Hoog Catharijne is the most hated, but also most successful shopping mall, in the city centre of Utrecht. Designed as a beacon of modernity in the 1960s it would replace the old city; Away with those old canal houses and brick roads, making way for elevated pedestrian promenades, shopping landscapes and skyscrapers. 40 years later, in 2012, the shopping mall was about to be renovated. Time to evaluate the promise of a better future with the Art in Public Space manifestation ‘Call of the Mall’ in 2013.
2012 Alone on an Island
From 11 to 18 November 2012 there was a lonely tent on the roof of Hoog Catharijne shopping mall. Melle Smets stayed there for a week without leaving the building. With a microphone and a credit card in his pocket he wandered to find the soul of Hoog Catharijne.
Smets associated the futuristic city plan with the new world of the Homo Ludens (the playing man). In the 1950s artist Constant Anton Nieuwenhuys envisioned a gigantic structure built over the old city, where man could shake off history and bloom into a true self. His models and paintings look similar to the concrete jungle of Hoog Catharijne today. Under the slogan ‘Help the Homo Ludens’, Smets tried to live according to the serious game plan drafted by Johan Huizinga (the inventor of the term playful man) in the hope of meeting other Homo Ludens.
The tent in which Smets stayed was the same tent in which writers Godfried Bomans and Jan Wolkers camped on Rottumerplaat (a West Friesian island) for the radio program ‘Alone on a island’ in 1971, an earlier, maybe a first public homo ludens-experiment in the Netherlands. By installing this tent on the roof of the most crowded shopping mall in the Netherlands, Smets raised the question whether what the tent represented in the 1970s, can be meaningful to the ambitions of tomorrow. Many newspapers, TV stations, as well as the national radio station climbed the roof to see this time capsule and listen to the stories of Hoog Catharijne coming to the surface.
2013 Radio Homo Ludens
The redevelopment plans for Hoog Catherijne 2013 paid little attention to the remarkable village culture that Smets discovered during his stay in a tent on the roof. The Homo Ludens is still there, but lives a secluded existence above and below the storefronts. They call themselves “Mall rats”; cleaners, office clerks, homeless people, junkies, and residents who cherish the concrete labyrinth.
Radio Homo Ludens gave these villagers a voice in the shopping centre. A large wooden box served as a recording studio. ‘Radio Homo Ludens’ soon became a hangout with news about daily life in Hoog Catharijne, but also in-depth interviews, stories from past times, and a refuge for the homeless or people who are not there to buy things. For three months, the studio broadcasted stories which you could hear once sitting down on the benches.
After two years and many hours of audio recordings Smets, together with radio maker Marten Minkema and sound artist Mat Wijn, made the radio documentary “The Mass Massage Machine”. The program was broadcasted on the national radio channel 1.
Location Hoog Catharijne Utrecht
Period 2012 – 2013
Team Mat Wijn, Marten Minkema, Melle Smets
Commisioned by Stichting Kunst in het stationsgebied, Municipality of Utrecht, Corio
In collaboration with Interns: Laila Boufer, Lieke van der Made, Linde Neyts, Maaike de Jager, Rob Keulemans, Isis, Eva Geutjes
Special Thanks Rob Huibers, Laura Jansen, Annemarie Geersink, Ingmar Heytze, Menno Overtoom, Ronald Besemer, John Makkink, Jacq Cornellissen, Errol Lentjes, Tito, Rob Dettingmeijer, Tim Verlaan, Cecile Reijnders en Jasper Willigers, Daan Quakernaat, Van der Linden family, Paul Vergeer, Rijk family, Ineke Bakker, Jan Hagenouw, Jacqueline van Dop, Hans Blekkink, Mark, Erny Green, Anco Schut, Bomans family, Wolkers family, Dennis Le Poole, Micha Princen, Linde Dorenbosch, Lieke Timmermans, Nienke Martinus, Carlijn Diesfeldt, Monique Dirven