Sunshine pours through the skylight of the former parking garage for ambulances in the Tarwewijk. This elongated renovated workspace is the new place for Nicole Driessens and Ivo van den Baar. Under the name Wandschappen (the design label of Driessens & Van den Baar), the big plant objects made of felt, which gained them fame in the international design world, are prominent in their new studio.
Above all, the artist duo Driessens & Van den Baar want to relate to the art world. The objects and installations that they make are independent projects, using Charlois for inspiration. More than twenty-five years ago the duo specifically picked this part of town to settle in. After graduating school in Brabant, they moved to Rotterdam-Zuid because there were workspaces available and the working environment was stimulating.
Driessens & Van den Baar projects originate from local daily observations. Also Cityscapes – seen in the Van Leeuwen recycling shack during Charlois Speciaal – is based on the Charlois urban landscape. The installation was inspired by the large amount of household objects that are found piled on the curb each week in Charlois. This street waste has become part of the streetscape and it says something about the area. Ivo: ‘Charlois is the gateway to Rotterdam for people from all around the world. If there are problems somewhere or wars, you notice it in Charlois. People continually moving in and out and leaving their belongings on the sidewalk says something not only about Charlois but also about what is happening in the world’.
Driessens & Van den Baar were looking for a way to give meaning to this scene. One and half months long they photographed the temporary heaps of tables, beds, rugs, kitchen utensils, and clothing. Out of the more than three hundred shots, they chose four on the basis of shape and colour and blew them up. Nicole: ‘The piles of waste are ready-mades. By drawing attention to them and taking them out of context, they take on a different meaning. Just by the way the household garbage is left, is interesting to observe: did the people leave in a hurry, what did they leave behind, why is it stored neatly in bundles?’.
In addition to the four large photographs, the Cityscapes installation comprises cut-out-limestone patterns and felted items. The photos presented in such a way so that each one gives the viewer the feeling of being in another room. A second layer in this work is the translation of a flat image to paper pattern pieces, a literal translation of the patterns of movement and lifestyles of the people who have left their belongings behind. The pictures are covered with pattern pieces. A third layer is the transposition of the pattern pieces into abstract, amorphous felted objects. Finally, each felt object corresponds to a photograph. ‘The outcome even surprised us. In that sense it is anti-design. There was no design draft at the start.’
Driessens and Van den Baar have the reputation of making engaging art. Ivo thinks that the influence of artists in society is limited. Ivo: ‘We can’t solve problems. We can only tell something about a situation through images. We make things explicit but we do not pretend to fix anything. ‘
In an interview in 2013 about the absence of history in rapidly growing cities in Asia, America and Europe, architect Rem Koolhaas pointed out: ‘The fact that human growth is exponential implies that the past will at some point become too small to inhabit (…)’. The German artist Antje Guenther responded using text and images in her project ‘The future is too empty to inhabit’ to explore the way in which cities are formed. Starting point for her project is the building de Rotterdam on the Wilhelminapier by Rem Koolhaas.
Guenther came to live in Charlois in 2014 just when this colossal building was completed. She was intrigued by the building and had just finished a look into the chaotic potential of a grid, using a.o. Koolhaas’s Delirious New York for reference. It appeared to her that the architect of De Rotterdam – although it is a very sculptural building - was only interested in its façade, in the iconic function of the building. It displays itself to the north side of the city while its entrance is on the south side. At the same time the interior of the building is not accommodating to the users. What does this say about the attitude of the architect and his vision about urbanism?
The way in which architects determine how public spaces are going to look like is part of Guenther’s fascination for cities. She studied photography and fine arts in Leipzig and Karlsruhe and wandered into Rotterdam, a city where she felt a connection. Like Leipzig – also a worker’s city - Rotterdam felt comfortable. After the wall fell and heavy industry left, Leipzig grew into another city with nice little café’s and eateries. It’s become a hip place. Guenther sees this development also in Rotterdam. That the South is still less defined makes it more interesting for her.
THE FUTURE IS TOO EMPTY TO INHABIT is made up of 8 banners. Four photo’s and four texts merge into a comment about the development of social politics and the way in which public spaces are dominated by ‘star’ architects, glass skyscrapers (who is watching who?), and control in the public arena (who is watching us?). The texts refer to the Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (and the influence this book has had on generations of architects) and the game of Tetris (‘all you have to know is that it’s just a cheap office building’).
The banners are hung up at strategic public places. In this way Guenther claims a community spot, just like architects and city planners. Because the back of the Rotterdam faces south, the banners will be places on the south side only. It is an experiment with how text and photography can be applied in open spaces. Also people who are not used to looking at art can see it. You just have to take a moment to look.
THE FUTURE IS TOO EMPTY TO INHABIT can be seen at different locations around the Maashaven, overlooking De Rotterdam.
