Building Blocks / The Umrella Factory
Screening of ‘Building Blocks’ and the scale models produced and assembled in ‘The Umbrella Factory’.
A project in cooperation with Stella van Voorst van Beest
text: Wilma Sutö
Old and new Europe - artist investigate the transition zone
Drent and van Voorst chiefly filmed in Transsylvania, where systematization was quitte far advanced. Still, the contrast is great between the flats and the immediately surrounding countryside.
Strips of greenery serve as vegetable gardens, while geese rummage along the avenues between the puddles where the clouds are reflected. Here too, the inhabitants draw attention to the unfulfilled promise of a market complex and a motel in the foothills, neither of which were built. Building Blocks portrays both the block housing and the residents, who add a quirky character to the uniform architecture.
Wizened old people still remember how the land was taken away from the farmers; a desillusioned man tells that half the neighbourhood is empty because of unemployment following the closure of the mines. Others are more cheerful: the icon-maker, who strives after divinity in his mosaiques, earning enough to be branded a capitalist, and the rockers who practise Satanism because they consider it to be the ‘religion of the individual not of the masses’.
Building Blocks captures in painterly, atmospheric images the faded glory of an utopia. Drent and van Voorst refrain from comment. They do, however, subtly reveal the decay, in a scale-model reconstruction of the block housing which can be used as a toy and ties in with the documentary. From the local umbrella and toy factory, which was in transition between state-owned company and privatized enterprise, they ordered eighty plastic flats: models, made up of many small panels, in that way resembling houses of cards.
They make good conjuring material, as the factory’s template-maker (also a resident of the neighbourhood) demonstrates. You hold your breath as he assembles it. Surely the big flats – in the Conducator’s day his toys – are not as a makeshift, as shaky as these small versions!
The sculptural installation that Drent and van Voorst have built with these little plastic flats, a small-scale town, sheds light on the legacy of a past era. The scale model is a sequel to the installation Toys of Gloom (1999), comprising small plastic steam trains, after a romanian design. The last Romanian steam train, filmed by Drent and van Voorst on its final journey in 1998 is now a museum piece. And the plastic artefacts and toys which were characteristics of the Romanian market have gradually been ousted by Western or Asian products.
Toys of Gloom recalls a lost reality, whereas Building Blocks spotlights the continuation of the past in the present.
The Urbanizaton of Romanian rural areas, the expression of a central ideology, once imposed and now curdled, is essentially different from urbanization in the West...
Maja Bajevic, Pavel Braila, Freek Drent, Stella van Voorst van Beest, Roderick Hietbrink, Juul Hondius, Carla Klein, Predrag Pajdic, Anri Sala
09-04 until 11-07 2004
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
The exhibition DELAY throws light on the dynamics between the West and the countries of the former Eastern Bloc. From August 28 until November 7 DELAY presents audiovisual installations, sculptures, paintings and photographic works by nine artists. Their work reflects contemporary social shifts: sometimes it is documentary in nature, sometimes a poetic transformation of reality, usually a combination of both.
In 2004 the European Union was expanded with ten countries. DELAY connects with this widening of the frontiers. Several artists are active in a borderland. The Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen gathers together work by Maja Bajevic (1967, former Yugoslavia), Pavel Braila (1971, Moldavia), the artists’ duo Freek Drent (1959, the Netherlands) and Stella van Voorst van Beest (1963, the Netherlands), Roderick Hietbrink (1975, the Netherlands), Juul Hondius (1970, the Netherlands), Carla Klein (1970, the Netherlands), Predrag Pajdic (1965, former Yugoslavia) and Anri Sala (1974, Albania).
These artists unlock a mysterious force field on the border of the old and the new Europe. Urbanization and increasing traffic suggest a purposeful movement here: beyond the past, towards the future. But DELAY also shows the friction between conflicting processes.
The public is transported to a slanting environment. They travel through recent history by way of airports, subway corridors and a railway station. Communist housing estates rise up against the most modern architecture in a glowing but also disorienting twilight zone. With the shifting of geographical and ideological borders, the personal, physical environment has also become subject to vibrations.
Alongside the exhibition DELAY a publication will appear in collaboration with NAi Publishers. In addition to an introduction by curator Wilma Sütö, it will include contributions by Lex ter Braak (director Fund for the Visual Arts, Design and Architecture), on architecture and urban development as an ideological vehicle, and by Michaël Zeeman (writer and correspondent for De Volkskrant in Rome), about his investigations along the edge of Europe.