by Arthur Wortmann
Several years ago on a country estate near the Dutch town of Vught, an old monastery was converted to a contemporary retreat. At present, the complex is run by an idealistic institute that provides ‘advice and guidance for essential human and organizational development’. Remaining on the premises was an old brick outbuilding, once the gardener’s quarters, which sparked the idea to create a studio-cum-dwelling, a place where a series of guests artists could live and work. After all, in the eyes of the institute’s founders, the arts form ‘spirituality’s most unambiguous means of transference’. During his or her period of occupancy, each artist would work on a commissioned project and, by their very presence, contribute to ‘the reflective atmosphere of the monastery’.
The first guest invited to stay at the monastery was artist Frank Havermans. His brief was to make the outbuilding suitable as a temporary accommodation ‘in a special but elementary manner’. In approaching the project, Havermans took the position that ‘luxury and comfort lead to mundane conduct and, therefore to spiritual numbness’. He designed an architectonic installation, to be executed in wood, in which the intended lodgings were given a place. It is a basic shelter, crafted from an ‘honest’ material. In this interior ‘sitting’ is an active verb, and everything that one touches here is clearly the product of human hands. Havermans’ intervention revolves around subtle contact, not least the contact between dwelling and working. Although he had to create an opportunity for guest artists to ‘get away from their work’, he elected not to do so by closing a door. Contact with the studio remains open at all times. Another important relationship - the one between the existing building and the new wooden construction - is a highly delicate affair. The newly designed unit is a parasite within the space, albeit one that exercises maximum restraint. Suspended in space, the object touches neither floor nor wall. From outside the building, the addition can be seen only at one end, where a black-boxed window protrudes boldly from the brick facade.