I want to start with an example about what we mean when we talk in a DAC language i (Shared Artistic Designation). John Koermeling who was present in our first DAC meeting in Middelburg, and who is at the same time an artist and an architect, was asked by the Townhouse of a Dutch City to make a new bridge because the town had very hard traffic problems. He accepted to elaborate a project but after having studied the situation instead of planning a new bridge he arrived to a different conclusion. He went back to the Townhouse and said: you don’t need a new bridge. I organized your traffic in a different way and there is no need for a new bridge. People were quite astonished, but they were even more astonished when Koermling sent a his bill for the no-bridge. In fact, his project was not material, but it was a benefit for the town, both in terms of economics and in terms of a new organization of the urban space.
Yona Friedman already years ago stated that architecture is not just about buildings, architecture is about the organization of space. This is very interesting because it keeps things open, it gives opportunities of collaboration, it’s a real common ground, by the way the topic of this year Biennale of Architecture in Venice.
I really think that the organization of space is challenging. The project of Yona Friedman and J.B. Decavèle for the Vleeshal – is essentially a new conception of space, a space thought for art new form of museum. It’s a project that challenges very much artists. To show something there artists need a completely new perception of the space and this means that they needs to rethink their own work. This is moving the art world in a very positive direction.

Yona Friedman in the Sixties took part in the competition for the Center Pompidou that finally was won by Rogers and Piano, the still existing building and an important example of contemporary museum architecture. Yona made a step further about what could be this big Art Center and the step was very important as a perspective. He wanted It wanted a museum that could change. Actually, he projected a museum that was not finished, that was not static, a building that could change in corrispondence of what was showed inside. And this is a very interesting issue regarding the relation between art and architecture.

First of all I want to thank Lorenzo and the Vleeshal for the invitation to build our Iconostase. This project is exactly what you are speaking about. Our Iconostase permitsis the architectural extension of the museum right now. If you ask Yona Friedman to make a model for an Iconostase for example here in the Vleeshal, first of all he will investigate the space. Lorenzo sent us pictures of his space and Yona made a collage of a trigeometrical structure in order to show to our selves, to Lorenzo and to the people involved in the installation how it would be looking like. But the next step if people want to realize an Iconostase, the principle is: Do it by your-selves! The idea is that it is supposed to be done by the users and for the users, by the people who work for the Museum. I made an adaption of the model. It is very important for me to work with Yona Friedman. He gives me – I am a film maker and a photograph – an incredible field of reconsidering and understanding space and reconsidering also my own work. What I do is an adaptation of Yona’s idea the way a filmmaker does it. If I am going to work with an architect or with somebody else I am going to have directions. With Yona Friedman the incredible thing is that he wants you to follow your own directions.

Iconostase 150, De Vleeshal Middelburg, 2012
Yona Friedman, spatiale adaptation Jean-Baptiste Decavèle
Courtesy JBD & YF

Iconostase 185, Antinori Bargino, Italy
Yoan Friedman 2012
Spacial adaptation Jean-Baptiste Decavèle
JBD &YF tous droits réservés

Yoan Friedman 2012
Spacial adaptation Jean-Baptiste Decavèle
JBD &YF tous droits réservés

The Inconostase is a structure made of rings. The basic idea is that you build three different geometrical forms with those rings, you have a cube, you have a triangle and a third more complex form. Based on these three geometrical forms you start building. Yona Friedman gave us a very little drawing. Then I came here and talked with the people, with the whole museum team and, formally based on my physical understanding of the space, together we started building the Iconostase. My job is to transform a drawing in space. This, of course, involves my own spatial impressions and my capacity of making out of a drawing a spatial extension, a new exhibition space.

The museum architecture that Friedman and Decavèle are developing is an architecture that is around an idea, around people. You pay a sort of price for an architecture based on mobility. It’s also about trying to consider the people, the visitors, and the content as integral parts of the form. And the form is a modular form that is easy to change, easy to transport, to transform, a form permitting to create an energy and a synergy between the different segments and relations of a museum. It’s a big dialogue, a critical point of view about the content and the container. An architecture made to think about content.
Basically this structure in the Vleeshal is a machine to display, a machine created by an architect with the aim to create an exhibition space inside the museum where people to can bring things they want to show. This means an open structure for everybody, not only for artists. A structure in movement which will change in the course of the weeks.

What elements do Yona Friedman and you give us as a direction of recoinsideration, what characteristics do you give us as a direction to do things differently?

