Featured: M4H during Rotterdam Art Week

During Rotterdam Art Week, you should definitely explore the dynamic Merwe Vierhavens area, which owes its name to the four ports that are located in this neighbourhood. Besides classics like design fair OBJECT and exciting new projects such as Brutus you will find many more cultural hotspots in M4H (Merwe Vierhavens).

For example, the imposing KeileZaal will be transformed for the Haute Photographie photography fair, an international art fair where booths make way for lounge chairs and coffee tables. In a refreshing presentation you will be introduced to the work of both emerging and established artists.
Be sure to visit the Huidenclub as well, in a former tannery that serves as a contemporary platform for artists, designers and activists. During Rotterdam Art Week, you can view the exhibition ‘Soundtrack for a Troubled Time’ and you can take a look at the new bookshop Vide Books, right above the cafe. Here, you will find works on graphic design, art, design and architecture and publications related to the programming of the Huidenclub.

In the M4H area you will also find STEUR: a breeding ground for all creative makers, from designers to artists. It’s located in an old power station and the doors are opened to the public only once a year: during Rotterdam Art Week. We previously interviewed artist Johannes Langkamp and Plasticiet designers Marten van Middelkoop and Joost Dingemans, as well as Gilbert Curtessi [link to interview], the creative brain behind STEUR.

In Kunst en Complex, one of the oldest studio buildings in Rotterdam, thirty artists will open their studios especially for visitors to Rotterdam Art Week.
And in the Keilecollectief, you can watch an exhibition by KEILECONTEMPORARY (a collaboration with har art gallery) and participate in a series of ‘Talks and Bites’ with designers such as Wieki Somers and Ilse Evers, architects like Iris Veentjer and artists including Alexandra Phillips and Maudy Alferink.

In the Keilewerf on Saturday 21 May, you will get to know a bit more about the various crafts of the ‘Keilewervers’. Go behind the scenes in their studios and get to know some amazing and innovative products. Tip: Did the cat knock over your vase or did you break your coffee cup? Then make sure to bring them with you because at Studio Lotte Douwes, you can exchange them for a discount in the online shop. There is also a Conform Cox mini-cinema where you can watch animated films, possibly while enjoying a cocktail or a slice of homemade Städler Made pizza.
And last but not least: in the Jungle Gym concept, artists Noël Deelen and Jelmer Konjo invite you to the former warehouse and historical museum De Dubbelde Palmboom, where, among other things, a series of interactive works of art challenge you to deal with art in a different way. 

Tip: you can also make free use of a MINI shuttle service in M4H (Merwe Vierhavens). Look here for more information.

#ASK: Tom Barman

On Tuesday 17 May at 17.00, an exciting solo exhibition will open by the Belgian musician, director and photographer Tom Barman. The opening will also mark the official opening of the new Weisbard gallery. Barman sold no less than 1.7 million albums with his rock group dEUS and he is also the singer of the jazz-rock project TaxiWars. Not everyone knows that the Antwerp-based artist is also a gifted filmmaker and photographer, with a unique style and a brilliant sense of colour. In 2020 he released the photo book ‘Hurry up and wait’. A special selection from this series will be on display at Weisbard in Rotterdam from 17 May to 19 June. We asked Barman a number of questions about his working method and sources of inspiration.

Tom Barman, Pink Idea, 2015

You are not only a musician, but also a filmmaker and a photographer. Do you have any more hidden talents?
I make a mean club sandwich (laughs). For me, these disciplines are actually very closely linked. Film and music in particular form a beautiful marriage. Film was initially the first thing I wanted to do. When I was fifteen years old, my mother allowed me to go to film school. That also included a photography course, but I initially failed that. At the time, I felt that taking photographs was way too boring, I needed a certain maturity to be able to muster the patience for it. But actually film, photography and music are very closely linked. Perhaps that photography stands out the most, since that contains a certain stillness. But I had to become a little older, get to my forties, before I picked up the camera again. It started out as something very private. I developed the images in my hotel room in the evenings, working on my computer. Then I started printing the pictures to hang them at home, to live alongside them. That way, I was able to figure out which things stuck after a while, and which images would fade, figuratively. After a few years, the man from the label where I developed my photos asked if I should organise an exhibition. That idea had to marinate first, because it hadn’t occurred to me at the time.

Do you come from a creative family?
My father was a professional engineer and an amateur photographer, but that’s about as far as it goes. But I’m really a kid of the video store generation. One of the best gifts I ever received was a video store membership, which was quite expensive at the time. I saw everything then: from the most obscure Japanese films to the biggest American blockbusters. That’s where my love of film and image really started. Come to think of it, in the studio, when we’re making music, we tend to reference images and colours much more than we reference music. I believe it’s called synesthesia: I see colours when I hear music.

