On October 16, 2009 artist Melle Smets and philosopher Bram Esser went on a Highway Safari. A journey to re-explore the no man’s land of the Dutch highway. Four uninterrupted weeks in the world of gas stations, roadside restaurants, brain parks and sex parkings. Smets and Esser operated from a specially equipped car with two sleeping quarters, a roof terrace with a six-metre lookout, and a library.
For a month, they crisscrossed the highway to map the blindspots. The highway turned out to have a rural character of its own. Industrial, guileless, tough and above all local. The travel log became a rich source for the expansion of the Highway Museum archive and resulted in the book Highway Stories.
The Highway Safari came back from the journey with a lot of treasures. To showcase all these highway exotics they set up a 19th century style Highway Cabinet. Artist Kroko Schilte made a series of drawings showcasing the order of things and drew archetypes of buildings, landscapes, cars, and roadkills. Next to the drawings of Schilte the Highwaymuseum collection was on display with architectural models, found objects which are too big for the mobile museum, photo albums of Highway personnel, and maps made by the Highway Safari team.
Highway Stories (Snelwegverhalen)
The Highway Safari resulted in the publication Highway Stories: a travel guide, cultural criticism and picaresque novel in one, examining the significance of the highway with regard to the Netherlands. It includes expedition-recorded portraits of highway residents, advice on how to survive on the highway, and a collection of typical local highway products, such as cheese on a stick, plastic wrapped apple slices and the so-called coffee-meatball.
As a preview of the book Highway Stories, the BKKC (Brabants Kenniscentrum voor Kunst en Cultuur) organised the exhibition ‘The Mobilist’. The exhibition displayed the findings of the Highway safari on the Brabant highways with personal stories, photographs and illustrations. Brabant is the heartland of car culture in the Netherlands. Already before the highway was built, the Catholic church made sure every village got its own industrial area. The idea was to withhold people from migrating to the big city. However, the Brabant people started buying cars and since the highway network was laid out as a chessboard, comparable to L.A. (USA) and the Ruhr area (Germany), car culture quickly became most apparent in Brabant. As part of the exhibition the first highway newspaper in the Netherlands was published called ‘The Mobilist’. The first edition was received by the Chief Government Architect for Infrastructure Ton Venhoeven.
Location: Dutch highway network (Highway Safari), Het Wilde Weten – Rotterdam (Cabinet), BKKC – Tilburg (Mobilist)
Period: 2009 – 2011
Team Highway Safari, Highway Stories & The Mobilist Melle Smets, Bram Esser
Funding: Fonds voor Beeldende Kunsten, Stimuleringsfonds voor de Architectuur
Funding: Mondriaan fonds
In collaboration with: Johannes van der Sluis (Text editor) Wilma Kempinga, Melle Smets, Eva van Ginhoven (Funding) Pier Taylor (Graphic design) Lecturis (Print) Uitgeverij 010 (Publisher) Rotterdam ISBN 978 90 6450 755 7
Partners: 010 uitgevers
Special thanks: Jacques Jamin, Jan Willem de Jager, Frits den Hollander, Janus de Vries, Mieke Dings, Michelle Provoost, Frans Pot, Eva van Ginhoven, Kroko Schilte, Teun Vonk, Martijn Boven, Peter Michiel Schaap, Tijs van den Boomen, Peter Smets, Jan Brouwer, Dirk Baalman
Team: Melle Smets, Kroko Schilte (collectiestukken)
Special thanks: Renee Boomkens, Eva van Ginhoven, Mike Naafs and Steffi
Commisioned by: BKKC
In collaboration with: Tijs van den Boomen, Krijn Christiaansen and Linde Egberts (articles), Floor Tinga (editor), Pier Taylor (Graphic design Exhibition & Newspaper)