new netherlands, 2050

Exhibiting is roughly speaking about showing what things and thoughts you’ve got. A collection of objects as a point of departure is its tradition, but nowadays, a collection of ideas might be an equally valid incentive. An exhibition might even be rooted in a former exhibition on the subject. These extensions make the exhibition a robust framework for telling a factual or fictional story. In this perspective, exhibiting is about presenting a narrative, and this notion of the exhibition as a talking space became a hot topic in the last two decades. For me, this paradigm shift started early on in my professional career. The 1983 De Stijl exhibition in The Hague was about the abstract relationship between painting and architecture. Here, audiovisual media were used to explore and bring forward the parameters of De Stijl’s architectural concept. Original models and drawings were supportive of that exploration. Similarly, the 1986 Vision der Moderne exhibition in Frankfurt presented different voices and interpretations of the heritage of classical modernism in the architecture of the time. And now, in 1987, the design practice in urban planning of The Netherlands was at stake in the exhibition New Netherlands 2050.

New Netherlands 2050 was an initiative of the Nederland Nu Als Ontwerp Foundation, NNAO short, aiming to envision the future of The Netherlands according to four different sociopolitical scenarios. These four scenarios, labeled with the catchwords dynamic, careful, critical, and relaxed, were to be read respectively as neo-liberal, Christian democrat, social democrat, and technocratic. The main line of thought was the outcome considering a frozen status quo, and all political decision-making until 2050 was done according to these scenarios. The residue of this process would be four different images of the country in the year 2050. This residue would materialize in maps, drawings, pictures, 3D models, film, and interactive media, shaping the exhibition collection in the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam. Lenneke Büller and I were invited to be part of this non-governmental project, which deeply affected us and other participants due to its experimental approach and independent attitude.

We created a nine-projector multi-screen slide show for the exhibition, presenting animated graphics of plans and visualizations of future developments. The archetypical struggle with the sea and its predicted rising levels became central to our introduction. We adopted the hyperbolic saying that if God created the world, the Dutch created The Netherlands, so as if we were making a clean slate for the four scenarios, we focused on the primordial Dutch landscape by the sea. The project’s idea, the workshops and discussions, and the act of collaboration all had a profound impact on our future work. They showed us that an exhibition, as a narrative environment, could be created from scratch with only a vision to guide us.

museum & medium project

The successive probes with audiovisual media within the context of thematically abstract exhibitions in The Hague, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam raised the desire to have a more profound discussion about its implications for the various disciplines involved. Also, there were lessons to learn from the world of theater in terms of multidisciplinary collaboration, the notion of the exhibition as an open work of art, and the dramaturgy of the staged environment as a whole. We proposed a research project called Museum & Medium. The Dutch Ministry of Culture expressed its willingness to support it, and a foundation was set up to guide the research and keep things conceptually on track. The board of this Camini Foundation consisted of Fons Asselbergs, Jean Leering, Felix Valk, and Herman Kossmann. The foundation’s name referred to Theo van Doesburg’s alter ego, Aldo Camini, whose actions in the De Stijl movement entailed a counterforce at the time.

the rietveld schröder house

For the Walker Art Center exhibition in 1982, I photographed the inner and exterior of the Rietveld Schröder House in Utrecht. At that time, Rietveld’s commissioner and co-creator, Truus Schröder, was 92 years old and still living by herself in the house. I was introduced to her by the end of 1981, which was a memorable experience. With Dick van Woerkom, I visited various modernist works of architecture: Haus Lange by Mies van der Rohe in Krefeld, Zonnestraal by Johannes Duiker in Hilversum, the Van Nelle factory in Rotterdam, and so on. Being a young photographer and visiting the colorful interior of the Schröder House in the presence of its auctor intellectualis was an entirely different ballgame. Luckily, she invited me to get on with my photography while critically watching me. So, I decided to start outdoors. Getting to grips with the movable interior was far too challenging to begin with. But, we got along quite well over the days, and she liked the coffee and tea breaks for a chat about the luxury and shortcomings of living in an interior with all sorts of sliding panels. She also mentioned getting tired of the comments she received about the mess on her bookshelves from people who expected it all to be a museum. Well, that’s life; you cannot change anything about that, her answer usually was.

Truus Schröder lived in her house until she died in 1985 at 96. In the preceding years, we became acquainted so well that Lenneke and I had the chance to record an extensive interview with her on audiotape. That interview was to be the core of the book on the Rietveld Schröder House, which we published after its restoration. The British art historian Paul Overy wrote an introductory essay, and the Dutch architect Bertus Mulder, who was in charge of the restoration, contributed with a survey of his concept. The house’s restoration offered me an extraordinary opportunity to experience its interior in its original state. I had the chance to spend time alone, studying the changing patterns of light, transforming the space by sliding the interior panels, and carefully studying all those gadgets Rietveld and Schröder invented. I photographed that restored interior with a technical camera, which allowed me to picture the house almost as if it were the ultimate Corbusian machine for living in. At the same time, the camera rendered so much physical detail that one could quickly go along with Rem Koolhaas’ qualification of the house as a gypsy wagon without wheels.

selected projects

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