Sluipweg: A Secret Path Along Which Death Made Its Escape
Sluipweg: A Secret Path Along Which Death Made Its Escape
Sluipweg: A Secret Path Along Which Death Made Its Escape
Fort Vijfhuizen

Sluipweg: A Secret Path Along Which Death Made Its Escape 2009

The Vijfhuizen Fort, now the Art Fortress at Vijfhuizen, was built around the turn of the 20th century as part of the Defence Line of Amsterdam that surrounds the Dutch capital. This military system made it possible to flood the countryside surrounding the ring of 45 forts if an enemy attempted to capture the capital. The forts would then control all access roads along the dikes. The Vijfhuizen Fort itself was built, 'to block and defend access provided by the orbital canal system of the Haarlemmer Lake and its dikes and quaysides, together with the Spieringweg and the western edge of the permanently dry areas of the reclaimed land at Haarlemmer Lake.‘


Any visitor to the fort is bound to be impressed by the sheer starkness and monumental scale of the concrete construction. Everything here suggests a history of conflict and countless deaths in battle. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, because not one of these forts ever saw military conflict, not a single enemy appeared and not a drop of blood was spilt. The arrival of the age of flight coincided with the fort system's construction; its strategic purpose was lost and the forts were rendered militarily obsolete.


The ring of forts was left in peace and in 1996 was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Vijfhuizen Fort became a contemporary art museum. This hardy 19th century fort in its romantic setting, with ramparts that never sheltered soldiers from artillery fire now confronts the visitor, paradoxically, with death. Obviously no one fell in battle here and no one was buried at this place. In fact it is this very absence of death that pervaded the artist with an awareness of its existence. The fort is suffused with death's absence - something that is as remarkable as it is intangible. In this setting, the meaning of death finds a striking parallel in the fort's own unheralded non-existence. Now, recycled as it has been for to serve contemporary sense of meaning, one can wonder where death had gone.


The ramparts that form the external defence of the Art Fort at Vijfhuizen now contains a path made up of hundred and tombstones from exhumed graves - tombstones have a longer life than death. Surviving relatives made the gravestones available for this purpose over the past two years. Each of them had given up their claim to a personal monument so that the stones could be recycled to create a single, large work of art - a work that calls attention not only to death but also to its absence. Countless individual life stories have been fused together into the secret path as a way of giving death a tangible identity. The cemetery is equipped for processing private grief, but my intention was to create some room for death himself.