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Designing Absence This book comments on the perception of absence, while seeking possibilities to express the absence through design. It is divided in two chapters. The first one refers to the concept using examples of absence used in contemporary art, while the second one is a realized project, a fragmented work, designed by many individuals. Absence stimulates the need for completion and the design of these ideas is what makes the intangible absent concrete.

Introduction The Concept Examples Christo and Jean-Cloude Zevs: Visual kidnapping Reverse graffiti The Competition The Start Statistics The Winners Exposition

Introduction Designing absence Talking about absence in an urban spot (the incomplete tower of Antwerp’s cathedral), one might think of utopia. Utopia is a non-place (literally translated from Greek), it is a place that is not meant to become realistically possible. Utopia is the eternal absent. On the other hand, utopia attracts thought, and thought makes things happen. It is possible to design a detailed utopia, but one can never realize it in the same way as the design, and even if this is feasible, it will not function the same. I will give an example; to create architecture, an architect makes drawings first, which are quite often ideal representations, projections of thoughts and wills of a free mind. In the building process or when the building is habituated, realistic factors interfere and destroy small or big parts of the ideal situation. In this sense, the first representation becomes a utopia. Sounds sad, but the conclusion is that utopia isn’t just something that will never exist, it is a tool to start making things exist. Utopia has been inspired by religious, sociological, political, economical, architectural, technological, ecological factors or an interrelation of them. It is based on Plato’s Republic, where equality and a general pacifistic attitude reign. Communism is a form of economical utopia; world peace a political utopia; Heaven

might be a form of religious utopia; artificial intelligence and cyborg culture as mean to eternal or upgraded life are some sort of technological inspired utopia. Le Corbusier’s “Ville Radieuse” is an urban utopia that tries to purify the cities’ chaos with a clean, calm and powerful architecture. Certain utopias belong to certain ages, but that doesn’t mean that each era has one and only utopia. Superstudio’s ideas from the ‘60s bring on the architectural scene a utopia of static megastructures, while Archigram’s Walking city of the same era describes a utopia of a whole movable city. A possible way to create a utopia is to generate a focus in something absent .Empty or abandoned city spots, are places where urban utopia is being born. A missing tower is a potential place to give birth to a utopia. The project “designing absence” is seeking for the contemporary utopia. The basis seems to be architectural. However, the requirement of one single image, gave the participants the freedom to project their most bizarre thoughts. There is a reason why it was decided to realize this concept as an international brainstorm and not as individual project. The fragmented result composes the pattern of today’s expectations and wills. The construction of an archive of 455 representations about the missing tower gives a more complete image on the contemporary utopia, rather than one single design. Every single project added an input to the character of the contemporary utopia.

We cannot name 455 characteristics, but we could name some. Today’s utopia is sustainable and green, sci-fi, illusionary, conceptual, romantic, insulting, symbolic, never the same or not continuously present, it is digital, it is a game or it is playful, a view to the future, miniature but also mega scale, mirrored or inverted, mysterious, formalistic, monumental or usual, intangible.


Christo and JeanneClaude The works of Christo and Jeanne-Cloude alternate reality. They ask questions about sculptural values. By covering a structure in textile, the structure becomes absent, but stays present at the same time. Why are their works so big. What’s the point?

 Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s works are entire environments, whether they are urban or rural. The artists temporarily use one part of the environment. In doing so, we see and perceive the whole environment with new eyes and a new consciousness. The effect is astounding. To be in the presence of one of these artworks is to have your reality rocked. You see things you have never seen before. You also get to see the fabric manifest things that cannot usually be seen, like the wind blowing, or the sun reflecting in ways it had not before. The effect lasts longer than the actual work of art. Years after every physical trace has been removed and the materials recycled, original visitors can still see and feel them in their minds when they return to the sites of the artworks. There is no other way to describe that the feeling of that effect other than to say it is magical. Why wrapping?

 Christo and Jeanne-Claude have done very few wrappings in comparison to their whole portfolio of artworks. Please notice how few of the works are wrappings, when you visit the index of Christo and JeanneClaude’s photo collection. It is easier for some to grasp the wrapping concept and

refer to their artworks entirely as “wrapping”, but the work is more about altering an environment than wrapping. The last time an idea for a wrapping came out of their heads and hearts was in 1975, when they had the idea of wrapping the Pont Neuf in Paris, and then it took them ten years to get the permits.

“You see things you have never seen before.”

Previous questions and answers are taken from the “frequently asked questions” part of their website. The answers don’t really clarify the questions, the only thing which is clear is that they make their artworks for themselves. This we understand from the following interview.

