Four cities, three days and one neighborhood in Rotterdam

On the Point is an on-going, socially engaged art project developed by MAMA in cooperation with three other organisations from three different cities: Het Entrepot from Bruges, Fabrica from Brighton, and Public Room from Skopje. The idea behind the project is to provide resources for groups of local young creative professionals to create something representative in and of their home cities, and to enable exchange of ideas and thoughts with fellow creatives from the other cities. As a part of the project, each participating city hosts the groups from the other cities for one weekend. Last October it was MAMA’s turn: groups from Bruges, Brighton and Skopje came to Rotterdam for a three-day visit to discuss, learn, and create together.

On the first day of the visit I caught up with the group at Gemaal op Zuid, a cultural center in the south of Rotterdam. The gathering kicked off with an introduction by Nikki Georgiou, Yorbi Gutierrez, and Nabil Tkhidousset, three participants from Rotterdam. They chose to talk about Feijenoord, a neighborhood in southern Rotterdam, where they are all from. The group explained it is recognized as one of the most diverse areas of the city in terms of population and creative practices. At the same time it is also still often framed as for its ‘social problems’ stemming from multiculturality, poverty, criminality and low-levels of education.

tomasmutsaers_mama_opt_web_039Several participants in Feijenoord. Photo by Tomas Mutsaers.

Currently the city of Rotterdam is focused on developing the area and promoting Feijenoord as culturally rich and interesting. Nikki noted that this representation is also problematic because this partly fabricated identity is mainly used to attract new investors in the area, which in turn will raise the cost of living, and eventually leads to economic displacement (gentrification). She explained that forming a neighborhood identity takes two basic elements: a place and a story, and a story is something you add to each day, so there must be a spatial continuity in order to create more meaningful stories with stronger bonds and friendships.

Nikki, Yorbi, and Nabil started the three-day programme with a walk from the center of Rotterdam to Feijenoord. There each facilitated their own workshop in which the visitors explored the district through the infrastructure, sounds, architecture, and residents of the area.

Having never been to Feijenoord before I kept in mind Nabil’s instructions to discover the area with an open mind. I observed my surroundings, trying to map the whole through its parts. I saw some turn-of-the-century buildings, postmodern buildings, and of course some high-rise office buildings. Yet on the street level you could get hints about the people living there through businesses that serve them, such as a yoga parlor framed by a Toko and a pizzeria.

Yorbi’s workshop was based on the idea that public places have a concealed memory from which only few aspects come to the surface, and that these memories can help strengthen the social fabric of the local communities. During the workshop the participants depicted their respective cities focusing on architecture, and discussed the specific problems facing the different cities. In Skopje the main problem, I learned, was the non-usability of old infrastructure and public spaces. The participants from Skopje noted that for example the old train station there, which suffered from a ’63 earthquake, could be repurposed in a way that pays respect to what it meant for people. All the participants discussed further the benefits and limitations of such regenerative projects.

aec322b4-53fd-4f6e-8e62-64c095794de3Ioana in conversation with Yorbi during his workshop. Photo by Tomas Mutsaers.

The workshop facilitated by Nabil used moving images. The idea was to tell a story about street-level life in Feijenoord. In a man-with-a-movie-camera style but equipped with smartphone cameras instead, the participants went to capture footage which they later discussed and edited. The discussion focused on segregation and how it manifests, how to spot it, and how it morphs into different forms all around the globe.

Nikki’s workshop invited participants to partake in a group exercise to examine and reflect on how people connect to certain places through sounds they hear. The participants of the workshop went for a field research during which they selected and recorded sounds that appealed to them. Through a process of questioning, looking deeper and analyzing, the participants tried to explain what was appealing about the sounds and what kind of memories and feelings they triggered.

The participants could decide for themselves which workshop to join. The fluid approach of the facilitators enabled the artists from different artistic backgrounds to either stick with their current practices or to explore new media.

7dfcddf6-cd30-4840-b7ae-f1ac8489b973Amber de Saeger and Jakob van den Brouke (both from Het Entrepot) in conversation with Nikki during her workshop. Photo by Tomas Mutsaers.

One of the visiting artists from Bruges, Viktor van Hoof, who works a lot with (analogue) photography, joined Nikki’s sound workshop to explore how to create sounds and connect them with images. He created a piece for which he asked people on the street to take his phone and walk to the other side of the block while the phone was recording the sounds. He, at the same time, walked a different route and filmed his walk to the meeting point. The result is a piece which combines the video footage with the recorded sounds in an attempt to bridge geographies, people, and mediums.

After the workshops I met with Yorbi to discuss the work he is creating as part of the On the Point project. He explained that his work deals with memory and stories; he will create a sculpture resembling an arc of memoir, something that will last to tell a story. He feels that Feijenoord has two stories: the famous one which narrates how it was rebuilt after World War II with help from people from Morocco and from other parts of the world, and the more recent history, which focuses on the second and third generation of the rebuilders. He wants to investigate the history of post-war Feijenoord up to present times and see how the values are transmitted, how different mentalities manifest, and how the residents identify with their neighbourhood.

In the next few months he will ask people of Feijenoord to tell him their stories, which he will then materialize as a sculpture to be placed in public space. With this project he wants to make the residents feel more represented in the public space of their daily life and hopes that through this project people will learn more about each other. In addition, he plans to invite artists around the neighborhood to contribute to the piece and document the process over the years.

Nikki, Nabil, and Yorbi are planning to present their final works in 2020. The works can be experienced throughout public space in a 1 km radius of Afrikaandermarkt in Feijenoord. After getting to know all these creative people involved in the three day workshop and learning a bit about all the different cities involved, I am curious to know how all their projects will develop further and how the artworks born out of it will resonate with the residents.

This report was written by Ioana Răileanu as part of On the Point.

The final works of Yorbi, Nikki and Nabil will be presented in 2020.


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