Madelon Hooykaas, 'View of wind', 2024, photo: Otto Snoek

Essay by Sandra Smets during the unveiling of View of wind


A new residential area is a promise set in stone for the future, where residents enter a new phase in their lives. This novelty also means that the identity or soul of such a neighborhood is still undetermined. People do not know each other yet, there are no shared stories yet, the life that will take place there is not yet visible outside. In that indeterminacy, art can be meaningful. It can provide an advance on that character, by making a place more special.

You can taste that promise in the work of art View of wind by Madelon Hooykaas for Nesselande only the title. After all: you cannot see the wind itself, only that which is set in motion by the wind. The title promises imagination, as visual art does. In this case it does this with a structure that is tilted, as if it has moved with the wind. In the construction, a weather vane hangs above a circle that glows soft blue in the evening after sunset. The artwork therefore looks useful with its steel pipes and water sports enthusiasts can see the wind direction from the vane and the work provides lighting. At the same time, the real functionality is rather limited and it is better to talk about meaning, because of how the artwork directs the eye to the elements here in this polder area and all the musings that this can bring about.

This emphasis on the elements fits Stansfield/Hooykaas, a museum-lauded artist duo of which Madelon Hooykaas has been a part since 1972. The duo went on to create groundbreaking new work by pioneering the then new video art. They connected this to a world outside technology, namely the great concepts of space and time. Their work ended up at progressive art venues such as De Appel in Amsterdam and the Whitechapel Gallery in London, and was included in collections such as the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and the MoMA in New York. The collection presentation Museum of Memory in Museum Arnhem was named by the museum after their video work Museum of Memory no. 7, which is central to it.

Their videos, photo works and installations can and were mainly seen in indoor spaces, but the residents of Wijk aan Zee have known since 1995 that they also had an affinity with public space. They then made a work there entitled 'Abri', in the shaped like a satellite dish, where you can sit and become part of the cosmos before you. Nature, looking and a spiritual awe for space are an extension of each other. This also applies to the work in Nesselande and to the recent solo work of Madelon Hooykaas. She recently had a solo exhibition in Antwerp entitled 'Haiku, the art of observing' and a substantial publication about her work was also recently published: 'The artist as explorer'. It is a real artist's book in which looking and water and nature, shadows and light, return again and again.

After Elsa Stansfield died in 2004, Hooykaas continued to develop their joint ideas for another two to three years and now operates individually. The artwork here in Nesselande is both: the first design dates from 2002 as a creation of Stansfield/Hooykaas, the duo, but in the meantime Hooykaas has completed this incredibly long journey solo.

In those more than twenty years, six designs followed each other. It started with the plan to literally create space for an artist-in-residency, so that artists could enjoy the environment and give something back in the form of an image or story for the neighborhood. That long duration just shows how difficult it has become to realize art in public spaces. The assignment was given at the time based on the municipal percentage scheme, which was later lifted, in an early phase so that artists could fully think about this area.

That is a good idea, but it also means that we have to wait for the realization of such an area. In this case, the banking crisis of 2008 intervened, causing the housing market to collapse. When construction of the district resumed, there were other agendas, obstacles, parties, and art had to go through all kinds of mills again. This increased complexity is a serious threat to all new art in public spaces and it is questionable whether Rotterdam's long tradition in this area will now be destroyed. All the more reason to embrace this work of art here.

Because art helps to form a new place, CBK Rotterdam was involved early on with an art plan from which several works of art emerged. Water and wind are recurring themes, just like in this work by Hooykaas where a light ring indicates the NAP and thus shows that the area is 5,5 meters below sea level. In doing so, they put sea level rise on the agenda when it was not yet as popular as it is now and in that sense they showed foresight, something that has long been associated with art. The term avant-garde literally means running ahead of the troops and here in Nesselande runs the Laan van Avant-garde, surrounded by streets named after artists from a hundred years ago, the heyday of all kinds of artistic isms. Of course such a neighborhood needs art. Avant-gardes are about pioneering, something the residents of this neighborhood have also started doing. In line with this, the weather vane in this artwork is a flag that demarcates conquered territory.

Moreover, this work of art even has a direct relationship with art from that time: the inspiration comes from both the location and avant-gardist Wassily Kandinsky. Growing up in Rotterdam, Hooykaas saw his 1911 painting 'Lyrisches' as a child in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, a rider composed of areas of color where dynamism and spirituality coincide. The work of art is currently hanging in the Depot Building, in the 'Lievelingen' exhibition.

Yet the work here in Nesselande is compositionally more similar to another Kandinsky, from the collection of the Center Pompidou in Paris: both have a triangular structure of straight lines with a circle, between two side panels with misty lines. This atmospheric vastness can also be translated to Nesselande. So you see, the avant-gardes are not just in the street names here.

And just like Kandinsky, the abstract shapes in this work of art are spiritually charged. They are universal shapes, reflections of something greater, just as the circle is used in art and science as a symbol of the universe, the cosmos, eternity. With its references to water and wind, the artwork harkens back to the time before the district existed and is about a certain awareness of sea level and climate issues. Stansfield and Hooykaas chose the location themselves, right on the water and at the very end of the beach. If you walk there and look, you see the wind and water and you know about the sea level above us and at the same time the work of art directs your gaze towards the cosmos, the most awe-inspiring thing that exists.

This essay was presented by Sandra Smets at the unveiling of View of wind on Tuesday, May 21, 2024.

Publication date: 23 / 05 / 2024