Jumping the Boarding

Dré Wapenaar 2001

Text: Laurence Medori

Photography: Robbert R. Roos

edition: 3

Museum Boijmans van Beuningen,
Rotterdam, The Netherlands


a project in collaboration with Laurence Medori.

Wilma Sütö in Special Edition City Collection, march/april 2001:

Just as attics and basements, certainly those in museums, can yield a treasure trove, fences are often enigmatic. Certainly a fence round a museum. Behind it, something is going on that we cannot see properly, something that perhaps harbours a promise for the future and must remain hidden until then; but for the time it tasks our patience and pricks our curiosity. It makes us want to drill a hole in the fence or, of course: jump the boarding.

Sauter la palissade; jumping the boarding; over de schutting springen: these exhortations are to be read on the fence enclosing the building site at the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, like questionable slogans for breaking down borders, razing walls, pursuing freedom.

The slogans are questionable because, as befits poetic phrases, they send mixed signals. Only a fool would be tempted to take a running jump at the tall obstacle in an attempt to scale it. However sincere the slogans may sound, it is enough that they activate the imagination. Actually, the words are well-matched to the images on the fence: construction drawings which likewise arouse the impression of transcending reality.

The Rotterdam sculptor and tent-maker Dré Wapenaar (b. 1961 in Berkel en Rodenrijs) provided the current sketch on the fence. At his invitation, Laurence Medori enhanced the design with a commentary which indirectly rhymes with it. While her slogans lift us over the fence, Wapenaar gives us a chance to look through it.

His sketches have changed the fence into a panorama, its horizon spanning the entire width of the partition. On the opposite side rises a city which should surely be situated in the realm of fancy - albeit a place where fears and fantasies alternate. It is a combination of fantastical structures, some of them organic, others geometrical. Together, they form a city without foundations: a conglomerate of hanging, floating or hovering constructions, surrounded by open spaces in the swamp and pitfalls in the mist.

The area seems to be inaccessible, a deceptive illusion, a figment of the imagination and apparently doomed to remain there. However, this is a misapprehension which is refuted by reality.

The same weekend that Wapenaar's panorama was unveiled, the Dutch broadsheet NRC-Handelsblad of February 23 2001 printed a critical article on a seemingly related subject: Rotterdam's Museumpark, which abuts on the construction fence. According to author Bernard Hulsman this park (besides being planless, shabby, messy, muddy and desolate) is scarcely a park at all, but rather a miscarriage of the utopian ideas of its architects, Rem Koolhaas and Yves Brunier. Hulsman compares the park with a disused shunting yard and a rubbish dump. He also characterises the site as an inaccessible swamp - 'certainly at this time of the year'.

Dré Wapenaar, regardless of extenuating circumstances such as the season or the weather, has always been very conscious of the swamp in built-up areas. Not only is he keenly aware of the fact that there is mud everywhere under the asphalt, he deliberately seeks out that marshy substratum. He prefers the verge to the actual road, for the simple reason that he needs soft soil on which to pitch his tents. A critical spirit dwells in those tents. They give form to a desire for freedom of movement in a metropolis that is slowly but surely silting up.

Dré Wapenaar uncovers the urban swamp, ostensibly because of his objections to the loss of the landscape and the obstruction of the natural horizon. He digs down into the soft soil because he is critical: critical, for example, of the layer of asphalt that is gradually covering the entire urban agglomeration known as Holland's Ring City, including its 'green heart'.

Wapenaar is no dreamer, though. The tent-maker sometimes says that he designs 'utopian meeting places', but he rarely confines himself to visions. He is an expert in the art of living; a museum's illusions cannot satisfy him. He 'jumps the boarding' and pitches his tent in the very places where imagination is in danger of succumbing to everyday efficiency.

The panorama in his sketch for the fence is more than a utopia, then. It is a compilation of the tents & stands he has designed over the past ten years and subjected to successful trials: not as a kind of nomad passing through a frontierless no-man's land, but in his own surroundings. His flexible architecture takes up a stand against planned buildings and enriches standardized city centres or recreation parks with a diversity of dissident typologies varying from a Tree Tent in the form of a dewdrop to a Newspaper Kiosk with the silhouette of a communication satellite.

