Posts Tagged 'Rotterdam'

Rotterdam / exhibitions overview review

Vivianne Sassen, Untitled 2004, winner Prix de Rome 2007

The program in Rotterdam looked exciting this month: Prix de Rome (the Dutch Turner Prize), residency artists in Tent, the architecture biennale, Le Corbusier in the Architecture Institute and the graduation exhibitions of the art academy, a short review:

Witte de With Institute / Prix de Rome
Prix de Rome is the biggest art prize in the Netherlands, awarding the best artist under 35 with a loot of EUR 35.000! A promise for a fantastic art experience so I go and check Witte de With first. This year however the prize seems to be the product of an anemic compromise. On the one hand by splitting the exhibition in two, one part in Rotterdam, the other in Amsterdam (this is such a pathetic discussion between the first and second city of Holland). On the other hand by a very politically correct assembling of all disciplines: photography, installation, video, drawing etc.
However, the reason for this years’ mediocre quality could be much darker: the absence of true visionary talents.
Oops! Please proceed to next review.

Tent. / Wrong time, Wrong place
No reason to panic, I move on to Tent, a fresh and dynamic art institute who might have found the solution for the above mentioned problem: import artists! In agriculture we get our season workers from Eastern Europe, as in construction, so why not try the same with artists!
Well… The overview of 21 artists who stayed for a working period in artists residencies in Rotterdam is messy at best, pointless and completely lacking quality at worst.
I’m getting worried! If not abroad either, where else can we find good art?!

Willem de Kooning Academy / graduation show
So I turn my gaze hopeful towards the next and upcoming generation of artists. Unfortunately, no big venue was available for the graduation show this year (funny, ’cause I could think of two -mentioned above – myself). Therefore the art department was presented in their studios. And not for the worse, the exhibition is diverse, fresh and headstrong. The usual pitfall for graduation artists is the cliché, thirteen-in-a-dozen works, which this years students have gracefully avoided. Ruben Dario produced six beautiful photographs of the not-so-sustainable preparations of the next World exhibition nearby Shanghai, Wendy Bos makes small, poetic paintings and I-didn’t-catch-his-name very crafty weird paintings.
Well done guys! Thanks for saving the day!

Le Corbusier and the Architecture Biennale reviews will follow shortly

Rotterdam Biennale / Activism! A better world / NAI

Report #1 on the Architecture Biennale. Last Tuesday I attended one of the lectures accompanying the exhibition ‘A better world’, which involved CUP, FAST and Jeanne van Heeswijk. All were very fascinating, but I’d like to highlight in particular Jeanne van Heeswijks’ Blue House in IJburg, Amsterdam.

Blue House is, needless to say, a blue house and is located in the middle of a newly build suburban nightmare (Vinex areas, as they are called in Dutch, are always erected at once and therefore have a complete lack of history and identity). Van Heeswijk invites people from different disciplines (artists, architects, theorists, writers) to live and work in Blue House and to create a cultural production (and history) in collaboration with residents of IJburg.

What I find fascinating about the project is the way it manages to deal with many of the problems public art faces in my opinion, departing from a basic, primary condition: inhabitation. ‘Being there’ narrows distance towards residents both mentally and physically; guests become temporary community members, which obviously helps when you do community works. It also indicates that the Blue House project has a long-term duration; it will exist for several years and therefore commits itself to making a sustainable change, instead of a hit-and-run scenario, which many desastrous public art projects follow.
Consequently, the project clearly proves that establishing social change and cultural collaboration requires local rooting in the area of conduct.

Sofar, up to 30 people have stayed at in Blue Houseand carried out several art works, community works, discussion, screenings etc. A couple of projects that caught my attention: open-air cinema in the summer, a childrens’ library and a flower stall outside the house (see picture underneath).

Rotterdam / Architecture Biennale / different venues

This week the third Architecture Biennale of Rotterdam has started. This years’ theme is Power – Producing the Contemporary City, which makes me curious, since we’ve dealt with the subject of Empowerment quite much on this weblog. The programme is a jungle of exhibitions, lectures and discussions. I’ve tried to make a shortlist with my personal favourites. Reports and reviews will follow.


Five teams of architects and theorists have researched fourteen cities and came up with proposals for possible futures and answers to problems that will emerge there. The exhibition is curated by the Berlage Institute and involves – among many others – Supersudaca, about whom I wrote this post.

