When the Waters Rise

catharijnesingelI mentioned recently that they’re in the process of rejoining the ring canal that circles the old city center of Utrecht. Most of the canal has remained, but a section on the western side of town was turned into a highway. However, that road was closed in 2010 and the process of turning it back into a canal (and connecting it with the canal that remains) then began. It’s part of an ongoing project to rebuild that part of town, making it more attractive, inviting, and useful.

This is the view from the Hoog Catharijne mall, looking down on what will eventually be a canal once again. This photo is from a few months back, probably around early July. It doesn’t look like it is ready for water, and to be honest, I’m not sure if that section is yet, but they’re getting closer to filling in the water in one section of the rebuilt canal. I haven’t found any specific dates, but someone did pass along a handy link to a live webcam you can watch where the water will be added relatively soon. If you enjoy a good webcam it’s worth checking out.

I’m slightly disoriented, but I think this is the northern bit that will be filled in first. If the camera were to keep panning to the right, I think it would eventually be facing the spot where I took my photo. Essentially, the webcam view is of the construction in the far distance of my photo. I think. Maybe. Perhaps.

Art Meets Construction in Utrecht

One of the many nice things about living in Utrecht is that when plywood walls go up during restoration or renovation of a property, they often become points of visual interest in their own right. Certainly, when some of the university buildings along the Drift were undergoing renovation last year, the decorations that went up made an eye-catching and fun graphic story.

This time, walls are going up in the area behind the new Vredenburg music palace, where the old Hoog Catharijne shopping center is going under massive renovations and reconstructions.
Construction and Art
Edging the western side of the large square where the outdoor markets are held Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, this bit of urban art gets the kind of viewership numbers artists (and bloggers) dream about. After all, location, location, location!

Looking at each of the images and panels, there are some great characters and visuals to catch your imagination. One of the most famous is the red-hatted gnome on the far right. That’s Utrecht’s own KBTR (kabouter/gnome) who pops up in various spots around town for the past six or seven years. The rest of his out-of-this-world companions can be seen from right to left and represent a few other Utrecht symbols and institutions, such as the Nederland Film Festival and, of course, Nijntje. Any others you recognize?
KBTR VredenburgVredenbearsVredenburg KunstVredenijntjeVredenburg action shotvredenburg liftoff

Tea for Two(thousand)

The Teapot
The western side of town is a mess of construction and renovation these days. As well as the construction of the new concert hall, the train station and the mall are in the process of being renovated. They’re also turning a road, which used to be part of the canal that ringed the city, back into a canal. As you can see, it’s a jumble of concrete, rebar, and who knows what else.

Yet if you look a little closer at all the construction, you’re likely to notice something a bit unusual.
The Teapot
It’s hard not to suddenly feel like the world’s gone a bit topsy-turvy and that perhaps you’ve ended up at the Mad Tea Party after imbibing something that makes you small. You may still be a bit mad, but at least you’re not seeing things. That is, indeed, a giant teapot on the roof of the Hoog Catharijne shopping center.

Why is a 7-meter-tall teapot standing on the roof of the mall? It’s part of a public art initiative titled Call of the Mall and is organized by the Foundation for Art in the Station Area in collaboration with the Municipality of Utrecht. The exhibition, which officially opens on 20 June, will feature 25 works of art placed throughout the mall and train station. Some are indoors, some are outdoors, and some are performances and presentations.

The Celestial Teapot by Lily van der Stokker represents the small, intimate aspects of daily life juxtaposed against the architectural destruction and aggressive consumerism. An interesting piece that was installed this week (unfortunately only a day after I was there) is a representation of the iconic man who stood in front of the tanks at Tienanmen Square. A thought-provoking piece when considered in the light of trying to make a stand against rampant capitalism and development, particularly with the current situation in Turkey.

The goal of the exhibition seems to be a collection of international works of art that reflect the times we live in, politically, emotionally, economically, and structurally. The location — the Hoog Catharijne, Europe’s largest indoor shopping center — is an interesting site for the exhibit.

When it was first constructed 40 years ago, it was considered innovative and exciting, but eventually came to be thought of by many as a massive eyesore. As the Call of the Mall website says, you either love it or hate it. The past 40 years have certainly seen a shift in thinking. Rather than closing off more canals and making them into roads, canals are being reopened while cars are being pushed further out of the city center. Progress means something different, in many ways, to what it once meant.

Hopefully these works of art will contribute to the discussion about what roles art and commerce should play in the future and how they can co-exist for the betterment of all. I like that amid all the rubble, there are these works of art of all sizes that can stop and make you think or simply just smile. After all, is a bit more beauty in the world such a bad thing?

You can read more about the whole project (in Dutch and English) at the official Call of the Mall website, which includes information on other works of art that will be on display.
The Teapot