CHARLOIS SPECIAAL 10. VI - 19. VI 2016.
A little more than two years ago I stayed in the Netherlands for the first time. With its modern and vivid architecture, Rotterdam offered an experience different from the typical Dutch idyll that I had expected. I’ve always gladly avoided big cities and their crowds, the rush, traffic jams, massiveness and masses make me anxious. After just one walk I realized that Rotterdam is a different story and that the tension between its contrasts is what makes this city pulsate with life in harmony. Everything seems simple, accessible, relaxed; a lot of public spaces are like (mise en scène) settings, carefully selected elements put together in the service of a (plot) play - the lives of its citizens. I was born in Yugoslavia in a country that no longer exists and I lived in Serbia one of the former republics of that state, where everything is pretty dead now. The city that exists because of its citizens, listens to them and satisfies their needs has been a revelation.
In order to describe that feeling of relief to someone from my country, I give them as a symbolic example the making of an asphalt trail which I witnessed. Like other people, I often used this shortcut, one of those footpaths that people make in the grass to shorten the way. This was a pretty short footpath in an emerging city point, which made it even uglier. One day an asphalt trail with nicely arranged green area emerged there. There are a lot of bumpy shortcuts in my hometown used for years which during winter turn into mud, but people continue to use them because it’s the easiest, most convenient way to their destinations. But no one notices that and the town always has more important things than the people who live in it. Everything is upside down there anyways, it seems that the people exist because of cities and their governments, and anyone can become their victim at any time and place. In that disintegrated society of destroyed institutions, compromised in so many ways, imprisoned in perpetuum mobile of its un-remedied errors, impoverished and deserted, the streets are a potential threat.
As someone who graduated philosophy I became clearly convinced that aspiring to one’s ideals is a fruitless folly in that society, so I’ve come here, where the folly is praised, where after centuries of humanistic tradition the ideals are a natural frame of the habitus.
With my husband who is a painter I have been living in Oud-Charlois for some time. It’s an area in the historical nucleus of Charlois in the south of Rotterdam. I’ve heard stories about squats and anti-squatting initiative put in motion long time ago - the “cleaning” of a problematic part of the city for and with the artists. As a result, culture and artists are today the foundation of the identity of this area. A lot of creative people have found their piece of liberty here. I have the privilege of being surrounded by artists, which allows me to directly enjoy all the spontaneity and restlessness of those creative spirits in everyday life. That’s possible here. Artists are acknowledged and have their role in society like any other profession, and precisely that role of an artist often becomes apparent hand in hand with his fight for work conditions and survival. That is not possible in my country. The artist is in paradox. There are no squats, no anti-squats; art organizations and associations are bureaucratic and sterile institutions modelled on state institutions; as such, they don’t provide a place in society for the artist. Despite the fact that he acquired his knowledge through rigid and demanding education, his seemingly recognized profession as such is actually completely unnecessary. In Netherlands some people use the phrase “left wing hobbyists” with abhorrence, which illustrates their misunderstanding of artists and their position in the world. In my country the similar phrase is merely more civilised version of discrimination. The average attitude towards artists is much more primitive - merely being an artist is reason enough to be beaten, and the only existent art scenes are in the service of maintaining the regime and not in the service of art society or society as a whole.
Oud-Charlois used to be a village, but it became part of Rotterdam at the end of the 19th century. Because of job growth in the harbour at the beginning of the 20th century, a large number of apartments for workers were built here; today they are mostly incorporated in the social housing project. Oud-Charlois has a special charm for me; its atmosphere reminds me of the days I spent in my grandmother’s village in Vojvodina, the region that has always been the most cultured part of Yugoslavia - multicultural, hard-working, agricultural, progressive - similar to the Netherlands. Maybe I’ve associated the two because of the feeling of relaxation which I haven’t had the opportunity to experience easily since - it’s poor but not miserable. The difference is huge - it’s human.
Overjoyed by the fact that one hundred fifty artists live in Oud -Charlois, I’ve become interested in the process of enrichment of the community (implementation of such simple and noble ideas). But the first three things that pop out when you google Oud Charlois are crime, history and problems in Rotterdam. Where is progress? What was it like before? What is the future?
