It was announced last year that Atelier van Lieshout, collaborating with Powerhouse Company, will be starting an ambitious development project under the name Brutus. To achieve this, a 10,000 m2 site in the M4H area in Rotterdam-West will be converted into a genuine culture cluster featuring, amongst other things, a sculpture garden, houses and studios for artists as well as a public art labyrinth. It will provide space for both established artists and up-and-coming talent, embracing all artistic disciplines, ranging from sculpture to performance and from drawings to videos. Starting from 2022, Brutus will already be open as an exhibition space at the current location, spread across the premises at Keileweg number 10 through to 18. Now and during the Rotterdam Art Week you can visit the former port complex to view exhibitions by the famous L.A. Raeven twins, the American artist Alexandra Phillips, Atelier van Lieshout and others. Reasons enough to put questions to the creative mastermind behind the Brutus project: Joep van Lieshout.
In point of fact, Brutus is a kind of response and complement to today’s Rotterdam culture landscape. Not a museum like the comprehensive official institutions that we know, but a site where artists will be really playing the main part. We call it an ‘artist-driven playground’ as it has really been designed with the artists in mind and is for artists. To achieve this, we focus on thrilling solo exhibitions of artists whom we provide the space and a platform, in addition to thematic exhibitions with a critical or controversial character. With Brutus, we want to create an idiosyncratic habitat comprising a 10,000 m2 cultural centre, combined with dwellings and amenities. As such, a kind of machine has been created in which the separate elements empower one another. The greatest challenge currently is obtaining an environmental/building permit, which is still pending certain surveys and the final zoning plan.
The zoning plan for the second part of the project is now ready at the municipality of Rotterdam. Construction work will include three residential towers inspired by the utopian brutalist architectural style to which the initiative owes its name. They will comprise no fewer than 750 dwellings and studios for artists. Similarly, Van Lieshout will be creating a more permanent place for artists, who are often the first to be squeezed out whenever a district gains popularity among project developers and the wider public. These new buildings will chime in well with the port area: raw and unpolished, just like the city itself. Once all permits are arranged, construction can commence in 2024.
At the time, I was rejected by every academy, with the exception of the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam. At the age of 16 I moved to Rotterdam and that was when I started making art. Rotterdam has always greatly appealed to me; it is a no-nonsense city with a practical ‘actions speak louder than words’ mentality. This is something I liked right from the start. Furthermore, Rotterdam has offered me many opportunities. Regarding the empty buildings in the port area, both municipality and private owners said: ‘Just use them’. They were not too fussy and I therefore enjoyed many opportunities to develop my work. I have been working in the port area for more than 35 years now. I am thankful for that and wish to express my gratitude, so for Brutus we will soon be building many social dwellings and workshops for artists. That is an integral part of the project because there is much project development going on in this district. In practical terms, this means that artists who are now working in old halls, and who have contributed towards the district’s current popularity, will no longer be able to live and work there due to rising price levels. Gentrification makes life very hard for artists and we therefore want to compensate them, so that they will also be able to continue making their creative mark in the area in the long run.
What I particularly like about this current and the previous edition of Rotterdam Art Week is that they take place in the summer and spring. Open air events are always much more lively and people tend to make spontaneous discoveries more often. I would like to invite everybody to explore the city on foot or by bike.