written by Max Borka
September 16 – You were so many, and you were so fantastic, at the official opening ceremony of the Citycape, last Friday. Of course, there was some queuing up in the VIP-tent to grab one of the cute boxes with eastern delicacies, or to beg for a clean champagne glass, but that’s the unavoidable flip side of success. Even an all too exuberant shower of rain could not temper the public’s enthusiasm. What surprised me most was the aura of quiet and serenity that surrounded the sculpture, despite of the flood of visitors. Arne had insisted from the very beginning that he hoped the Cityscape would be an open invitation to contemplation, a dream I had classified under the category of wishful thinking, be it only because of the heavy traffic on the neighbouring ring. But it works, an effect that is also the result of the 5000 sqm or 360 cube of immaculate white gravel surrounding the sculpture, and that was also heightened at the opening by JDM Production’s lightshow and the soundscape created by François 'Booby Brawn'.
This is also the place to thank the many public and private partners, whose synergy made it possible to realize this project in only a few months time, at a speed and rhythm that was totally unknown to Brussels. Above all there’s Mini, that financed the sculpture, and linked its opening to the launching of the Mini Clubman, a world’s first. The fact that only one single copy of the car was shown for no longer than one night in some faraway corner of the terrain stood symbol for the modesty with which Mini profiled itself during the whole project, despite of the heavy investment. It may be an example to every other sponsor, wherever. The same goes for ProWinko, the Dutch real estate company that put the wasteland on which the Cityscape was built at Arne’s disposal. On the public side there’s the commune of Ixelles and the Brussels Region, more in particular the Minister of Economical Affairs Benoit Cerexhe, who had been a Cityscape adept from the very first beginning, and was considered by Arne to be ‘a blood brother’ in the end. Finally there’s Brussels Louise, the association that is mainly an initiative of Benoit Cerexhe, aiming at a revitalisation of the neighbourhood between the Porte de Namur and the Porte Louise. The Cityscape became its very first project. During the year and a half that the sculpture will be there, the association will use it as a platform for a whole series of activities, the first one being the departure of the National Classic Tour, and rally for old timers, and stunt demos by BMX bicycles, next Saturday, September 22. Information on other activities will be published on www.BrusselsLouise.be, that goes online end of September.
14 september – C-day has finally come. Whatever your mother tongue may be, rush to your newspaper man as soon as you can to get yourself one of the last copies of the newspaper Le Soir. Today’s edition has execeptionally been given in the hands of a man whose name may sound familiar by now, Arne Quinze. If you can’t find a copy check the site www.lesoir.be, for some videos and other delicious stuff on Arne. The reason for this most generous gesture of the leading frenchspeaking newspaper in Belgium might well be the official opening ceremony of the Cityscape, tonight, starting at 9pm, and presided by the Minister-President of the Brussels Region Charles Picqué and his Minister of Economical Affairs, Benoit Cerexhe, who have been addicted to the Cityscape philosophy from day one. Everybody is welcome tonight, but some will be more welcome than others – if you know what I mean. Those whose name doesn’t figure on the guest list will be refused access to the party tent and its delicacies- although you might always try the name Arne Quinze, himself a notorious party-crasher. You will also have to bring the fireworks, that have been announced by some, at your own risk, if you really insist on seeing them. They’ve never been in our planning. But even without them, we can assure you that this will be one of the parties -if not thé, party of the year.
There’s still been some hard working, in and around the Cityscape, during the last few days: the gates, the beautiful gravel beach that was elaborated by Nijs and that serves as a giant soccle, the wooden benches, and the tent that had to be covered in black because it had been taking the word festive a bit too much to the letter, totally eclipsing the Cityscape, and so on. Spirits got a bit heated sometimes, but there were also moments for a good laugh, like when the over enthusiast scientist Ayhan Doyuk, alias the Alchemist of Water, travelled from Turkey to Belgium, and opened a cocktail bar to demonstrate the revolutionary brew which was poured over the Cityscape yesterday, making it fireproof.