I don’t know much, I’m trying to understand and I know how I feel when I process experience. The immediate reality is my neighbourhood, a street with fifty addresses which artists use as work and living space. *introduce a reader with crucial facts about NAC, to explain the existence of this apartments, also it could be good to mention statistics - how many people have lived/worked in spaces NAC managed since 2004/ They say that there used to be a lot of different criminal activities, illegal immigrants and ruined houses in the neighbourhood. Today it’s a quiet and neat street with playful children. More than 170 different nationalities live in Rotterdam, especially in Charlois, which has been an area of migrants since the beginning of the 20th century. They settled here as workers to seek their fortune. Immigrants from all parts of the world live here today; the poorest social classes, blue-collar workers, people unable to work and “citizens of the world” - artists. More artists live in Charlois than in the rest of the city, more than three hundred of them. Because I still haven’t visited the whole area, the upcoming festival is a great opportunity to see that rarity. In one conversation I accepted the idea to, as a reflective visitor, note my impressions.
So, I made an itinerary based on the program. I was a bit reserved and sceptical as far as my expectations were concerned for two reasons: firstly, I don’t speak Dutch, so how was I to follow the program? But I was quickly calmed by the fact that English is in wide use here and phenomenologically speaking – it’s the possibility of adventures. The second reason was my previous experience with a similar event. The ten-day festival of culture and art in Charlois, Charlois Speciaal, arose from Kunstweekend, the two-day event guided by the same idea of promoting culture and art that live in the southern part of the city, “far” on the other river bank, and presenting the other facet of the “notorious” area. Kunstweekend didn’t seem to accomplish that goal, in my opinion. Lack of initiative, detachment of the hither art scene from the other part of the city and alienation from the neighbourhood left a dominant impression, possibly because I had just come to Holland and therefore was vulnerable, but the number of visitors was without doubt crushingly low - they were mainly participants and their close friends and colleagues.
I didn’t aspire then (and I don’t now) to criticize art as such and the offered art content of Charlois scene. I was interested in context and the pivotal idea, which was, in my opinion, more important than any individual artistic presentation. I was complaining then about the timing of the event because it took place at the same time as the open art studios tour in the northern part of the city. It is well known, and people often say, that no one comes to Charlois without a specific purpose, especially when something more interesting and closer takes place. This year the two events have also overlapped partially, but the festival has surprised me.
Hundreds of artists on more than seventy locations have participated in this festival in more than thirty projects and fifty open studios. The content of the festival was partly organized by themes, probably with a purpose to involve a large number of participants and provide setting which could facilitate interaction with the community and attract visitors. Dogs, food, textiles, gardening and tattoos maybe seemed like a trite choice, but this context was beneficial to correspondence. I admit the enthusiasm rubbed off on me. There were posters, fliers and programs everywhere and artists were marking their locations, so I went to the opening. (PF1)
Mostly participants, artists and organizers gathered in Oud-Charlois at a small park square of Karel de Stoute to mark the inauguration of the festival and share the excitement and relief - the first Charlois Speciaal could begin! There were a lot of shiny, happy people in that small park bathed in sunshine. Summer is the season of festivals in the Netherlands and it seems to me that the Dutch especially know how to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of a sunny day. Every green area easily becomes a lounge. Drinks, snacks, chatter, speeches of revisions and support, applauses, music. Local brass band composed of five Antilleans headed the first parade led by the director of the festival Piet de Jong. There were more than fifteen locations in three different areas just at the opening night. I couldn’t decide where to go first, so I decided to follow the parade.
The first location was the Maastunnel garage, where artists Marlies Lageweg and Erik van der Geer held their exhibitions. There was an exhibition of blown-up polaroid photos representing images of dogs in Charlois on the ground floor of the garage, and DNA Rotterdam on the first floor, reminder of the bombardment of Rotterdam which addressed the idea of the connection between collective and individual memory, history and identity - a good starting point.