Tom Barman, Where Has It Gone, 2021, Cabo Espichel, Portugal

There is no text in your photo book, except for the titles, is that because you don’t want to guide the viewer too much?
I think my photography may be a reaction to my music and film projects. About ten years ago, I bought my first camera, after a brutal press tour for a dEUS record. I was completely drained after that. It started to weigh on me, it was too much. That eternal jumble of words that accompanies my other pursuits. I found that I really enjoyed talking to people in a gallery, person to person. That’s on a whole different level than talking to people after a show. Regular visitors in the art world speak much more themselves and I love that.
My goal is to convey images without words. You can talk endlessly about photos, but it might be better to just look at them. So when my publisher asked what texts we were going to include, I replied: ‘No text at all’. It’s about the photographs. [Journalist and art critic] Robbert Roos did write a text for my first exhibition, in case the public wanted more information. But I didn’t want that for the book.

What triggers you when you have your camera in your hand?
Mainly colours and structures. And light, of course. You can’t really see it separately from my day job. I have the luxury of ending up in really strange places when we tour with the band. Look, we now know the historic city center of cities like Rome, Florence and Berlin. But we get to go to the suburbs, the industrial places, and that is interesting. We often have so many hours to fill there. It almost feels like a gift, to go out and shoot like crazy.

Tom Barman, Green Light, 2020

How do you work, which camera do you use?
I use a Sony Nex 5 with good lenses. An old model; small, handy, cut to my size, I don’t like those big cameras. It’s not that I always have it with me, I always very consciously intend to take pictures. I really go out specifically to take photo’s, otherwise I won’t take my camera with me.

Tom Barman, Mirrors, 2018

Rotterdam Art Week will kick off again from 18—22 May. What are you looking forward to the most?
First of all, I’m obviously looking forward to the opening of Weisbard, which promises to be a beautiful space. I will also be present as much as possible during the five weeks in which the exhibition is open — I felt that was a nice experience in Antwerp, to be able to really talk to people.
In addition, I visit Art Rotterdam almost every year and I look forward to doing that again this year.

About WeisbardWeisbard is a project that was created by Hugo Borst. He started the cultural meeting place as an ode to Karl Weisbard (1877-1942), an immigrant who was born in Galicia, in present-day Ukraine. Like Tuschinski in Amsterdam, Weisbard was a pioneer in the world of Dutch cinema, which is why he has left his mark on the cultural landscape of Rotterdam. With Weisbard, Borst hopes to create an accessible art destination where art can be experienced in all disciplines. A place where, in his words, a fresh pot of coffee will always be waiting for you. Borst plans to schedule four or five exhibitions a year, paired with works from his own art collection. Every first Thursday of the month, there will also be a (free) cultural event, including lectures and performances.

Exhibition featured: Notes on Downtown in Het Nieuwe Instituut

The shortages in the housing market are dominating the media. It is estimated that at least one million homes will have to be built to solve the housing shortage. Last month, the Correspondent wrote about 43-year-old Yesica who emigrated to Spain because she was able to buy a house there. On top of that comes gentrification, a term that city planners optimistically refer to as the ‘upgrading of neighbourhoods’, but which in practice means that rents rise to such an extent that the original inhabitants can no longer afford them. Massih Hutak experienced the same problem in Amsterdam Noord and wrote the convincing book You have not discovered us, we have always been here about the subject. This is also a problem in Rotterdam, a city in which American mega-investors and project developers like Blackstone are buying up houses en masse. Last year, 38% of all homes sold in Rotterdam were not bought by people who were planning to live in them themselves.

During Rotterdam Art Week, you can view an interesting exhibition at Het Nieuwe Instituut by Dutch photographer Désirée van Hoek, who has captured a similar movement in downtown Los Angeles since 2007. She saw exactly what the Amsterdam squatters’ movement had warned about in the 1980s: growing inequality, extreme prices for homes and the ‘Disneyfication’ of a city that focuses increasingly on tourism. The municipality of Amsterdam is going to invest ten million euros in the city center — in order to prevent the historic center from being turned into a cluster of Nutella and souvenir shops. But in the United States, the free market plays a much more significant role, which means that the consequences are much more extreme. Poverty and homelessness were not solved and therefore only became more distressing. Downtown Los Angeles has been rebranded intto the catchier DTLA and was named the fastest gentrifying region in the US in 2018. Van Hoek records these rapid changes in more than 135 images. What can we learn from this?

