Photo: Mila van der Ende

Sash – Sandra Smets about the work of Ron van der Ende


By Sandra Smets

Cities can be defined in different ways, but one of them is that a city is a place of promise. It has such a concentration of life and activity that in theory everyone could make their dreams come true. You can see that in the street scene. Facades that proudly measure themselves against each other, architectural styles that are being demolished in favor of more modern insights. But opposite that dream is an unruly reality of tempered expectations and disappointing views. The work of art is about triumph, big dreams and difficult views Sash by Ron van der Ende, a window overlooking a brick wall, where you can dream your ideal view. It is also an ambitious work of art, seventeen meters high on the bare side wall of an apartment building, where it even protrudes somewhat, proving that you can transcend limitations. 

The work of the Rotterdam sculptor Ron van der Ende has long been about possibilities and impossibilities. His exhibition The Factory Set in 2014 there was a parade of promising objects in the Kunsthal – cars, ships, electronics, architecture – which he assembles from scrap wood, which means they are worn out immediately upon delivery. You can see nostalgia in that; after all, they are the symbols of the modernist race that propels our society forward. But it also shows how Van der Ende incorporates conflicting ideas of time in his meticulously crafted bas-reliefs. As if he gives them the soul that only becomes visible on someone's outside when they grow older. This can also be felt in cities such as Rotterdam, where city dwellers keep seeing the city renew and become younger as they get older. 

No past no present

Sash, English for sliding window, is a symbol of a time that had to give way to newer interventions. The fact that periods can clash and twist can be seen at the head of the Voorschoterlaan. There in the old village of Kralingen, the construction of the metropolitan metro has left scars that remain visible, just like the subsequent urban renewal. In this messy part of the Voorschoterlaan, that one flat from the eighties stands out in particular, with a bare side wall that radiates lovelessness. That was also what Van der Ende thought, when he was asked to make a design for it by a local residents' initiative, the driving forces behind this art assignment. Covering the wall was not an option for him: then you would draw more attention to it. He preferred to propose an open structure, a type of traditional window from earlier times. The onomatopoeia Sash echoes how these windows ingeniously slide open via wheels and a pulley function. 

Due to this mechanism, this window is not fremdkörper between the so much more technical looking themes of Van der Ende, who seems to look at the world through construction glasses. Although this is his first work in public space, many city dwellers are familiar with his bas reliefs. Visitors to Erasmus MC pass his huge open-work cube at the main entrance, Worm audiences know his huge cassette tapes there, which recall the joy of making their own tapes and their own music, actively participating in their own cultural scene, which also gives him a retro feeling. indicates the alternative programming of this music stage. There is no present without the past. 

Thus there is a contradictory or double sense of time in his bas-reliefs, contemporary trompe l'oeils without putti but with symbols of economic prosperity, the gods of our time. He gives these depth effects through vanishing points outside the scenes, making them appear as high reliefs that float around in the void without support. So also Sash, where hyperrealism helps to make it real: a mirage of wood of mythical proportions, referring in shape and scale to the triumphal arch. But who triumphs here?

The past perhaps, the art, the dreamers, those who find views where others see walls. In all cases, it pays tribute to constructions and craft, just as he does with his cogwheels, cars and space capsules, which he also depicts with artisanal precision – a Droste effect in a technical sense. In this way material and imagination coincide. 

The promise of improvement

But where Van der Ende usually works with scrap wood, that was not a practical option for public space. Instead, he requested felling lists of trees in the neighborhood that have to disappear anyway. For example, he went in search of durable and characterful wood, whose grains will contribute to the design. For this he made extremely detailed construction drawings, aided by the fact that he is the son of a contractor. His earliest childhood memories are of the wood storage and workshops of the carpentry factory where his father was a manager and where his mother cleaned when he was not yet in kindergarten. The wooden window reminds him of that too – Van der Ende's sober-looking work will not get much more autobiographical than this. 

But in the meantime it is not all sobriety that is implied. It is about a love for materials and constructions, about the promise of improvement inherent in modern objects and architecture, and about how it is at odds with their use. Far removed from the glossy visual language of brochures, Van der Ende's interpretations are rather an anti-race of innovation. 

All this makes this work of art a combination of promise and impossibility, and also a wonderfully surreal appearance. This is partly due to the technical construction. The relief hangs on the wall via an invisible steel support, creating an optical illusion. Especially when you approach the work from the Oude Dijk, it will seem as if a huge sliding window is floating in front of the facade, into the street. This effect arises because the carrier of the window forms a wedge with the facade wall of the flat, which is slightly diagonally opposite the building line. The facade is crooked, but the window is straight, with deep perspective distortions in the rebates – ergo, a mirage, a phantom from the past. As if to say: this is not a decoration, it is an autonomous image, which is not limited by the dimensions of a wall or city or whatever, but purely by what the imagination dictates. 

Art historian and journalist Sandra Smets wrote this essay about Ron van der Ende on behalf of CBK Rotterdam on the occasion of his first work of art in public space, at the initiative of local residents.