Kloosterveste / Assen
Monument to the truth of lies
History’s image is absolute, it’s always right, and represents the irrevocable truth of what happened. In reality history is fluid, mangled or kneaded, embellished and smeared, downplayed or bloated, always explained in favor of the present, towards a desirable future. History’s reality is permanently at odds with truth, on an ever ambivalent stage.
Memorials in cities are very successful in this regard. The more power to display, the larger the statue. Or contrary face to face with the people, such as the bronze Queen Wilhelmina in The Hague standing without a pedestal on a platform accessible to the public. The pulpit, the pillory, the dock and the confessional, all are well-known objects in the public domain that are intended to uphold the truth. It is interesting to see how these attributes signify the environment with ambivalence. A heavily held truth usually reveals a lie at the same time.
To be profitable a complete fictional history was provided for the development of Kloosterveen, an instant built residential area, that is now seen as a historic village to the west of Assen in the Netherlands. The history of Kloosterveen is completely made up, a blatant lie, that was smoothly accepted and made its inhabitants proud of. The true history of Kloosterveen is a couple of swampy pastures that have no more history than some grazing cows. A few decades ago, when modernism gave way to a postmodern urban planning all attention was focused on the "identity" of the location. A true run on historicizing material ensued. Today's residents feel at home embedded in a warm nest of local history. Project developers engage historians and archaeologists who do not focus on historical knowledge but on the strategic use of heritage, a far-fetched historical embedding of mere opportunism.
It seems that Kloosterveste wanted to free itself from such a burden, by completing the lie and openly proclaim that the entire history of the fortified town has been made up. The complete history, about a fort around the year 1000 to the current Kloosterveste, including its genius loci as a result of demolished city walls, a disused harbor, a burnt-down church and a cemetery that has since disappeared. The brochure states: “With the use of characteristic urban design elements, we strive for the same atmosphere as we encounter in the small and medium-sized fortified cities in the Netherlands. Think of Woerden, Heusden, Grave, Bolsward, Leiden and Delft. The major challenge here is to make the urban development concept of a historically grown fortified city to function economically well.” History is completely swallowed by shameless economic opportunism.
Of course this unabashed fictional history is objectionable, but it also commands respect. The openness of the matter in this project is a relief from the decades-long development in urban planning in which futile historical facts are sold as serious commodities. Kloosterveste proclaims without hesitation that its history is a white lie. This gives the neighborhood the lightness of a fairy tale instead of a feigned historical burden. In a way, I consider it a step forward that the municipality of Assen openly admits that identity in urban planning is simply a marketing product. You’d better be straight forward. The commissioner’s demand for art is just as unabashed and clear: “a work of art on Vesteplein must have urban significance”. Yes indeed, urban significance is ironically missing. The question is of course whether this is also intended to be a lie. I asked myself how fictional meaning as such can turn into the true meaning of an artwork.
As in any old fortified town, of course Kloosterveste cannot lack a monument on the center square. Most monuments in cities are hidden lies behind a so called truth (this is what makes them so incredibly interesting). Kloosterveste paradoxically offers the possibility to erect a monument that tells the truth about lying. My design is a monument in which truth and lie are equally real, an amorphous composition of well-known urban attributes that either tell or conceal the truth. The work is a mix of the pedestal of a statue, the pillory, the soapbox, the dock and the confessional. Anyone who steps on a pedestal will most likely lie, on a humble chair someone may confess the truth. Over time this monument's ambivalence will be its truth, an urban element that will harbor many stories of as truth or lie. A work of art that absorbs the truth of Kloosterveste's lie.