The Tree Tent has since become an attraction on the Hertshoorn camping site near Garderen in the east Netherlands. Placed high up on the tree-trunk, it was originally developed specially for conservationists. Wapenaar wanted to make things easier for activists who chained themselves to trees to prevent the woodland giants from being chopped down. The idea was for demonstrators to nestle close to the treetop, swaying in the wind, out of reach for the arm of the law. The hanging tents still embody this desire to escape gravity. As holiday accommodation they are certainly an alternative to flat-dwellers and long traffic queues.

Together, Wapenaar's tents form a miniature society, an alternative order within the established one, where the artist directs the 'game of encounters'. He sometimes stages innocuous activities such as reading a paper in his Newspaper Kiosk or chatting over a cup of coffee in his Coffee Stall. But the threat of miscommunication cannot always be camouflaged. A 'utopian meeting place' par excellence is the Babel Tent which, in Wapenaar's fence sketch, soars skyward in an ever-widening spiral. His variant of the symbol of thwarted human ambition and harmony is just as unlikely to reach heaven as Pieter Bruegel's famous Tower of Babel in the museum's collection. Indeed, the funnel-shaped construction embodies the ominous downward suck of a maelstrom.

In this way Wapenaar leads us back to his urban swamp. Nature and culture are rivals here, in the same way that urban planning competes with wild growth in the Museumpark. However, Wapenaar sees that rivalry as interaction too. He introduces an organic form of architecture that shoots up out of the soil like a colony of mushrooms. This colourful Tent Village is less persistent than the 'white mould' that affects residential districts - overspill towns, really - all over the country; but on a more modest scale Wapenaar's artistic excrescences are proving to be equally contagious. Even the cultural temple in the scaffolding is not immune.

Sauter la palissade; jumping the boarding; over de schutting springen: the artist has taken advantage of two monumental designs commissioned by the City Collection to suit the deed to the word.

For the tower of the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum Wapenaar has designed monumental banners which transform the building into a flagship, especially in this period of expansion and change. The banners are meant to catch the fresh wind that is needed to blow the cobwebs off the museum's unjustified image as a static, dusty institute. Or, as Wapenaar puts it: 'It's time for the museum to stop the rot.' His banners resemble not only billowing sails but mould, too: mildew seeking a way out of the new building before its completion.

Free of blemish, the re-opened museum will be able to focus on its reputation for being more than a 'utopian meeting place' for art and the public in the 21st century. By that time, mid-2002, only the garden at the back of the museum will have a view of the questionable utopia that Wapenaar first revealed on the fence. His design for the lake destroys the illusion of an unruffled stretch of water. The surface will be constantly disturbed by movements bubbling up from the depths. Ever-increasing circles on that surface will perpetuate the memory of the soil - both treacherous and fertile - on which the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum is built.

Wilma Sütö,
curator of the Rotterdam City Collection
(translation: Ruth König)

Dré Wapenaar in and around the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum:

February 24 - May 20 2001:
Design for the construction fence round the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum: sketches of settlements emerging from the soft soil, with utopian meeting places such as a Tent of Babel, surrounded by pitfalls in the swamp and gaps in the mist. Design and drawings: Dré Wapenaar, text: Laurence Medori

Sunday March 25 2001:
Dré Wapenaar will give a talk about his work as a sculptor and tent-maker. Illustrating his talk with a wealth of visual material, he will tell his audience about the tents & stands he has designed over the past ten years and the success of these experiments. The artist will also discuss his fence sketch and the other projects which the City Collection has invited him to carry out for the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum.
Start: 3 p.m., in the auditorium of the museum.

Saturday March 31 2001:
Presentation of the banners designed by Dré Wapenaar for the tower of the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum. Professional climbers and the artist himself will hoist the last of the banners, each several metres long, which will transform the museum into a flagship. This spectacular intervention in the urban landscape is one of the commissions issued to Dré Wapenaar by the Rotterdam City Collection.
The last flag will be hoisted from the museum tower at 2.30 p.m.

Studio GloriusVandeVen