My favourite concept in the City of the Making was Christine and Sebastian’s house where they are breaking it down and re-building literally inside and out whilst they are living and working in it. Because of the SidM desire that there is always a ‘common space’ they are giving up their home once or twice every year to artists in residence on a time-share basis. I was awed by their willingness to try all this out, changing radical things, in a small amount of time in the space they call home and by their enthusiasm for this entire process.
Four months ago they moved from Eindhoven where they were studying and moved their family (one small daughter and a new baby) to this house that had previously been occupied by students. They bring with them a network of artists and experimenters that are attractive to the project. Christine van Meegen graduated in 2015 with a Master in Social Design from the Design Academy Eindhoven and started Studio C.A.R.E together with her partner Sebastian. They call it an ‘urban research laboratory’ where they are living and working under constant conditions of change. The studio focuses on using methods of arts, architecture and design to deconstruct spaces and realities, aiming at reconnecting inhabitants and users through unconventional methods with their environment.
Christine is also a co-founder of the Umbrella network a collaborative network of designers, creative collectives and curators who value social processes within their creative and curatorial work. She talked about their project Agents of Change in collaboration with the Van Abbemuseum. It is a starting point for a negotiation process with the art institution to re-think its position within the city and open up different possibilities of support and interaction with these communities. The project connects local initiatives, individuals and active communities by organising interactive tours, workshops and various activities to create a social map of the city.
As I wandered up and down the house admiring the evidence of this kind of change-making where walls and doors had been trimmed or taken out, Sebastian was preparing lunch. The blender broke so I cranked up my pestle and mortar skills to work on the pesto for the delicious seitan burgers. It tasted all the better from working on it collectively!
This experiment they tell me is inspired by the work of Buckminster Fuller who experimented with failure . Their experiment is not only redesigning but also bringing in others to learn and extend their own knowledge in the experiment. They have lots of different ideas including a local cookbook and even putting a lift in that moves through the centre of the house. They have 5 years in which to do all this.
But they are not put off by the transcient nature of the project, in fact it is the temporality that attracts them – in order to show what is possible in a short time. They talk about one of their project goals being able to have a foldable flat that you could get ready and move with in the space of one day. Just as in the past we might have moved from cave to cave in a day.
Neither Christine or Sebastian are from Rotterdam, actually neither are Dutch they are both German but they have been attracted to Rotterdam in the same way as I am, there is a rawness here and attitude of anything is possible, you can make a living AND be an artist. I hope they do it!
My final visit of this research trip was to the property on Blockenstraat to meet Gaia who is a Fine Art student of the Willem de Kooning Academy. This beautiful place is home to five people over three floors with their ‘common space’ on the ground floor. Luc also shares this space and he has been there for the two years since SidM took on the property. He graduated last year and now works as an intern with Guido. Quite a few students have moved through the property coming and going, including a couple of Syrian refugees but Gaia tells me it is a complicated situation with them as there is support they can apply for but it means they can’t stay at their place for very long. The steady turnover of people has meant that they have found it difficult to make things happen at the property. Gaia also tells me they may have to move out in 18 months as the property owners want to sell and so this prospect is also hanging over them.
The common space has had several guises and recently the artist Maria Blinkhoff took over the space holding an exhibition in it. The magical charcoal dust wave mural that greets you when you enter the space is one of her legacies. Gaia says she wanted to return perhaps using the space for spoken word nights but they have not heard from her in a while. It seems a theme of the house is things beginning and not quite getting going. Of course living and working in the space there are also issues around storage and not being able to separate work and life. In the common space itself is also the community washing machine.
Just before I headed out Gaia and Luc showed me round the beautiful community garden at the back of the property which is a lovely wild tranquil space and breathes a beautiful sigh over the properties that look out into it. As I walked round I imagined it filled with art and the potential for a lively community event radiates from it. I wonder if it could be an opportunity to showcase some of the work I had seen that is being produced through SidM – but Luc tells me the relationship with the people managing the garden is also complicated. So again, an idea that is pulsing but still waiting to happen. Fingers crossed the wait is nearly over.