Shows the work of groups of architects and artists who, in their practice, are not interested in defining just the form of a building, but rather in stimulating collective processes, spontaneous creativity and activism in order to incite a new political role for architecture.
– From the biennale website

The Istrike foundation is organising a series of lectures, workshops and presentations at Stichting B.A.D. The events aim at developing new social and architectural strategies for the Charlois neighbourhood, recently labelled by the government as one of the ‘problem districts’ of Rotterdam.
Involves lectures from Jeanne van Heeswijk, Daniel van der Velden, Stealth, Siebe Thissen and others.


  • Open! Strategies for a better world – NAI – 28 May

multi-table debate involving our own Point of View contributor Francesca Recchia and furthermore Ana Dzokic (Stealth Unlimited), Zvi Efrat, Jeanne van Heeswijk, Dennis Kaspori, Matthias Pauwels (Bavo) and more.

  • Cultural Empowerment – NAI – 01 Jun

Lecture by Peter Sellars

  • Public/Private Power: Publieke ruimte en private krachten – 7 June, 17:30

Private sector developers seek involvement in public space. What are the opportunities and responsibilities for commercial property and land developers, builders and others in shaping the public spaces of the city?
With a.o. Hamit Karakus (Alderman, Housing/Spatial Planning, Rotterdam), Astrid Sanson (direcor, City & Housing Development, dS+V), Rudy Stroink (director TCN Property Projects), Margriet Drijver (board, Com.Wonen)
In Dutch

Rotterdam / WWII memorial – Brandgrens / Jeroen Everaert

Last night Rotterdam memorised the WWII bombardments during which the entire city centre was destroyed. This year artist Jeroen Everaert made a temporary public art work to put extra attention to this past tragedy.

The work consisted of 127 gigantic light beams that lit the sky for four hours and marked the edge of the area ( brandgrens ) that was bombed. Despite its overwhelming beauty (enhanced by the magical music performed in the city, which could be heard throughout the entire centre), I could not oversee the resemblance with one of the most famous Albert Speer works. As state architect during the nazi regime, he designed a light sculpture notoriously known as the ‘cathedral of light’ for one of the Nuremberg party rallies (see last picture underneath). For these resemblances, a couple of years ago the organisation of the Love parade in Berlin was refused to make a similar light installation.

Nonetheless, despite the striking resemblance, we are artists and therefore tend to become completely blinded to any of such unethical or immoral implications the moment we see something beautiful (which I would say is the obvious flaw in human nature that Speer gratefully abused in his nazi works, a strategy a.k.a. as propaganda).

Uncanny implications or not, last night… standing underneath the brightly lit sky… and today, when I look back at beautiful pictures…
I yield.

All photos by Oscar Langerak (except the ‘cathedral of light’) 


Rotterdam / Detroit / London – Public art projects

The above postcard was found in a pile of second hand stuff at this years’ Queensday market and it depicts the completion of the Maashaven subway station. The back side euphorically announces: Rotterdam has its own subway!

The postcard and the announcement hold a ‘promesse de bonheur’ – coined by Stendhal, indicating how beauty in art holds a ‘promise of happiness’ – a promise which goes for modernist architecture just the same. Thirty years later though the station is worn down, depressing and one of the most dangerous areas in the South district (hitting rock bottom a couple of years ago when a child was killed afterhe threw a snow ball at a car). Now I don’t want to blame the subway line altogether, nonetheless, it’s sad to see how architecture and technology can have tendency to look more at itself than at its surroundings and users.

It reminds me of an article I read in the last issue of the Dutch art magazine Metropolis M about the exhibition ‘Shrinking cities’, about the ways in which artists respond to this phenomenon. The article focuses, obviously, on the shrinking cities’ ambassador: Detroit, formerly known as Motown (until the entire car industry went bankrupt). Setting another sad example of the broken dreams and promises of technology, Detroit lost half of its population over the last decades and has an entirely abandoned city center (it is said that some office buildings have trees growing inside them). One of the works in the exhibition is the project Object Orange by artists’ collective DDD. To convince the city to tear down abandoned houses, they painted around twenty of them entirely orange. A project which reminds me of the Rotterdam artist Florentijn Hofman who did a similar project in blue, painting an entire housing block (and actually painted night club Nighttown in orange as well during the European championships).