Regular visitors of this blog –and there’s been almost 50.000 by now- may also ask themselves where I have been, these latest days. The main reason was the book that has been given in the hands the famous Berlin publisher Die Gestalten, and of which I’m the author. The basic concept, which I had been developing with Arne’s communication agent, graphic designer and factotum Sharon Neirynck over the layest days, has been approved by the master himself, and the final result will be in the bookshop half of November, but you can also make life easier and cheaper by ordering your signed copy on this site. “The city of Brussels is a calm and cozy place to be, “ says the site of Die Gestalten by way of announcement, and in all objectivity “ But regarding the city's urban scape it's neither a place of ever-changing modern architectural avantgarde, nor of exceptional art installations. Arne Quinze, who at the age of 15 used to wander around the streets of his birthplace as a homeless has come back to change this fact for good.” http://www.die-gestalten.de/news/detail?id=2196
And now that we’re into quotes, this is a mail that came from Hong Kong: “Hello! This is Edmund Chan, the travel section reporter of the local Lifestyle Magazine "U magazine", which is launched by the Hong Kong Economic Times Limited. We are interested in the Cityscape Project since it is very impressive craftwork, we do hope to write a news with it. Could you kindly send us the latest hi-res photos of Cityscape?”.
The international media craze for the Cityscape is something that has become impossible to keep track of. Try this, on a Vietnamese site: http://www.kienviet.net/tin-tuc/nghe-thuat-sap-dat-do-thi-arne-quinze. In the weeks to come the famous Icon will also do a story on Arne, while the editor in chief of Mini Magazine also traveled to Brussels, with the intention to devote an article to the Cityscape. Next weekend it will be impossible to open a newspaper or switch on the radio and tv in Belgium without being confronted with Arne. You can expect some more quotes, after today’s press conference that starts at 11 am. That is: if the party is not too heavy.
Even Arne feels totally amazed when observing other people’s reactions today. “What surprises me is their bewilderment - from politicians to passers by, and despite of the pouring rain. Their reaction is entirely different when compared to a few days ago. As if people only now start to see the direction the sculpture is taking. The beast is spreading its wings”. Only a week ago, little more had been visible than the ‘crystals’ of beams that had been built around the top of the 33 stilts, and that had been connected in the days after, to form a crown of thorns, hovering five meters above the ground. But it is only now that the builders start to work away from that circle, creating wild cascades tat seem to tempt gravity. “Only now, people can also see what the sculpture is all about, a frozen moment that captures and synthesises the movement and speed of this hectic neighbourhood, “ says Arne. But a few moments later he also mentions the peaceful image of a manta ray, the giant fish that, despite of its size is probably also the most elegant. That image, he says, had been one of the main sources of inspiration.
(A few figures, by way of an intermezzo: the 60 km of beams integrated in the sculpture, have a total weight of 72 ton. A team that consisted of an average of some ten people did not only lift them by hand, and one by one, into the structure, up to 15 m high, but also had to nail them together with automatic pistols. Such had been their enthusiasm that they used 240,000 nails, the double of what had been expected. Meanwhile, candidate pyromaniacs may abstain: the wood has been treated with a new product, Flame Save, consisting for 90 % percent of water, and turning it in totally fireproof. A remake of Burning Man, where Arne put fire to his own sculpture in the end, can therefore also be excluded.)
Elegance is also the first word that comes to the mind of Bernadette Erpicum when she describes the new image that she would like the neighbourhood of the Cityscape to have as soon as possible. Over the last decades, the quarter, that reaches up the Avenue Louise, and that had once been the place to be for upper class shopping, lost a lot of its credit and public. One of the causes was the fact that the quarter extends over three communes: Brussels City, St. Giles, and Ixelles. This fractionation had therefore been one of the main rasons why, with the support of the Brussels Minister of Economical Affairs Benoit Cerexhe, Brussels Louise had been recently founded, a non lucrative association that also took the initiative to build the Cityscape. Beyond the borders of the three communes this association, while uniting the local trade, wants to work out a coherent image and brand for the neighbourhood. It’s not exactly an image that corresponds to the untamed character of Arne and his Cityscape. “Therefore also the name Louise, “ zegt Bernadette Erpicum, “We were more thinking of a gracious lady that finds herself a second youth”. This said: Erpicum has received nothing but compliments for the Cityscape, and that also includes the officials that have returned from their holidays. “The sculpture has a greater effect than we could ever dream of. We also hope to convince the Brussels Region to take the model of the Cityscape to Mapic (the world’s leading real estate fair, MB) in Cannes in November, as a symbol of a new dynamics in Brussels, and an example of a perfect collabiration of private and public partners”. With an allowance of 175,000 Euro from the Brussels Region Bernadette Erpicum’s job still a solitary one. But that cannot temper her enthusiasm. She will also take care of the program of events that will be organised in the Cityscape, during the year and a half that it will occupy the wasteland in front of the Hilton hotel. On September 22 the National Classic Tour, a yearly rally for oldtimers, will start from the neighbouring Boulevard de Waterloo, while on November 29 Modo Bruxellae will organise its fashionshow in the Cityscape. “And we won’t limit the festivities to the Cityscape, “ says Erpicum, “They will extend to the whole quarter. In the same spirit, we won’t wait till the Cityscape is ready. Tomorrow for instance, we will be bringing 900 participants of an international neurological congress to the sculpture”. Arne versus 900 neurologues? The Cityscape will be a pretty nervous business, tomorrow.
