Concrete Evidence: 1m
One meter of highway
Concrete Evidence: 1m (2013) is the realization of one meter
of highway by the Belgian artist Lodewijk Heylen (b. 1989 in
Hulshout, Belgium). This monumental sculpture was built during his
residency at the Verbeke Foundation in Kemzeke in Belgium. In this
interview Heylen talks about the social infrastructure, the urge
for connecting and the imperishability of the road.
F.W.: To start from the beginning, how did „Concrete
Evidence“: 1m come about?
L.H.: For a long time, I have had a fixation for connections
and junctions, the tendency to plan roads myself and imagining
places where streets, railways, canals or bridges could be built.
This permanently present fantasy resulted in the idea of working
with highway. I wanted to actually change something or intervene
somewhere on the highway, but it is practically impossible because
of safety regulations. One of my professors from Espace Urbain at
La Cambre in Brussels where I study said: “Fait ton proper
autoroute”, with the intention of having me imagine a
highway. But I took that very literally.
F.W.: How did this develop further?
L.H.: I’ve been working on it since November 2011. It
started out as a pure conceptual work driven by the urge to build
one meter of highway. The first idea was to build the highway on a
place where a highway was planned in the past but was never
constructed for political or economical reasons. I wanted, as an
individual, to continue the construction of a greater plan. To
create a moment for the road that doesn’t exist, a sort of
tragedy for the highway. But in doing so I exceeded my actual goal,
I wanted to build a highway with all the correct elements allowing
its theoretical use. A real highway.
F.W.: A large-scale project for a single person!
L.H.: That’s right. It took me three years to actually
realize the project. It became a point of fascination, frustration
and fixation. In this period other works were influenced by the
highway as well. I moved to Berlin, met new people and through
these impulses and collaborations with others, I ended up at the
Verbeke Foundation. The location of the Foundation convinced me to
build it there. The highway (E34) is located next to it, not
visible but tangible. Finally in December 2013 I could realize
„Concrete Evidence: 1m“. It was an anchor point, the
crown of my fascination. Closure too, but most of all a point from
which I can continue future projects.
F.W.: The „Concrete Evidence“ in the title is a
returning term in your works, can you elaborate on that?
L.H.: „Concrete Evidence“ started out as an
interest for the material. Concrete is used in many ways as a
supporting structure, but is rarely exposed. The entire world is
supported by concrete! Generally it is covered and hidden behind
different materials, because it is not the most appealing building
material. It is gray, monotone and turns green and dirty with time.
But by concealing it this ubiquity is forgotten. With
„Concrete Evidence“ it try to expose this fundamental
F.W.: What do highways embody given this context?
L.H.: The highways are the cathedrals of the twentieth
century. They are made for eternity. If we can speculate what will
still exist of our current society in 400 years, it will probably
be highways. As long as cities exist, roads will too. It is
something that is in constant use, it is impossible to shut it
F.W.: Being an inherent part of our urban structures, what
does that say about us?
L.H.: It defines our current society. Not only in its material
form, but as a basis of social connections. Direct connections,
that’s what it is. It doesn’t have an esthetic
function. Highways are pure practical in it purest form: you have
to be able to drive 120 km/h (in Germany even faster), you have to
be able to constantly drive straight ahead (a bend can turn this
hard, a slope can be this steep), you’re not allowed to feel
inconveniences. It is all calculated and calibrated to drive as
efficiently as possible. How it looks is not relevant. It has to
F.W.: And what happens when the system fails?
L.H.: Traffic jams! There are just so many cars nowadays. I
have driven on the highway a lot lately and traffic jams are a real
problem. Highways imply an easy connection and make it possible to
commute between living and work, going out and shopping. It makes a
country into a whole, into one zone or one big city. Once it is
overused, the system collapses. Standing in a traffic jam turns the
highway into a very stressful environment.
F.W.: That’s true. Stressful and frustrating, because
of the interruption of your journey.
