Meeting Michael Pinsky
Date: February 20, 2018
Travel time: 5 minutes bicycle, 20 minutes check-in, 2 hour delay for cancelled Eurostar, 110 minutes on the Eurostar
Meeting time: 3 hours
Reading time: 30 minutes
My first stop on the Grand Tour is London. Traveling there is really easy. It’s only a five- minute ride with my bike to Brussels South station, where I check in for the Eurostar. A less than two-hour train ride will bring me to St Pancras, where I meet Michael Pinsky for lunch. Sounds like a perfectly smooth beginning. Except that my Eurostar is cancelled and I have to wait for the next Eurostar, leaving in one hour.
There goes my lunch. I already had the perfect opening question leading from the non-place of the train terminal (don’t say “station” to the Eurostar waiting room) to the non-place of the city as shown in Prêt à manger. It’s a generic quality that makes you feel at home anywhere. It’s monoculture, against difference. Can that be filed under “art & ecology”?
While waiting for the next train (and thinking about a new opening question) I start sending back and forth messages to Michael on what’s happening – or not. We restart organizing our day. The one-hour delay turns out to be two hours, because I was confused with the hour difference in London. I start feeling kind of jetlagged. You don’t wait two hours in a train station, but when it looks like an airport terminal and once you’re checked in and can’t go out anymore, two hours seem pretty normal.
On the train everything is on schedule again. I’m texting Michael while passing the Belgian-French border. I look at the soldiers and the razor wire that hermetically close of the station and the entrance to the Chunnel in Calais. Before descending under the North Sea, I see the Eurotunnel logo with the slogan Le lien vital. The vital link: that is what borders are supposed to be, a place where things should happen. But the cross fertilization is sterilized here. I was too late to make a picture from the train, but here is one I found online:
This is before they installed the fence:
Organization is something that will come back in our conversation. You have to take things as they come. Instead of lunch at St Pancras we meet for a coffee at the German Gymnasium, one of the posh establishments on the very gentrified King’s Cross site, just outside the station. Turns out that Michael is not only (re-)organizing our meeting, but is also dealing with a missing piece of a sculpture that had to be sent to China the same day. All he can do is wait. Together we made the best of it.
Organization is also part of a work like Plunge, for which Michael installed rings of low energy blue LED lights on three columns in central London, showing the water level in one thousand years, after the melting of all the ice and snow on earth. Organization is also part of the work that Michael did as a curator on the King’s Cross site. We talk about the difference in organization when dealing with local authorities (in the case of Plunge) or with private partners (on King’s Cross).
And we also talk about what is visible and what’s not. About the invisible borders between private and public space for instance. That is where I get this uncanny feeling of an ungated community. There are no visible borders, no physical gates on this private area that became King’s Cross. The only gates here are the gates of capital. Money decides who is welcome and who is not in the offices of multinationals, flats of millionaires, bars with welcome desks for business people and in the back of the site and out of sight: in the social housing blocks.
My new opener is not really a question, but it leads to Michael’s work as a curator on King’s Cross:
While doing some research, I found this image in the book by Sue Spaid, who is also on the blog:
Oh, that is a piece that I curated in 2015 with my wife, Stephanie Delcroix, when we worked for King’s Cross developers. Between 2011 and 2015 we commissioned several other pieces, for example the bird cage you see outside King’s Cross Station: one of the first pieces we presented here in King’s Cross. It is by a French artist, Jacques Rival. The piece in the book, Of Soil and Water: King’s Cross Pond Club, is a natural bathing pool designed by Marjetica Potrc and Ooze. It was in King’s Cross for about two years within a building site, so it had to make place as the building started.
The title of this book is Ecovention Europe. It is a combination of ecology and invention.
