Voice against new drabness
The striking A3 format, its anarchic design contrary to typographic currents, the focus on photography, and its changing group of contributors for each edition – mainly from the visual arts and literature – immediately characterised this new initiative as a brash, elusive, and distinctly Rotterdam phenomenon.
Hard Werken regularly featured Rotterdam writers and poets – it once ran a prepublication of Jules Deelder’s book about the Rotterdam boxer Bep van Klaveren – and provided commentary on Rotterdam’s urban and architectural developments, in particular against the ‘nieuw truttigheid’ (new drabness). Hard Werken became the voice of a dynamic, metropolitan, and international culture.
More distinctive than its content was the magazine’s remarkable design; contrasting the mostly black and white pages was an exuberantly coloured cover. Hard Werken featured drawings and collages, dozens of fonts for each issue, skewed texts and photographs; everything was put together in a unique design that evolved into a new ‘style’. The specific attention to photography meant images were often shown across double spreads. Many participating artists became part of what was known in the mid-eighties as the Rotterdam School for (staged) Photography. The magazine’s adverts were designed according to the same unorthodox principles.
At the core of Hard Werken were Gerard Hadders, Rick Vermeulen, Tom van den Haspel, Henk Elenga, Kees de Gruiter, and Willem Karswho, who also ran the Rotterdam Art Foundation’s Grafische Werkplaats, which printed the magazine. In 1980, the magazine’s initiators founded the Hard Werken design studio. They mainly worked for cultural institutions in Rotterdam but soon took on clients nationally and internationally. They are renowned for their series of posters for the International Film Festival Rotterdam from 1984 to 1994.
Hard Werken was of great importance to Rotterdam’s cultural self-esteem. The many artists affiliated with the magazine gained national and international recognition. The magazine galvanised Rotterdam’s cultural momentum in the eighties and nineties, liberating the city from its image as a dull and culturally inferior harbour city.
Rotterdam Cultural Histories
In Shared Space, our shared exhibition space on the second floor, TENT and Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art alternatingly create presentations on subjects from the history of art and culture in Rotterdam. This collaborative series was conceived by Defne Ayas (Witte de With) and Mariette Dölle (TENT) in 2014 to explore the common roots of both institutions in Rotterdam.