Oceaniëstraat recto/verso

2011, twofold installation
Text projection (recto)
Video chronicle and photo archive (verso)
Group exhibition at Nieuwevaart Ghent, May 2011
Group exhibition at DOK Ghent, Summer 2011
Solo exhibition at MIAT Museum Ghent, Summer 2012

Oceaniëstraat recto/verso is a twofold installation based on weekly interventions in Oceaniëstraat, Ghent. It was created within the context of an interdisciplinary research project at KASK School of Arts Ghent, focusing on “urban cracks”, in-between time spaces in the city.

excerpt from video chronicle (verso)

text projection (recto)

Maybe this is a sidetrack of the old railway system along the docks

like my interventions are only a sidetrack of the bigger picture.

To help

to dig out

to understand

how the/a context determines the/a content

how an intervention is read according to layers of meaning

visible and invisible.

« The camera is a pretext to gain access to this world

and learn about all these things. » (A.-M. Lê)

On satellite images of Google Earth you can see a curved track running through the grass

on the site behind the gated inlet on Oceaniëstraat.

I contact Pierre de Meyer.

He is an engineer at META, a non-profit organisation for mobility heritage.

He replies that these hidden tracks were probably part of port facilities

once connected to the railway system.

If you dig a little, you can measure the distance between the rails.

The gauge of tram tracks is 1 metre.

That of train tracks is 1.435 metres.

Just to be sure.

On Oceaniëstraat, the garbage truck must have passed by.

Besides a few empty cans, nothing else is left behind.

Here and there rusty tracks are sticking out of the ground.

The rail gauge measures 1.25 metres


Two days later I get a message from Georges Rogge.

Georges is Department Manager of General Affairs at NMBS, the Belgian railways.

He sends me a map of 1926 with railroad tracks of the neighbourhood.

A tangled web of branch lines that I cannot quite decipher.

Three days later I receive an e-mail from Luc Claerbout.

Luc is Chief Designer of the Technical Department at the port of Ghent.

He sends me two maps.

