by Lene ter Haar & Fabian de Kloe
In a world where everything is about efficiency, speed and standardisation, Frank Havermans’ (Breda, 1967) ‘interventions’ provoke you to mark time. First, the artefact catches your eye. Then your mind follows. Slowly, step-by-step, you wrap your mind around the object - this thing - on the wall. You start to question its function. It looks brutally rational. The steel-like geometric structure with armoured plating signals heavy-duty machinery. You brace yourself for an ignition, dark smoke plumes and the roaring sound of an engine powering up. But the mechanic beast remains inert, waiting patiently for orders to execute its mission. In the meantime, silence remains as you start to realise that its function might be a suggested one. It is machine to pretend, to blend and bend your first glance into a deep thought. What could it be good for? You slow your pace until you stand still in the middle of a busy square.
Welcome to transitional installation KAPKAR / ZM–S*B3–JH.
Havermans’ modules set up transitional spaces, consisting of experimental constructions that include autonomous installations, furniture, ‘urban think models’, and even buildings. These play a strategic role, both spatially and socially, inthe context in which they are constructed. They function as in-betweens not unlike ‘transitional objects’, a term used in particular by the psychoanalytic school of object relations of Donald Winnicott (1896-1971). It describes children’s and adolescent’s tendency to cope with loss and change by keeping objects which instil confidence – a toy, a piece of jewellery. The pres- ence of people or an idea (a sense of safety, protection, a longing for something or someone) is projected and fixed on an object that can be kept close by. As adults, we retain a need for transitional spaces, or objects, both on an individual and a communal level. These are by defi- nition cultural spaces. It is on such spaces or objects that we project dreams and connections between the present and the future, and between others and ourselves.
The huge artefacts from the KAPKAR series, as well as their models, function as such transitional objects. Each installation, both as a large-scale version in public space and as its miniature, constitutes a wider transitional space that is carefully constructed by the artist. Lodged somewhere between the past and the future, they trigger fantasy and opinions. For they are, with their gigantic size and promi- nent positions, hard not to notice. The artefacts themselves have a distinct appeal somewhere between archaic and futuristic. It is an intense kiss from early heavy industries with a dose of Blade Runner. At the same time, the form distances itself from a definite function: no better way to get people to join in discussion. Ranging from the obvious chat towards future-minded to affect and to infiltrate people’s minds and thoughts. It is, after all, the point where an object becomes an urban think model and vice versa. Not surprisingly, Frank Havermans describes himself as an artist/designer who develops and makes strategic site-specific interventions that can be considered as proposals for talks, Havermans’ clear intention is urban change.
SCHUNCK* is proud to host a major museum solo of Havermans. KAPKAR /KAPKARTOFUD combines a sculptural installation on the external south wall of the Glaspaleis (Glass Palace) with a presentation of his prodigious oeuvre in the Vitrine, a thirty metre-wide glass cabinet at the north entrance of the museum. KAPKAR is first time that such a large-scale intervention has taken place on the exterior walls of the Glaspaleis. Havemans’ intervention draws undivided attention to this gorgeous icon of Bauhaus, open to public as a cultural institution since 2004. Havermans decided to show KAPKARTOFUD in the prominent Vitrine of SCHUNCK*. It is a primer of a different sort: it is the first time that his entire body of work is on display in an autonomous installation. It isa free-floating assemblage that fea- tures nearly all the three-dimensional models of his installations.
During the design process, Havermans meticulously crafts models of his large-scale, often temporary, installations. Havermans wove the models into a composition of architectural sculptures, creating
a panoramic view of an imaginary urban landscape between fiction and reality. The installation offers a complete overview of his distinctive visual and material language. At the same time, each miniature – isolated from the context of the hosting struc- ture – can be read as an afterimage of the physical and cultural spaces it was designed to invade. Havermans’ installations are not site-specific in that they fit into or take the shape of a particular structure. Going further, they are designed to absorb, accen- tuate and change the spatial and structural features of their hosts. The eccentric, strangely futuristic, sculptures enter into a symbiotic relationship with their context, placing a spatial situation in a new arrangement. On an aesthetic level, they instil a mixture of alienation and recognition of industrial func- tionalism. Upon a closer inspection, the mystery as to their identity only deepens.
Transitional installation KAPKAR / ZM–S*B3–JH in context
These qualities make Havermans’ work very suitable for an intervention in the distinctly modernist architec- ture of the monumental SCHUNCK* Glaspaleis. KAPKAR, inspired by the demolished headframe No. 3 of the Oranje Nassau I mining shaft, breaks into the perfect modernist archi- tecture of the building that stands as a symbol of the past and present cultural ambition of the region. Located in the city centre of Heerlen, the former heart of the large-scale mining industry, the Glaspaleis was designed in 1935 by the Dutch architect Fritz Peutz as a luxurious department store. Peter Schunck, a local fabric merchant, commissioned the design. The result was a very modern building where merchan- dise was displayed in daylight as ina marketplace (mineworkers’ safety clothing was sold in the basement). The design was revolutionary at the time, especially in Limburg.