L.H.: Exactly, because the highway changes from transit to
(intermediate) destination. You expect to move on quickly. And even
when you’re standing still you aren’t really doing
nothing. You have to pay attention, your feet start to hurt from
breaking-accelarating-shifting gear-breaking-stop and go. Someone
blinks, someone else gets out of his car. After an hour the jam is
gone, and you wait to see something lying in the middle of the
street, a collision or construction works. You expect a cause, but
most traffic jams happen out of the blue. There are just to many
cars. I mean, isn’t it bizar that you can stand still in a
traffic jam, lose an hour of your life, just because someone hit
his breaks a little bit harder that the next.
F.W.: Nevertheless cars remains the most used means of
L.H.: There are faster, more efficient ways of getting around,
but none so individual. The principle of the car is its individual
use. It is proportionately very cheap for every one with a personal
vehicle to get to their desired destination. At this point
it’s not about speed anymore, it’s about the comfort
and the luxury of being on the road alone.
F.W.: In the sixties and seventies, the Belgian highway
network expanded rapidly. Today Belgium has the highest amount of
kilometers highway per 1000 km2 in the European Union. Can you
explain this development?
L.H.: In Belgium the highway has been a means of progress. Not
all of it is useful, but it is a feature of prosperity and an
acknowledgement of the welfare state and a first world country. It
think a lot of developing countries now still see it as a status
symbol. The construction of the highway is more than only a
connection. For instance the ring road around Brussels serves as
some kind of modern city wall, a new physical border. An other
example, in villages the highway was used as a junction to the rest
of the country. Entrances and exits to the highway were built, that
would never exist if it was up to the engineer. Most of them are to
close to each other or connected to a small street unfit to process
lots of traffic. There are many absurdities in the Belgian road
F.W.: And why did you contribute one meter to this road
L.H.: It is a random measurement, but nevertheless very
standard. My idea was to build a real highway that meets the
Belgian norms. I could give it an A or an E number. But because
it’s only one meter, it implies that it is an exception. You
can walk on it, look at it from up close. Something that
isn’t possible on a highway in use.
F.W.: A monument for the highway?
L.H.: It wasn’t my intention to create a monument for
the highway, but I would be ignorant to deny it. This is a
recognition the highway deserves. Railways for example are part of
our society since the nineteenth century and are considered an
important connection between cities. If they lose their functions,
they are converted into parks or cycling routes. Highways
don’t lose their function, they aren’t closed down or
transformed into a park or a monument. Highways stay in use
F.W.: What is your favorite highway in Belgium?
L.H.: I have a few. Highways are fundamentally standard,
constructed from the same principle. But every highway has
characteristics. A different landscape, a different material. A few
weeks ago I was driving from Hasselt to Leuven (E314). The road was
dark when I entered an illuminated part of the highway. The lights
were soft but dark red. That highway was suddenly very
surrealistic. The sky was dark blue and in front of me the curving
road was red. Behind the hills there were windmills blinking their
red lights. That was very uncanny, like driving through a
F.W.: What do we tend to overlook while driving 120
L.H.: The highway itself. Being everywhere and nowhere
whenever we’re on the highway. When driving from Antwerp to
Brussels, I’m actually not in a certain location. The
movement towards it doesn’t exists as such. I was in Antwerp,
I was in Brussels, but I wasn’t in Berchem, in Kontich, in
Zemst, in Mechelen or in Rumst. I wasn’t there, I drove past
it. On the highway we are at all the places at the same time, and
at the same time we’re nowhere at all.
At this moment Heylen plans to continue his work with
the construction of „Concrete Evidence: 1m“ in
L.H.: It’s about a much larger concept than
Frederiek Weda (b. in 1988 in Rhenen, the
Netherlands) lives and works in Berlin as independent curator
working together with Lodewijk Heylen on the construction of
Concrete Evidence: 1m in Berlin.