Masstunnel connects southern and northern part of the city, two banks of the river Nieuwe Maas. Built from 1937-1942, this tunnel with separate lanes for cars, pedestrians and cyclists, situated below the bottom of the river bed and 20 meters below the sea level, is almost 1400 meters long and represents a symbol of modernization and progress of Rotterdam, although it originated in the era when Europe was shadowed by the darkness of the WWII when most of city centre was destroyed in bombardment in 1940. The tunnel is a symbol of resistance. It evaded the Nazi demolition in 1944. Up to this day it remains preserved and nurtured in the spirit of its original appearance. Massive 16 m tall wooden stairways and the smell of machine oil tell their story. The tunnel is a historical monument and the jugular that connects Charlois to the centre of the city (which is quite close if you go this way). Thousands of people use it to complete their daily responsibilities, and while it represents a bond for the people in Charlois, the people of the north see it as a kind of a border.
Right in the centre of Oud-Charlois, across a 600-year old church, there is a Centre of Japanese culture (Japanese Culture Centre). It opened ten years ago with an idea to familiarize a wider audience with Japanese culture, religion and traditional arts through various activities. Learning of Japanese language and martial arts, sushi and shiatsu courses are just some of them. In this occasion the Centre opened the exhibition “Life in Technicolor” of the Japanese painter Yoshiyuki Koinuma, who had stayed to live and work in Rotterdam after an “artist in residence” program. The opening took place in a pleasant and authentic atmosphere accompanied by traditional Japanese food. I took some brochures about Shinto and moved on thinking how lucky I was to have such an exotic situation near my home - a Japanese garden and a distant culture seen up-close. (PF2)
I studied the program and realized that my intention to see as much as possible was ambitious enough. There were more than twenty events every day in different areas of Charlois and often at the same time, so it was impossible to see everything. I decided to at least try to go to each area, feel the atmosphere and not miss one-day events. The program didn’t help me much because it was rather confusing; the content of the festival was organized in different ways - thematically by projects, by locations, by the names of the participants - and therefore pretty complicated. Though I noticed a lot of mistakes, it was the only thing I could rely on. Besides, it was my neighbourhood; I was going to manage somehow. I just wondered how it seemed to some curious potential visitor from the opposite river bank and if it was confusing or encouraging.
Many of us celebrated the first evening at the Pavilion, a cafe with a terrace, a newly obtained location of the art initiative Charlois aan het Water (Charlois on the waterfront) *crucial facts/ . On the way to the Pavilion, towards Maashaven, I came across the project of the German artist Antja Guenther “The future is to empty to inhabit“. (PF3) Eight posters designed as an experiment of installations in public space, four textual and four photographic, addressed the policy of public space improvement. I could see the meaning of tetris logic in fragments. Displayed on the construction fence in the middle of a road reconstruction, with splendid and huge skyscrapers on Wilhelminapier designed by famous architects in the background, the posters were very suggestive. I shook the discomfort off and rushed to the Pavilion - new place, new enthusiasm, new refuge and new defence.
In a former industrial area of the city block Tarwewijk, between the road and the river, right on the riverbank is the Pavilion (aan het water), an old barrack rearranged into two residence studios for guest artists. First six months of the year it’s rent out to a guest artist and the rest of the year it’s transformed into a cafe-restaurant. With the opening of the Pavilion and its neat terrace within the project Charlois on the waterfront, the rough neighbourhood begins to breathe.