The direction is almost a technical practice, it is more a process in which, hopefully, there is a common understanding. I may disagree with you on certain topics, but I think there is a level of complementarities. It’s very beautiful with Iconostase because there is an incredible level of complementarities not only with the building but also with the people I was working with. You need complementarities in the practice, complementarities in the gestures in order to build something. For me the process was an affirmation. Not only it was possible to do it, but it’s possible to expand it. The question is: how can you live on that kind of building? When you see it in the Vleeshal it’s like an incredible graphite. It’s possible to make it habitable, it’s also possible to do it outside.
We never create questions of power, because than it would be conflictive, of course there is always a problem of misunderstandings…
But it’s much more just about bringing possibilities together. These possibilities create platforms for the people and that includes all the components, all the actors of a Museum. It goes from the technicians to the curators, to the artist, to the public. There is no question either for Yona then for me. Yona Friedman established a very straight modality of doing , there is a very strict technique of adaptation. What I really enjoy is this kind of freedom which is given. You call for everybody’s imagination and complementarities. Of course there are different approaches, you have a technical approach, you have the client, but it’s complementary.
There is no rule, no specific frame, you just start to work together, the field is totally open. The only rule is that there must be based on complementarities and that you have to agree with the fact that we need to be together in order to develop new forms, whatever the field is. It can be architecture or art, it can be publishing and so on. It’s always a kind of curiosity towards the other, you have to trust the knowledge of the other. In order to build an Iconostase you have to be very precise in the organization, in the structure. Of course I know how to be directive, how to deal with people and to push them, we have to be very serious and precise without any naivety.

I think there is a central point in the whole discussion, the fact to put together these different practices, to combine different visions of one and the same thing. You multiply the possibilities. The benefit for the producers is to have this artists view which opens landscapes and scenarios which are very important to take in account. Busyness also needs visionary. The thing is to open up, to bring together different fields.
There was a very good example in Italy with Adriano Olivetti, a very important company at the time. In Ivrea Olivetti created a village where the best architects, artists and designers of the country got hospitality and could collaborate. He understood that everything belongs together.. You cannot separate one thing from the other. All the different disciplines create one culture, one situation. That is the platform and you need the different figures that permit you to see the world from different points of view.

I think that we are very lucky to live in an inclusive process. I think that we have an incredible situation of coexistence in our Western world. When you coexist you don’t have to wait for things, they are just here. Of course there are specific temporalities in exchanges. I am never frustrated by waiting because I believe in active process and I also believe that it needs time for things to become concrete. It takes time to have a complete understanding of each other. But it is incredible to see that we have this active reality.

You need also ingredients to create something. It’s very important that there is the same sensibility, a kind of resonance. The resonance is something that reaches the people, through communication, through feelings, through ideas. It’s something you can compare with sound, with music. Sound is the first element of communication. I think that the project we have now in the Vleeshal now is related to the idea of sound. This multiplication of rings in the space is an almost acoustic idea. There is a very important link between architecture and sound. It is fantastic to see a perfect resonance. Friedman’s architecture is made out of an idea, not out of an image. The Vleeshal which is a gothic architecture of many centuries ago is still functioning as a perfect exhibition space. It offers a completely new perspective; it’s the idea underlying the architecture permitting it. An artist can always have a dialogue, not only with contemporary situations , but also with history. That’s why you can create a perfect exhibition space in a space built centuries ago. Artists are always able to make an interpretation, to recreate, to reconstruct a space, not only a physical one, but also the concept of time related to it. The Vleeshal is at the same time very old and very new. And we have to consider that at the time it was constructed it was a revolutionary architecture, a very strong one, still alive today. You can have a dialogue, very open one. The space for contemporary art is not necessarily the white cube.

I think that many architects or city planners relate to artists or consider relations to art when culture is involved. All these things are meaningful, but you have to see if they are so necessary. It depends on the project, it depends on the questions. I think we have to elaborate all this. There might be an element which comes into industry, into certain industries where this impact can help. That is something we have to look at. Than the next step, if there is an acceptance of it on both sides and there is a drive on the artist’s side to cooperate, the first thing we have to do is understand each other’s world. There is a lot of lack to be honest. This is what we have to work on first. Sure we can take the benefits from both sides. But I am not so sure that in the full field of architecture there is this relationship between art and architecture. The cultural effects in the different areas of the world have a big impact on our work. When for instance you look at the U.S.A you will see that business has a very big impact. Architects are following mainly what their clients want to have.

There is no rule for this kind of cooperation. There is always a matter of sending and receiving and this is a matter of fact. Everybody has his own field and you think inside your field, you work inside your field and you get connected for some reasons, attracted for some reasons. And that resolves a new thing. In fact this is the only rule and maybe there is a need for this new thing but it is not necessary. It can also be pure luxury for the sake of its own quality.

We received an invitation for a very special housing project in London – some of the most expensive apartments of the world – and we were asked to elaborate what they called ‘the privacy screen of very luxury apartments’ using very special luxury materials, pearls, to be treated in a chemical way. Our client wanted an artist from the U.K. to do this treatment and this person had to do the work in our factory in Holland. We didn’t particularly like the proposal because we were afraid of what somebody like working in our factory would mean. He probably would influence our program and I thought that it would be a danger. I called Piet because I knew that he was capable to do this too and we convinced our client that we would bring in our own capacity in that field in the person of Piet Dieleman. Our client accepted and with Piet we felt our-selves a lot more comfortable, because we were talking to somebody we knew and we trusted because we had to respect our program. Piet was not only the one who was making the piece of art in terms of how the pearls had to look like after the treatment but he also was defending us, protecting us by saying this can be done or not be done within the boundaries of our contract. And this was a very good cooperation.

