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Guest land – host country

During Operation Desert Storm, in 1991, General Norman Schwartzkopf evolved into a movie hero like John Wayne. Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin received the 1994 Nobel Peaceprize for making peace in the Middle East. Despite ‘no more Auschwitz’, seven thousand Muslims were deported and killed in Bosnia in 1995, under the eyes of Dutch soldiers. The commander of the Surinam ‘December murders’, Desi Bouterse, recently received his own tree in the Peace Forest in Israel.
Only a few examples which prove the ease with which reality can be employed and manipulated in order to boost an image. Symbolic ceremonies are especially effective for that purpose, because the press and the public can immediately take their pick. Besides, a tree is as easily planted as forgotten.
In this light, the design of a ‘solidarity monument’, as you request, is a risky undertaking. At the same time, this balancing act on thin ice represents as substantial a challenge.
Unlike a monument commemorating the past, an artwork dedicated to solidarity has no purpose other than that which it acquires in the future. Your clear objective must not fade into a futile cliché from 1996. That is why I start from the idea that the artwork should not be a frozen moment, but should instead represent a future invocation for people to constantly reinterpret the term ‘solidarity’.
Already in the 13th century, Sittard was home to a hospice. Hospices were meant for sheltering the needy: the poor and sick, but also strangers, travellers and pilgrims. The hospice in Sittard was placed halfway the Lord’s Fortress and the Central Market, where later a Dominican convent was built. It was situated outside the city walls in order to provide shelter to people who arrived after the closing of the city gates. My proposal is to project this age-old example of solidarity on our time, in contemporary Sittard.
Since the medieval hospices, a lot has changed in the world. Many people knock at the gates of the West in order to find a good place to live. To keep the borders closed for others is a short-sighted and immoral option. To accept strangeness and strangers in one’s own territory nonetheless requires a major sense of solidarity. Blood and soil are strongly connected and the cause of many a fierce conflict. Where in the 13th century hospitality was expressed in housing, today it is shown in granting territory.
As solidarity artwork, I want to propose ‘Guest Land’. Guest Land is a marked out hectare of Limburg soil between Sittard, Limbricht and Enighausen. Now a pasture without zoning plan, this area will in the future indubitably be subject to an urban expansion which will unite the villages and the city. Guest Land is the first hectare of land with a clear purpose: it will be used for putting a meaning to the term solidarity. When in the future, estimated around 2006, the urban plans will have become a reality, the criteria for Guest Land will become the starting point for this lot’s building scheme.
Now, in 1996, Guest Land will have the shape of a field of approximately one hectare, marked by a low fence and a clear entrance. The name will be entered into the register of street names and will be described in the land registry as ‘solidarity area’.
Guest Land’s use will be constantly accommodated to the currently relevant meaning of the term solidarity. During the first years, one can think of a variety of uses: manifestations, festivities, concerts, markets, educational projects or emergency aid. Perhaps later a more permanent function will be preferable to express the notion of belonging: a cultural centre, a square, an office, a housing block or a hospital? It is undeniable that the term solidarity in the future will acquire a meaning and require an attitude which cannot be foreseen today. Which decisions will have to be taken with respect to Guest Land can only be judged when the time is ripe.
The abstract notion of solidarity has obtained a location, and in that sense, Guest Land is a monument. But that by itself is not sufficient. Solidarity is the first requisite for making the debate about the use of this land a fruitful one. Therefore, I hope that Guest Land will be there for ever.
One can think of – to answer your request – various possibilities to engage education in this project. The shaping, preparation and realisation of Guest Land could be done in collaboration with the technical school. Other educational institutions could address the theme of solidarity in terms of content: discussion, film, lectures, excursions, etceteras. On primary schools, scale-models could be made and plans could be developed about the way in which Guest Land could be used. It seems desirable to me to document all actions around Guest Land and in twenty years from now publish a booklet to report about Sittard’s solidarity.


Source: Hans van Houwelingen, clarification for proposal Solidarity Artwork, Sittard 1996
Note: The proposal was accepted. During the municipal elections of 1998, however, Guest Land became the subject of political debate and was cancelled as a consequence.