Touching Down in Public Space / english
Canvas Creations / english
The New Masters / english
A tent for all birds / english
Een tent voor alle vogels / dutch
Jumping the Boarding / english
Over De Schutting Springen / dutch
Stands and Tents / english
Lemniscaat / italian

A tent for all birds / english

On the work of Dré Wapenaar

An idealist he may be, but a dreamer? Over the past fifteen years the Rotterdam sculptor and tent-builder Dré Wapenaar (1961, Berkel en Rodenrijs) has erected a whole series of tents and stands that form oases in the ordered world.

Wapenaar works at the crossroads of visual art, design, and architecture. His settlements form an alternative order within the established one, a society in miniature. Here the game of encounters is celebrated, and performed, with the artist himself in the role of director.
His Hang-, Kiss- and Smokespot (2002) for a school in Panningen, near Venlo, gives teenagers an alibi to circle around one another in ever smaller circles. Metal railings trace circles beneath five circular roofs. One enclosure is big enough for a group, while another can barely take a couple. The circular spaces are cast in colourful shadows, and so too are the occupants. That’s typical of Wapenaar. He works with tent-cloth or canvas that light can shine through in sophisticated nuances. In Venlo he uses green, blue, yellow, white and red. As striking as it is seductive, like the colours of males in nature.
Late 2005 and Wapenaar is just back from New York where he takes part in the exhibition Safe: Design Takes On Risk at the Museum of Modern Art. The show features Treetent (1998), which he designed as a refuge for environmentalists. With its spectacularly organic contours in the form of a dewdrop, Treetent enriches environmental activism with imaginative power. Treetent is included under the theme Shelter at the MoMA as one of the nomadic hideouts and temporary settlements exhibited to show how artists reflect on calamities and current feelings of danger in the world outside.
About the practical significance of artistic reflection Wapenaar has few illusions. His works usually function in safe surroundings, and as metaphors. Where he himself cannot restore balance to the world, meditates on balanced models: proposals in miniature to get a grip on the larger world. He would like to make a tent for birds, a monumental sequel to the handy format he designed earlier, but now fitted with numerous nesting rooms and larger and smaller holes to fly in and out of. The bird tent is a poetic image inspired by the palomar, a Spanish dovecote, but it differs in one important way. Wapenaar’s version is fundamentally multicultural, intended for birds of different feathers.
A similar idea emerges in the series of computer drawings entitled Souk for Rotterdam(2005). The stalls in this virtual market are arranged in irregular fashion. Their multicoloured, translucent coverings
cast a magical glow on the merchandise on display and on the recesses created between the stalls: shelters for mystery. This alternative to the orderly Dutch market is Wapenaar’s interpretation of the motley mixture of cultures in his city, and an attempt to do them justice. Moreover, the souk, like the bird tent, is illustrative of the constant to and fro of this artist beyond the boundary between dream and action.
For all Wapenaar’s structures, including the tents and pavilions he has actually built, are meeting points with a Utopian character. This is true of the recent Fourgrandpianopavilion(2004) that, in honour of Simeon ten Holt, was custom made for the half-dozen compositions devised by this composer for four grand pianos. And it’s true of earlier works like Coffeestand(1997) and Newspaperkiosk(1997). Each and every piece is an example of the flexible architecture with which
Wapenaar defies the world of orderly building. Imagination invariably triumphs over everyday efficiency in the spaces he unfolds. Each of his works is a socially engaged and autonomous sculpture, as inventive as it is expressive, as playful as it is critical. With the silhouette of a communication satellite, for example, the Newspaperkiosk is an enclosure inviting escape from the noise all around in the city. But that is not the same as escaping from social intercourse.
The intimacy that dominates inside contrasts with the anonymity that dominates outside, a field of tension that forces a reaction. The circle of accompanying newspaper readers appears a little too small to disappear inside it unnoticed. Role-playing takes place between the individual and the group, between one and the other. That discord is unavoidable in Wapenaar’s work, where each enclosure also implies disclosure. Usually, the public itself will have to decide its position in that twilight zone between public and private, but the artist also manoeuvres between the extremes of intimacy and anonymity. His Bivouac for the Dead(2002) and Birthingtent (2003), pendants of each other, create an ambience for a private ritual with a highly specific function. By contrast, his recently completed Pavilion of Emptiness(2005) is an open structure, a public space par excellence, which has no function other than its lack of functionality.
It is a Japanese-style, temple-like structure made of wooden components that fit together like puzzle pieces: a transparent play of horizontal and vertical lines. Like side wings framing a stage, thin blue
curtains frame a podium of three wooden floors, which lead like steps to the centre. No coffee or newspaper there. People meet one another in the Pavilion of Emptiness. Or themselves. The centre is
empty, a hole in the floor, for anyone so inclined an invitation to contemplate.

Wilma Sütö
Site: StudioGloriusVandeVen