Hans Demeulenaere of de onmogelijke
schaal van de realiteit (N)

Stef Van Bellingen


De ruimte anders ervaren (N)

Experiencing space differently (E)

Julie Rodeyns


Friktions (N)

Lieze Eneman


Werkperiode van Esther Venrooy en Hans Demeulenaere
in Lokaal 01 (N)

Indra Devriendt


Stability is overrated (E)

Edith Doove









Edith Doove


We pack our lives with all kinds of constructions that invoke a sense of stability, whether ideal (marriage, for instance) or actual (the buildings we live in). Yet nothing can resist the onset of change, or the timeless truth that all things must come to an end, whether we wish them to or not. It takes a disaster – like the recent earthquake in Italy – to make us wake up to reality. The survivors have to face a devastating double loss: the loss of their loved ones and their built surroundings, and the loss of the illusion of stability. Given the inevitability of change we should know better – be more ready to adapt. Rather than denying change, we would be better off accepting that it is the only constant in our lives (without going so far as to say, à la Berlusconi, that a disaster should just be seen as an opportunity to go camping for the weekend).

Recognising the continual nature of change can be rather beautiful and enriching. Architecture is one of the last things we would expect to undergo such change. It is ostensibly so stable, so unmoving, so quiet; but in fact it continually vibrates, albeit on the most miniscule scale. This permanent vibration of walls and supporting structures allows us to say that all architecture is alive.

But there is more than just this physical movement. Our experience of architecture, of entering a building or a room, is not static either, but is constantly mixed with our personal memories of other buildings, other moments, completely different activities, even.

One of the most perceptive observers of the workings and the use of space is undoubtedly the French writer Georges Perec. In Species of Spaces he tells us: ‘The space in which we live is not continuous, not infinite, not homogeneous, not isotropic. But do we know where space is torn down, where space curves, where space disconnects and where space clenches? We might notice that there are cracks, gaps, points of friction. We sometimes vaguely are aware that something is stuck, that it breaks loose or that it collides. But we seldom try to learn more about it and usually wander from one spot to another, from one space into another, without noticing, taking account of the course of space. The problem is not to invent space, and certainly not to re-invent it … the problem is to question space, or even more simply, to read space.’(1)

Starting from the givens of permanent movement/change and a willingness to read space, visual artist Hans Demeulenaere and sound artist Esther Venrooy have collaborated on a spatial installation and soundscape in the impressive Villa La Tourelle in Ostend. The architectural and acoustic qualities of the unoccupied belle-époque mansion were first analysed, then reconstructed and transposed to other floors. To achieve this Demeulenaere constructed a 1:1 scale model of part of the interior, but shifted its alignment in relation to the original, moving it slightly to the left and down. This shift involved moving walls, lowering ceilings and raising floors, although in the model only the walls are actually built. A riddle by Perec comes to mind: ‘If, in a given room, one changes the placement of the bed, could you then say that you have changed rooms or not?’(2) Likewise we could ask here whether the house has changed or whether it is still the same, except that different qualities or dimensions are revealed.

Even though Blueprint #1 could be recreated in any building, the way it plays against the Villa La Tourelle is particularly impressive. In this specific site, the collision of the present with the distant past –the belle époque– gives rise to a further shift. The walls of the installation have been painted grey, the colour of plasterboard, which adds to the disturbing effect of this space within a space. What is usually only a base layer becomes definitive, but at the same time it remains temporary. The structure has cut off access to certain rooms, but has also opened up new perspectives. Crouching down to go through the newly created spaces, you’re reminded of the weirdly surreal movie ‘Being John Malkovich’ and the series of cramped, low, narrow rooms that make up Malkovich’s brain. But it is not only the shifting of architecture that opens up unknown dimensions: Esther Venrooy has realised an intriguing soundscape using the new technique of transducers, on which she collaborated with Johan Vandermaelen of Aevox. Mounted on the newly constructed walls, the transducers act as huge speakers. The sound you hear all through the installation is a mix of recorded ‘room tones’ and self-generated sound. The sound is never constant but changes during the day, in the same way that the light changes with the cycle of the sun. Layers of soundscape constantly shift around and over each other, making each visit unique. How you experience this living architecture depends on what time of day you visit. The soundscape enables you not only to read the space but also to listen to it attentively.

In their collaboration Demeulenaere and Venrooy have aimed for a synergy of architecture and sound that is above all suggestive and poetic. One of their inspirations is Peter Eisenman’s iconic ‘House 3’ (1970), where the ground plan is shifted around its axis to create a ‘collision and interaction of identities’. The resulting spaces are intended for habitation, though in practice they seem barely usable. In a revealing interview, Eisenman describes a critic’s reaction to his design:


‘You know, Peter, my problem with your project is this: the left wing hates it because they think it's right wing and the right wing hates it because they think it's left. Nobody can make an assessment. You have created something that is, in a sense, problematic for everybody, because they can't label it. And if they can't label it, then they can't tell whether they like it or dislike it."(3)

By not labelling something, you leave it open to new possibilities. Visitor reactions to Blueprint #1 are quite diverse – some are in and out in a flash, and they leave saying they haven’t seen or heard anything. Others linger for hours and come back again to experience it fully. How you react depends on the extent to which you are willing to break away from preconceived ideas – from stability. This is something in which Demeulenaere and Venrooy excel.

April 2009


 (1) Georges Perec (1936-1982) studied sociology at the Sorbonne and worked as a research librarian. A member of the Oulipo from 1967, he wrote a wide variety of pieces, ranging from his impressive fictions to a weekly crossword for Le Point. View http://www.complete-review.com/reviews/perecg/speciess.htm#ours
Quotation is author’s own translation of the back flap of the Dutch 2008 edition of Ruimten rondom. Amsterdam: De Arbeiderspers.

(2)Ibid., 42.