That’s quite funny. As an artist I often refer to my mode of practice as an intervention. Like Plunge, the piece that I created with the LIFT festival and Artsadmin: that was an intervention. The columns, in fact everything I worked with, already existed. I was just intervening in that space. This is part of a successful equation in a piece of art. You have not only the physical manifestation of the work, the people that arrive at the work are not just standing there passively looking at the piece, but are being implicated. There are always things that are unpredictable. The people and the place, neither of them are neutral. When you show in a gallery, and you have a clear role of the viewer and of the maker and a clear view of what the space should be like. Then you’ve consistency and in a way a lot less risk. The minute you work in the public realm, you deal with a public that is there for various reasons. It’s a much more unpredictable play but I like that.
That became very clear when I looked at the video of Plunge on your website. For instance, the moment when you have the bikers arriving at the sculpture, talking about what they’re supposed to see, trying to understand what they are seeing. There was also this moment with the people of Occupy the City. Each of these moments give different perspectives to the work.
It’s interesting how the work can start signifying things which you don’t intend. How a piece of work becomes part of a mythology: I really like it when that happens. I did this piece for COAL in Paris, L’eau qui dort, with objects taken from the canal. A week before that opened there were the Paris attacks. That gave the work a totally different meaning. This is how things erupt into this space. People start fearing that way. Strangely enough, I pulled out a lot of single beds from the canal. When I thought about it afterwards, it was probably people migrating, buying them en route to Paris. The transience registers in the piece. You just don’t foresee those kind of resonances. It’s almost like a lightening conductor: it attracts things from around us that become something else.
When you talk about attracting things: you talk about people?
Yeah, well people and stories, people’s stories. Like the beds: it’s a record of a certain story and we can try and guess what that story is. It’s something that we work towards. It’s like with Plunge and the cyclists appropriating the work. People congregate around these sorts of monuments anyhow. It becomes even more important when you intervene within this signification. Because these monuments are meant to give us a feeling of strength, solidity and power. Cutting through them like that is undermining it. In the end we had three columns, but initially there were going to be four. We even made the ring and we basically had an agreement for the fourth ring at Monument, but the city of London is not accountable since it is a corporation. So, a week or two before, they said we couldn’t do it. And that was it, no excuse, no reasoning, no explanation.
Is that also linked to the significance of the columns? Through the columns, you refer to colonialism, globalization, the beginning of capitalism: that is where global warming starts and that is a story that probably better remains untold in the city.
Yeah, the funny thing is that the story works with the Duke of York column. Monument however, was built after the fire of London, when most buildings were made of wood, so it was explicitly built in stone, to represent solidity. So, this particular column isn’t about colonialism. It’s more about security. But of course, the financial economy is built on a colonial and industrial history. So for sure, they don’t want to have that undermined.
The financial economy also relies on an idea of security after all. What happened in 2008 is a loss of security for most people.
I know, a lot of trust, a lot of belief. It’s amazing how seriously they take that. You know, they were really worried. I was really frustrated. Anyhow, we secured three columns in London, which was already a small miracle. Actually, making the piece is not very difficult. It’s getting the space to locate it which is.
The organization that comes with the work.
Yes, and that’s purely political. And it’s the politics of those spaces that is critical for those works. The potency of the work is driven by their location. That was a challenge. It took us about two years to secure those spaces. It was really hard.
This is where the social sculpture starts, you could say: being in touch with the community.
In this case it’s very much about the political community. I mean, London, central London, is not a normal community. It’s a globally, influential and powerful community. So, you’re dealing with big players. Not only private entrepreneurs, but also the mayor and even the royal family. The Duke of York column for instance, is in the jurisdiction of the royal family. And then with the other one, in Paternoster Square, you have the religious community around St Paul’s Cathedral and then the stock exchange is there as well. I have no idea how we managed to secure Paternoster Square. I think they just didn’t understand the concept. It is in a private area and only when the work went up they said “this is really not good for us at all”, but it was too late, it was already up. I think they hadn’t thought through the implications. I’m sure that if you try to approach them now to put something on that column, they wouldn’t let you. It was just a glitch that we got that one.
This idea of the privatization of space, the fact that parts of the city are in private hands, is very significant, also – or in particular – when talking about art and ecology.