Que Pasa? What’s going on? Arriving at the Cityscape site we discover Arne and some of his collaborators, easily recognisable in their black T-shirts decorated with Arne’s head in a fiery red, their discussion highlighted with wild and dramatic gestures. Stretched arms point to the Cityscape, heroically, as if trained by Chinese communists. Problems? The buzz has mainly been put into action for the camera team of the VRT program Duizend Zonnen en Garnalen. Meanwhile, the sculpture keeps slowly growing. A first 21.000 meters of Swedish wood had already been used by August 15, but 24.000 meters more arrived the next day, while a last delivery of 10.000 meters should follow on Monday. That makes a total of 55 kilometers of beams, in two sizes, long and short, nailed on each other in a wild Morse, with pistols. Earlier on, a crystal of beams had been created around each of the 33 stilts that support the structure, and were then connected to each other, into a giant crown of thorns, floating five meters above the ground. It’s a job that is not without risks. Last Friday, Alexander, alias Lexus, the leader of the team that builds the sculpture, set a bad example by shooting a nail into his hand, with dramatic results. Being up there is far from an easy job, says Fré Van Dooren, the project leader. Surrounded by the beams, there’s little overview, while building the sculpture remains a matter of intuition and improvisation, leading to a final result that will even be quite different from the model. “The lining is getting important now,” says Arne, ‘We’re reaching a crucial point, where we leave the constructive phase and move into the organic and aerodynamic. Where chaos gives in to discipline. The beast has to be tamed now. We will first work out the extensions of the crown in essentials, and after that tighten up that network”. If all goes well, the job should be finished by Saturday, leaving only some details, such as the dolomite that will cover the ground. Meanwhile, in another corner of the terrain, Patrick Grauwels, who’s at the origin of the project, is already dreaming of some free concerts that could be organized, once all this is done, featuring Jamie Cullum or Norah Jones. Someone also mentions Moby. It seems that he had already been willing to come to the sculpture at Burning Man.
Trucks block the entry to the Arne Quinze headquarters in Courtrai, when we arrive with Robert Klanten, director of the notorious Berlin publishing house Die Gestalten, to discuss a collaboration on a book about Cityscape. Just like everybody, also Robert is getting an obligatory guided tour of the 8000 sqm grounds, where only an inscription on top of the giant chimney reminds the visitor of the former owner, the carpet manufacturer BIC. Next to it, a giant hall still awaits the production units for the furniture collection, that are currently housed elsewhere, but some tests are already being done with the famous foam that has become the Arne Quinze hallmark. Other teams are working in improvised workshops, finishing the Skytracer and other futuristic sculptures that will travel to the Arne Quinze exhibition that will be at the centre of the Abitare Il Tempo fair in Verona, Italy. Such are the surprises on our guided tour that even Robert Klanten –being a German, and therefore a serious man by nature- can’t help having a laughing fit when confronted with the fact that next to the place where the sculptures are meticulously polished, loads of concrete are being poured into the pits where the weaving machinery had once been. We are lead through the warehouse to the other extreme of the grounds, to visit the beautiful old industrial building that will not only house the furniture collection of the famous Italian design brand Moroso under its saddle roof, but will also serve as a gallery, for exhibitions and other events. Let this be clear: gone are the times that the name Arne Quinze only stood for furniture. At the moment the company is also redefining a huge restaurant cum bar in Laos, Nigeria, for instance, and four extraordinary villas in Holland, to name only a few of the many projects, while preparations for the next Art Basel Miami have also started. “It can’t be a pornographic book, “ says Robert Klanten, back in the office, “ it has to be an enigmatic one. It has to make the reader dream, and keep him hungry.” This man definitely has to become our publisher. On our way to Kortrijk, we also visited Cityscape, and Robert was especially taken by the contrast between what he describes as a deconstruction manifesto and its luxurious surroundings. Arne answers that he hopes that Cityscape will serve as a catalyser, above all, the beginning of something else, that will bring life to a city that has been asleep for half a century. Once the negotiations ended he brings us to the Holy of the Holy, the former gatekeeper’s house, where he keeps the models of the stilt houses that will also travel to Verona, strange shacks, favella-like, in rough wood and primary colours, and in total contrast to the futuristic SF-vessels with which they will be confronted. Mad Max versus Space Odyssey – the contrast could hardly be bigger. One of the models, of a shack that becomes a giant wall, bears the caption: “Men created Gods / God made people fear / Fear made people buy weapons / People build walls to protect against weapons / Walls equal fear equal madness”. Outside of the small gatekeeper’s house, trucks keep on rolling in and out. Madness is surely something Quinze knows everything about.
