Future - Ad Schouten

Siebe Thissen Opening of Ad Schouten exhibition at Walgenbach Art & Books Rotterdam, 27.09.2014
BKOR archive

Not long ago a dozen young delinquents were initiated by a handy supervisor in metalworking and welding techniques in a shed on the Oostzeedijk. The young people, mostly Antilleans, lugged iron plates and railings, just stolen from a demolition area in Zuidwijk. They then bent over a large blueprint rolled out on the floor, laid the pipes, strips and connecting strips in the correct order, and prepared for the real thing with welding glasses and gloves. While the shaking-smoking foreman limited himself to street poetry - "Cock, not so close to your hands!" - the instigator of the company leaned casually and silently against the wall. Ad Schouten saw that it was good. At his feet lay an ironwork, in which the word "Future" was forged in bare, straight letters. Just as artist Piet van Stuivenberg was inspired in the fifties by the stairs of the ultramodern Bouwcentrum and thereby realized the first abstract artwork in the public space of Rotterdam, so Ad was inspired by the austere and clear structure of the stairwells in the porch flats van De Burgen, a working-class neighborhood in Zuidwijk.

The name of the socialist architect Wim van Tijen still adheres to this neighborhood. Together with young people from the Albeda, Ad had designed a constructivist pick, which eventually acquired a place on a roundabout on the Slinge. The company was funded by the Vestia corporation, a pirate republic that, thanks to a favorable star position and the trade in derivatives, was still well off. At first glance it is witness Future, as the work is entitled, of shameless anachronism. With constructivism we think of the wet dream of the Russian Revolution, of the left-wing international avant-garde people from before and after the war, of magazines such as i10, to Naum Gabo, to the artist as engineer and worker, to the geometric utopianism of Spinoza - that is, the notion that purely clear and clear ideas, as clear as a mathematical formula, can express the truth. "So what?", Says Ad, while, aided by a tap, Future pulls up with the iron cables that must hold the work together. "What's wrong with such a gesture in South?"

Up to the age of twelve Ad lived with his parents in the house of grandma, in the Bloemfonteinstraat in the Afrikaanderbuurt. On the corner of the street, above Café Havenzicht, there is a large mural by his hand, Irreversible, on which a uniformed boy from the thirties of the last century is depicted. Is it a cub from the local scouting? A member of the Hitler Jugend? Should the work be read as an anti-fascist commentary at the interbellum period? Or is it, as left-wing activists once claimed, a tasteless mascot of the Nazi hooligans who regularly visited Café Havenzicht? With Ad, a work is never what it seems - with him you always need a 'closer look'. His painting, for example, is based on a normal autobiographical outpouring: the portrait is based on a photograph of an amateur photographer who earned his living in the Bloemfonteinstraat as a bicycle repairman. And that bicycle repair shop was once Ad's neighbor.

Later the Schouten family moved into a home in the land of milk and honey: Zuidwijk. It was a brand new neighborhood, consisting of six separate neighborhoods, lots of greenery and spacious, light homes. Ads' father was a port worker who voted for the Communist Party of the Netherlands (CPN) and was active in the Unity Trade Center (EVC) after the liberation. Zuidwijk was not so much a left-wing neighborhood, but a religiously highly differentiated neighborhood with many churches. Everyone lived in Zuidwijk, migrants and natives. Many people from Brabant too. Clogs were fraternally parked under the stairs in the porch next to boots and worn-out cleaners. There were also frequent quarrels in the porch, Ad says.

The district was then known as 'the great experiment' and was designed in the darkness of the war years. An intellectual resistance group of left-wing liberals, socialists, anarchists, pacifists, feminists, vegetarians and anthroposophists criticized the anonymity and lack of culture in the modern city. The city had produced a defenseless and listless proletariat, they thought, without culture and without critical power - a proletariat that had been led like a herd of easy sheep to the slaughterhouses of National Socialism and the war. The club called itself the Bos Group, named after chairman Alexander Bos, who after the liberation was appointed head of the Housing Department in Rotterdam. Together with architect Wim van Tijen, he had conceived the plan in 1942 to outline the contours of a new city. The Bos Group published four years later The city of the future. The future of the city. The new city had to fit in between city and village, be organically built up, consisting of neighborhoods with their own facilities, shops, churches, doctor's practices, parks, cultural centers and exhibition spaces where work from Museum Boymans could be displayed. The book ended with a concrete blueprint for such a city district: Zuidwijk. Never before had the plan Socialism of the Soviet Union approached the Maas so closely.

But the practice proved stubborn. There was not enough money to realize the workers' paradise and cultural facilities were withdrawn from the budget. The art came off completely damaged. The neighborhood only received one dull piece of art in public space, a bronze of a family made by Huib Noorlander - a lonely reminder of a faded promise for the future. Moreover, Ad recalls, young people did not want to stay in their own neighborhood at all and they chose the adventure in the city above the wooden neighborhood shack of the municipality, which was euphemistically named De Larenkamp. The rapid advance of the car and improvements in public transport put a definitive end to the neighborhood idyll. Nationally, too, settlements were settled with the Bos Group. The sociologist Jacques van Doorn rejected The city of the future as a romantic tract, in which the dynamics of metropolitanism were completely forgotten. And that did not give the book the status of a visionary writing, but instead turned it into an antiquarian curio.