On March 19, 2016, 200 people hiked along one straight long line directly through the open spaces and private yards of the Tarwewijk. The group went through front doors and out backdoors into the neighbours yard on the following street. The continuous line included schools, churches, homes and gardens that were randomly selected. It crossed not only the picturesque places but also the architectural highlights, historical buildings, average homes, and forgotten corners. The line crossed seamlessly from one location into the next.
Artist in residence
Short Cut Tarwewijk is a project that was conceived by Belgian artist Stijn Van Dorpe. He lives and works in Gent and was invited as an artist in residence at Paviljoen aan het Water (Pavilion on the Waterfront). The result was an absolutely perfectly organised and directed parade through Tarwewijk. There were negotiations with each resident or owner of a location so that the line would flow without interruption. An important motive for the promenade of Van Dorpe was to create an experience of seeing a familiar urban environment from another perspective.
According to him, Short Cut Tarwewijk is a poetic mechanism that sets the scene for equality and breaks apart hierarchies: equality because everyone is engaged in the same activity (in a line); power structures that fall apart because people see their surroundings in a different way.
As a result, the hike could create a reflection about the basic idea that a city is just a collection of properties and structures. ‘Maybe they will shed a new light on the lost, utopian idea of shared spaces or the communal.’
The walk through the Tarwewijk was filmed by Van Dorpe. This registration will be premiered during Charlois Speciaal. In addition, there will be a presentation of film montages and photo material from the event made by the participants, residents and the regional television station. In this way Van Dorpe presents his vision and viewpoint on the ‘Short Cut Tarwewijk’ in relation to the creative process and perspectives of the participants and residents. So it is a registration of the event itself as well as a new play of the imagination.
Real luxury is buying nothing
Charlois Speciaal makes place for Sculpture International Rotterdam to present the notorious film ‘Commission’ by Erik van Lieshout. It’s about the shopping mall Zuidplein, where Van Lieshout ran a shop for three months. Van Lieshout is an internationally renowned artist known for his films and installations about love, nationalism, racism, and the problems of urban life.
Abstraction in Zuidplein
“This will be a personal document”, wrote Van Lieshout prior to filming: “my report on the political-social frustration of people and art. It’s a quest to find abstraction in Zuidplein, the architecture and the people, a new approach to social projects and the link to Ahoy. (…) Zuidplein a complex artwork of people, concrete, glass, and shops. I want to amplify all these things.”
From 1993 to 2007 Van Lieshout lived and worked in Rotterdam Zuid. He struggled in making the film with his connection to the shopping centre and with shops there like Hema, V&D, Blokker, 10 cel phone stores, and 63 surveillance camera’s. He rented a vacant unit and put together a shop inventory between all the others stores. Above his shop was written in orange letters: Erik makes you happy with underneath it: Real luxury is buying nothing. The nuts, bolts, pipes, dried plants, spokes, and micro-waves on the shelves were not for sale, but they were subject of discussions with the shopping-public and colleague shop-owners, just like the life-size posters of Pim Fortuyn, Aboutaleb, and star architect Rem Koolhaas were.
Van Lieshout filmed the whole project from his struggle with the shopping centre to the discussions with shopkeepers, fights with the media magnet Saturn, and talks with the people who walked in. “Sometimes people would come in and say that they did not want to be filmed. Then I would say, ‘yeah, there are hundreds of camera’s hanging all over Zuidplein’.”
Creating architecture with minimum resources
The American Sabrina Chou grew up in Los Angeles and studied Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard University. For her masters program she chose the Piet Zwart Academie in Rotterdam. Following her education, she stayed in Charlois because of its interesting atmosphere. She says: ‘Many foreign students stay here after their studies. There is a lot of interaction between artists in Charlois and it’s a peaceful village-like place, not overwhelming like Los Angeles. There are less stimuli here that give it a favourable working climate’.
For a while after her studies, Chou worked in Los Angeles for an architect and a fashion designer. The combination of textile and (spatial) design has since become a basis for her work. For Charlois Speciaal she researched the relationship between architecture and the way people experience the urban environment. In her words: ‘Residents of Charlois use the window of their house like a window-display. They show to the world outside who they are by the things they place on the window sill and the curtains they hang. In that way, they create something both private and public. This interaction is interesting to me. For Curtains I looked at what would happen if I could remove that structure. Do people behave differently? Do they relate to each other differently?’
Chou connects the houses and shops visually in one specific street of Charlois for Curtains. She removes all the existing window decorations and hangs up one enormous curtain instead for the entire street. The curtain is made up of sections with a geometrical pattern to create a whole. As she says, ‘That’s how you create architecture with minimal resources: curtains are usually meant for indoors but this purpose is to change the outdoor space. The material is transparent so light shines through it. I designed the pattern myself, keeping in mind the traditional curtains used in Charlois. In Curtains, I change the street view and connect not only the architecture in the street but also the people. Hopefully the curtain will provoke people and shopkeepers to come into contact with one another’.