Common ground

ico Esther Didden

  • commissioning and public space

The art program fits well into the tradition of the art policy of the City of Utrecht, De Boer says. The policy is ambitious and art commissions come about in various ways. Multi-year programs are developed for major urban developments in which reactions and reflections can be made on the urban and social transition that comes about. Common Ground is an example of this. Such a multi-year program gives room for artists to do research. In addition, there is still a percentage rule from which art commissions are granted. And there is a fund through which questions and initiatives from the city can be realized.

The art program fits well into the tradition of the arts policy of the City of Utrech

Common Ground focuses on the west of Utrecht, where many people already live now and will soon be even more so. De Boer outlines the large-scale urban changes: the Lombokplein will include a park and the Leidse Rijn river will be extended again, the center area will be enlarged with the development of the Beurskwartier and a new residential area will be built on a former industrial site: Merwede. Common Ground covers these three subareas, taking into account the specific characteristics of each area.

The Van Sijpesteijntunnel is part of this large-scale urban development and is part of an important bicycle connection between the western part of the city, the city center and Utrecht Science Park to the east. The tunnel is intensively used, but is also quite dated. It was decided to link the first art commission to this tunnel. The Leidse Rijn will be extended to the Singel, thus restoring an ecological connection between the waterways and soon allowing for recreational boating.

The commission for the 115-meter-long tunnel was given to artist Xandra van der Eijk given. In her work, water is a central theme: "I am interested in dismantling the nature-culture division that defines the narrative in our Western part of the world. I am interested in considering all entities that determine an ecosystem equally; no longer focusing on humans but rather giving attention to other actors. In doing so, I start from the situation as it is now, with all actors active and together forming an ecosystem, without judgment."

Van der Eijk vividly remembers her first visit to the tunnel. She saw a large dark hole. The water flows there slightly and next to the quay wall is the bike path. The water continues to flow at the same height but the bike path bends down and then up again. Van der Eijk explains that in the tunnel, cyclists first race down and then have to pedal very hard to get out again. As a result, the water can easily escape you as a cyclist.

Xandra van der Eijk:
"I am interested in dismantling the nature-culture division."

The Van Sijpesteijnt Tunnel contains the multiple worlds that Van der Eijk loves so much. There is flora and fauna, water and there is the tunnel itself, with its hard materials and it also dives under twelve train tracks. She wants to bring these totally different worlds of experience together. There is no sunlight in the tunnel, whereas when water is illuminated by bright sunlight, beautiful water patterns emerge that reflect. Those reflective patterns are aesthetic, visually soothing and immediately evoke associations with water. That gave her the idea to create a light sculpture in the tunnel so that water patterns are reflected on the quay wall and ceiling. Every movement of the water can be seen in the reflection patterns. When trains pass through the tunnel, for example, or when boats sail or animals move through the water. She wants to make the presence of water experienceable and extend the atmospheric light from outside into the interior and combine it with the water patterns. She wants to translate the color of the sky outside to the color of the light inside. In consultation with experts, she is investigating further interventions to make the tunnel livable for users other than humans.

The artwork is expected to be completed in late 2024 or early 2025. Much more is going to happen within Common Ground in the near future. For example, Merve Bedir has begun an artistic investigation in Merwede and the neighborhoods around it.

Above: Paulus van Dorsten
in article: Xandra van der Eijk