De Rotterdamse Boerenzij
The Rural Side is the nickname Rotterdammers north of the river gave to those from Rotterdam-South, implying they weren’t proper city dwellers. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the harbour of Rotterdam annexed more and more south-of-the-river polders and villages, such as Charlois, Katendrecht and Feijenoord. The residents of this new district were rural labour migrants, initially from North Brabant, Zeeland and Southern Europe, and later from Morocco, Turkey, Suriname and the Antilles. These newcomers were implicitly expected to leave their rural culture and knowledge behind, just as local farmers were expected to relinquish fields to make way for the city. Feenstra, who is both a Rotterdammer and a farmer’s daughter, knows the countryside always stays with you. She wondered whether this also applies to other Rotterdam residents, and so she sought rural knowledge and culture in the city and ways to make it visible.
In a series of participatory activities over the past year, Feenstra invited residents of Rotterdam-South to help her shift preconceptions of the rural and the urban. Bottom-up approaches were central in this, acknowledging subjective and everyday forms of knowledge. With kale dinners, kitchen table discussions and visits to local farms, she brought people in contact with one another to exchange rural knowledge and memories of the countryside. In public drawing lessons on the wharfs and allotments, she invited residents to engage in slow looking – harking back to a tradition of ‘en plein-air’ landscape painting that was in vogue when industry and the harbour grew in order to record and reinterpret today’s changing urban landscape. More than a hundred residents and drawers participated.
Film and exhibition
In the exhibition at TENT, Feenstra presents a microanalysis of Rotterdam’s Farmers’ side, which opens up new perspectives on the city’s rural dimension. A film introduces us to residents from Rotterdam-South, who share their farming knowledge and memories. Because every farmer knows his land, Feenstra, together with the archaeological service, made an animation about the origin of the soil on Rotterdam’s Rural Side, from 25,000 years ago until now. A wall-filling panorama presents the participants’ drawings of present-day harbour views. Feenstra also presents a collection of rustic objects she encountered during the various meetings. It is a farmers’ collection, giving a versatile and multi-voiced impression of the ways in which rural knowledge and culture are present in the city, but also a collection that is, by definition, incomplete. The exhibition is an invitation to the general public, citizens and professionals to conceive a new perception of the rural and the urban, beyond the current dichotomy.
Biography Wapke Feenstra
Conceptual artist Wapke Feenstra (1959) investigates and depicts dimensions of the rural, which she sees in terms of landscape, a set of practices, culture and mentality. She develops projects on location, collaborating with residents and drawing on local knowledge. Important resources for her work are her own background in a Frisian farming family and the trans-local knowledge concerning the city and the countryside that she has accumulated as an international artist. These enable her to combine a broad perspective with a view from within. Her previous projects have taken place in Gunma, Guangzhou, Jakarta, Colorado, London and Berlin, among other places. In Boerenzij, Feenstra delves for the first time into her own daily living environment: Rotterdam-South, where she set up in 1992.
Feenstra studied at Kunstacademie Arnhem (now ArtEZ) and the Jan van Eyck Academie. She has realised projects at, amongst others, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; Tate Britain, London; Ars Electronics, Linz; Bildmuseet Umea; GfZK, Leipzig; the 5th and 6th Moscow Biennale; the Fries Museum, Leeuwarden; Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin; Times Museum, Guangzhou; Whitechapel Gallery, London; and the Istanbul Biennial.
In 2003, together with fellow artists Kathrin Böhm and Antje Schiffers, she formed the international collective Myvillages to develop a new understanding of the rural as a place and frame of reference for art. Myvillages realises projects and publications, and is editor of ‘The Rural’ (2019), the most recent edition of the critically acclaimed book series ‘Documents in Contemporary Art’.
Boerenzij is made possible by Mondriaan Fonds, Cultuur Concreet and Gemeente Rotterdam. With thanks to all participants.