Désirée van Hoek also published the series in the photo book Notes on Downtown and added six interviews with specialists from the field, including urban geographer and postdoctoral researcher Cody Hochstenbach, who advises the municipality of Amsterdam on the subject, among others. These six specialists give us a potential glimpse into our own future. Van Hoek started her career as a fashion photographer and is always looking for a certain universality in her work. She is particularly interested in the ways in which people dress and in which possessions they have chosen to surround themselves with.
Curious about what else will be on show in Het Nieuwe Instituut during Rotterdam Art Week? Then take a look at the program

#ASK: Houcem Bellakoud

On 21 and 22 May, Unity in Diversity (UID) will present the Art Market, in which artists, young creatives, photographers and musicians are given a stage. You will come into contact with different types of art here — art that also happens to be for sale, so maybe you will go home with something very special. Think of photography, digital art, multimedia art, paintings, charcoal portraits and much more. At the Art Market you will find affordable art by leading and emerging artists. In addition, the organisation is hosting artistic workshops in painting and Spoken Word, especially for children between 8 and 17 years old. A DJ and live music will provide atmosphere. For this edition of #ASK, we ask Houcem Bellakoud a few questions. He co-founded Unity in Diversity alongside Jeanthalou Haynes.

Can you tell us a little more about what visitors to Rotterdam Art Week can expect?
Expect a multicultural and bustling art market, both indoors and outdoors, with a sand bar where they can enjoy the stage program. As well as an art market where visitors have the opportunity to meet inspiring creatives. Creative people who are open to teaching visitors about their artworks, culture while hopefully increasing their love of art.
Unity in Diversity’s vision is focused on diversity and connection. Rotterdam is a versatile city with a great diversity of residents, and we hope to reflect this during the art market. Our artists have diverse backgrounds: they hail from Suriname, Turkey, Chile, South Africa, Morocco and beyond. For this first edition of the Art Market we start with 33 different artists who sell affordable art.
A quote from Leni Kae that inspires me on this subject is: “Art inspires us to visit the concept of ‘unity’ and see ourselves as part of a bigger universe.”

Houcem Bellakoud

What do you think people should absolutely not miss out on?The live painting shows, the zine workshop, DIY elements and possibly 2 mini auctions per day.While strolling through the market, visitors can take a look at the various live painting shows by Kénisha Dors, Charnele Carbiere, Hotegni Dansou and Tedsky. You can also get a beautiful henna tattoo on your hand on Saturday, made by our creative Souhaila.
The auctions will depend on the children who have signed up for the painting workshop that is provided by Browns Art House. The idea is that their artworks will be auctioned afterwards so that they have the full experience of being an artist. However, the children decide for themselves whether they accept the challenge of putting it up for sale or if they want to keep the work for themselves.

Art has an image as being quite inaccessible, many people believe — wrongly — that they cannot afford any art within their budget, while you can already buy something quite remarkable for just a few tens of euros. What prejudices do you hope that visitors to the Art Market will overcome?
I like the fact that you ask me this, because we do hope to overcome the prejudice that art is excessively expensive, that art is only affordable for the elite. Art is for everyone and it’s available in all shapes and price ranges.
For this Art Market we have made a selection of multicultural artists who sell art from €10 to €300. We have deliberately chosen this price range to show that it is really possible to score beautiful, inspiring and cool works of art within any budget.We hope that this will be an eye opener: that everyone can afford art. Moreover, we hope that new creators will be born, people who have been inspired by this event to start expressing their creativity through art.

How would you describe your relationship with the city of Rotterdam?
I was born and raised in beautiful Tunisia, where I spent a lot of time with my grandparents: my grandfather, a dark man, and my grandmother, popularly called a ‘ginger’. By Tunisian standards, my grandparents have very exceptional external features. Characteristics that forced them both to break through barriers in my hometown of Menzel Bourguiba.The life stories and vision of my grandparents have ensured that I am open-minded today and that I have respect for everyone’s identity. This mindset has made me curious about the world outside of Tunisia. In June 2013 I followed my heart to Rotterdam, in search of love. To my surprise, I fell in love with a city and its diverse inhabitants.I really consider Rotterdam to be my home now. Everyone can be whoever they want to be here. The multicultural society in Rotterdam inspired me to become a photographer and a cultural entrepreneur. My goal is to bring people together and spread love through cultural projects, events and art. My favourite quote is: The universal beauty lies in the diversity of the world’s population.

Which other events are you looking forward to the most during the upcoming edition of Rotterdam Art Week?
Rotterdam Photo 2022
Tantet Nino | Face Your Fears
The Design of the Social in Het Nieuwe Instituut

As a photographer, I am naturally curious about what I can see and learn at Rotterdam Photo 2022. Visiting photography exhibitions is part of my personal development. The other events appeal to me because of the cultural and social aspect that they highlight.