Like where we are now, from pretty much the bird cage the whole way north is in private hands. As are parts of Mayfair. When you look at a map of London, you see how much is owned privately. The streets, the public realm, is not public realm. It is private realm that allows the public in. I have very mixed opinions about it, having read a lot about this issue and having worked with both councils and private developers. The problem with councils is that they never think far enough ahead. With this development at King’s Cross for instance, the investment is based on a fifty year plan. So, they’re expecting to get their return on investment from about year 30 until year 50. Councils are on a four to five year cycle. The way they think is completely different. The fountains on Granary Square, over there at Saint Martin’s, cost twelve million pounds. The council would never spend that much money on public ground. People would object and say there are not enough books in the libraries. Very few politicians would have the guts to push that through.
You think the longer-term planning of privatization makes space more sustainable?
It depends. You get the good and the bad. But in the UK, you end up with public space that is on the whole much better thought through and better designed. People enjoy this private public space more than public public space. It is better maintained for sure. But underneath that you have all these private rules. For example, you’re not allowed to busk here, so musicians get moved on. And they have their own police here, paid with private money. That’s weird because this is an area that has virtually no crime. But the police stay in this jurisdiction. So, the police aren’t able to really allocate the resources where they’re needed. I think it exposes some deep fundamental problems within our democracy. But at the everyday material level you end up with nicer spaces. So, it’s tricky. We would never had been allowed to contrast that pool: that would’ve never happened in a public public space. No council would’ve ever agreed to do that.
Was that also privately funded?
The pond? Yeah, privately funded. It’s all privately funded.
And you do a proposal to the company who owns this space?
No, we were employed as curators for four years.
By the company?
By the developer. And actually, it’s funny because it was not easy, we did this sequence of commissions between 2011 and 2015 that we’re proud of, but it was really hard working with the developer. We went to the opening of their luxury apartments last week. There, we met a lot of the staff and the company director and they all seemed sad that we weren’t working with us anymore. It seems like a few years later they realized, even though it’s hard working with us, the projects were worth the effort in the end.
But in a way it’s also a bit like greening up.
We had really interesting conversations. When we were doing the pond we didn’t start off with that pond. There was another project we wanted to do with the same artists, Marjetica Potrc and Ooze, which was a bridge. We saw it done in Germany where they recycled water from a very polluted canal between the waters. We loved that piece. But that was a little bit too much for the company in the end, especially for the guy who was working on the landscaping. “I don’t get this piece”, he said, “that’s what we do anyhow”. He didn’t understand the work when explaining its closed ecosystems. In King’s Cross they’ve got a small CHP plant that generates energy for the whole site. They’ve got their own power plant. And every single building is built to the highest green standards, super insulated, solar panels, and so on. So, for them, they’re doing the whole eco-thing at the absolutely highest level. They don’t need an artist preaching to them about it.
There is this tension with you working as an artist on these columns in London that refer to global warming through colonialism and capitalism and then working as a curator with this private developer. If you can’t beat them, join them: is it something like that?
I don’t think it’s a war, I don’t try to beat them. It’s more like if you can join them, you can change them. Take the bird cage over there. They were building the road up here called King’s Boulevard and they wanted paintings on the hoardings. Everyone wants paintings on hoardings, so for that wasn’t so interesting. And then we talked to Jacques, whose work we liked, who came up with a simple question: “why do you want the paintings?” The answer was simple: “we want to draw people up into this area”, which was at the time in 2010 still full of prostitutes and drugs dealers. And he said, “well, you don’t want the paintings, you want them to see something in the distance that they want to walk to”. So, then he came up with this idea for this illuminated cage with a swing in it. That changed people’s perception of the area. First of all, it was only meant to be temporary, but the developers liked it so much, so they kept it and we moved it down the boulevard to here. Now it’s down here and it will probably stay here for a long time. The idea that you can play in a space is really important. That was an important first gesture. And then, each subsequent art piece that we commissioned, changed their perception about what art can be and what art can do. I think that’s quite important. They made important statements and they certainly benefitted by that. I think the area benefitted by this as well. It’s tricky, it’s not that you’ll win the war by having a battle. It’s a longer game plan. It’s just being in there having a conversation. Without that you have no impact whatsoever.
