First believe, then see! - ObservatoryLecture at the Stadsmakerscongres in the Rotterdamse Schouwburg, 31.10.2015
"No details, just put a big thing in it - that really comes down to it," says Geert van de Camp about his image Praise of Foolishness, that he placed in 1989 along the Burgemeester Van Walsumweg. Well, Observatorium, the artists' group to which Geert would later join, did not yet exist, but there was no question of modesty and fear of scale back then. An artwork by Observatorium is usually a big thing, there is little detail to be found, the appearance is usually powerful, the form is present, and maybe even a little arrogant. But hey, who doesn't want to be seen. Equally presumptuous is the promise that the art company gives to clients: great that your planned area development, great that the upcoming redevelopment of polders or harbor areas, a big compliment for your plans to make something of this river or that city park, but start well first with the arts. So with us. Let us work for a moment and our artwork will not harm you. We already draw attention to where it belongs, we already use your drawing table zones, and we guarantee visitors new vistas. Business ideology is 'First art, then urban planning'.
This view has also benefited Observatorium, because since 2001 a steady stream of observatories has reached the public: from the dunes on the second Maasvlakte to the petrified pine forests of the Siberian Tunguska - the unsuspecting backpacker or day-tripper runs the risk of seeing a structure of Rotterdam workmanship - structures that anticipate something to come.
The company is inspired by a beautiful pre-industrial phenomenon: the observatory - for centuries we have been creating places where the universe can be studied, and where we can think about ourselves and our place in the world. Or as the artists themselves describe it in their beautiful overview work Big Pieces Of Time (2010): "Observatory wants to help people to temporarily suspend their daily worries, to allow their environment to act upon them, and yes, to get to know their planet." That is beautiful. Observatory offers a view, in the hope that we, simple mortals, will gain insight.
Fortunately, urban carpenters such as the Observatorium are not hindered by programs of requirements, very expensive area concepts or the discourse of urban planners. Like bad boys, they light a firecracker in a trash can and hope for a larger, unpredictable series of fires, plumes of smoke and explosions. The Kleinpolderplein offers a good example of such a chain reaction. The famous roundabout, completed in 1968 - once lyrically sung by Martin Bril as 'that bend' - is today in a geriatric phase and is coming to its end, moaning, sighing and coughing. It was Johan Goossens, associated with the Urban Development Department, who, like a Catholic priest, proclaimed the final judgment on the square. His empathetic words about the drifting, breathless square moved us deeply and set us in motion. We, the Observatorium and the Centrum Beeldende Kunst Rotterdam, offered ourselves as foster parents.
The municipality of Rotterdam wanted to transform the bowl under a flyover into a water square, so that abundant rainfall can be drained to a reservoir. Ruud Reutelingsperger of Observatorium saw the traffic square as a monument that could, in the future, taking into account developments in industrial heritage in the Ruhr area, grow into a special city park. According to good pioneer use, Observatorium has already built a series of stylized walkways for this purpose, which can be used later. And the Rotterdam Center for Visual Arts was looking for a location for a 'memento park', a public art room, where orphaned and written off artworks could get a second life.
Like an old-fashioned livestock market, a group of urban caregivers were able to shake hands, plans and budgets could be put together, and a real foundation was created: the Werkpoleme Kleinbergderplein, which today is concerned about the future of the traffic square. In the middle of the water square, fifteen empty pedestals are in happy expectation, the first series of artworks has been placed, and Marit Janse organized the first day of the park, during which visitors could become acquainted with this special area, which is still covered with fine dust and noise pollution. It could be even crazier: Observatorium hopes to close the square in the short term for car traffic, so that visitors will once again get a glimpse of the future city park.
First believe, then see. It seems to me an appropriate message to all city makers.