If I wasn’t organising an event myself, I would definitely visit several events; That’s what Jeanthalou and I do every year. That won’t work this year, but we are grateful that we can be part of Rotterdam Art Week. Jeanthalou and I wish everyone a lot of success and especially: a lot of fun. Unity in Diversity!

#ASK: Erika Vati from Art Index Rotterdam & tour partner Anne-Marie Ros

Of course, you two are insiders when it comes to art, culture and design in Rotterdam. What do you want to convey to the visitors of Rotterdam Art Week?
Erika: I want to inspire visitors to discover what Rotterdam has to offer. For those unfamiliar with the city, I would like them to discover the rich collection of public sculptures and learn more about the many art venues that keep the city full of art all year round. For those who are familiar with the city, I would like them to discover places they did not know existed. As Rotterdam Art Week (RAW) is a major event, everyone gets involved with something special, and it is a great opportunity to see all the art venues at once alongside pop-up exhibitions and events.

Anne-Marie: And there is so much to do this year that for the 2022 edition, we opted to connect all of the Rotterdam Art Week participants in 5 Do-It-Yourself routes. It offers the visitor a nice framework to orient themselves and it allows you to explore the city in surprising ways.

Erika: These routes, which visitors can walk on their own, provide them with enough information to avoid feeling lost and take them on routes they would not otherwise take on their own. Each route tells a different story. For me, they connect the locations in the same way that artworks are brought together for an exhibition.

Do you want to discover the cultural side of Rotterdam on your own, in a fun and accessible way?

Then our Do-It-Yourself routes might be just the thing for you. They were composed in collaboration with Art Index Rotterdam, who also offer a series of guided tours. And there’s definitely something in the mix for you: whether you like fashion or photography, street art or a look behind the scenes in the artist’s studio. You’ll get to places that aren’t accessible during the rest of the year. For this edition of #ASK, we interview Erika Vati (initiator/owner of Art Index Rotterdam) and Anne-Marie Ros (Art Index Rotterdam tour partner).

What do you hope people will discover and how do you hope to surprise them?
Anne-Marie: I hope that people will be surprised by the enormous range of art and design. That they allow themselves to be led by a sense of curiosity. During Rotterdam Art Week, the cultural scene offers a lot of quality that can be discovered throughout the city, often away from the beaten track.

Erika: I hope everyone will discover inspiring artworks that give a sense of fulfilment or transformation. I believe art is about us and evolves with us. Rotterdam has a wide variety of art venues, with something for everyone. From contemporary painting to photography, performance, and open studios, from the world’s best artists to the latest emerging talent, all forms are there. I must stress that many things are created especially for this week: It is an important event.
I want to make the local art scene more visible and accessible. For me, people must discover and engage with art in a more personal way. This is the aim of the DIY Walks. Following these routes allows them to choose the time and speed they want and make the city and its art their own. The routes are free to download from the RAW website, and you can print them out as a PDF or follow them on your phone while you walk.

What surprised you the most?
Anne-Marie: I am pleasantly surprised by how the city keeps moving. By the enormous variety of what’s on offer, with many young artists and newcomers such as Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen, Weisbard, the Huidenclub, ROOF-A, Brutus, the Jungle Gym, Jewel. Rotterdam at Object Rotterdam and the Unity in Diversity art market in Fruitvis.

Erika: I agree with Anne-Marie. It is the number of exhibitions and events on offer and the energy of the city. This did not so much surprise me as impress me.

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

Anne-Marie: It was art that drove me to Rotterdam. Because of the unique dynamics here, this is actually the only city in the Netherlands where I would ever want to live. It’s always changing and I love its no-nonsense attitude. I got off to a flying start as an entrepreneur in 1999, with a series of cultural projects during the Cultural Capital year. In an effort to guide visitors, I wrote about the city for 10 years, until we became popular and I shifted my focus to developing unique art tours for professionals and a wider art-loving audience. I have been Erika’s tour partner since the fifth edition of Art Index Rotterdam. With specific tour concepts, we connect with the art scene, we offer guests a platform, we seek connections in various art and cultural events and we never miss the public art collection and street art, in the context of an ever-changing city. We know what is happening in the city, thanks to our own background, combined with an extensive local network, my art tours and the fact that we have been playing a structural role since 2018 in offering an up-to-date overview of contemporary art in Rotterdam. I use the city as my canvas and with an appealing tour offer I aim to colour the art experiences of a broad target group. On request, I also provide tailor-made tours, routes and art walks — for Rotterdam Art Week, but also for private individuals and groups.