The Pulp café terrace offers the best view of Cityscape. Their staff is working extra hours this afternoon in order to offer headquarters to the press that keeps coming in. Today, Le Soir and De Morgen announced that Arne doesn’t want to keep his limit on the wasteland Cityscape is being built, but will also be working on a masterplan covering most of Brussels. He repeats so all afternoon to all journalists on site: the economical weekly Trends/tendances, Reuters, and Associated Press.
Imagine is the keyword. Le Soir compared Arne to Ringo Starr, but John Lennon would have been more appropriate. “I had the choice, “ he says, “Both Berlin and Brussels wanted a Cityscape. I followed my heart. I lived ten years in this city and six months homeless in the streets. I was fifteen years old then I mainly survived thanks to my passion for graffitis. Returning to Brussels after twenty years made me conclude that it is one of the few cities in Europe that doesn’t grow nor modernise much, and certainly not for the better. If you look at what happened to Paris or London, or even to much smaller cities such as Lille or Rotterdam: things are changing fast while Brussels seems to have fallen asleep. We have such a great number of talented people in this country, many of them belonging to the absolute world top. But they always bump into laws or officials. The system is mostly what is blocking. Just imagine: if Brussels was sending teams of officials to Japan or South-Africa, to live and work there for six months, while at the same time these countries would be sending one of their team to Brussels. Imagine the interaction, openness and dynamics this would generate. Or imagine that right now and next to the Cityscape, five other sculptures would be erected in Brussels. Image-wise it would have a tenfold result. In view of a similar exponential effect I am also looking for other creative people that would collaborate in creating this masterplan for Brussels. In Italy or the Netherlands, this is the most common thing, but over here we seem to lack chauvinism. We don’t seem to realise that we simply owe this to our heirs, the next generation”. Beautiful words, even if they don’t seem to impress Arne’s daughter too much as she’s begging to leave the terrace looking a little bored with the situation.
The notorious Uchronia, built by Arne on Burning Man’s last year edition was reaching a height of 13 meters. And let’s say that Arne would not be Arne if he hadn’t wished the Cityscape to be higher. « Some of the peaks will be reaching a height of 15 meters » says project leader Frederic Van Dooren – aka Fre. This time an engineer’s study has been required to draw up a full analysis on the stability of the project. First time ever. « Up until today, all sculptures, whether based in London, Cologne or anywhere, were built upon intuition » Fre says, adding that future sculptures planned will be elaborated upon a totally different size. Bigger & greater. The Galactic Transporter project, drawn for Beijing’ 2008 Olympic Games, will be an architectural structure on which no less than 500 visitors/day will walk on and so, at different levels. The scale will be twice the Burning Man one and that’s why Arne, along with the team has decided to look for engineering support while building the Cityscape in Brussels. Rather as training purposes that actual necessity. « We are always looking out for young people, open to our ideas and able to identify themselves to our approach. So we chose UTIL, an engineering office based in Schaarbeek ». I ask Rolf Van Steenwegen from UTIL if he’s ever been confronted with a situation like this one before. « Not even by far » replies Rolf. The reason why, appears in the course of Rolf and Fre’s discussions, inside the headquarters. The artifical forest on the Pro Winko site will be set following rules of the controlled chaos Arne loves so much. Inside portfolio of leading newspaper Le Soir, Arne mentions how much he loves rules. In order to avoid them. « I love rules » he says. « Knowing them allows me to avoid them. I’m a devoted supporter of chaos, the absence of a system. It’s the motor behind my work. I create the chaos which is at the origin of total independence.” “I’m more into figures,” says Rolf, avoiding the subject. « And we’re not taking any risk. A stilt can carry about 1000 k. We will calculate things in a way that one stilt will only have to carry and support 1/10 of that weight. And above all, we want to play things safe ».
