Last year, we commissioned visual artist Michiel Huijben to conduct research into our building's design. Based in Rotterdam, Huijben’s artistic practice involves historical and archival research, as well as publishing, writing, and sketching alternative histories of architecture through live performance, installation, and video. For its part, our building was designed by municipal architect C.B. van der Tak. It was constructed in the 1870s as a female-only civic school.

Here, a live performance and this exhibition by Huijben place the institution’s architecture at the center of their investigation. With the late nineteenth century debate around an ‘official’ national style as a backdrop, this new work searches for traces of human decision-making across the histories of the school’s use, the building, and the wider city environment. This juncture is explored in two acts:

Act One departs from the specificities of the building’s exterior. Beginning with ornamental sculptures 3D-scanned from the institution’s façade, the story builds to pan outward into the surrounding city via other examples of nineteenth century architecture in Rotterdam. These ornaments could be considered characters, sculptures, or simply extras in the debate around a national architectural style. These pieces are handled by Huijben at different moments in a live performance; here, a video presents the artist’s rehearsal.

Act Two is formulated around a speculative interior floor plan depicting the original uses of the building. Here, through archival photographs and reinterpretations of spatial configurations and architectural plans, the story elaborates on the airy spaces, natural light, and occupancy standards of educational architecture at the turn of the twentieth century. The artist’s live performance takes the form of a lecture; a video of which will be presented here thereafter.

Huijben’s presentation also involves an architectural intervention that turns this room into an exhibition space; it was formerly used as an office. The performance schedule is listed in our website; these will take place considering social distancing measures.

This presentation is part of Anchored, a project series that explores this institution’s immediate environment, including its building, street, and neighbors. Experience other Anchored projects at MELLY and as part of Rotterdam Cultural Histories on the first floor.

—Supported by

Stichting Elise Mathilde Fonds, the artist’s fee is supported by the Mondriaan Fund (from the Experimental Regulations)