Erika: I came to Rotterdam a few years ago, and my home is here now. My relationship with the city started with Art Index. It came out of a personal need to have a central platform focusing on Rotterdam’s contemporary art scene, and I found that many people had the same desire. Since then, Art Index has been growing. Today it is not just a list; we also organise activities and events, and since 2020 we have had an online magazine with interviews and video reviews. I have witnessed the rapid changes in the cityscape and art scene, and I feel I am living through these changes, making my relationship with this city even stronger. I am committed to fostering a deeper understanding and enjoyment of contemporary art by engaging the Rotterdam art scene in dialogue and drawing attention to local exhibitions, artists, curators, and their work. I seek to give a voice to active participants in the art scene so that the public can learn about them and understand their initiatives and their passions.

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

Anne-Marie: It’s always exciting when the city is buzzing with art. It’s a time to network, to be surprised and inspired while discovering new things. I’ll be sharing this enthusiasm with others. Besides Art Rotterdam and Object Rotterdam — my go-to events during Rotterdam Art Week — I will also do all five routes myself, allowing myself to be surprised by places that I don’t visit that often. I am curious about the group shows and the open studios. About Weisbard and ROOF-A. The New Current in Brain Park and PB3. Studio Seine and A Tale of a Tub, both hidden in West. The program in Garage Rotterdam, the STEUR building, HI.M, Het Nieuwe Instituut, Fruitvis, the Kunsthal, the Keilepand and of course Kunstavond XL. And by the ways in which the Kunst&Poetry couples show original art at various locations on the Wilhelminapier, Katendrecht and the Afrikaanderwijk.

Erika: Outside of Art Rotterdam, I would like to highlight some of the exhibitions that will open during RAW. For example, the Hamburger Community resident artist Simon Keizer’ exhibition at Roodkapje, where you can discover the healing potential of art and every day will be different. I look forward to the programme at STEUR. An exciting selection of artists will have a joint presentation, and in the main hall, two internationally recognised residents of M4H, designer Sabine Marcelis and artist Joep van Lieshout will transform the place into a surrealist playground. Finally, I would like to highlight the ever-exciting audiovisual arts of The New Current, whose mission is in line with ours: to bring attention to great art and open up chances for young talents. As an insider, I find it important to mention the presentation of Open Studio Borgerstraat, which includes 100+ posters made especially for RAW about the ongoing debate on the lack of studio space in Rotterdam.

Anne-Marie: I’m also looking forward to organising the Meet Rotterdam tours (free of charge) during Rotterdam Art Week. It will mark the 3rd year that Erika and I collaborate as an Art Index team. On Friday 19 May at 11.00, we host the Meet Rotterdam @ Art Rotterdam tour and on Saturday 21 May at 15.00, we organise the Meet Rotterdam @ Object Rotterdam tour. It is special to me because we design these tours together. We are lifting the layer of Rotterdam-based galleries, artists and makers, as it were. This focus automatically creates themes that surprise even us, time and again. It is also a great way to get to know us as a team, the wider art scene and art & design in Rotterdam, all in an informal atmosphere.

Fotograaf: Wilfried Lentz | tentoonstelling “Urgent” van Michael Portnoy | Rotterdam, feb 2020

Don’t feel like going out on your own? Then book a ticket for one of the guided Art Index Rotterdam tours. You can register by email at [email protected].
• The Museum Park Art Walk on Saturday 21 May from 10:30 – 12:00. Get a ‘quick start’ with, among other things, a tour on the roof of Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen, a Kunsthal mini tour in the exhibition Calder Now! and a visit to the nearby House of Photography and Weisbard.
• The First Steps Art Walk on Sunday 22 May from 10:00 – 12:00/30. An original view of the city by following the art in search of the origins of Rotterdam. A walk full of history, street art and architecture. This connects to Do-It-Yourself route 3: Center/North/East.

#ASK: Marten van Middelkoop & Joost Dingemans from Plasticiet

Plastic has a reputation problem, in part because many people tend to think of organic cotton and biodegradable materials when we talk about sustainable materials. But then we ignore the fact that recycling plastic is an exceptionally good way to give existing plastic a new life. And that is exactly what the Rotterdam-based company Plasticiet does. Instead of wasting it, they transform plastic into beautiful, strong and functional materials, inspired by natural stone. The result is a series of fresh and aesthetic terrazzo designs that are then transformed into timeless design objects, both by themselves and by other designers. For example, they were responsible for furnishing an Ace & Tate store, a display for Collectible Curates at MAD Paris, the interior of a London hairdresser, the entrance of the Interieur Biennale Kortrijk as well as their own series Mother of Pearl.
During Rotterdam Art Week, you can visit their studio in the STEUR building in Rotterdam, which will be open to visitors for the occasion. Gilbert Curtessi is the driving force behind this breeding ground for creatives. He wanted to create a place for makers from various disciplines, which is why you’ll find studios there of artists including Ward van Gemert and Laurids Gallée and designers like Sabine Marcelis. What is it like to work in such a dynamic place? For this edition of #ASK, we ask a number of questions to the faces behind Plasticiet: Marten van Middelkoop & Joost Dingemans.