Suite 2005 in the Hilton hotel, where the Cityscape team has its headquarters, offers a disconsolate sight. Disconsolate is also the panoramic view that it offers over Brussels. And disconsolate is the wasteland we see from up here, and where the very last of the 33 stilts that have to support the flow of wood, is being fixed into the ground. Maybe it all has to do with the fact that it's been raining cats and dogs. The Dutch team fixing the stilts already lost a day on their scheme when they discovered that the ground had been secretly filled with concrete and other detritus- an unconceivable situation in Holland. The stilts can therefore not be driven properly into ground and holes have to be digged four meters deep, and then filled up again with hardened sand, once the stilts have been planted. Meanwhile, in the room, the team discusses mushrooms and crystals. Rolf, who has been asked to do the stability study, is being told by the project manager Frederic Van Dooren that he can’t use the name mushroom anymore for the structures in wood that will be constructed on top of the stilts, and that will carry the weight of the Cityscape. “But they look like mushrooms, “ says Rolf, referring to their round form. “Even so, “ Says Frederic, “Arne prefers the word crystals”. End of discussion.
With its surface of 8000 sqm, and a staff of more than 50, Arne Quinze workshop in the City of Courtrai, home of the notorious Interieur Fair, is even exorbitantly big for international standards. And this is only the beginning, says Arne, who'd rather be called an artist than a designer and has started drawing urban masterplans. In a near future a big showroom will be added to the old factory, a large part of which still needs renovation. Despite of the holidays a great number of journalists had attended to the press-conference, but Arne wasn’t too sure about the result. Extra interviews will be organized next weekend, cause after all, the Cityscape is all about communication. What Arne doesn't seem to realize is that, due to large press coverage in Brussels, Cityscape had already become the chat in town and also most probably due to the gigantic scale of the sculpture - 40 meters by 25 of surface, and a height of 18 meters. When he entered the designscene in ’99, he got immediately noticed with a simple stool fabricated in self-invented foam, Arne Quinze had been announcing that he would become big, giant even. Many reacted pitying to that self-proclaimed fame. But in ten years, Quinze has become a partner of leading architects such as Rem Koolhaas or Wiel Arets, and appalled the world as an artist by creating a similar sculptur and burning it at the 2006 Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert. He’s also become a partner of a leading Italian brand in design furniture, Moroso, and is currently busy working out details of a 4000 sqm exhibition held at , Abitare il Tempo, one of the world’s most beautiful design events and where Arne Quinze has been invited as guest of honour. No other Belgian could ever dream of coming close to that position.
Hilton top floor; hurrying out of the elevator and on the way to what I think will be a meeting with Arne and some of his collaborators, I end up in a press-conference room celebrating the launch of the Cityscape, and chaired by Brussels Region Minister-President Charles Picqué. “The Cityscape will remind us to forget”, he says, not only referring to the way the neighbourhood in between Porte de Namur and Porte de Louise has declined over the past decades, but also to many projects never arisen on the wasteland in between the two areas, and on which the Cityscape will soon be erected. As if they were contaminated by Arne’s fascination for speed, partners involved in the future of this land have approved the project in only 2 months, An absolute record for Brussels.
If I would like to write a book on the great project he will start building in only a few days? Arne Quinze wants to know when he calls me in the late afternoon, as well as if I could to come to the Hilton tomorrow morning in order to discuss the project. As usual, Arne doesn’t wait for answers. He just knows them in advance. And the speed at which things happen doesn’t surprise me at all. Speed is Arne’s middle name. The gigantic sculpture that will be built entirely of wood – mostly scrap wood- on a 5000 sqm wasteland facing the Hilton, will have to be finished in a time record, since the opening ceremony has been planned for September 14th. Time has also become the leading idea behind the sculpture described by Arne as ‘the capture of one moment in a form that is in full development’ and a work ‘incarnating instantaneity’.