After the hostess of “Aloradi night“ Janneke van der Putten introduced audiovisual project “People and dogs”, there was a performance of noise musician Gabriel Castillo and DJ Sierra, both from Peru. The program was also part of the Aloradi exchange program, where the artists from Peru presented their works in the Netherlands. During the rest of the Festival in the Pavilion were held culinary and bakery open workshops. The food was the ground for intercultural dialogue led by guest artist Silvio Palladino. The motive of bread (lat.panis) sublimated in the necessity of com-pani-onship. (PF4)
The first weekend of the festival was a blast. Although the weather changed, this new Charlois was shiny and bright. There were so many open doors in the streets! It was one thing to read the numbers of locations and a completely different thing to feel the energy of the streets with so many doors wide open, whose humble walls hid authentic oases of the creative world. There were as many as fourteen open studios in Gouwstraat and three studios in Wolphaertstraat, along with Wolfart Project Space, a gallery which in this occasion also became a radio station that broadcasted Rotterdam Art and Radio (RAAR) three hours a day, every day of the Festival. RAAR included discussions and debates and live performances of local musicians, and everything was streamed live on the Festival website with the host Joshua Thies. At same place photography exhibition of Robert de Hartogh depicted the history of migrant workers in Charlois who started to come here in the 1950’s from Spain, Turkey, Italy and Morocco looking for work in the harbour and in big companies. (PF5)
I headed towards Maastunnel, southern exit for cyclists. Two Turkish men from two generations played traditional Turkish instruments davul and zurna. (PF6) It was conceived as an authentic welcome to everyone who would exit the Maastunnel in Charlois and possibly visit the Festival. The sounds filled the air and without a doubt woke up the whole neighbourhood. The older man explained that his instrument was even louder in his native Turkish highlands, where the sound bounced off one hill and echoed to the other. At the same time he was waving his hand as if playing zurna here didn’t give him much pleasure. On the other hand, for the younger musician, and probably for many generations, Dutch lowland represented home. I was thinking about relativity of alienation and how “far” Charlois was from the other river bank, rooting for the Festival to make some progress in that regard.
As the day passed it was sunnier and sunnier and I met more and more people holding the CHS magazine in their hands and heading to the festival. There was a crowd around a local pet shop, where Q.S.Serafijn organized photo sessions with dogs titled “All the values of Charlois” in an improvised mobile studio. Dogs posed with collars labelled “Charlois” and their proud owners got free pictures. Enthusiastic owners jostled, mostly women who badgered their pets insisting on a “perfect smile”. (PF7)
On the way to the Carnisse city block I attended the exhibition in De Charloisse Poort. (PF8) Apart from a show room, De Charloisse Poort has a work space and a sculptural workshop of Frank Heijnen, and also serves as a living and work space for the residents. Down the same long street almost at every corner are fast food kiosks and restaurants; Surinamese, Polish, Hungarian, Turkish, Italian, Greek, antique shops and greengrocer’s shops, internet booths offering low-cost calls to Africa, and three more open artist’s studios. I walked there almost every day without knowing or thinking about the “art content” of the street with its charming sources of carelessness and warmth. After discovering them, I was excited to experience more.
As I moved further away from the centre of Oud - Charlois, towards Carnisse, the atmosphere became more and more burdensome. Despite the poverty, something that people who live in Charlois definitely have in common, the neighbourhood seems peaceful and welcoming. I notice more and more frequently that houses under the responsibility of housing corporations and real estate companies are being sold rather quickly after a bit of embellishment – verkoht! More and more people look for affordable housing, and Charlois is gradually becoming a decent neighbourhood. Carnisse is a central and also old pre-war part of Charlois, inhabited especially by Polacks in the past few years (that’s my impression). In close proximity to one of many Polish shops, Turkish market and Aldi is situated Carnisse cultuurwerkplaats, culture workshop founded by the people from this neighbourhood with a purpose of improving life in the community. I found out that it is also a project of associations Zuidzijde* and was initially supported by Museum Rotterdam, the former Historical Museum Rotterdam, which was interested in an idea of preserving current reality as future history.
Performance and presentation of activities of the workshop were announced. “The original southerners with love for the South” organize themselves and hold various events, exhibitions, courses, children workshops, presentations and group dinners and breakfasts, showing their neighbourhood that they are there for each other. They’ve seen a chance for better life in deploying their goodwill. The atmosphere was cheerful and gradually became more and more loud and hilarious accompanied by sounds of live music. At first glance everything seemed a bit surreal and confusing. I watched passersby – at first they would be surprised and watch their playful fellow-citizens with a bit of irony, but soon the optimism of the good people of Carnisse would put a smile on their faces. The crowd were rising; everyone was there, from brawny Polacks and sleek Chinese to a shy old lady who only slightly opened her door, a Turkish family and some blue-collared workers. Instead of alienation, their playfulness radiated humanism. That experience refreshed me – life survives through improvisation, curiousness, creativity and humour. (PF9)
I discovered a charming, discrete place Koffie & Ambacht nearby and found out that concerts and other events took place there three years in a row. Within the Festival Eveline de Jonge organized poetry reading and a concert of musicians from Charlois. I didn’t know whether or not I would be able to attend the event, but I already gained by discovering a mosque nearby. Furthermore, a Dutch man apologized to me for the bombardment of Serbia in 1999.
