“ICON Brussels” Founder Talks Life, Arts, Technology and the Intersection of the Three
“Brussels”, says Ken Christiaens, when asked what geographical location formed him into an artist and an educator. Antwerp-born, Christiaens opened his education- and research centre ‘ICON Brussels’ in April 2015, after a short stint in the sound design and video engineering business, followed by a decade-long career in sound engineering and art education.
His evolution into the ‘art+tech education world’ was more organic than intentional. “I have always been fond of arts, newest technologies and science”, says Ken, “but it’s my time at the RITCS film school, that mostly made me realise that I could start shaping my own world. Before that, I didn’t get in touch with artists. Brussels suddenly felt as the only place in Belgium, where I could feel a sense of being home. Up until this day I have that, much more than I have it in the Antwerp area, where I currently reside”.
Transformation is a process, and as life happens there are tons of ups and downs. Ken like most of us went through good times and hard times. From a relentless rebel teenager that got kicked out of his prep school, enfant terrible in filmschool, a composer that dug deep in his artistic identity to the extent of getting a nervous breakdown, a world traveller, an adept of hypnosis and an art teacher to kids, he arrived to his dream project “ICON Brussels” to share it with all, applying all of his best qualities, inner peace and the joy of life.
“ICON Brussels”, a Belgian research and innovation centre for Art and Contemporary Technology, offers a unique opportunity to study a wide-range of subjects in an intensive format and within an international group setting. The center offers a platform for creatives, product developers, high-tech professionals and enthousiasts to connect, think and create innovative services or products with a distinct creative, problem-solving or community-enhancing goal.
Ken is brushing his hand across the top of his head, and talking serenely. He is humble and impeccably mannered, with frowns of attention and apologies for circumstances, and he seems to extend this tone to everyone—including, presumably, the artistic crew of his school. “ICON Brussels” collaborates with local and international artists and teachers to conduct inspiring workshops in the very heart of Europe. “With workshop attendees from all segments of the artistic and technological industries and phases of life and career, we are challenged each season to develop a lineup of educators whose stories and messages will resonate with all,” he confesses. “This summer season, we have a great combination of teachers and topics that I know will be both entertaining and memorable. Virtual Reality course with Fabien Benetou; Ableton: Electronic Music Composition with Pascal Oorts; After FX: Motion Graphic technique with Greg McGrew; 3D Print: Creating your own Design with Pieter Coussement; Indesign: Layout for Booklets & Flyers with Karel De Cock; Arduino: building an IoT-lamp with Hugo Herter; and my course on Creative Film/Videomaking”.
During its first year since ICON Brussels opened, Christiaens has continually honed his entrepreneurial acumen to keep the project developing. He scours the online libraries and books at night, looking for unique topics and practical knowledge to bring to clients on his workshops. “Every growing step for ICON gives me inner joy, contrary to the feelings of exhaustion and despair that often lay next to it. What I learned is that there’s a major difference in teaching different age groups. Youngsters are more about having a healthy group dynamic, making sure no one is excluded and learning in a playful way. Teaching adults brings the responsibility of knowing the matter by heart, deliver it flawlessly, timingly and effectively.
Another thing that keeps the project thrive is passion and open-heart attitude, which pervades Ken’s work. “Human relations are more important to me than art and technology. These last 2 are means of expressing oneself indirectly. Sharing thoughts and feelings is much more straightforward to me. That’s why I love teaching and started an educational and research centre. Interaction on any level you could say”.
Film and music has always been an important part of Ken’s life and artistic work. After graduation as a director from the RITCS-filmschool, he mainly pushed his career as a sounddesigner/composer/AV-engineer for some renowned (post)production facilities like Studio Moliere and Vidisquare, working on films, publicity and technical installations. “All I do as an artist is the utmost and honest translation of my inner feelings towards the outside world into a form that aims to be as universally attractive as can be, while staying true to the self. I believe strongly in detachment (as much as you can) from all worldly things and prejudices. For me, everything connects through energy, so my only concern is to unlock it from anything that is surrounding me and making sure it doesn’t get obstructed. This way things happen by itself.”
Answering the question on what inspires him to constantly push boundaries in everything he does, Ken says: “On the first place, life itself. For most part, it shaped me to who I am right now. Also, my main influences that I chose and studied consciously: David Lynch, Orbital, Death in Vegas, Kraftwerk, Neu, Hans-Joachim Roedelius & Milton Erickson”.
By Marina Kazakova
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