Thursday, July 15, 2004

Three hours at the NAI and Witte de Withstraat or a crass example of how even Lebbeus Woods anarchitecture can be equalized into another Rotterdam spectacle...


The work of anarchitect Lebbeus Woods has for a long time been a source of inspiration for WHY Rotterdam’s innquisitions into the trauma, schizophrenia and possibility of a city under constant reconstruction. Born in the same year as the thorough bombing of Rotterdam (1940), Lebbeus Woods imagines visions of alternative urban realities based on heterarchical self-organisation and celebrates the destruction in architecture with it’s (re-)creation. We are fascinated by the numerous parallels in Wood’s concepts with the qualities of Rotterdam. If only his ideas would interfect the city’s incessant need to hide it's wonderful scars and fill in the unfinished transition zones leaving no places for coincidence or the unpredictable.

On July 15, Woods, who is not a virgin to Rotterdam, was present for the public unveiling of his parasitic sculpture “Hermitage” on the side of the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI). The City in Crisis is the central theme of the project. “Especially in crises,” proposes Woods, “there is space for an unorthodox approach.” According to the designer, it is the space for a hermit; for an urban individual who experiences the paradox of being alone amongst the mass in the city. The work, whose host was formerly a building in Eindhoven, was physically adapted to the new Rotterdam context in the arrangement of its form and color coating.

Without explanation of Wood’s societal and political criticisms and the crisis of urban environments and the architectural practice, the installation is also another museum object to be fetishized by the initiated art and architecture intelligensia. In reality, the anarchistic free-space hangs out of reach of the imagined those who might (try to) inhabit it, perhaps squat it after a year of vacancy. Woods admits in his presentation that the built City’s inflexibility to new modes of living and working is part of the crisis of architecture.

We happily inhaled the rare publicly outspoken message of Wood’s presentation. Regardless of the actual effect of the “Hermitage” on the physical city, it was important that space was given for these radical ideas to be articulated and enter the public mental space.
Perhaps we should have left then.


And this is Rotterdam. O City of Architecture, Manhattan on the Maas grooming itself with high-rises like plastic jewelry for a cheap prostitute to attract more expensive clients. Evict the poor. O former City of Culture, Mass Festivals on the Maas lowest common denominator stupidification. Cut cultural budgets, turn artists into social workers to gentrify degenerate neighbourhoods before tearing them down. O Schoon Heel Veilig Rotterdam, Pim City, rightwing government snaps 50 years (neo-)liberal tradition. Body searches, camera surveillance, Stasi supervision, MEER BLAUW OP STRAAT.




That’s when the Rotterdam drugs kicked in, a seemingly impossible detournment from the dark utopia of his work to the society of the spectacle in one speech. Remember, it is summer time in Rotterdam and that means festival mentality is in full blossom. Therefore, the presentation of the “Hermitage” would alone not be enough. The marketing department of the NAI invited Showroom Gallery MAMA to contribute to a parallel program inspired by the “Hermitage” and ideas of Woods. Curator of the project and founder of MAMA, Boris van Berkum explained how the “City City Bang Bang” interpretation of Wood‘s “City in Crisis” manifested itself in Rotterdam.

“There is no crisis in Rotterdam so we had to create one.”

We unconsciously bleated out a nervous intonation of disagreement, discord, disbelief. Obviously, of course, Rotterdam is no Sarajevo or Baghdad, not anymore, but we weren't expecting such a superficial interpretation of Lebbeus' crisis of urbanity, politics and society. Van Berkum went on to explain the self-inflicted crisis staged at the MAMA Showroom. “MAMA has taken this quote to heart: the glass frontage of MAMA will be entirely removed forcing the gallery to become an open public space; an Open City Platform and exhibition exist in this new open space.”



Amongst the invited artists/architects curated by van Berkum, the Humobisten weblog confirm the concept: Showroom mama and the National Institute for Architecture (NAi) invited artists (Jan van Nuenen, The Cam Kong Collective, us) and architects (De Ruimte and 2012 Architects) to reflect on the work and legacy of mister Woods and (based on Woods’ theories) the ‘imaginary’ crisis area called the city of Rotterdam.


NAI director Aaron Betsky (who in a meeting with WHY in 2002 stated he only liked the drawings of Woods) put the drugs in higher gear when he announced that it was time to go outside for the unveiling which would be done by Lebbeus and Alderman of Culture and Transport Stefan Hulman. (For those who don’t know, Hulman (VVD) is a central figure in the new government’s cutbacks of the cultural budget for greater investment in safety.) We had to wonder what Woods would have done if he knew who he was unveiling his politically charged work with. Protest? Refuse? Alas, Lebbeus probably hasn’t been here since the last city council. But in keeping with existential compromises of critical artists, his unknowing position in this trip emerges from the complications of negotiating with established cultural institutions. If you invited Lebbeus Woods, wouldn’t you tell him a bit about what is going on in Rotterdam? Guess not.