One dates back to 1947, when Oceaniëstraat was still called Europastraat.\r\n\r\n(strange how these things change)\r\n\r\nAlong the docks stood a warehouse where wood was stacked\r\n\r\nand in front of the inlet stood Stapelhuis Snauwaert\r\n\r\nnow a large vacant lot.\r\n\r\nThe second map dates from 1968.\r\n\r\nThe inlet was the entrance to the Filatures Gantoises Réunies\r\n\r\nthe umbrella company which included the old cotton mill of Braine-le-Chateau.\r\n\r\nAround 1930 there were sixty-seven weaving mills\r\n\r\nand twenty-eight spinning mills in Ghent, a.k.a. « Manchester of the continent ».\r\n\r\nBraine-le-Chateau was one of them.\r\n\r\nOne of the « red factories ».\r\n\r\n(red as in socialist)\r\n\r\nThe inlet on Oceaniëstraat was part of a shortcut from the docks to the cotton company\r\n\r\nwhich stood approximately where the housing blocks of Scandinaviëstraat are located these days.\r\n\r\nI wonder why the inlet is still here.\r\n\r\nWhat once was a passageway, is now a ruled out remnant.\r\n\r\nYou can’t get in.\r\n\r\nYou can’t get out.\r\n\r\nIs there even in and out ?\r\n\r\nWhat lies behind the gate is just back out, a lawn, a closed clearing.\r\n\r\n« I only see the outside. I notice.\r\n\r\nWhat do you notice?\r\n\r\nThat any outside surrounded by another outside\r\n\r\nbecomes inside\r\n\r\nand that any inside allowing an inside\r\n\r\nchanges into outside. » (A. Kristof)\r\n\r\nI don’t live on Oceaniëstraat (as far as I know no one lives on Oceaniëstraat).\r\n\r\nI don’t pass by daily, carrying groceries home, managing playing kids.\r\n\r\nI only come here once or twice a week. From the outside.\r\n\r\nI mean: literally.\r\n\r\nI drive across town to get here.\r\n\r\nWondering how things would be now\r\n\r\nwhat would have changed, who I would encounter.\r\n\r\nI mean: I remain an outsider, looking at it and then leaving again.\r\n\r\nTrying to gain access, one way or another.\r\n\r\nwatching searching watching trying\r\n\r\nand trying again.\r\n\r\n(deep zoom)\r\n\r\nHollow computer screens, looking like apartment blocks.\r\n\r\nIs building towers out of dumping waste more than a futile attempt to structure this chaos?\r\n\r\nBuilding anything with anything.\r\n\r\nHow unstable the structure is\r\n\r\nalthough it stands no longer than one day\r\n\r\none day is longer than none.\r\n\r\nThroughout the city, vacant voids are being filled with structures.\r\n\r\nIs this a different design?\r\n\r\n(I mean: no design at all.)\r\n\r\nStarting from what is already there\r\n\r\ncreating new structures, entangled with the place\r\n\r\nits history, its current use.\r\n\r\n(a prediction for tomorrow)\r\n\r\nMaybe that is the attractive thing about working with waste materials\r\n\r\nbecause nobody has expectations.\r\n\r\nIf I get the old computer screens neatly in a row\r\n\r\nthe inlet could look at us\r\n\r\nmaybe not in a blaming or a reflecting way. Just as a point of view\r\n\r\nbut differently.\r\n\r\nA language textbook, a puzzle, a hobby horse\r\n\r\npuppets against the wall.\r\n\r\nPale green seat cushions as the front row\r\n\r\nof this dumping ground scenography.\r\n\r\nAn invitation to look at what is present. And how it changes.\r\n\r\nThe inlet jumped out of all other places.\r\n\r\nOne of the smallest gaps I encountered in the area\r\n\r\nintimate\r\n\r\nmanageable.\r\n\r\nA small triangle cut out between large sites of productivity\r\n\r\ninviting to be used\r\n\r\nto leave something behind (that you no longer need)\r\n\r\nto ask a question\r\n\r\nto launch a proposal.\r\n\r\nThe inlet suggested something\r\n\r\nsomething I’m still peeling off.\r\n\r\nArchitects would talk about the « genius loci » now.\r\n\r\nThey picked up this ancient Roman concept to highlight the specific character of a place.\r\n\r\nWhich soon became at odds with the destructive « tabula rasa ».\r\n\r\nLike the billboard along the docks says\r\n\r\nno spot can escape from it. \r\n\r\nThis historical icon\r\n\r\nthe yellow crane\r\n\r\nwill it still refer to the spirit of the old docks area\r\n\r\nwhen the surrounding urban fabric is gone?\r\n\r\n(I mean: the living fabric)\r\n\r\nWho selects the icons?\r\n\r\nWhat is to become a landmark\r\n\r\nand what is to be ignored?\r\n\r\nDo the housing blocks at Scandinaviëstraat just need a brighter colour?\r\n\r\nHow does a landmark differ from public art?\r\n\r\nShould public art truly render the city more beautiful?\r\n\r\n(than it really is)\r\n\r\nOr more transparent?\r\n\r\n(than it appears)\r\n\r\nBack in Oceaniëstraat, there is a police car standing in front of the inlet.\r\n\r\nThe officer has found addresses in the dumped waste.\r\n\r\nHe advises me not to work here, because the smell is obnoxious.\r\n\r\nWhether he has noticed that there are old tracks buried in the earth?\r\n\r\nHe