"Wrongly," says Ad, while he is a yellowed copy of it The city of the future from his bag. 'Van Tijen was a giant - a socialist who was fascinated by the big problems of his time. He was in 1917 in Moscow, he saw the revolution happen, he worked in Indonesia and thought that big problems also deserved big concepts. Just as the Soviet Union built large dams and kicked out new cities, so did housing in the Netherlands also have to be tackled. I admire his guts to think big, "says Ad. 'My Future is therefore also a raised middle finger to all that contemporary chatter about the impossibility of a makeable world - call it Naum Gabo on South '. Before Future to the Slinge, Ad had already brought an ode to Van Tijen in a nearby park. Under a large glass plate, he organized a permanent mini-exhibition about Van Tijen: a series of old glass negatives, arranged in a pattern in which the contours of Zuidwijk are recognizable. Willemien van Tijen, the architect's daughter, made the unveiling. The park was renamed the 'Van Tijen Plantsoen'. While one after the other socialist monument was demolished in the former Eastern Block, Zuidwijk paid homage to its own socialist in a monumental way.

But there is another story behind this great story. A more intimate story. Future is also an ode to Jan Franken, one of those many people from Rotterdam who restlessly worked for a better future, but whose names have been solved in roaring managerial jargon about targets, priorities, business models en gentrification. Franken was a corporation man of the old stamp, legendary for his unbridled commitment to tenants and neighborhood residents. Somewhere deep in the neighborhood you will find a wooden bench, the 'Jan Franken bench', offered by tenants to the representative of their landlord: Vestia Zuidwijk. In the light of the recent tampering with derivatives, golden handshakes and executive villas in the Antilles, the 'Jan Franken bank' appears to be an almost prehistoric fossil. Just as Russia let its state-owned enterprises be emptied by a new generation of wealthy oligarchs, we let a privatized social sector in the Netherlands be milked by thieves disguised as managers. In Zuid you can therefore speak about the time before Jan Franken and the time after Jan Franken. That is also the future.

Just like Ad, Franken was also such a pioneer. Originating from Brabant, he was one of the earliest residents of Zuidwijk. He was not only very concerned about the fate of his neighborhood, he was also a supporter of Van Tijen. The demolition of his beloved neighborhood, in the service of progress and ogling the middle classes, hurt him. When De Burgen threatened to collapse under the demolition hammer, he asked Ad for help. "We can't just let this happen," he said. 'Can't you make a gesture? Can't you do anything with those steel handrails? ' Ad hesitated. Jan was indeed a fan of the figuration of Huib Noorlander. But because Jan was seriously ill, Ad felt called to finish his job. "But in my own way," said Ad. "So no figuration, no details, nothing, but purely constructivist, a one-to-one reconstruction of the railing pattern." Vestia agreed. Jan Franken no longer witnessed the unveiling. But Future was definitely also his work of art - the work marks a cut-off in time.

This exploration of the phenomenon of 'future' is also visible in the work that Ad is presenting today here at the Gouwstraat at Walgenbach Art & Books. Etymologically, the concept of future has two directions: future is something that comes to you, but future is also you, going somewhere. By the "future of Christ", Christians not only meant the imminent coming of Christ, but also meant their own approach to Christ. While the social realist art created under communist regimes is today hidden in cellars, caves and amusement parks because their future promises turned out to be vain and empty, Ad approaches these relics in a reverse direction. His cheeks are not colored by the embarrassment of the postmodern citizen, who knows too much and refuses to commit himself to this or that cause. No, his red is the red with excitement; the excitement of the archaeologist who has just found new fossils and wants to share with us his euphoria. Even if those fossils consist of communist residual products from yesteryear.

Just look at the portraits Ad painted, inspired and isolated from old DDR posters from the fifties. Stripped of their propagandistic context, it appears that the almost Chabot-like sketches and you are struck by their gaze. Are these really faces awaiting the socialist state of salvation? Is this East German propaganda? Or do you see the doubt in their eyes? Was the regime not fooled by the artist here? Or is that the interpretation of Ad? The samples of Soviet textile from the 1920s that Ad has freely painted after, also bear witness to a stunning fantasy and madness. Did workers from that time really walk in such suits? Did Lenin buy ties from this cut? Were women wearing skirts adorned with tanks and guns? You can't imagine it. What is Ad trying to tell us? (Paradoxically, those prints reminded me of the contemporary designs of Vlisco for the African market, where prints with images of CD players, fans, handbags and roller skates are very common.) On 16 last July, Ad sent me a series photos of a sculpture garden with Soviet art, somewhere in Sofia, Bulgaria. The garden was taken over by young people who edited the images with graffiti and used the pedestals as ramps for their skating arts. Again I asked Ad what exactly he was trying to tell me. He wrote in an email: "Not now, I go on vacation first, a whole month, that is the advantage of being an AOW pensioner".

Related artwork

Future (2011) Ad Schouten