Guests wait in line to experience “Silent Room” on the embassy grounds on January 28.

By Annabelle Zandbergen
Public Diplomacy, Press and Culture, Royal Netherlands Embassy

Where do you find silence? Not the kind of hushed quiet you find in a library, but the actual meaning of “silence.” The absence of sound. Does such a place exist?

The Netherlands Embassy in Washington, D.C. recently offered such a place through a piece of art. Inside “Silent Room,” visitors enjoyed a moment without any noise earlier this week, a rare experience in our present-day world that never stands still.

Dutch artist Simon Heijdens, known for his projection works of living digital organisms, like “Tree” and “Lightweeds,” made the interactive artwork.

At first sight, “Silent Room” seems to be nothing more than a 40-foot-long black shipping container. Although its size is impressive, its simplicity makes you wonder what makes it worth a visit.

According to Heijdens, that is the reason people should go inside. In discussing the motivation behind his creation, he said, “The room becomes as interesting as the person itself that’s in it.”

Image courtesy of the artist. Silent Room, Simon Heijdens 2016.

More than 150 people visited ‘‘Silent Room’’ over the course of the week. Curious visitors were waiting in line to find out what this silence did to their own mind and senses.

Given that the embassy is off the beaten track in Northwest Washington, it is remarkable that so many people took the effort to enjoy the artwork. To some degree, it might also indicate the desire of people to step out of their hectic day for a short period of time.

The time people spent in silence varied. Some came out the room after a minute, and felt like they had been in there much longer. Others stayed in the room for more than five minutes, and could have stayed longer.

“I wish more times in my life were that quiet,” one guest told an embassy staff member when emerging from “Silent Room” after for several minutes.

Most people found “Silent Room” to be “quiet and peaceful.” The most humorous reaction came from a mother of two. “I want this in my room,” she laughed while explaining that she sometimes uses her walk-in closet to escape her two teens.

Some visitors also became aware of the noises their bodies make. “I discovered that I have a very mild ringing in my ears at all times that I have never noticed,” one guest said.

“Silent Room” was designed for the 2016 South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. Since the exhibition of the art was such a success, plans are in the works to exhibit it in Times Square in New York.

One can only imagine what the effects of “Silent Room” will have in the city that never sleeps.