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Leonard van Munster

If you are the last
who was filmed

Leonard van Munster often says: ‘Public space is my gallery’. His large works of art and installations on squares, in ponds, on roofs, in parks, under viaducts that cannot be missed. Often in the Netherlands, but also in, among others, Germany, Russia, Columbia and the United States. Now, for the first time, he has made an installation for a location in Zeeland. Façade brings him to the Vismarkt, one of Middelburg’s intimate squares.

We meet the artist on a day in which he is fully enjoying his new artstudio on the outskirts of Amsterdam. Between the Spaarnwoude nature reserve, where Konik horses and Scottish Highlanders graze, and an area with oil tanks and car wrecks, he has leased a plot of land from the municipality of Amsterdam. He has had a bell jar placed over it, a greenhouse measuring 40 by 12 metres and 7 metres high. “This is how I get the public space into my studio”, says Van Munster. The project is called Biotoop 2.0. “It is an exhibition and experimentation space in one. The biotope that was created has become a work of art in itself. Grass and flowers grow inside and respond to the seasons. Just as the works of art created there respond to our changing society.”

Making statements, giving his view of what is happening in society, is something he does often. For example, in 2015 when the capsized motor yacht Fortuna was stranded at the Mahlerplein right in front of the Amsterdam main office of ABN Amro. The economic crisis that had erupted in 2008 was coming to an end, the outlook was becoming cautiously more positive. The motor yacht symbolised that exact situation: being stranded but in able to sail on as soon as conditions become suitable.

Van Munster will also be making a statement in Middelburg. Inspired by the theme ‘freedom from fear’, he designed a robot-like machine for the Vismarkt under the title ‘Ultimate Truth’, situated in a garden that you could refer to as the Garden of Eden. The machine can scan its surroundings with radars: “The machine can ‘see’ who is walking by, it can follow people, become annoyed by someone. The machine seems to have come to life and to be able to think for itself.” For the artist, his machine and the garden, both protected by a fence, fit perfectly in our current time: “We wish to register, store and monitor everything for our sense of security. Technical developments are advancing faster than the social debate on this ethical issue, we can hardly stop the developments. Drones are turning war into a computer game for pilots. It has almost reached the point where robots will determine whether you are friend or foe at the border. There is an ethical gravity to it. Suppose a crime was committed in a square and you are the last person to have been filmed there. “

Leonard van Munster usually makes temporary works of art. After destruction, all that is left for him is the photo and the memory. Nowadays, temporality is the magic word. But then art has little chance of becoming art history. It never used to matter to me if the works were destroyed. Today, that is different. A memory of a work is quite different indeed from the actual experience. It is clear that works of art must continue to exist.” On the Vismarkt? “That installation is about the time in which we live. ‘Ultimate Truth” has an oppressive feel to it, yet children in their innocence play a game of tag with. So keep it, or shred it. “

Leonard van Munster (Zwolle, 1972) is internationally known for his site-specific installations in public space. He completed his training at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam in 1996. One of his best-known works is ‘Fata Morgana’ (2008) under a viaduct on the A10 in Amsterdam, where palm and banana trees grow and a waterfall of rocks splashes down, all made of plastic and surrounded by a steel fence. The installation is included in the recently compiled national list of ‘One hundred key works in public areas 1945-present’. The municipality of Amsterdam has been considering financing the maintenance of the installation since 2008.

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