Zware Plaatwerkerij, Vlissingen, NL
exhibition ‘Mijn Domein’
550 x 550 x 630 cm
recycled construction plywood, square timber, nuts, bolts and screws
commissioned by the Raad voor Kunst en Cultuur, Buro BK Vlissingen and the Stichting Zuidlicht Vlissingen
This was a temporary installation for the ‘Mijn Domein’ art event in Vlissingen, held on the site once occupied by the Koninklijke Schelde Groep, a shipyard whose output included naval vessels. During the hundred or so years of its existence, the shipyard developed from a small business into a colossal operation occupying 30 hectare which extended into the center of Vlissingen. The company has now been relocated, releasing its premises for urban developments. In Vlissingen, gigantic industrial buildings generally found on sites well outside towns and cities adjoin a shopping street comprised of small, seventeenth century properties. This produces an extraordinary field of tension, particularly when you consider that residents of Vlissingen were prohibited from entering the site on account of its military associations: only employees of the firm were allowed access while the rest of Vlissingen’s population knew the site from a distance and by reputation alone.
Nevertheless, in the shopping street they would have clearly heard the sound of activity from the plate workshop. The hall where the exhibition was organized still contained a number of impressive, redundant machines: a plate mill as high as a house, a magnetic lift running the entire length of the hall, which could easily lift steel plates many centimeters thick, and various heavy-duty cranes formed part of the otherwise dilapidated interior.
The shipyard was visible everywhere in the center of Vlissingen. Old photos show ships in the outside dock towering high above the houses. Inside the hall, however, there was nothing to indicate the yard’s unique situation in relation to the urban environment, although shipyard workers once welded and cut metal just meters away from shoppers.
When I was asked to make a first connection with the city from the shipyard hall, this became my primary starting point. Searching for a good location, I found a small door, measuring 160 x 60 cm, in the outside wall of the hall, a few dozen meters from the shopping street. This had been welded shut. Nobody knew what this door had been used for or why it had been permanently closed in this way, although I was told that it had been like this for at least 30 years. I had the door cut open, immediately creating a connection between town and factory, or rather restoring this, for the door had always been there and was eventually found to have been a fire door.
It was this circumstance which prompted me to develop the KAPKAR/KSV-800 installation. I built a wooden structure in the visual language of the shipyard hall and of steel and connected this to the little door. The structure leaned against the wall, and appeared to have always been there. It was an intervention that demonstrated how buildings such as the shipyard hall can be used in different ways: instead of total renovation or redesign, the raw structure can be used to support the introduction of new elements.
During the exhibition period the installation was fenced off, just outside the area where the other art was displayed. Visitors could not approach the work, which made them curious about it, particularly when people occasionally entered through the small door and climbed up to the ‘wheel house’. This prompted them to leave the shipyard hall and make their way through the busy shopping street to the little entrance where they could also mount the structure via the narrow stairs. This device made visitors aware of the urban situation. It also allowed Vlissingen residents, who saw a small door standing open for the first time in 30 years, to take a look from an elevated viewpoint into the shipyard hall to which they had previously been denied access, perceiving not only the hall itself, but also the fact that an exhibition of art could be seen there.
The installation was additionally developed to give planners and officials from the Vlissingen local authority a place where they could take a different look at this kind of unusual space outside the infected environment of bureaucracy. It is to be hoped that they will recognize its value.