger distance, the connections in the flock become clear and visible. Developed at the Welcome to the Village festival in Leeuwarden, the Drenthe Province first learned about its existence through the innovation programme Innofest, and the organisation Staatsbosbeheer teamed up with WERC in order to find a  suitable environment in the area to house the piece. To help make the choice, biologists and nature lovers were asked for advice and an independent agency performed ecological tests. As the installation was constructed and installed, trials were conducted to determine how Pixi influences the environment. Variables such as light intensity, colour, and placement of the installation have been adjusted to minimise any disturbance to nature. The light installation is asleep during the day and is only activated when a visitor picks up a special Pixi lantern to take it into the woods.

“It is not a usual thing to see while walking through a forest at night. It brings you closer to yourself and to nature. You feel taken by the hand and led through the forest. We see people sharing our fascination once it becomes clear that the pixies are really responding to them and it’s not a pre-programmed show,” Olav said.

The installation was tested to ensure it has the lowest possible risk of disturbing local wildlife.
The installation was tested to ensure it has the lowest possible risk of disturbing local wildlife. Image by Sander Van der Bij

The Pixi installation opens from October to December every year on Wednesday and Fridays. More information is available at the official WERC website.