Inflatable neon pink hostesses from MAMA served up the champagne under the Hermitage. Make sure you go to the right table. Coincidentally, there was car commercial being filmed at almost the same part of the NAI (see culture budget cutbacks?) with attractive catering. A couple Slaakhuys squatters sombered around in the background. Were they hear to indulge in the inherent connection between squatting and Lebbeus’ autonomous zones or for the free drinks? De HuMobisten’s industrial sonic interpretation of Woods’ theories almost shattered the delicate 2012-Architecten recycled MAMA windows object. All the while, an undescribably annoying gimp stylishly attired like Alex Adriaansen wouldn’t stop nervously prancing around. Clearly it was time to go to the ‘imaginary’ crisis area on the Witte de Withstraat. Luckily, there was more champagne and more pink hostesses to attend to our personal crisis. A finely crafted open stage provided the inside-outside landscape for the Witte de Withstraat usual suspects (including us). Lebbeus, Betsky and the annoying gimp arrived some minutes later. Painted blue, the open stage landscape(2012/De Ruimte) just might have been a subtle critical statement on “more blue on the streets”. Maybe. Meanwhile 4 Stadstoezicht (city supervisors) monitored the overlast potential while controlling a misparked car. With the ruckus of a hooligan running for a moshpit, a middle-aged firebreather was going to be the first (programmed?) to take advantage of the open stage. Atop the highest point, he slugged back some fuel, the wind picked up just a bit... have you ever seen somebody's face on fire?

Dear Lebbeus. Yes, the city is in crisis and frankly, we’re getting tired of talking about it. Like Zarathustra, we would climb up a mountain for a while and talk with Nature but, shit, we’re in Holland.




• ...heard from Mariette that some idiot set himself on fire while performing as a firebreather in MAMA. Oh well, art for the masses... J V

• Friday 23th july the fckn’bstrds will empty de witte de with start 16.00 hrs.... ...end;....till the job is done.......and beyond. marc

• hallo analfabeten,
het zou goed zijn als jullie leren dat lezen, kijken en zien zich uiteindelijk moeten manifesteren in een bepaald 'eigenzinnig' en individueel denken over de dingen die je waarneemt. Het is grappig om te zien dat elke keer als er bericht komt uit de zogenaamde anarchistische hoek (eerlijke, onbevoordeelde journalistiek? eerder een bolwerk voor en door verwarring-zaaiende, een-kennige, oogkleppen dragende, diksap drinkende meeloop-punkers) het een soort veeg uit de pan moet zijn, waarvan ik na het lezen ervan denk: 'je vindt hetzelfde als ik, maar ik heb het niet op een 'goede' manier verwoord of zo....' En volgens wie is dat dan fout? Jello Biafra? Chomsky? van der Lubbe?
Goed, jullie zijn lebbeus woods fan, of zo... als iemand anarchist wordt genoemd, is het niet de bedoeling dat jullie dan even komen checken of jullie 'instant held' wel goed behandeld wordt door de goegemeente. Jullie liefde voor Woods is niet superieur aan mijn liefde voor Woods. Wat zijn jullie, de anarcho-politie? Misschien wordt het eens tijd dat je je tegen de echte vijand wapent, in plaats van het gevecht van anderen (die wel bezig zijn het nieuw-rechtse, christelijke gezag publiekelijk in twijfel te trekken) neer te sabelen, omdat je je er niet genoeg in hebt verdiept. De volgende keer als je een stukje wil posten op je website, neem dan eens contact met ons op. Zo werkt nieuwsgaring namelijk. Je gaat achter de feiten aan en als je je voldoende hebt verdiept, plaats je een stukje tekst - gebaseerd op een creatieve mix van feitenkennis en persoonlijke visie.
Het niveau (gevaarlijke gokjes, een grote bek en totale onwaarheden) van jullie stukje over deze tentoonstelling is ronduit laag te noemen. Als anarchopunker zou je toch juist door regels heen moeten kunnen lezen. Of denk je dat Orwells' Animal Farm een boek is waarin Orwell zich als verrader van het proletariaat manifesteert, want hij besluit zich alleen nog met kinderboeken schrijven bezig te houden? Nee, het is een allegorische vertelling, het systeem dwingt Orwell iets te maken, waarover het publiek zelf na moet denken. Jullie zouden er goed aan doen je te verdiepen in het concept 'ironie', maar aangezien het met humor te maken heeft, is het jullie waarschijnlijk totaal voorbijgegaan, stelletje humorloze vingerwijzers...
Als iemand gelooft dat deze stad zich momenteel in een crisissituatie bevindt, zijn wij het wel... waarom zou er denk je anders zo'n tentoonstelling zijn? het toeval soms? Het is jammer dat jullie zo slecht hebben nagedacht over de tentoonstelling. Misschien waren jullie tijdelijk verblind door jullie zelf-opgelegde zware juk (die je als eenzame punk-moralist nu eenmaal moet dragen).
succes in het vervolg, rufus.k