How and why did you start Plasticiet? Where does your focus on sustainability come from and do you still have big dreams that you want to achieve with Plasticiet? 
We started Plasticiet while we were studying at art school, where we were tasked with maneuvering a future economy, actually envisioning it. I (Joost) always have trouble realising my designs when I use virgin (brand new) material, so recycling or sustainable creation is a must for me. Marten and I have been to India, where we saw all kinds of craftsmen on a small scale, working in the most creative ways, making utensils for the local industry, all made from waste. This was, and still is, a huge source of inspiration for us; nothing has to be wasted. We decided during the process that we wanted to make a semi-finished product from plastic, to allow users to let their own creativity flow, but also to take responsibility. What you make yourself is worth more than something you buy in a store. Our dream is to produce in such a way that we can find the focus to design as much as possible with the material ourselves. This would mean that we are releasing a large amount of recycled plastic into the world and that we can fully pursue our passion.

Ace And Tate store designed by Plasticiet with Ace And Tate, made by Teamwork. Picture credit: Lennart Wiedemuth

What is it like to work in the STEUR Building? What makes this breeding ground special and in what ways can you further develop your practice there? 
We have been in the building for about 4 years now. What makes this place special is that there are all kinds of different creatives and that you are outside of the busy city centre, in an industrial area that sometimes appears deserted. But a lot has changed over the past four years and more and more people and restaurants/cafés are heading this way. There’s an element of fun to that, but it’s also a clear form of gentrification. At the moment we have the freedom to do what we want without causing a lot of inconvenience, because it is so sparsely ‘populated’ here.

How would you describe your relationship with the city of Rotterdam?
I moved here about 8 years ago while I had never actually been to Rotterdam. I started to appreciate the city more and more and when I come home, now barely recognise my past life. Rotterdam can be an ugly city at first, but as it grows on you, you start to find the pearls that actually make the city what it is. I feel at home here.

#ASK: Kees de Groot from TEC ART

Since 2014, TEC ART Festival has been an integral part of Rotterdam Art Week. During this week, the entire city is dominated by contemporary art and design, and TEC ART adds, among other things, rebellious exhibitions, talks and big parties to that formula. Their program in WORM is linked to urgent social developments and explicitly relates to the impact of technology on our society, both today and in the future. TEC ART works at the exciting intersection of art, creative technology and science, delving deeper into topics such as fake news, artificial intelligence, the dominance of major tech companies, and robotics. For this edition of #ASK, we interview Kees de Groot, creative director of TEC ART, about what we can expect from the festival this year.

Can you perhaps give us a sneak peek of what we can do and see during TEC ART this year?
The closed-off Boomgaardstraat next to WORM will once again be transformed into a playful open air cyberpunk arena, a festival site with robotics, spacey performances, immersive installations, performances, fire and spectacle. An old Soviet helicopter (which ended up in Hungary via Russia and served as an air ambulance and later as an agricultural spray helicopter) will act as DJ Booth. The futuristic MadMax Wastelanders of Abacustheater will be driving around. The Move Around Soundsystems party everywhere. And as befits TEC ART, the program is chock-full of games and video installations.The exhibition rooms of TEC ART contain a mix of top international art and up-and-coming talent. The absolute highlight will be the game installation NEXT SPACE REBELS by Floris Kaayk, winner of the De Volkskrant Visual Art Prize and a Golden Calf film award. Next Space Rebels players are part of an activist organisation that builds its own rockets and launches them into space to ensure an independent, free internet. You also shouldn’t miss THE NEMESIS MACHINE by the English artist STANZA; a 50 m2 sculpture about data control and surveillance technology.

What is involved in setting up such a festival?
We try to actively involve the participating artists and the public, both with each other and our theme. This year that is SO FUTURE, from Solarpunk to Metafuck. This creates new collaborations and connections. The festival experience should feel like an organic whole, and not just a series of separate, standalone programs. TEC ART, as well as sister festival GOGBOT in Enschede, effectively function as GESAMTKUNSTWERKEN. In terms of production, this means being flexible and building (and dismantling) an extreme amount in a short span of time. The entire Boomgaardsstraat will be completely transformed and made unrecognisable within a week.

