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Kevin van Braak

A dome for
free spirits

The dome is on the corner of Noordbolwerk. Not for defense purposes, that time has passed. In contrary, The Dome, the spherical roof, is there to welcome you. Visual artist Kevin van Braak hopes that it can be a place where everyone feels free. “That’s why”, he says, “I see my Dome as a real sanctuary in which, in principle, anything is allowed. If you want to sell stuff there, fine. If you want to make noise, that’s fine too. Cooking with friends, teaching yoga lessons, talking about freedom with a school class; as far as I’m concerned, anything is possible.”

The Dome is Kevin van Braak’s plan B. Initially, he wanted to bring over an old fishing boat from the Aral Sea on the border of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan for Façade 2022. The Aral Sea is in fact an inland sea, a lake which, a century ago, had the size of about four hundred and fifty by almost three hundred kilometers. As a lot of water was extracted for irrigating cotton cultivation, the lake shrunk and large parts of it turned into desert. Kevin: “There is no longer work for fishermen, their boats are rusting and rotting. I wanted to get one such ship to Middelburg and put it in the site of the demolished military barracks. However, the war in Ukraine has made transport impossible. I would have liked it, such a decommissioned fishing vessel in Middelburg. If we were talking about sustainability and climate change, it would have been a statement. If it is possible to pick up a ship in the coming years, I will certainly come to Zeeland with it.”

Oppression and freedom, these are two themes that consistently recur in Kevin van Braak’s work. He made an international name for himself with sculptures, installations, performances and videos. He identifies a turning point in his career around 2013. Until then, he made work that often referred to dictatorship in one way or another. He reconstructed the desks of controversial figures such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Tito and Nixon, world leaders who determined the fate of millions of people, built a multifunctional furnace for book burning and detonated the busts of 11 CEOs involved in the development of nuclear weapons.

“About ten years ago,” he says, “I entered a period in which I started to think more about myself, my roots. I have an Indonesian heritage through my mother’s Indonesian-Chinese background. I spent three years researching my Indonesian grandfather Tan Hie Thwan, who survived the Japanese camps and the hell of the Burma Railway in World War II. I have requested to obtain all of the documentation, I have been everywhere he was imprisoned. In the jungle of Burma, I performed a death ceremony at a Buddhist temple with eight monks. Very emotional, I felt like it was a redeeming moment for his soul. In Rotterdam, I created a monument for the exhibition ‘Territory’ at Van Lieshout’s studio, for all of those people who died while working on the Burma-Siam railway. Pointless deaths. It consists of two wooden columns, eighteen meters high each, that together form ‘Hell Fire Pass’, a gate that indicates how much the prisoners had to cleave from the rock to make a passage for the railway.”

Can the Dome in Middelburg be linked to the artist’s more autobiographical approach? Kevin: “There  is always a touch of politics in my personal work. The taking away of free will, oppression; those kinds of themes are always close by. My stepfather once said, “Never work for a boss.” You can see that same attitude in me. In the Dome I provide space for free will. You can do whatever you please without being afraid.”

That free will is reflected in the construction of the work of art. The dome is constructed from irregular pentagon shapes made of wood. These elements are fastened together at the corners with corner pieces made of recycled plastic. That material is also close to the artist: he is the owner of GoGo Plastics, a company in Arnhem that reuses plastics to make sheet material for architectural and artistic applications. At the top, the dome is closed with a wind-permeable cloth. The rest of the grid is partly open, partly closed. The artist says: “I would like to organise workshops in which participants can close off a pentagon themselves, with wood or with a beautifully painted canvas. As a result, the dome will become even more of a shelter for free spirits.”

Kevin van Braak (Warnsveld, 1975) creates installations, sculptures and events in which he exposes political and ideological sensitivities. He exhibited in the Sonsbeek 2016 project in Arnhem, Boymans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, Framer Framed in Amsterdam and furthermore in Lisbon, Belgrade, Carrara, Nantes, Milan, Porto, Yogyakarta and Bali. De Olifant (The Elephant) – a sculpture in teak – is permanently located at Anningahof in Zwolle.

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