A space that is not itself
Right… This must be wrong. The title makes no sense. How can space be itself in the first place? How can it have a ‘self’? What is a ‘self’ anyways?
Before we get into an elaborate philosophical conversation on what space is (or negative space), or who or what ‘self’ is… I would like to introduce a space named City Art, which is situated in Rotterdam Noord (North) on the Insulindestraat. This space hosts sculptures, concerts and exhibitions as well as their makers: musicians, artists and street boys.
The space-keeper is Chris Ripken, artist and social entrepreneur. Throughout the building, Chris showcases a large collection of his own sculptures made of wood and metal. In recent years he has devoted himself solely to this space and repurposing it for art. He proudly seized the space after having spent a long time maintaining it and speaking with the municipality about responsibility and ownership.
The building is not simply a construction divided by walls. Chris considers it a ‘work in progress‘, an evolving sculpture in itself. This brings to mind Mark Danielewski’s novel ‘House of Leaves’, where the house decides which proportions to take as it expands itself day by day and leaves inhabitants, scientists and explorers bewildered and lost.
Put your sneakers on. We will now enter the building to explore it the way street kids might…* Hush. Follow me!
We sneak through a sliding door that is slightly ajar… A large corridor with a grand piano on our right, a workshop for tools, carpentry, welding, and odd jobs such as fixing and building to the left. There is also a guest room, a place to stay for performing artists. And more or less tucked away, there is a white square that seems to change shape every so often… Exhibitions and performances can be held here. White space… Spaces within space… We hear a cello and violin accompanying a young male voice uttering gibberish.
Look! A steep staircase in the hall leading up, and a second up another level. Taking both in an agile run upward brings us to the third level – a platform, serving as a roof for the private area below – with many more artworks. Stood behind the railing, you can gaze down onto the open space with the sculptures or upward, to see the beautiful wooden beams supporting the roof.
We peer through a crack in the wall and see the old ‘Hofbogen‘-railway right beside the terrace. We quietly make our way down the stairs at the other end of the platform and onto the second floor of the building. There are a few doors with a private residence, kitchen and a toilet behind them. A large open space lays before us with quirky, quite randomly placed metal artworks that cast intriguing shadows on the walls and wooden floor. In the back is a dimly lit room with a few old sofas which makes for a cosy ‘thinking space’. The industrial heater should warm the space up nicely during cold months.
Our exit is swift and light, our steps barely audible on the cement floor. After all, we came uninvited, remember?
*) …before Chris started involving them with maintenance of the premises. Instead of being a nuisance, they are now provided with skills-training and mentoring by Chris. Art, respect and work ethos are all practised on the on the job.