On the east side Carnisse exits towards Zuidplein shopping centre, the main shopping centre in the southern Rotterdam. It was built in the 1960’s and is one of the largest shopping centres in the Netherlands and there are regional bus and metro stations also. It is peculiar because it’s not so popular despite its size and equipment. Customers doubt their safety because the centre is in the poor neighbourhood and also because a large number of people circulate here. As a part of socially conscious art project, Erik van Lieshout used to run a shop in Zuidplein during a certain period of time under the motto “the real luxury is not buying”. He didn’t sell anything, but rather communicated with other shop-keepers and people from this poor blue-collar neighbourhood. The film made as a result of this project was screened within CHS in Piekfijn, the largest second-hand shop in the neighbourhood, favourite amongst many people from this area, where you can find virtually everything for less than 5 Euros.
During workweek Ko de Kok and Florian Borstlap installed their specially designed pop-up music studio in the middle of the shopping centre, animating ”ordinary people” to participate in the creation of the music album “Soul of south”. Photographer Corrie Kruif, who along with four other artists creates in a vacant part of one primary school nearby, also found the inspiration for her new project “Women” in the intensity of Zuidplein’s atmosphere. She took pictures of women of different ethnicity, women from Charlois that she met at the shopping centre or metro station, thus exploring similarities and beauty of diversity. (PF10)
On the south of Carnisse is situated Zuiderpark, a huge, green futuristic oasis. This urban park with wide, green areas, waterway, little beach, courts for skateboarding and basketball, training equipment and playground, is a real paradise for barbecuing. When the weather is nice, families or migrant couples from all parts of the world come here to enjoy themselves. The first time I saw this park, full of people and all surrounded with greenery, it seemed completely exotic, like a scene from SF movie about some utopian community. The park in itself is impressive, but I doubt that it has many visitors apart from the people from the neighbourhood, except when it’s in the focus of interest during music and other events. That oasis divides old part of Charlois from post-war city quarters Zuiderwijk and Pendrecht.
Tens of thousands of homes were destroyed in the WWII and tens of thousands of people were left without a roof over their heads. Pendrecht was built out of city’s need for living space in the 1950’s with the idea of making a healthy, green and multicultural neighbourhood where each block would completely satisfy the needs of its dwellers of all generations. Today the concept of an ideal mix is nowhere in sight. A large population in Pendrecht was attracted from all over the world, people unable to find affordable living conditions anywhere else. Pendrecht even has had a bad reputation for a long time. In order to improve that image in the media, people organized a campaign to choose a hero citizen of the month, a positive example for each month. The campaign was successful and despite its poverty, this city quarter is now seen as a decent and safe refuge.
After the reconstruction in 2009, a project titled Window Tales in which artists made 56 stained glass windows in halls of reconstructed buildings; Pendrecht is now in the process of another reconstruction. *crucial facts/ ''Worlds of...'' is an ongoing project presented to us by artist Kamiel Verschuren during a night tour through three streets in Pendrecht. Thujs Ewalts, Laurien Dumbar, Tom Gallant and Kamiel Verschuren are artists participating in an art project based on renovation of four residential blocks with a purpose of enrichment of living space and everyday life of the tenants. New vertical windows are done in digital assemblage stained glass. Besides bringing more light into narrow, dark halls, they depict motives and elements of diverse discourses of civilization, everything that represents the World, its different fields, world of community, statistics, science, geography, physiology, nature, animals and plants, underwater world, physiology, astronomy, archaeology, alphabet, domestic science, history of human rights. These images-information-suggestions, these palimpsests of a sort open associations and points of view; they provoke and let you in to the variety and complexity of human world. The tenants are to receive a project brochure, when they move in, in which the content of the display’s vertical line will be explained through a lexicon of a sort. I imagine... I think about the kids who will rush down those stairs a couple of times a day, play in front of the entrance between images that will awake their feelings, curiosity, imagination, open questions and new perspectives. (PF11)
As the night is falling, I watched the neighbourhood through heavy rain, its uneasiness, isolation, painstaking fights for survival, and I accepted to believe that there really was that type of social care, not limited to conditions of mere survival, but also led by the idea of nurturing the beautiful, the noble and the humanistic as equally important human needs, where the role of artists was irreplaceable. Wasn’t this Festival a testimony of that fact?
