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Gemeente Ede / HVA-fonds / Hans van Houwelingen / 2011-2012


Other

 

community

To mark Queen Wilhelmina's Silver Jubilee in 1923, the local bourgeoisie of Ede donated a monument that was placed in the center of the city. The monument has the shape of a gas lantern. The brick pedestal and wrought iron mast have been designed in Amsterdam School style. On top of a lantern there is text in decorative wrought iron open work, reading: "Wilhelmina 9 sept 1898 1923." Due to his industrious zeal, the blacksmith has accidentally placed the 6 upside down; the date of Queen Wilhelmina's inauguration was September 6, 1898.

The monument's functionality is remarkable. However, I couldn't discover the actual reason behind the choice for a lantern; in that period electrical street lighting was already common. Its functionality, however, may be explained in several different ways. The street lantern illuminates public space, but also illuminates the community. Public space only exists in terms of communality, without any exclusion. Communality is the condition for the existence of a space as something public. It may be thought that the solidarity of the population -- which had gathered the funds for the monument -- was illuminated by this gas lantern.

 

individualization

Nowadays, individuality is valued over communality, which seems to be granted increasingly little space. Queen Wilhelmina's granddaughter stated in her 2009 Christmas Address: "Modern man seems to have little consideration for others. We are mainly caring for ourselves. We tend to look away from the other and close our eyes and ears for our environment. Nowadays, even our neighbors are sometimes strangers to us. You talk to each other without conversation, you look at each other without seeing. People communicate through fast, short messages. Our society is becoming increasingly individualistic. Personal freedom has been separated from solidarity with a community. Without any sort of ‘we-feeling', our existence becomes empty. This emptiness cannot be compensated with virtual encounters; on the contrary, distances only increase. The idea of the liberated individual has reached its consummation. We have to try to find a way back to what unites us."

 

In 2009, Queen Beatrix's words were still quite abstract. One year later, at the occasion of her 2010 Christmas Address, she speaks about the fear and tension in society and the distrust toward the other: "Every human being needs a safe space and a harmonious existence among others, with each other we are part of a single society. That's why we have to take care that the basis remains strong and the relations balanced. A fear for indefinable changes leads to unrest and uncertainty about the future. This also puts the social fabric under pressure. That people no longer recognize what is familiar, is a source of distrust. But patience, respect, and unity may form a counterbalance. It depends on solidarity. The challenge is continuously to involve each other in solving problems. He who feels that he participates, is also confirmed in his sense of self-esteem. He who wants to collaborate on understanding and trust will have to be ready to face his own prejudices and to test his actions on their consequences for others and society as a whole. Each community is rooted in a social sensibility and demands a reciprocal responsibility. Humanity, involvement, and solidarity are powers that bind and offer something to hold on to in difficult times." Whereas individualization is the logical result of prosperity, the Queen makes a critical note about this acceleration of humanity's development.

 

children

With regard to the rest of the world, children play a unique role in Western society. In the largest part of the world, children occupy the bottom of the social pyramid, with adults on the middle and their ancestors on top. In the Western world, however, children are on top, followed by their caretakers and providers -- from child care to Disneyland -- and at the bottom parents and grandparents. Whereas in the largest part of the world children are considered to be a property and investment of the parents that is supposed quickly to generate profit -- the faster it grows up the better -- the Western child does not need to be profitable, and childhood is stretched out as long as possible. Childhood has no culturally determined end point, the ideal being is to remain young indefinitely.

In a Western upbringing, parents see a child as an individual with its own personality and are considerate of its own, specific character. Children determine their own choice in a market that is specifically tailored to them, praising their sense of individuality. Youth is an important economic factor which pays off with a child's individualistic experience.*

 

context

The Harmsen van der Vliet / Ameshoff Foundation aims to place a series of art works for children in the center of Ede. The child art pieces in the Vendelstraat / Achterdoelen recall an experience similar to all other products in this shopping street that are produced for children. Except for any specific judgment of the work, it is a relevant question whether the next art work in the series should rise from a similar perspective. A series of art works with a similar theme offers a good opportunity to investigate the ways in which a child's experience may be addressed. Except for form and content, it has been my point of departure to address a "program" different from the other art pieces.

Nowadays, society shows its edges and the idea of community has changed. Queen Wilhelmina started the royal tradition -- which is continuously honed -- to indicate the importance of communality and tolerance. Therefore, it is my intention to link the gas lantern from 1923 to our current era; the old lantern should also appeal to a future generation's sense of community. The aim is to create an art work that is not so much targeted at a child's needs, but that incites a feeling of engagement with other children -- that addresses an experience in which a child cares about another child.

 

design

A strange child is placed with the wrought iron work of the old gas lantern. The child is literally unknown: the bronze statue has been found, unsigned, was designed at an unknown time and unknown place, most likely in a foreign country. The life size sculpture depicts a boy with a neutral glance. He acquires a place in the center of Ede, where he raises questions about his uprooted status. Who he is and what he is doing there, the population of Ede will start to question the situation of this strange child and, in response to its uprooted status, most certainly offer it a place in its community.

It is a confrontation with a child, suddenly arriving from an indistinct location in the center of Ede, behind the iron work of the gas lantern. This closed space in the history of Ede -- a place that the population of Ede has known for nearly a century but has never been seen -- thus somehow becomes public and appeals to social processes of inclusion and exclusion.  It touches on the contemporary paradox in which a hyper-individualized community and communality go hand in hand.

 

* Source: David D. Lancy, Professor of Anthropology, Utah State University / Dirk Vlasblom / Warna Oosterbaan, NRC Handelsblad, December 24, 2010.