I’m very interested in this combination of being an artist and a curator. Because of the idea of care. Being a curator, you have to work together with artists. You have to show interest in their work, and think about their work and how to present it.
I often have to remind people what the role of a curator is. Especially in this context because often they try to bypass you. In a gallery setting people understand curation, but out of the gallery they often think that your job is like a matchmaker.
“They” is the artists?
Certainly, the developers: they would be quite happy if you introduced them to three or four artists and then you went away. And some artists as well also. But like you said, the root of curation is that you have to take care of the whole process. You have to take care of the art work, even when the art is disliked. People often forget that. It’s a really important role. It’s a difficult role.
But also as an artist you have to deal with curators, I suppose, like the people from LIFT?
Well, they’re not curators. They’re producers.
But why do you think they invited you?
They didn’t invite me.
But they must have had an idea of some kind of art and artist they want to work with.
Okay, when they had the selection process, they had a team that made the choice.
The curatorial team?
Yeah, the curatorial team, but it’s a bit different from having a curator who’s going to work with you and follow you the whole way through. Which is what we did here. It wasn’t open, we invited people to come and work and we curated the whole process. With the bird cage, we manufactured it all at our end. We go quite deep into production, maybe because I’m also an artist.
So my Grand Tour is all about art and ecology. This is also why you were selected by LIFT for this meeting. Do you file your art work under art and ecology?
No, I don’t.
But still it often has to do with the environment.
I wouldn’t say so.
With the pond it’s quite clear.
With the pond it’s quite clear, they are ecologically driven. But I think, Jacques for instance, he is more into symbols, like very readable popular symbols. In a way his work is actually very effective, but it’s very simple at the same time. That’s why it’s so successful: it has a very clear form and function. Other artists were invited to tie together this kind of complex space, but also because they’re local. I think each piece had its reason, but only the last one was really about ecology.
But just the fact that they are in this – kind of – public space gives them a social aspect. It engages people to deal with the environment, which for me has already some ecological aspiration.
You get people to walk and enjoy spaces at a kind of pedestrian level, which is important. None of the pieces here you’d appreciate as a car driver.
But there are no cars here.
There are no cars, but you know, that road was meant to have buses and traffic on it. And so, it’s weird that it’s designed that way. They just made it pedestrian when all the work was done. It was so successful as a pedestrian space, that they’re going to keep it that way. So, it looks like a road that is pedestrianized, but it is never been a road.
Is that your influence?
Yeah, I mean, the influence is quite deep so the company, which is going back to the developers, who are not normal developers. The guy who used to be the CEO lives in Richmond, which is twenty miles away, but he cycled every single day. Forty miles. He is in his sixties now. And then there is this big property show in Cannes, called MIPIM, and they all cycle down to it. In a team of ten or twelve, they get on their bicycles and leave London to cycle to Cannes. So, you can see where their head is at, in terms of how cities should work. That’s in a way why it’s easier to work with them than some of the other developers. They’re already aware of these tensions.
But do they really do it from an ecological point of view or is it just pleasure?
Oh well, maybe you cannot see the one separate from the other. Just the thing of cycling to work already changes your understanding of your environment. That is already a major shift: if you drive to work every day you have a completely different perception of the world. Their perception of what urban space should be like, is changed because of that. And you can see it in the area: it actually is quite nice to walk around. Whereas if you look to the other developments, they are often horrible and not nice at all for pedestrians. High buildings and windy spaces which don’t connect with the community outside. It’s a different sort of space.