I inadvertently chose what else to see in Tarwewijk. In the north-east of Charlois, along and beyond Maashaven, down the river and old and new grain processing factories, storages and silos, towards Metro station Qeen of the South, starts a hard-core atmosphere. They say that Tarwewijk used to have a high crime rate and that the situation has improved over the past few years. There were two open studios in the close proximity of the metro station, and on a one building window next to the busy road there was an installation for performance - artist Sara Pape García opened wide the door of her apartment. It was an interlacing of street and intimacy, the private and the public, burden and play.
A bit further was opened Studio Wandschappen, where art and design combined in the work of art couple Nicole Driessens & Ivo van der Bar. The exhibition “Cityscapes”, opened within CHS, presented visual and social elements of Charlois. Enlarged photographs of piles of garbage and discarded furniture on the streets in front of houses were a testimony of migrations in Charlois. One of the reasons for those “street sculptures” was the fact that people were often obligated to move out of the apartments that no longer were able to pay for, or the apartments designated for renovation and therefore no longer affordable. They moved out leaving poor inventory of their homes on the street. (PF12)
I was definitely going to miss lot of the events; the program was still confusing. I watched other visitors; I recognized some of them, mainly people who were related to art in one way or another. I wanted to know how many people from the neighbourhood visited the Festival and what it meant to them, whether they noticed it or not, and in what way. I accepted the fact that I wouldn’t be able to see everything, and maybe there was no need. I was sure most of the visitors didn’t even try; they usually stayed where food and drinks were.
It was sunny again; the day was perfect for events at Heijplaat – a revelation of the Festival for me. Heijplaat is a city quarter accessible only through industrial park Waalhaven Zuid. It is rather remote and inaccessible, so the organizers of the Festival made an effort not to let this jewel be forgotten and arranged transport by minibus. Heijplaat was built at the beginning of the last century for shipyard workers (RDM, 1904.) In the early 1920s it was an independent community cut off from the city. In the 1930s quarantine facility was built here, made for sailors who were coming back from distant seas infected with various diseases but due to the development of Penicillin during the war the Quarantine was never used. Artists have been living in a complex of buildings Quarantine Station Heijplaat for 30 years now. With more than thirty artists who live or work here this is the oldest living art initiative in Rotterdam. *crucial facts/ For this occasion about fifteen artsits and cultural producers organized an enjoyable program at Heijlplaat; Wim van Egmond, Helmut Smits, Harm Goslink, Davide Iserief, Masja Immink and many others. Parts of intact nature, the only natural river beach in Rotterdam, magical atmosphere of a hidden location, program that includes workshops, exhibitions, screenings, promenades, storytelling and a lot of music, all contributed to an authentic enjoyment. It’s impossible to describe Heijplaat, you have to experience it. It’s a peaceful oasis far from the asphalt jungle with a view of Schiedam, situated behind massive tanker ships and gigantic dock buildings. You feel like you are many kilometres away, in another climate, and not here in Charlois. (PF13)
I was back in the old centre to attend a photo exhibition in Oude Kerk. Stacii Samidin allowed us to take a peek at otherwise invisible small religious communities and sense a conglomerate of subcultures in this ethnically colourful neighbourhood. (PF14) Someone jokingly said: “What kind of a church is this? It doesn’t even look like a church!” Indeed, if you’re from Chile or Serbia, you’re not used to churches being rented as public spaces and opening their doors to various secular events. I didn’t let myself think too much about it; I wanted only positive things- after all, I was at a festival! - There were books of the Holy Scriptures in four languages on a shelf at the entrance.