The bustling mining industry transformed the region overnight, changing it from a sleepy rural area into a modern industrial society. New structures were erected to facilitate the needs of a population that by 1930s had undergone an eightfold increase. In Heerlen alone, the population rose from 5,000 in 1900 to 47,000 in 1930, and 76,000 in 1968. The Glaspaleis was the ultimate expression of the prosperity and ambition that came with the mining industry. The style is largely known as het Nieuwe Bouwen, a general collective term for Modernism, Bauhaus and International Style. It is on the UNESCO list of the hundred most remarkable buildings in the Netherlands, and on the list of the Union of International Architects as one of the most important buildings of the 20th century.
The closing of the mines between 1969 and 1974, which permanently altered the region, set in motion an economic and social decline that went hand in hand with a painstaking search for a new identity and regeneration. By the 1990s, the Glaspaleis symbolised the general state of the region once again, only this time as a dilapidated building. At one point, squatters occupied it and there were even plans to tear down the building. Efforts by Nic Tummers, Wiel Arets and others prevented
this. The building was eventually bought by the City with the intention of turning it into a cultural centre. Marking the beginning of a renewed cultural ambition in Heerlen, the building was reopened in 2004 after a thorough renovation by architects Wiel Arets and Jo Coenen. Since 2009, it has once again carried the name, SCHUNCK*, an interdiscipli- nary organisation with a museum of contemporary art and architecture, a public library, and music and dancing schools.
There are several reasons why the installation of KAPKAR on the Glaspaleis is provocative and urgent. It is a daring intervention in modernist perfection, urging a reinterpretation of its structure, status and more generally of the nature of architec- ture. In the context of post-industrial regeneration and revaluation of the region and its future, Havermans introduces new ways of both re- charging the public space and reconnecting the present to a broken-up and loaded past. The Netherlands’ mining past does not perhaps stand out because of the economic implications of its abrupt closure. What is distinctive, however, is that the material remnants of the mining industry, even including spoil tips, were systematically erased from the landscape during a government operation called ‘From Black to Green’. What remains are isolated structures and buildings in the context of a decentralised sprawl of urban areas that formed around the coalmines. Only one steel head frame remains: the Oranje Nassau I, which it currently houses a small museum that commemorates Dutch miners and their hard manual labour.
The result of the erasure is paradoxical. Due to the lack of the obvious mining infrastructure – most notably the imposing steel head frames and spoil tips on the horizon – it is as if large-scale mining never occurred. But the social fabric (and challenges) and distinctly urban traits are, in fact, direct products of the mining industry and subsequent attempts to erase it. Mining heritage is part of the everyday experience of living here; it is grafted onto the landscape, and it is very much alive in the collective memory. The Year of the Mines 2015 (M2015), a theme year with a cultural programme centred on the impact of the mines, and the current development of the region, marked an important step in addressing this situation. It was an expression by the community of an ongoing wish to come to terms with the post-industrial challenges and opportunities in the region. KAPKAR connects the past to the present. It is a transitional object that opens up a space between the past and future and between the inner and outer world, which is also the space between people. It places the iconic steel head frame once again at the heart of the region, reuniting mining infrastructure with the cultural Transitional ambition that is represented by the Glaspaleis.
As such, KAPKAR is an inspira- tional form of materialising, imagining and reimagining a largely immaterial heritage, a way of finding cohesion and meaning by connecting isolated remnants of the past. Without building or deleting structures to rejuvenate public space, Havermans proposes
a mezzanine, or floor between floors, in architectural intervention. It is
a form of architectural fiction that
is material, yet its impact is purely spatial and imaginary. In turn, TOFUD, like the former Dutch mining region, is also a mezzanine: it floats between the past and the future. It is a landing space for exploration, where lines need to be drawn and stories need telling to give meaning and identity.
We don’t know yet how the surroundings of the Glaspaleis will look in the near future, as the city centre heads towards major changes in its urban infrastructure, with an Internationale Bauausstellung coming up in 2020. But it is sure that Havermans takes an unequi- vocal stand on it. KAPKAR and KAPKARTOFUD are proposals for urban change. Their ambiguous imagery – in the form of material architecture fiction based on a real past - couldn’t be more functional and clear: it demands the need for transitional, cultural spaces within concrete, glass and steel. These objects materialise the need for social interaction and for highlighting the undefined, the open and the empty. In doing so, they free up space for latitude on a battleground of interests in the heart not so much of a city, but of a community that is supported by its built surroundings. That’s a pretty big call for urban change, but Havermans makes
Lene ter Haar & Fabian de Kloe
Essay, Transitional, Schunck* Publisher, 2018