hands me his card.\r\n\r\nSint-Amandsberg district police officer\r\n\r\nWe are responsible for this area.\r\n\r\nI wonder what he means by we.\r\n\r\nI wonder why police districts have different borders\r\n\r\nand what this means (for him)\r\n\r\nbeing responsible for an area.\r\n\r\nI dig the earth, rake it fresh\r\n\r\nafter two hours, i write FREE on the wall.\r\n\r\nThe first word of a long sentence.\r\n\r\nOne week later, the waste has been collected, the tracks are still partly visible.\r\n\r\nI write FEEL.\r\n\r\nWalking down the street, I pass a giant truck\r\n\r\nwith a rotating engine and an open door (as a protective shield).\r\n\r\nOceaniëstraat seems to be the perfect pee break.\r\n\r\nIn the city archives I find a picture dating from the thirties.\r\n\r\nWorking men are rolling large poles into provisional woodpiles.\r\n\r\nOpen space as an antechamber for the industries.\r\n\r\n« The inlet forces me not to think (or rather intuitive).\r\n\r\nIntuition is a kind of thinking, it is not stupidity. » (J. Stockholder)\r\n\r\nIt is a pair of shoes\r\n\r\nand another, and another.\r\n\r\nIt is a wooden board\r\n\r\nfrom a child’s warderobe.\r\n\r\nTo construct a hiding-place\r\n\r\nlike the camps we used to build when we were little\r\n\r\nbut differently.\r\n\r\nI continue (IN WHATEVER) but feel that someone is standing behind me.\r\n\r\nHe lives on the eleventh floor\r\n\r\nin the blocks, yes. \r\n\r\nHe and his daughter will celebrate New Year’s Eve together again\r\n\r\nlike they always do, in her apartment on the ninth floor\r\n\r\nout front. (the best view on the city’s fireworks)\r\n\r\n– What does these words mean? \r\n\r\n– Can you read them? \r\n\r\n– Feel free to act and to proceed in whatever …\r\n\r\nHe says: you make. \r\n\r\nI say: you do. \r\n\r\nThen he continues on how much waste there is\r\n\r\nhow a few weeks back, they even dumped a bunch of computers.\r\n\r\nI say: I know. \r\n\r\nHe says: I saw you. \r\n\r\n– But what are you doing? \r\n\r\n– I am building something. \r\n\r\n– Is this for a project? \r\n\r\n– Something like that, yes\r\n\r\na construction project. \r\n\r\nTwo more words.\r\n\r\nThat same land cruiser again, driving up and down the street\r\n\r\nslowing down.\r\n\r\n– What are you doing?\r\n\r\n– I am writing words on a wall. \r\n\r\n– Yes, but what do they mean? \r\n\r\n– Can you read them? \r\n\r\n(Haven’t I had this conversation already?)\r\n\r\n– Those words in red are unreadable. Feel free to act …\r\n\r\nHe starts laughing.\r\n\r\nWhen you write that, everyone thinks they can just continue dumping waste. \r\n\r\n(No, I haven’t had this conversation yet.)\r\n\r\n– Maybe, yes.\r\n\r\nTo me, it’s double.\r\n\r\nI could add I (feel)\r\n\r\nor you (feel).\r\n\r\nHe says: I hope it will rain soon, then your words will be erased. \r\n\r\nI ask if he lives here.\r\n\r\nHe lives in the house on the corner.\r\n\r\nThe only resident of Oceaniëstraat.\r\n\r\nHe has lived here for forty years, but it has never been this bad.\r\n\r\nIt’s just one rotting mess.\r\n\r\nEven when this was all industrial zone, it was cleaner than it is now.\r\n\r\nWhen I ask his number, he says nothing at first and then he laughs\r\n\r\nrather not\r\n\r\nunless you plan to set this mess on fire\r\n\r\nthen you can always give me a call.\r\n\r\nI remember\r\n\r\nthis is why I prefer the changing weathers over a warm studio.\r\n\r\nAccidental discoveries\r\n\r\nchallenges\r\n\r\npeople crossing your path\r\n\r\npointing out how meaningful (-less) or provocative an act can be.\r\n\r\nWhat you can or cannot do in public space.\r\n\r\nHow free you act-ually are.\r\n\r\nThe quote comes from a book on « spaces of incertainty ». (K. Cupers & M. Miessen)\r\n\r\nFeel free to act and to proceed in whatever you do.\r\n\r\nRemoved out of the context of a theoretical book\r\n\r\ninscribed into a specific space in the periphery of the city\r\n\r\nits meaning becomes layered, loaded.\r\n\r\nWeek after week\r\n\r\nthe sentence develops.\r\n\r\nImpulsive attempts and deliberate confrontations\r\n\r\ncreating insight into the complex and layered meanings of this gap\r\n\r\nlearning about the difference between beautiful plans for the future and a present on hold.\r\n\r\nThe difference also between reasonably interesting theories and the difficult translation into practice.\r\n\r\nRepeated returns to the same place\r\n\r\ncreate space\r\n\r\nfor unforeseen encounters.\r\n\r\nHow do others interpret this sentence?\r\n\r\nHow do they look at the inlet?\r\n\r\nHow free do they feel in the area\r\n\r\nto do what they want?\r\n\r\nReturning to the inlet to take a last picture, a man is looking for a new pair of shoes.\r\n\r\nReluctantly, I make him part of my last image.\r\n\r\n« You can only get away from something you return to.\r\n\r\nWhat you return to, is the place.\r\n\r\nThe place is the crack that links leaving and returning.\r\n\r\nThe place is the space of this turnabout.\r\n\r\nArchitecture knows this so well: therefore it makes corners.\r\n\r\nBecause in a circle, no turning is possible. » (D. Lauwaert)


The installation is documented in the book Reading urban cracks: Practices of artists and community workers (2012) where the text, originally displayed as a frame-by-frame projection, runs through all pages of the book.

This project was funded by the Research Fund University College Ghent.