Invisible cities


Describing Endora is like dancing without music
– Gilbert Grape

Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam — Yesterday evening I dusted off the video case of What’s eating Gilbert Grape. In the opening sequence the protagonist, the young man Gilbert Grape, tries to describe the small town he is living in: ‘a place where nothing much ever happens’. Despite the absence of music, the quote above could have a very positive reading: Endora as fine place to dance, slowly and in silence.


Today I’m in the train to Venlo, a small town where my parents live. On the way I pass a little village, Deurne. The train stops at a non-existing station consisting of one concrete platform, a ticket machine and an abandoned gas station – the ‘S’ fell off the sign: ES O – and I realise that I may be in love with Endora.

Venlo, for sure, is one of the reason for that. Or rather, the surrounding villages, the town itself is just a little bit too big and actually does have music: the Splinter, my old hang-out where, during my teenage years, I would head bang my long hair on angry music of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and other grunge noise (barely ‘dancing’ now I come to think of it). No, in Venlo I miss one essential quality of the small town: the ability to look through the in between spaces of houses and see crop lands, fields or forest.

That is a particular quality you could find in Ganzedijk, a tiny small town in the north of the Netherlands which was saved last week from being wiped off the map, or, as politicians rhetorically labeled it, ‘returned to nature’. In an interview one of the 15o inhabitants describes how over time facilities gradually disappeared: the public phone booth, the mailbox and the rain shelter at the bus stop. Semi-public companies had slowly turned down the volume until the music had disappeared altogether. Ganzedijk had slipped into non-existence from the eyes of the ever-expanding urban centres.


The Swedish artist Jonas Dahlberg discussed this process of dissapearance in his project ‘Invisible cities’ which consists, among other works, out of a beautiful series of photographs of houses in which Dahlberg took out all windows and doors. His invisible cities are numb, deaf, anonymous and generic. They beautifully describe how such towns can become exchangeable.

Nevertheless, the works lack one quality which makes small towns such wonderful, peaceful places to be at: his invisible cities are lifeless, they lack dancing without music.

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