It was the talk of the town in Sint-Truiden, a town in the province of Limburg. A giant chandelier, weighing over 1000 kilos hovered in mid-air in front of the Sint-Trudo hospital, suspended by a giant crane. For seven days and seven nights in mid-May, the chandelier stayed in place, marvelled at by thousands of people. They were witnessing the latest work of art by local artist Tom Herck (35), called ‘The message is light’.
The installation piece by Herck is meant as a tribute to everyone affected by the corona outbreak. From rescue workers to postmen, and from cashiers to factory workers. And, most of all: to health professionals, which is why the chandelier was placed in front of the Sint-Trudo hospital. “Because the battle is extreme here”, the artist comments.
The installation consisted of a colossal chandelier in three tiers, measuring 6 meters in diameter and 4,50 meters in height. The chandelier carried 33 letterboxes, each with a candle attached. “The letterboxes were literally filled with hope,” Herck explains. “People could leave support messages on social media and email, and I printed these out and ‘posted’ the messages into the letterboxes.” On the last night of the project, the candles were lit, and the next day all the letters were taken out of the letterboxes and delivered at the hospital.
Tom Herck was born in Sint-Truiden and the fact that the province of Limburg is one of the hardest hit by the pandemic has saddened and inspired him. “I wanted to create a monumental work to support us in these times of uncertainty and loss”, Herck says. “And I feel an emotional connection with the Sint-Trudo hospital, because my mother has worked there all her life, and also spent her last days in the hospital.”
Herck explains what the symbolism behind ‘The message is light’ means. Lighting candles is a universal ritual that people perform in order to find solace or ask for support. Light chases darkness away and brings hope. Why there are 33 letterboxes? Because the number 33 coincides with the number of vertebrae in the human body. He explains: “The vertrebrae protect the spinal cord and carry our weight. And the healthcare sector and all on the front lines of the fight against corona are the backbone of our times.”
A final bit of symbolism: the three tiers of the chandelier are spaced exactly 1,50 metres apart, as a reference to social distancing.
Tom Herck’s has gained fame and notoriety with his installation artworks that have occasionally triggered heated debates and controversy. In 2019, he displayed a crucified cadaver of a cow in a church in Kuttekoven, with the title ‘Holy Cow’. This led to protests outside the church and even acts of vandalism by a 67-year old catholic priest.
Visit Tom Herck’s website