Historia Magistra Vitae

  • commissioning and public space

In her column 'Commissioning and Public Space', Esther Didden talks to commissioners and artists. This time with visual artist Sjef Henderickx (1944) whose work and life are imbued with historical awareness.

The title of this article is due to the Roman philosopher, orator, politician and lawyer Marcus Tillius Cicero (106 - 43 B.C.). According to him, history is the teacher for life. By this he meant that studying the past is useful because historical knowledge can be used for our contemporary actions. Nowadays, this idea seems illusory. In all kinds of areas, from science and technology up to and including philosophy of life and socio-political relations, changes are taking place so fast that we hardly seem to learn anything from concrete matters from the (near) past. Our historical awareness is in crisis while it is quite important. Historical insight teaches you see things in perspective and put your own time in perspective. How we dealing with the past is also crucial for our identity and for that of society as a whole. If the individual and society do not know where their roots are, they will not be able to find them. both become displaced. With all the consequences that entails. 

In stark contrast to this tendency, there is artist Sjef Henderickx (1944). His life and work breathe historical awareness, Cicero would have it appreciation. In addition to his artistry, he has spent almost his entire life also an archaeologist, because with his years of experience and study this fascination impossible to call a hobby. But always the artist in him wins over the archaeologist, and that is due to his feeling for materials and his imagination. In 2010 he received a commission from the church council of the Grote- or Sint Janskerk in Schiedam. He was asked to make a sculpture to do with the archaeological remains of the Beeldenstorm that in 1572 in Schiedam. Stones that a layman can barely make sense of. But Henderickx is no layman, he recognises types of stone, can date the fragments and knows where they have been a part of. Every stone in the final artwork The Lamb Henderickx gave it its own specific place and a second life. 

His life and work exude historical awareness, Cicero would appreciate

Since he completed this work of art for the Grote- or St. Janskerk in Schiedam, he has received several commissions for public spaces. Where a work of art in public space often Henderickx's approach is different, as the design process is based on a selection of several sketches. He is approached directly. In the case of the church by the church council, and then by the neighbourhood association Kethel-Oost (Schiedam) and by the Society for the Protection of the Environment (Sociëteit De Vrijheid (also Schiedam). He is approached by organizations that want a work by him, and not by someone else. In each assignment lies a request for appreciation of the past decided. The Society wanted to pay attention to 75 years of freedom, for example. After a joint exploration of the mission the organisations then go in search of a sufficient budget. Until now this has always been possible thanks to local funds. Even after the completion of the work it is well arranged: the Municipality of Schiedam will then include it in its collection and its maintenance will be assured. guaranteed. 

For his most recent assignment, it initially went the same way: Henderickx was approached by the chairman of the Foundation De Gekroonde Brandersketel and the interim director of the Jenevermuseum. In 2012, the municipality of Schiedam won the BNG Heritage Award, an award for its efforts in the field of heritage. A nice amount of money is attached to this award and thus the budget became available. Henderickx made a work of art for the alleyway, which was to be open to the public, and where the entrance to the Jenever Museum would also be located. Again the local funds supported. He was commissioned to make a sketch design and presented it to his clients, the other local museums and the municipal Visual Arts Advisory Committee. (ACBK) because the place where the artwork will be placed is owned by the municipality (and they had won the prize). 

In every assignment there is a request for appreciation of the past

Henderickx's plan is - of course - historically based: from the collections of both the Jenever Museum and the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam and from private property, he uses so-called branding irons. These were used for branding crates of jenever bottles and casks. Each distillery in Schiedam had its own specific branding iron. Henderickx wants to give these irons a second lease of life. give life: they are pressed into tablets of clay and then fired into ceramics. The ceramic tiles are laid out in the pavement of the alley like a ribbon of branding irons. 

Whereas the assignments Henderickx works on usually run fairly smoothly thanks to the enthusiasm and commitment of the (private) clients, this one did not. The sketch design phase was followed by the final design phase and The role of the ACBK became more solid. Henderickx expected collegiality and cooperation, but he received unpleasant interference: co-designing and manual deletion of the budget, both without consultation. He thought this was inappropriate and not in line with what he expected from an advisory committee. Whatever happened, the years passed. The final plan has been ready for some four or five years now. At the beginning of March, the order to build it finally arrived on his doorstep. Now he can really start. The artwork is expected to be completed by the end of this year, almost ten years after winning the BNG Heritage Award. On the threshold to 2022 Schiedam will then have another representation of local history. 


www.groteofsintjanskerkschiedam.nl [The Lamb makes a visit to this church more than worth it] 

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