The London project was a patination of some parts of the façade. Patination means coloring metal. You start a oxidation process with a certain color, so you give oxidation a certain direction. I WAS asked to change the look of the brash. I am an artist work with colors, but normally I do with paint. Here I did a whole different way of coloring.

So you protected the boundaries

Yes, because everybody can say something about colors, its’ quite a subjective thing. You are an artist, so you are seen as a a specialist. You have a certain opinion and this opinion is respected. From that point of view you can make a deal with somebody. And when I said it was all right I had my limits and those limits were the final thing. With the architects these limits were very important because they were connected to the building permits and when you make problems with that than you get really lost and you really get a problem.
Benefits are very pragmatic. In fact sometimes you have to solve a problem which can’t be solved in normal ways. And that is most of the time an attitude of an artist. Let’s say, the attitude of art is not normal, is not regular, it doesn’t produce conventional solutions. For example here in Druckerej a regular architect couldn’t fix a new façade for the building because it stays in a protected city area and there couldn’t be done anything with the front. It couldn’t look like a shop. The owner asked me once: what do you think of the shop. I said, well it’s a beautiful shop, only you can’t see it’s a shop. When I went home I already had a message of his on my answering machine. He wanted to know what I meant. What I meant was that all the architects would have made a proposal for the façade. What I said was that we have to do not something on the front but before the front. I discussed this idea with Bert and then shortly we came to the conclusion of making a big glass panel for the building, so it would be visible and not visible, like the cloth of the Emperor which is very beautiful, but it’s not there. Then we started a very complicated process because the family of the architect was against our solution, they didn’t want it because they considered it an attack to the architect.

Well, this happened a long time ago, but I do remember because it was an exciting experience. What did we add? We always have to be humble when we are in front of an artist or an architect because they come with the ideas and they tell us what they think and what should be done. And as technicians in the back of our mind we immediately start thinking that this is not possible, that they are crazy etc. etc. There are a lot of things that have to be reviewed, in terms of whether things could be done, if they were strong enough, if they were allowed in the city from an esthetical point of view. There are many things which come than on the table, which have to be solved. But at the end of the day it’s our task always to respect the original idea of the architect. I haven’t worked so much with the artists, actually Piet is the only one. We work with architects all over the world, but they have a quite similar attitude. And you have to make, to work it out. And you have to discuss problems one by one and see what is possible and what is not. We bring in our technical knowledge, we bring it on a drawing and discuss it again and finally we come to a point where we say it’s makeable, it’s not exactly what you wanted but it’s respecting your artistic expectations and, at the same time, it can be approved by the local Authorities. And then you go and do it.

You talk with very much respect about the power of artists. I wonder if Piet as an artist has also an influence on you as a manager of the Company with his ideas or is this a little bit too much honor for Piet?

Well he always has influence on me. When I read the invitation of this event I almost drove in. But I am not in a position to say something about art and about the relation between art and architecture in a professional way. When I read the invitation the question was: can artists be involved in an industrial process or in the manufactory process just because they are creative. Well, as a Company we work with the great architects and there we need creativity, maybe not the creativity in terms of art, but we need creative designers who are not just people making a step in their careers for a couple of years. Our designers have to be motivated, they have to have a drive to do and probably what they do, they do it for the rest of their life. But in our case they have to design with an eye to costs, to architectural expectation, according to the exigencies of our programs and to specific requirements. Maybe it is not always creative, but at the end of the day this is what counts. Often we have a discussion about what should be the profile of our top designers. We believe that a top designer is a designer by passion and not because it is something in his career as a technician. And I think what you automatically expect and demand comes very closed to the definition of an artist.

How was the reaction on Piet’s project in the Company?

I think the people found it very exciting that we had a project like that which had to be done in another way since an artist had been involved. I think this has been received with very much enthusiasm. Of course it’s nice to say that, but what does it mean at the end of a day when you say that you want to change. I have been thinking about, but I don’t really have the answer. The only thing I can say is that we have to continue to try. Between Piet Dieleman and my-self it was a coincidence, it was not a planned working process, it just happened. It was a very good experience and a wonderful project. But what does it mean for my own Company? The idea of art is a very difficult one for us. We always work for a client who has his own demands. There is a possibility for art in specific situations, in projects where it fits. The question is if creativity must always lead to a piece of art o architecture. Can it also lead to a very efficient solution which is even not visible? But if that is a competence architects or artists have and if this competence can be translated in a industrial process which goes over the imagination of our own people, it can have a very strong effect.