Opposite the church is gallery Hommes, the only one in this neighbourhood up to recently. Gallery has been trying to support artists from Charlois for years; in this occasion it organized its program completely around the topic of Dogs. There were lectures, screenings, poetry readings and dog parades - it was friendly and fun, as it usually is with dogs. (PF15)
The whole neighbourhood has been improved over the past few years. It’s taken time to make it appealing and somewhat recognizable as an art zone. It seems to me that the ordinary audience, the one not related to Charlois art scene in any way, has mainly been visiting precisely Oud Charlois, an authentic little cultural centre, not daring to expand the circle.
Recently opened Rib gallery, with its conceptually oriented program and intellectualism so to speak, has also found its place here. (PF16) I believe that as a result of that, young artists, students and people from this field visit the neighbourhood more often, attending the exhibitions or at least the openings. An architectural bureau and a fashion studio have also been opened here recently. Fashion studio of Al Mamoun Benmira is right at the corner of the streets Wolphaertstraat and Gouwstraat. Once a bit unattractive, this corner is now embellished with large studio windows on three sides. The studio exits on both streets and unburdens and enriches them with its transparency, giving them an exclusive and relaxed look.
Artists have obtained most of these living and work spaces through their autonomous, self-organized associations. The aforesaid initiative Quarantine lasts about 30 years. NAC, New studio Charlois, an independent non-profit organization, established in 2004 is a special fighter responsible for about hundred addresses. As I said, there are now more than ten impressive studios in Gouwstraat*; the street was a beautiful sight during the Festival. Pottery of Bert Kloppers, textile of Maaike Gottschal and paintings of Ruud Goedhart are just some of the contents of this street’s creative life. There’s also an art book shop Walgenbach art & books here with a wide offer of books about visual arts, and in this occasion it served as a show room for the exhibition of drawings and graphics of Hans Andringa. I left with an unforgettable experience from open studio Panos pianos. Without having a clue what to expect and being in a hurry, I opened the door and found myself directly in front of the stage during the intermission. The classical music concert continued; there were only two of us in the audience, but never mind, it was magical! The stage is normally used for performances, workshops, and theatre and film screenings. (PF17)
Not far away is situated Pompstraat studio complex. It is living and work space of the artist Jasper Niens, along with five more studios.* Apart from opening their studios, artists organized a very charming event within the Festival, which communicated with the neighbourhood maybe more than other events. Despite the bad weather, artists followed their original idea of pleasing and animating multitude of Turkish, Antillean and Surinam kids. The kids drew on a broad floor of a former garage and let their imagination and spontaneity run wild; photographer Mladen Suknovic made every little participant a polaroid portrait. (PF18)
While the first Saturday of the festival was a blast, the second weekend wasn’t particularly promising and there were far less visitors. Conceived as a celebration of summer, the parade of artist Jacco Weener and his entourage, titled “New seasons”, set off from Oude Kerk accompanied by light rain. Unfortunately, the event attracted very little attention. The parade headed to Otje. (PF19) Het Otje is an art initiative in two residential blocks with a shared yard that artists also obtained through the organization NAC more than ten years ago. *more facts/It’s reorganized today and includes more than thirty living and work spaces, exhibition space Club Atent and a shared garden and greenhouse made by artists themselves. The Balcony festival is an event in which the artists stage art and music performances of various genres from their balconies, while the audience watch from the garden transformed into public space for that occasion. The rain that disrupted the event put me in a bad mood and I headed to B.a.d.