They are small, artistic contributions to improvement and hold a ‘promesse de bonheur’ far more realistic than the architecture itself. Nonetheless, the paint merely covers the surface and fails to address the economic and social issues that caused the problems first of all. I’m not nagging! I think it is a serious problem and to emphasise it, I would like to mention the project House, by Rachel Whiteread. It’s one the most famous public art projects and Whiteread won the prestigious Turner Award with it. However, despite its effort to issue economic problems in the neighbourhood, it didn’t receive the same honours in the area. It was severely vandalised and inhabitants of the neighbourhood protested and demanded the art piece to be taken down (a petition signed by 3.500 inhabitants!). A bitter irony, because ultimately there’s a very thin line between the failing of the architecture and the art that criticises it.

Rotterdam / MSLM Magazine & exhibition

MSLM: An exhibition and publication or magazine (hopefully the latter) that started off last friday. Dealing with fashion for and by Muslim women, the organisation succeeds at emancipation and positive image-building of Muslim women. However, they face a couple of possible pitfalls as well.

First of all: at last an exhibition at artists’-run space Mama that is worthwhile and takes up a subject that truly matters. After the gradual departure of its founding members, one of the most unique and innovative art spaces in Rotterdam slowly turned bleach by piling up one pointless exhibition after the other. MSLM takes up Mamas’ former street credibility and sense of momentum and adds a portion of biting political relevance.

In the public debate the headscarf that Muslim women wear has turned into a symbol of suppression of women and Islam fundamentalism. MLSM magazine and the accompanying exhibition strongly and very convincingly create an opposite image: that of a young Muslim woman who is self-confident and self-determined; who self-consciously puts on her headscarf and proudly wears it as both fashion item or accessory, and as signifier of her identity. MSLM proves the headscarf is mysterious, concealing, fashionable, seducing and very female, furthermore, it makes the user stand out as an individual.

Nonetheless, the organisers face some complicated issues. Despite the fact that the entire editorial team is comprised of young, female Muslims, the editor-in-chief is Dutch and not Muslim. She deserves all credits for pulling off a fantastic job and putting the issue on the map – the exhibition was on national news, front page news in the largest news papers and as such successful in putting Muslim women positively in the public debate. Nevertheless I wonder if the organisers should have put themselves in another position as such. For instance as initiators and project leaders and rather leave the entire editorship to Muslim women.
This is essential, because similar to the freedom of choice of wearing a headscarf, Muslim women should also be entirely in charge themselves in deciding how they are being presented. A final – and necessary – step the organisation needs to take towards complete emancipation.

Finally, my favourite piece in the exhibition: a video by Nicole Martens who filmed women one-on-one putting on their headscarfs. She lays focus on the pride and self-consciousness of the act, and puts the person who is putting it on in the center: a free and self-determined individual.

More on the magazine, check the website of Studio beige who did the better-than-vogue design
Until 10 June at Mama, Witte de Withstraat 29-31

Rotterdam / Joost Conijn / Museum Boijmans van Beuningen

Why would anyone want to put a gate in the middle of an empty desert? Why build a timber car (which runs on wood) and embark on an Eastern European odyssey? Why would anyone want to do that?!

One dimension of the works of Dutch artist Joost Conijn is his manual labour: he has hand-build a car, an airplane and an automatic gate in the desert. It reminds me of the wonders of the industrial age: the beauty of an engine; the magic of a flying machine. This technique however isn’t an end in itself. It’s much rather the starting point for the art works Conijn produces with them.

I think these machines much rather function as ‘social tools’, vehicles that enable encounters and interaction. Wood Car is presented as a video that documents a journey through Eastern Europe; C’est une hek (It’s a gate) documents his journey through Marocco, where he builds a gate in the middle of the desert. Metaphorically speaking: it’s not the car, but the journey; it’s not the machine, but what it allows you to do with it.
Moreover, his alien devices force Conijn to step out of his point of view and into others’. The technique becomes an invented language that allows him to communicate with people he encounters. This is what I value most about Conijn’s work: his ability to find methods and instruments that enable him to step over artistic and cultural borders. Beyond these frontiers, Conijn goes where no artist has boldly gone before, which renders his work with an open and unpredictable character.

Joost Conijn’s work is on display in Museum Boijmans van Beuningen until the 6th of May.

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