Powerhouse Company - de Ru & van Lieshout - photo by Casper Rila

#ASK Joep van Lieshout

Last year, it was announced that Atelier van Lieshout is starting an ambitious development project, together with Powerhouse Company: Brutus. For this purpose, 10,000 square meters in the M4H area in Rotterdam-West will be transformed into a real culture cluster, including exhibition spaces, a sculpture garden, homes and studios for artists and a public art labyrinth. There will be room for both established artists and up-and-coming talent, and all art disciplines are represented: from sculpture to performance, from drawing to video. From 2022, Brutus will be open as an exhibition space at its current location, spread over Keileweg 10 to 18. Now and during Rotterdam Art Week, you can see exhibitions by the famous twin LA Raeven, the American artist Alexandra Phillips and Atelier van Lieshout in the former harbour complex. That is why we ask the creative brain behind the project, Joep van Lieshout, a couple of questions.

Would you like to tell us a little more about Brutus?

Van Lieshout: “Brutus is actually a kind of answer, as well as an addition to the contemporary Rotterdam cultural landscape. It’s not a museum like the big, official institutions we know, but rather a place where the artist plays the leading role. We call it an ‘artist-driven playground’, because we really think from the artists’ point of view. We focus on compelling solo exhibitions by artists that we offer space and a platform, in addition to thematic exhibitions with a critical or slightly abrasive character. With Brutus, we want to create a unique biotope, that consists of a cultural center of 10,000 square meters, combined with housing and facilities. This results in a kind of machine, whose separate elements enable each other. The biggest challenge at the moment is getting an environmental/building permit, which still depends on certain studies and the final zoning plan.”

The zoning plan for the second part of the project currently lies with the municipality. In the near future, three residential towers will be built, inspired by the utopian brutalist architectural style from which the initiative takes its name. These towers will house no fewer than 750 homes and studios for artists. That way, Van Lieshout creates a more permanent place for the artists who are often the first to (unwillingly) leave when a neighborhood becomes a popular destination for project developers and the general public. These new buildings will fit in well with the port area: unpolished and raw, just like the city. Once the permits have been obtained, construction could start in 2024.

Sketch impression BRUTUS Food Garden

How would you describe your relationship with the city of Rotterdam?

Van Lieshout: “I was rejected by every academy at the time, except the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam. When I was 16, I moved to the city and from that moment, I started making art. The city has always suited me well, it is a ‘no nonsense’ city with a practical ‘actions rather than words’ mentality. That immediately appealed to me. The city has also offered me many opportunities. The municipality and private owners of the empty harbour buildings were often quick to say: “sure, just use them”. They weren’t too fussy about that. This has given me many opportunities to develop my work and I have been working in the port area for over 35 years now. I want to return that gratitude, which is why we will soon be building social housing and studios for artists in the context of Brutus. That is an integral part of the project. Because a lot of project development is taking place in the district at the moment, which means that artists who now work in old warehouses — and who have been indispensable for the current popularity of the district — will soon no longer be able to live and work there, due to rising rents. Gentrification makes things very difficult for artists, so we want to give something back so that they can continue to leave their creative mark on the field in the longer term.”

What are you looking forward to the most during the upcoming edition of Rotterdam Art Week?

Van Lieshout: “What I really like about the next and the previous edition is that it takes place in the summer and spring, which makes it much more alive, in the open air. As a result, people tend to run into things in a more spontaneous way. I invite everyone to explore the city on foot or by bike.”

Watch the full program here