Behind Foundation B.a.d. lies a very interesting, almost 20-year old story. Another art initiative, the B.a.d. foundation, turned a squat in an old school building into a long-term lease. Apart from shared exhibition space situated in an old school hall, there are three residence studios for guest artists, six apartments and eighteen studios for more than twenty artists in this reconstructed building today. *crucial facts/ The artists arranged live 3D Magazine for the Festival, allowing us to feel the atmosphere of their daily efforts. Old and new works were presented in the hall and in open studios, along with a special program which included various performances, discussions, video-presentations, video-projects and photographs, work of Marco Douma, Anique Wave, Jannine Schrijver, Jeroen Jongeleen, and many other contributors. There was a flier in front of every studio - visual and conceptual description of artist’s occupations so after visiting all studios in a particular order and collecting the fliers, every visitor would have an art magazine of the festival B.a.d. in his hands. (PF20)
After the inevitable refreshments, I went to the final party. (PF21) Although the end of the Festival wasn’t until the next day, Saturday night was the perfect time for the Pavilion to gather the participants, organizers and other people of good will once again. We danced away all our worries, fatigues and expectations from the past ten days.
A bit tired from the party, I faced the last, tenth day of the festival – Sunday. Luckily, I found Tess Wijnen’s subtle story at the corner of the street Boergoense Vliet. The artist organized an unusual tour of the street she lived in, a walk with headphones transmitting street sounds - splash of a fountain, bird tweets, chatter, dog barks, trolley and interview with neighbours; in the church, Polish shop, coffee shop, on a bench. Although I don’t speak Dutch, I embraced this unusual experience of perception layering and sharing intimacy with the street on a sunny afternoon. (PF22)
I continued towards XX Multiple Gallery.* During the Festival this old farmhouse with authentic exterior and with interior transformed into an exhibition space, situated near trolley line number two turntable, served as a location for Charlois’ wine tasting. Sicilian artist Giuseppe Licari transferred his passion for growing grapes and making wine onto his colleague artists. With a help from other enthusiasts, he has been producing a limited collection of different sorts of wine in Charlois every year since 2009. Wine is then sold at auction during the presentation. And so the Charlois wine is gradually becoming an authentic little tradition. Although most visitors were still hung-over from the previous night, we were all left with an impression that the wine was a perfect medium for promoting multiculturalism. (PF23)
Behind XX Gallery lies Wielewaal; this was where CHS ended for me. This city quarter was also built in order to provide new homes after the destruction of Rotterdam in WWII. This is a bit cramped neighbourhood with narrow streets and rows of about five hundred fifty small one-storey houses with yards, originally built as temporary homes. Some are occupied by artists on the same principle of favourable living and work spaces obtained from housing companies.* It was deserted and a little girl was telling me something. I realized that she wanted to direct me towards an event in front of one of the small houses. French artist Elise Guilhard who lived and worked there was presenting her projects; just like at the beginning of the Festival in Maastunnel, it was an encounter with the history of Charlois, this time even more remote. In fact the name ‘’Charlois’’ originated in the 15th century when Philip of Burgundy gave his son Charles the Bold today’s Charlois area. Charles named it after himself - Charollais, which later became Charlois. I found out that there was also Charollais County in France named the same way as Charlois and that this connection motivated the artist to open a dialogue with both communities. (PF24)
Isn’t that what artists do - connect, make bridges and reshape? Today as we witness one “crisis” after another and while all types of threats flow into one basic - threat to the humane, the artist is a shield.
The artist’s position in society is always more or less dual. He is always detached from society to an extent; immersed in the uniqueness of his perspective and sensibility; and at the same time he is organically integrated into society, focused on the development of the environment, watching over its primordial value - its culture.
Artists in Charlois share poverty with their neighbours; but they enrich the environment they live and work in. Using their creativity, as unique participants in social processes they subtly channel and absorb all levels of consequences of social changes, and thus contribute to the wider community in the long term.
Arts initiatives arose precisely from the recognition of that purpose, which at the same time represents the artist’s fight for basic living conditions; managing and creating affordable living and working spaces means supporting artistic practice and vice versa. It’s encouraging to know that the authorities have an ear for them.
Maybe that was exactly the main purpose of the Charlois Speciaal. Those ten days didn’t just revolve around art, festivity, socializing, music and food (although the audience is always mostly drawn by these elements). The festival also represented discovering and getting to know these values, which is Charlois’ specialty; it’s what makes it extraordinary, and I would say - exemplary.
I look forward to the next CHS.