This idea of pleasure is important when talking about art & ecology. To engage people. This is something I also feel in your work when you see the bikers for instance, looking at the columns in Plunge: they enjoy it. They feel connected to the work. But on the other hand you have this projection of a thousand years into the future. That’s pretty dark. But also speculative: you cannot predict what will be a thousand years from now. So that creates a distance.
I wouldn’t have approached it that way now. There were some flaws in that approach. Not aesthetically, but from a narrative point of view. Now, I would’ve said, if we have all the ice and the snow melting because of a temperature rise, the ocean expands to this amount, where you see this light on the column. I would not actually date it, just say this would be the level it gets to if we ever have the maximum increase of sea level. Then that’s not disputable. That narrative is going to be easier. Now, a lot of people use it as bad science.
You have to get away from the speculative and get somewhere to make it tangible.
Following on from that piece and the piece I did in Paris, a group of environmental psychologists commissioned me to do a piece in Norway, which became the Pollution Pods. We had a lot of discussions about how you can change people’s perception and what would have the most impact. And then I started to move from the long view stuff to the everyday stuff. You’ll only change people’s point of view if it effects people everyday. I had a lot of discussions, (shows sketchbook), but this is a particular one where we look at climate change and its causes and consequences and the kind of experiences that don’t work. Starving kids in Africa, the glacier melt, the polar bear on a melting ice cap: it’s too removed from people. I moved on to different types of air pollution and then came the cubes that became pods and eventually geodesic domes. The fact that people go into these spaces and have this visceral experience of what the daily life of someone in New Delhi is like, had a huge impact. It goes much deeper than the symbol-oriented signifier. That is how I moved from symbols to the actual experience.
It is very nice to see the construction of the work in the video on your website. It’s also kind of a social work. How does it work inside? You work through contrasts?
It is like when you get out of a plane, and you open the door and it hits you in the face. It works on the basis of you not acclimatizing. I’ve got air pumping in the corridors between the pods. So, you start in the pure clean Norwegian air and then the next one you have all the diesel fumes of London but nothing else. It is of 15-16 degrees, like today, and with the smell of diesel, and you go to the next one which is New Delhi and it’s 35 degrees and really humid and with low levels of visibility and burning plastic because they do a lot of crop burning and they do a lot of rubbish burning as well as a bit of diesel. And then you move on to Beijing, I couldn’t get it to zero degrees, but it’s very cold and very humid, and then there are the smells of factory fumes. So, you get these very sharp contrasts. And then to Sao Paolo, where they use ethanol instead of petrol. So, there’s a smell of ethanol and a high level of ozone. That’s why it has to be the last room, because it burns the hairs in your nose and then you can’t smell much afterwards. And then you come back out into Norway and it’s just like wow, that smells really good. Most of it I’m doing with a haze machine, for the smells, like the grass roots, the coal, the salt, I’ve had a perfumer make them up. For diesel or ethanol I used a mixture of ethanol and vodka and vinegar. I could do this myself.
You get the sensation that it is toxic?
Oh yeah, absolutely. Without killing you. It’s pretty convincingly unpleasant from the psychological point of view. If you can change something that affects people every day, then that is the most successful motivation. Pollution runs hand in hand with climate change. I’m hoping to bring the pods to London in April. Then I really want to get policy makers to walk through. Urban people are more interested than people in the country side. Most people live in the city. That’s were you have to reach the policy makers.
This is one of the questions with a project like Imagine 2020: what can art do? Do you think you can permit yourself things as an artist that scientists can’t?
It often is a matter of perception. In terms of global warming, let’s say 98% of the scientists believe and 2% don’t. What happens in the media is that they want to balance the argument, so they treat it like there is a yes and a no. While there is a massive yes and a tiny no. It’s a bit like smoking. For a long time, probably until the eighties, cigarette companies were still saying that there wasn’t a direct link between smoking and cancer. It was proven, but they still find the one scientist they can pull out of the bag who says the opposite.
But the hard thing is that the skeptics are often right when they say there’s no proof.