How would you describe your relationship with the city of Rotterdam?
I think Rotterdam is a fantastic and inspiring city. The cultural climate, the architecture, the water, the ports, the scale, the people. But especially the city’s focus on the future 🙂

What are you most looking forward to during the upcoming edition of Rotterdam Art Week?
All of the beautiful art and the reactions of the visitors. During Rotterdam Art Week, you really notice that the overall vibe in the city is completely dominated by art. We hope some TEC ART will offer a welcome change within the complete program. It was made possible in part by WORM, Rotterdam Festivals and OCW.

Watch the Next Space Rebels trailer here

#ASK: Johannes Langkamp

You may have already spotted the innovative work of the German artist Johannes Langkamp in the new exhibition ‘Art is the Antidote’ in Museum Voorlinden. Or in the new depot of Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, where his work “Pleased to Meet You” is exhibited: a bench with a cheerful, yellow conveyor belt system. That’s the thing about Langkamp’s work, it often evokes a certain recognition. Movement and a certain playfulness are recurring elements in his practice. As a viewer, you sometimes wonder how his machines function exactly. During Rotterdam Art Week, you can visit his studio in the Steurgebouw in Rotterdam, which will be open to visitors for the occasion. Gilbert Curtessi founded the Steur building, a creative incubator for makers from various disciplines, which is why you’ll find studios there of artists like Ward van Gemert and Laurids Gallée and designers such as Sabine Marcelis. Today we speak with Johannes Langkamp, ​​whose work was purchased by Museum Voorlinden last year during Rotterdam Art Week.

Pleased to Meet You (XL), 2022, courtesy Rademakers Gallery

How do your kinetic works come about? In what ways do you play with the viewer’s perception and what reaction do you hope to evoke?
I mainly play with my own perception and wonder. Thanks to everyday small moments, I often wonder: what happens if…? What happens if I drop a sheet of paper from a building? Or when I roll an actively spraying aerosol can across the floor? What would happen if I make a wooden bench with 1000 wheels? That one question is always followed by another, in which unexpected elements play a leading role. By playing with situations or materials, I discover things that I subsequently try to grasp through kinetic models or sculptures. Basically it is a short moment of questioning, followed by a long process of material experiments. My work arises from curiosity and after that I mean to find out what effect the work has on other people. Whether they also marvel at the strange sensation. How does my perception mechanism work and how can I play with that or break through fixed viewing patterns to activate something new?

Collection Museum Voorlinden

What is it like to work in the Steur Building? What makes this space special and in what ways are you able to develop your practice further there? What can visitors expect when they come to visit your studio?
The environment in the Steur Building, being surrounded by all kinds of fellow makers, thinkers and doers, is really important. The people have a willful and driven work mentality, which feels like coming home to me. Every now and then, I forget that I actually have a quite abnormal daily life, thanks in part to the STEUR work environment. During Rotterdam Art Week, these remarkable working environments are made accessible to the public. Workplaces that exist for individual working methods. In my case, that is a studio in which I enter a search for the unknown, by experimenting and failing. After all, failures offer the most unexpected and surprising outcomes. In other words, Rotterdam Art Week offers everyone an opportunity to visit a location-specific exhibition with open workshops, where, in addition to the results, the production processes are on show. That includes numerous tests and failed prototypes. In the arts, the division between what constitutes clutter and art can be unclear sometimes.

Photographer Stacii Samidin

How would you describe your relationship with the city of Rotterdam?
Rotterdam has always been my favourite destination in the Netherlands, even before I came to live there 12 years ago. The raw side of Rotterdam suits my choice of materials and my openness to experiment. Making the open connection with people and the relationship to the material. The contrast between fragile and industrial suits Rotterdam as well as my work. I feel alive when I’m allowed to flow, mix and form, in a city that is constantly on the move (and will hopefully remain to do so).

What are you most looking forward to during the upcoming edition of Rotterdam Art Week?
These are exciting times, this year I will participate in the Art Rotterdam art fair in the Van Nellefabriek for the very first time, in the booth of Rademakers Gallery from Amsterdam. For this occasion, I have made a number of new works. Kinetic sculptures in which your gaze is confused by means of paper spirals, that move through each other and are driven by gears. I also show a new version of the work ‘Pleased To Meet You’, the wooden bench with hundreds of wheels as a seating surface. In this work, the user is being offered some room for discovery. But I’m also looking forward to the exhibition in the Steur Building. Last year this was a first, in which I was able to sell two works to Museum Voorlinden, which was of course exceptional. This work is currently on show in the exhibition ‘Art is the Antidote’. For the upcoming opening of the Steur Building, I am making a work in the same location. This new installation requires a renewed use of the wall. You can see how that works during Rotterdam Art Week.

