Art in the service of the living environment

  • commissioning and public space

On his website visual artist Edwin Stolk has divided the projects he is working on into three categories: in development, completed, not completed. Especially the last category is striking, why make stranded projects public?

It typifies the artistry of Stolk to the full. Don't ask him to make an object for the public space, but give him a social issue and he will liven up. He considers his work as an artist as a service; he wants to expose and thereby make other perspectives possible.

In many municipalities or other institutions there is insufficient knowledge About the added value of art in social processes, according to Stolk. Thanks to the image creation that comes with art, things can be investigated that normally would not be possible. attention for it. Stolk digs himself into a certain situation and observes what happens there. Then he names it and starts working with it. Indeed, it is his material. This idea or research phase is also the moment at which a project can end, because the client (or his partners) does not want a certain perspective to be revealed. In some cases, the collaboration is terminated mutually, but this is frequently done unilaterally. If a client indicates that it does not want to continue, it may be that Stolk itself continues, without an official client or budget. 

Don't ask him to make an object for the public space, but give him a social issue and he'll live on.

Stolk sees himself as a service provider from the depths of his artistry. That is why the non-performed works of art belong to his oeuvre, just like the works of art that have been executed and are still under development. Take his work period with Konnektor (Belgium) in the summer of 2020. Konnektor is an initiative of Gouvernement Gent and relies on active partnerships that are mentioned by name on their website. In the surroundings of the village Kerkbrugge-Langerbrugge is the playing field for Konnektor, a site-specific project that aims to connect neighbourhood life, the landscape and the history of the iconic power station through art. Stolk was one of thirteen artists who, during the difficult corona period, were given a paid residency in this area to do research and eventually come up with a proposal for an artwork. 

Soon after Stolk started working in this area he discovered that no artists were involved in its design. The power station stands out in the landscape and is a source of irritation to many residents. The power station has heritage status but is not maintained. The Heritage Services do not have the ability to enforce maintenance. It is suspected that the owner deliberately allows the plant to deteriorate so that he can eventually demolish it and sell the land - for a lot of money. 

Reason enough for Stolk to want to speak to the director of the power station. That turns out to be difficult and unwanted. There is a However, the public is offered the possibility to visit the power station illegally, there is a shortcut. Stolk refuses on principle, for him it is important to have the possibility to visit the power station illegally. to get permission from the owner and have a conversation with him. He wants to learn about the subject, not by adding his own interpretations through an illegal visit, but by bringing out stories and getting to know different perspectives. 

An active dialogue is important, in which the client thinks and moves along with the developments of the artistic research on location.

Stolk prefers to work from an 'embedded situation', whereby a client has good relations with the environment in which it is located and actively makes its network available to the artist with whom they work. An active dialogue is important, in which the client thinks and moves along with the Developments in artistic research on location. Konnektor was a very nice initiative, but too short and with too many participants to engage with all stakeholders. The ideas of Stolk - after three weeks of research - did not meet Konnektor's expectations and it remained a research period as far as they were concerned. For Stolk, however, it remained topical and urgent and on his website, it came up in the 'under development' category. Meanwhile Stolk is again in talks with Konnektor about a possible sequel. 

In a healthy democracy there should be room for different perspectives

This example is not an isolated one. In 2018, Stolk went through a open call He set to work on post-war housing in Venlo. He came up with a proposal for the Blerick district: a design for mobile homes that can be slid into reconstruction houses like drawers. The organisation behind the open call, Circular Art Lab Limburg, asked him to take this concept on a follow-up assignment for Belfeld, a neighbouring village. Belfeld is a so-called shrinking community; fewer and fewer people are living there and that has consequences. It is expected that in about ten years time the houses will be unsaleable. Stolk came up with the idea of a residential park, where everyone born in Belfeld would have a place to live. tiny house will be donated. That way you keep fresh blood in the village, and if they don't want it live then one may tiny house rent out. This would prevent further shrinkage. Stolk wanted to present this plan in a shop in Belfeld, but then inevitably the shrinkage would come up. As far as the client was concerned, the concept did not get any sequel. Again one-sided, Stolk also places this project in the category 'under development' because this issue has not lost its topicality and urgency. 

In a healthy democracy there must be room for different perspectives. Today, it seems that this space is not available as a matter of course. The most beautiful projects can only come about when a client shows a healthy dose of guts: the courage to experiment and to enter into dialogue when conflicts, paradoxes or conflicting interests arise. It is important that the social question can take centre stage, even when there are conflicting interests. It is precisely then that art can be at the cutting edge of the social debate. function and contribute to the quality of our living environment. 

Look for his project Base Camp Entre Nous on. This project was executed and is a good example of his social commitment as an artist. Realized in commission of Foundation KIK. 

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