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The Lights

Hans van Houwelingen’s title for the work on the Eusebius Kerkplein in Arnhem is simply: The Lights, and that is what the installation is and does. Since his intervention, the church square has become more monumental, acquired more solidity and the tower has become illuminated. This is only appropriate, for the residents have consented with the installation of an artwork which characterises its habitat in no ambiguous terms. The work sheds light, but it also exposes.
At the top of the residential flats surrounding the square, Van Houwelingen had thirty-six floodlights attached which light up the Eusebius church tower at night. The yellow light and the aligned fittings seem to change the square into an old fashioned working-class quarter, where a tightly knit community lives in affectionate discord. But apart from being picturesque, the light is also unsettling. The floodlights are far from being elegantly designed, crude and unpolished as they are: they look like search lights. They seem extemporaneous and conjure up an image of displacement. Thereby, they definitively brand the light and its effect as faint and obscure. The church and the square needed more light. Van Houwelingen’s light does alleviate the sombre character of the place, but at the same time intensifies it.
This sense of gloom is symptomatic for the fact that the place has been bombarded to shreds during the second World War. Ever since, the city has been deprived of its heart. There is a hole where the centre used to be, which is defiantly called ‘square’ by the inhabitants. In this respect, The Lights reflects the drama of, on the one hand, the enemy defeated in unity and, on the other, the limited capability for reconstruction. Van Houwelingen has effectively intensified the lack of light on the square, and interpreted it as a continuation of the darkness of war. His installation makes one realise that Arnhem by default owns a monument, which seems to follow the standards of Zadkine’s war memorial in Rotterdam [which represents a ‘city without a heart’, mb]. Since the war, Arnhem has a square which follows Zadkine’s model.
The Lights embodies a multitude of images, which are analytic both in practical and evocative terms. Thus, the floodlights simply form a frame or cadre around the square, correcting the situation and bringing cohesion to the mediocre 1950s housing, built out of necessity rather than from aesthetic motives. At the same time, the work sheds light on the historical meaning of the location. It conjures up an image of the second World War as if it were a movie scene. The multitude of floodlights, high up around the entire square, reminds of a film set. And indeed, for the younger generations, the second World War is hardly imaginable other than as a movie or a black and white documentary.
Raising a topical social question such as this one is characteristic for Van Houwelingen. In Arnhem, he placed a rational social analysis against the myth of a closely knit community. Once a beacon for the community, shedding its light on the people, the tower’s and the church’s function have been reversed by Van Houwelingen. As many churches, the Eusebius church is not used as such anymore today. The source of The Lights therefore are the private houses, the domain of the individual. Seen in this light, the installation not only points to a want of religion, but also exemplifies contemporary society, which is not based on any ideology anymore.
The passer-by strolling towards the church at night seems to be pushed on by the light rays towards the supposed centre of the community. On turning round, he finds himself suddenly face to face with a blizzard of vicious light beams, emanating from individual citizens.

Source: Marjolein Schaap, brochure ‘The Lights’, Arnhem, 1998