Well, I don’t know if they’re right. There is proof. You can look into ice cores that go back for thousand years and then study the composition of the air trapped inside the ice.From this you can build graphs. I saw this in the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge. Suddenly, in the last hundred years it’s clear that the air composition has changed dramatically. And the skeptics are saying “well you know these things are part of the general flux and flow”. And yet when you look at the data it’s just very clear that this is not, there is a magnitude of difference from what happened before. So, I do think there is proof, it has been proven, but there are still some belief systems that have to be changed and that has to do with perception. And then there is the question: if you believe it, are you willing to do something about it?
Then you also have to believe in the consequences of what will happen.
And do people care what will happen a hundred years from now? Or do they just care as long as they live? And that’s when you end up with air pollution, because every car you get off the road – because these are the biggest polluters in most western cities right now – will affect your personal length of life, the quality of your life, your children’s life. That gives people the motivation to change. It’s not easy though.
And there you have a role as an artist?
Well that is what I’m trying to push. I do see a window of opportunity. There are a lot of policies getting decided at the moment. Popular opinion has to change, because these decisions can’t be made within four years. It has to be on everyone’s manifesto. It’s weird because smoking just disappeared overnight. If we would have been here a few years ago, it would have been thick with smoke. It’s funny when I go to Berlin and there are still some places where people smoke. When I go in I can’t stay there, I just have to go. I used to be in those places all the time. I could see that happening in terms of public space, that you look back and you ask yourself why were we walking through these streets? Take this area. King’s Cross used to be in a cloud of smoke, because the trains would be on diesel and come in the whole way to the terminal. Now they all arrive in electric mode. When I just moved here, King’s Cross was black. That’s not so long ago. Things can change.
When I read about L’eau qui dort, the work you made in Paris, I learned how the work came into being. Actually it started with you walking around in the area and talking to people who live there and who told you about what’s underneath the water. That is also an environmental thing: starting from the people who live in the environment where you work.
I think about the actual work as an intersection where you have your visual moment. You end up with a cross: before, middle and after. Middle is where the work is. That is in a way your short cut, if you think of a piece. For me, the trouble with a lot of socially engaged work, is that there is no visual shortcut to the work. I think the work has to be burnt into the retina. Like the shopping trolley on the surface of the water: that is burnt into the retina. And then you know that’s a way to access a longer story. What I like about that piece, is talking to people, gathering the work, using divers, which is a performative moment. Once the work was done, I made this soundscape, and rather than blast it out, I gave every single person that lived around the docks a CD and they used their own ghetto blasters to play the composition from their balcony. And because it’s a pentatonic composition, it worked as a three-dimensional unsynchronized soundtrack. I got the composition broadcast on a local radio station, so you could just tune in with your transistor. And then afterwards, I cleaned up of the discard items and took them to a junk yard. So, the residents had a clean dock. So, in a way, the artwork is a byproduct of a process of cleaning up the docks. The overall function now is that they have a clean slate, they got somewhere to start with a new beginning.
Before L’eau qui dort in Paris you created the work in Britain. Was this the first time you move a project from one place to another?
Yes. But the pollution pods will move as well. It’s not deliberate. In a way it’s nice to be doing the same piece again, because you’re relying on a whole set of skills, and then you apply them again at another site. It originates in one place but it resonates with other places.
The idea of recycling, to stay in the ecological terminology: recycling ideas.
True, and it’s hard to come up with new ideas all the time as well. Sometimes you begin to work on something that you think is a good idea, and then it doesn’t work that well.
How do you work, how do you try out an idea?
A lot of it is with drawings and talking with people. Like with the pollution pods, I built a 1:50 scale model. I do a lot of modeling, drawing, talking. And then there is a lot of risk really. You try and work out a lot of independent elements, but then you come to that moment where everything comes together, and it’s quite stressful. It’s less stressful than it used to be. Now, I can anticipate problems better than I used to be able to. I don’t work through the night anymore. I’m quite good at scheduling my time but if you go back twenty years ago, then it would be two or three all nighters. Because I have underestimated the amount of work that I have to do.
