2011, twofold installation
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.
like my interventions are only a sidetrack of the bigger picture.
to dig out
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
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.