Farm dreamscapes: Dutch artist lights up leek fields with LED lights


Long after the sun sets on a quiet farm in the Dutch town Lelystad, one of its fields comes to life with a beautiful display of red, blue and ultraviolet LED light beaming across its crop of leeks.

The installation pairing the plants' natural beauty with the futuristic LED show is part of Grow, artist Daan Roosegaarde's latest project intended as an homage to farmers and to inspire them to experiment with artificial light in outdoor farming.

"You know the 16th, 17th (century) painters, the master painters, they were obsessed with the Dutch sky, the clouds and the light," said Roosegaarde, who is known for his art/tech fusion projects, in an interview at his studio in Rotterdam.

"They made thousands of paintings, mastering the technology to paint it. I feel I'm part of that tradition and they painted on canvas and I have my 20,000sq m of crop, of leek."

Using specialised LEDs to assist crops grown in greenhouses has become common, and "vertical" farms in cities grown entirely with LEDs are a new trend.

But Roosegaarde says there is also potential for using LEDs outdoors in rural areas for the same reason: farmers and scientists are still discovering "light recipes" for individual crops and exploring how exposure to red and blue LED lights can influence a plant's growth and characteristics.

LED lights, powered by solar batteries, mostly augment the light the plants receive in the day. But Roosegaarde's project is also testing whether brief exposure to some wavelengths of ultraviolet light could reduce the need for pesticides.

"So we started to scan the plants with these wavelengths of light and then suddenly it started to dance, the light," he said.

"You had these huge fields of fireflies and we were testing it and the magic started kicking in so I think that's when the worlds of science and art and design collide and enhance each other."

Given the global Covid-19 pandemic, a film showing the exhibit has been launched on the studio's website, rather than opening the Lelystad farm to public tours.

But Roosegaarde's goal is to take Grow on the road to 40 different countries, with each installation featuring a local or national crop with its own unique "light recipe". - Reuters

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