But also because you’re younger and you’re able to work through the night.
Yeah, and I didn’t have kids at that time. Now I have to plan more.
How important is the aesthetic part? Like with the pollution pods, the first thing I had to think of was Buckminster Fuller.
Yes, that was deliberate. That is why I went from the pods to the dome. Because when you read Fuller’s writing from the fifties and the sixties, and all his ecological concerns, I thought it was crazy not to explicitly reference this. It also refers to the 1970s biospheres, where people were trying out living on the moon. It’s a reversal of that. You’re inside the polluted space rather than outside of it. Fuller was really part of that postwar optimism in which we could design our way out of the problems. Which is partly true but probably not completely. We put the skin of the domes on the inside of the structure, rather than on the outside, so you see an extra skeletal construction. A prominent geometry which makes it even more Fuller-like. I spent a lot of time thinking about the construction. We worked with Norwegian wood that needs to be cut to keep the road free. I didn’t want it to look technical, I wanted a natural quality as well. These are aesthetic concerns. But there is always also this kind of humor, even there, this kind of playing around with these domes and greenhouses, with this pollution on the inside. It is ironic. Dystopian, yet utopian at the same time.
With these thoughts on dystopian utopian architecture we leave the German Gymnasium for a walk on King’s Cross. Efforts are made to give the development of King’s Cross a place in history. You notice it in buildings under construction, like this:
Or in recently finished buildings that show the future of history, like this one:
We walk by the place where the pond used to be. This is how it looks today:
We end where we started, in front of the German Gymnasium. There Michael tells me about a tunnel under our feet. The tunnel leads to the subway entrance, a few meters further. You just have to cross the street that has always been pedestrianized, pass the birdcage and you’re there. Why invest millions of pounds in a tunnel that seems totally unnecessary? The reason is that the tunnel brings the entrance of the subway closer to the building, or better: into the building. The distance to the entrance of the subway plays an important role in the value of the building and the rates for rent. That is how money decides what is built and what not.
The next day I ride with my bicycle to the Whitechapel Gallery to see the Mark Dion exhibition. On my way there, I pass by the Barbican. I see the future as it used to be. They call it Brutal: taking opportunities in a devastated post-war cityscape. In 2003 it was voted the ugliest building in London. But when you enter the building – and here you have to pass the gates to get in through the arts centre – you find yourself in a very nice private public space. On a cold and grey February day the hall of the arts centre is used by parents with children, students and other people reading, working on their laptops or talking. Outside you get a view of the lake with the towers, the hanging gardens, the glass houses with tropical plants. In the gallery there is a nice exhibition of Yto Barrada on the city of Agadir after the earthquake and the beautiful buildings that were erected in the fifties and the sixties by architects as le Corbusier. The Brutalism in London is part of the same movement in modernism, inspired by Corbu. The name brutal actually comes form the French term béton brut, not from the brutal act of planting these outsized towers in the city.
While at Barbican one can witness a belief in the future, King’s Cross shows a nostalgia for the past: the history of London and how to continue writing it. Barbican and King’s Cross: the future as it used to be and the past as it will be. Barbican opens itself on the inside, unlike King’s Cross that opens itself towards the outside. Brutal London has nothing to hide: what you see is what you get. In Smooth London things tend to become invisible: you never know what you get.
And the Eurostar back to Brussels? Was very smooth. I arrive well in time in the already very crowded terminal at St Pancras. I find the last available seat next to the escalator. I feel like a fish, trapped in an aquarium:
Right in front of me there is a huge image of a Eurostar floating in the North Sea. I am too close to show you the whole image. It goes like this:
This image shows what lies beyond the concrete of the tunnel. It’s a dreamlike image of a train floating in the sea, surrounded by fish and plants. Somewhere in the back, there is something like a ruin:
I have to think of London in one thousand years, taken by the sea. How Eurostar gives itself a place in history – the history as it will be.