#ASK: Marten van Middelkoop & Joost Dingemans van Plasticiet

Plastic heeft onterecht een slechte reputatie, mede omdat veel mensen eerder aan biologisch katoen en afbreekbaar materiaal denken als we het hebben over duurzame materialen. Maar dan gaan we voorbij aan het feit dat juist het hergebruiken van plastic een buitengewoon goede manier is om het bestaande plastic een nieuw leven te geven. En dat is precies wat het Rotterdamse bedrijf Plasticiet doet. In plaats van het te verspillen vormen ze plastic om tot mooie, sterke en functionele materialen, geïnspireerd op natuursteen. Het resultaat is een reeks frisse en esthetische terrazzo-designs die vervolgens door henzelf en door designers worden omgevormd tot tijdloze designobjecten. Zo waren ze onder meer verantwoordelijk voor de inrichting van een Ace & Tate winkel, een display voor Collectible Curates bij MAD Paris, een inrichting van een Londense kapper, de entree van de Interieur Biennale Kortrijk en hun eigen serie Mother of Pearl.  Tijdens Rotterdam Art Week kun je een bezoek brengen aan hun studio in het Steurgebouw in Rotterdam, dat voor de gelegenheid wordt opengesteld voor bezoekers. Gilbert Curtessi is de drijvende kracht achter deze broedplaats. Hij wilde een plek creëren voor makers uit uiteenlopende disciplines en je vindt er dan ook ateliers van kunstenaars als Ward van Gemert en Laurids Gallée en designers als Sabine Marcelis. Hoe is het om te werken op zo’n dynamische plek? Voor deze editie van #ASK stellen we een aantal vragen aan de gezichten achter Plasticiet: Marten van Middelkoop & Joost Dingemans.  

Hoe en waarom zijn jullie Plasticiet gestart? Waar komt jullie focus op duurzaamheid vandaan en hebben jullie nog grote dromen die jullie met Plasticiet willen verwezenlijken? Bepaalde samenwerkingen bijvoorbeeld?

We zijn Plasticiet begonnen tijdens het studeren aan de kunstacademie, waarbij we de opdracht kregen om te manoeuvreren binnen hoe wij een toekomstige economie voor ons zagen. Ikzelf (Joost) heb altijd moeite met het verwezenlijken van mijn ontwerpen als ik virgin materiaal gebruik, dus voor mij is recyclen of duurzaam creëren een must. Marten en ik zijn in India geweest, waar we op kleinschalig niveau allerlei ambachtslieden, op de meest creatieve manieren, gebruiksvoorwerpen zagen maken voor de lokale industrie, en allemaal gemaakt van afvalstromen. Dit was en is nog steeds een gigantische inspiratiebron; niets hoeft te vergaan. We hebben tijdens het proces besloten dat we een halffabricaat wilde maken van plastic, om gebruikers hun creativiteit te laten stromen, maar ook de verantwoordelijkheid op zich te laten nemen. Wat je zelf maakt is meer waard dan iets wat je koopt in een winkel. Onze droom is om dusdanig te produceren dat we de focus kunnen vinden om zelf zo veel mogelijk te ontwerpen met het materiaal. Dit zou betekenen dat we een grote hoeveelheid gerecycled plastic de wereld in helpen en we onze passie volledig kunnen najagen. 

Ace And Tate store designed by Plasticiet with Ace And Tate, made by Teamwork. Picture credit: Lennart Wiedemuth

Hoe is het om te werken in het Steurgebouw? Wat maakt deze broedplaats bijzonder en op welke manieren kun je je praktijk verder uitwerken daar? Wat kunnen bezoekers verwachten als ze een bezoek komen brengen aan jullie studio?

Wij zitten nu zo’n 4 jaar in het Steurgebouw. Wat deze plek bijzonder maakt is dat er allerlei verschillende creatieven zitten en dat je buiten de drukke stad zit op een industrieterrein dat soms verlaten lijkt. De afgelopen vier jaar is er wel heel erg veel veranderd en komt er steeds meer bedrijvigheid en horeca deze kant op, wat tegelijkertijd leuk is maar ook een duidelijke vorm van gentrificatie is die nu van start gaat. Momenteel hebben we de vrijheid om te doen wat we willen, zonder dat we veel overlast zullen bezorgen omdat het hier zo dun ‘bevolkt’ is.  

Hoe zou je jouw band met de stad Rotterdam beschrijven? 

Ik ben hier zo’n 8 jaar geleden naartoe verhuisd terwijl ik eigenlijk nog nooit in Rotterdam geweest was. Ik begon de stad steeds meer te waarderen en als ik nu thuis kom dan herken ik mijn verleden steeds minder. Rotterdam kan op eerste opzicht een lelijke stad zijn, maar naarmate ze aan je groeit begin je de parels te vinden die de stad maken wat het is. Ik voel me hier thuis en op mijn plek.

#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