Rooftop Installation by Atelier Van Lieshout

JOEP VAN LIESHOUT - A driving force hurling existential questions
Joep van Lieshout (Ravenstein, 1963) is both an artist and an entrepreneur. As he states, he represents two sides of the same blade, both of which he hones to perfection. The double-edged iron sword, which he forged himself during his graduation in the early 1980s, is a sculpture that symbolises this beautifully.

(c) Atelier Van Lieshout, The Helpers, 2014

Since then, he has been travelling the world as an advocate for freedom and opened a major solo exhibition in New York in 2020. Vice versa, he also receives the world in Rotterdam. Atelier Van Lieshout and the AVL Mundo foundation comprise a workshop with 20 team members, huge studios and warehouses, a space for an artist-in-residence, and edgy indoor and outdoor exhibition areas. These are the result of three decades of pioneering in the Vierhavengebied industrial area – or, as Van Lieshout describes it, “the most wonderful, rugged edge of Rotterdam”.

AVL is its own little world, and that’s exactly what his work is about: building a society, a system, a utopia. Van Lieshout creates machines that seem to merge with stylized human figures. He develops architectural constructions and tools, including weaponry. His artworks zoom in on and magnify both sides of society – good and evil, light and dark – although truth be told, the harshness eclipses the softness. According to the artist, AVL Mundo focuses on sharing “wanted and unwanted art” with a large audience. His work shows how the balance of power is highly charged. Dreamlike visions and terrifying spectres are one.

This also goes for the expansive installation he created for the opening exhibition on the roof of ROOF-A, entitled The Grinder – a sculpture installation in an opulent Baroque style filled with writhing bodies. The work effectively recycles people. The Grinder offers an extreme, mechanical solution for the overpopulation of our planet, the exhaustion of natural energy sources, and the human domination of the climate. The “grinding” of the bodies generates new energy. A second sculpture, The Helpers, carries the bodies to the machine. A nightmare? “No, why would it be? Art is a catalyst,” says Van Lieshout. “A driving force that raises ethical questions.”

Good and evil, light and dark, hard and soft: welcome to the rooftop!
Lobke Broos invited Van Lieshout to ROOF-A because she wanted to make a bold gesture on the rooftop of the new art space in the Scheepvaartkwartier. The sculpture is visible from the surrounding high-rises and forms an artistic connection right through the various Rotterdam neighbourhoods. As Broos says: “This collaboration is a statement about connecting the arts in Rotterdam. The installation will be exhibited on the rooftop for four months, after which we’ll consider extending that period. In any case, the rooftop will certainly remain part of the ROOF-A programming. I’m extremely proud that our first rooftop exhibitor is Atelier Van Lieshout. His pioneering work is perfectly in line with our mission and vision when it comes to the crossovers that ROOF-A is looking for in its programming, the content, the quality, and our high ambitions.”

Van Lieshout adds: “Interestingly, Lobke and her outward-facing initiative, as well as her role as advisor and intermediary, also involves and connects people with art. People who might not find one another or contemporary art that quickly, such as patrons, audiences, passers-by, collectors, museums, and even companies. This multi-strategic deployability and collaboration really appeals to me.”

Another one of Van Lieshout’s sculptures will be placed at the entrance of ROOF-A: a bright blue AVL figure raising his hand to the public – AVL Man Waving. Van Lieshout chuckles: “Hi there, great to see you, come on in! First, you’re welcomed; that’s followed by the ultimate collaboration with the helpers on the rooftop. And once upstairs, you’ll be ground.” Lobke Broos adds a bit of reassuring nuance: “The Grinder mainly aims to provoke reflection on human arrogance and modesty, the physical circle of life. It’s a provocative statement and conversation piece on our rooftop. In art, everything’s possible!”

Text: Wilma Sütö