Landscapes towards the end of the Maas (exhibition view)


Landscapes towards the end of the Maas is a year long research project about the urban landscape of Rotterdam, conducted in the context of an O&O subsidy from CBK Rotterdam. The final form of this research was showcased in february 2024 as an exhibition that showcased a dialogue between paintings and field recordings. The exhibition questions what the urban landscape tells us about a city that is growing ambitiously, as well as for whom it is growing and all those responsible for its growth. The exhibition was held in an imposing former school building, which is now partly run by an anti-squatting agency, located just south of the Afrikaanderwijk - a part of town where gentrification feels ever more present.

Text from the exhibition:

What does the present form of an urban landscape reveal about its past, suggest about its future, or say about the people who inhabit it?

Little over a year ago I walked into the city library and was faced with an exhibition of several scale models, each proudly illustrating a different project for urban development, all part of the new city plans to make Rotterdam greener. Previous to seeing these scale models I was blissfully unaware of these projects. The scale models were colour-coded. Grey represented the current existing infrastructure, green the parks and green areas to be built, and yellow represented a new tier of imposing buildings that were yet to be built. The sight instilled in me a strange dichotomy. On the one hand, the scale models felt playful and full of promise. On the other hand, I did not see myself reflected in their promise, and they left me feeling alienated and powerless. This catalysed a desire to better understand the city surrounding me, and a change in the way I experience and approach it.

On the 14th of May 1940, the historic centre of Rotterdam became the target for 13 minutes of bombing. What the explosions didn’t manage to destroy, the subsequent fires did. The city was laid flat, and was to be rebuilt from the ground up. Catastrophic as this event may have been, it offered the city the possibility of reinventing itself, and the clash from the multiple sides that attempted to take hold of this reconstruction can still be felt today. In its contrasting architectures, in the leftover misalignments of relocated avenues, or the remnants of the old railway system. Yet increasingly influential in the city’s organisation was the harbour. This was not only due to the influence of those profiting from it, but also due to the government turning to the economical potential of the harbour to fuel the reconstruction of the country after the war. This meant the city’s agenda was one of economical growth and profit. Cheap rent to match cheaper wages. A focus on international trade and particularly with New York, can be felt nowadays in the city’s car-friendly atmosphere, its perpendicular streets, and what I must assume to be the inspiration for much of its vertical architecture - I maintain that the Zalmhaventoren is a tasteless interpretation of the Empire State building. Yet does this focus on trade and growth overshadow care for its inhabitants?

Although I haven’t lived here for a long time, I’ve attained a sense of future here and slowly have started to feel like its inhabitant. However, I still struggle to feel home. Not so much for any cultural inadequacies or clashes, but more so due to my housing situation. Perhaps to navigate the hopelessness of searching for a new house to live in, I found myself wandering often around the many construction and demolition sites that have installed themselves in my neighbourhood.

Despite the strange soundscapes of heavy machinery, I would try to imagine the life that such places would soon hold. Something that always struck my eye were the colourful banners that protect the building sites from curious eyes, with their colourful illustrations depicting happy couples photoshopped on top of incorrectly lit 3D-rendered interpretations of whatever new housing block will soon rise behind them. Easily overlooked as they may be, it felt like these banners echoed urban aspiration and segregation. The taller the building block rose, the harder it became to fantasise about life in it.

Towards the beginning of my research I was able to visit a luxury apartment on the 35th floor of a new apartment building in downtown Rotterdam, and destroy the black and white chequered tile floors of both its toilets with a jackhammer. This chance came to me not so much in the context of this art project, but rather in the context of my occasional freelancing as a construction worker, since the new owner of this penthouse had decided the newly laid chequered floors were not to their taste in the end. Being granted access to the high views offered by this place made me realise how much of the city was inaccessible to me, both physically and visually. Looking down on the skewed perspectives of what felt like a scale model of so many of the streets I often cycle through, I felt a peaceful, almost privileged distance from the everyday city life happening down below. The distant impression of little vessels riding and cycling through the cracks interrupting the prominence of massive construction and tall infrastructure, showed no signs whatsoever of the intricate dynamics of human coexistence that dictates the more grounded reality of the urban environment.  It was a perspective that reminded me of aerial shots taken for news reports or surveillance. Or the sights offered by the airplane window shortly after taking off from the city’s airport, overlooking its suburbs and industrial outskirts blend into endless strips of parallel agriculture greens and yellows. It made me wonder what a daily exposure to such a distanced relation to the urban public realms must do to one’s experience and understanding of the city.

I find it difficult to understand my feelings towards this city, for whilst I harbour some criticism, I feel little urge to move elsewhere. Neither are the works presented in this exhibition informed by well articulated opinions, for I don’t believe that to be a useful basis for an artwork anyway. Rather, they explore and articulate the plethora of feelings that arise from my experience in this urban landscape I call home for now. Feelings of powerlessness. Present, but ephemeral. Alienated, yet belonging.

The opening was held on the 2nd of February.

︎︎︎ Work