Just like it is for the public, meanings and connotations are formed by spectators and participants.

Q: Eye-level:
 What do you want to provoke in people who view your work?
 A: Jeanne-Claude:
 You see, what is it that we do? We want to create works of art of joy and beauty, which we will build because we believe it will be beautiful. The only way to see it is to build it. Like every artist, every true artist, we create them for us. 
 A: Christo: 
 Every true artist does the same. We create those works for ourselves and our friends, and if the public enjoys it, that is only a bonus but that is not created for the public. 
 A: Jeanne-Claude:
 It is a little bit like on a human level…if you compare our work, let’s say, a father and a mother are walking down the street and they are holding the hand of their little child, and someone stops them and says, “Oh, what a beautiful child!” Of course, the father and the mother are very happy, but everybody knows that they didn’t create that child so that people will enjoy it. Each one of our projects is a child of ours…even though we do have a homemade child, but he is 41 years old now. His name is Cyril, he has five books published of his poetry, and he signs Cyril Christo.

In this case even a general purpose is absent, the meaning for them is personal.

“The only way to see it is to build it.”


Visual kidnapping: ZEVS In 2002 streetartist Zevs cut out a model of a gigantic Lavazza-poster at Alexanderplatz in Berlin. Above the hole in the poster he wrote: “VISUAL KIDNAPPING - PAY NOW!” This intervention not only struck a chord with art lovers and people in Berlin. It has also inspired political activists. Stealing an image from a poster in Germany is now spoken of in the media as a visual kidnapping. “Visual kidnapping is like entering an interactive game: If the brand on the billboard kidnaps the attention of the public with the purpose of consumer demand, I reverse the situation and I kidnap the model on the poster and I demand a ransom of 500,000 euro from the brand. This sum represents the symbolic price of an advertising campaign for the brand.”

Creating a focus by creating an absence.

By creating an absence Zevs creates a focus. A focus on the absence as well as on the structure itself. When stealing this image, he also steals the attention of the public, the owners and the media. In the movie ‘Inside out streetart’ he compares this theft with the stealing of the Mona Lisa on August 21 in 1911. The Louvre was closed for an entire week to aid the investigation. When it was reopened, a line of people had come to solemnly stare at the empty space on the wall, where the Mona Lisa had once hung. “You might as well pretend that one could steal the towers of the cathedral of Notre Dame,” stated Théophile Homolle, museum director of the Louvre, approximately a year before the theft. (He was forced to resign soon after the robbery.) .

Visual Kidnapping: Zevs Berlin, Alexanderplatz April 02, 2002 5:37 AM Armed with my scalpel, I climbed the facade of the hotel on which is the Lavazza poster. I began the kidnapping, filmed by a friend down below, while observing the police patrols, who did not think to look up in the air. One and a half hours later, the hostage [the woman’s image on the advertisement] is in my possession and I depart from the scene, leaving on the hollowed poster: “VISUAL KIDNAPPING. PAY NOW” The following day, I created the poster for my next exhibition. The poster depicts the photograph of the hollowed panel after my intervention, and the cut-out and bound hostage figure. I added the ransom demand to it and papered this poster all over Berlin. On the private view day, at the gallery “Rebell Minds” I mailed the hostage’s finger to the Lavazza headquarters in Turin, Italy.

operation. It is infuriating that the German branch believes it best to call the police force rather than to take part in what is happening. When my negotiator met the marketing director responsible for Lavazza in Paris two months later they announced to him that two managers where laid off for this marketing error. The possibility of collaboration with Lavazza has been evoked, however they have not agreed to pay the ransom. Therefore, I forwarded to them another poison pen letter announcing the imminent execution of the hostage. In the meantime the hostage is looked after and moved around regularly in order to escape those who seek it. She has been seen in Denmark, in Sweden, in Paris…But her place of detention remains a secret well kept.

One week later, following the diffusion of a documentary on a German television channel and press articles reporting this operation, the police forces came to carry out a search in the gallery. But by then, the hostage was already in a safe place in a Swedish museum, the Mjellby Arts Centre of Halmstad. Today the hostage is moved from time to time to prevent any unwanted intervention. As the negotiations with the Lavazza company have not yet succeeded, I proceeded at the beginning of November 2003 with a new postal mail to the brand’s head office: I enclosed a poison pen letter, giving them a last chance to save their image and a video film showing the hostage in it’s last place of detention. The director of Lavazza learned of the kidnapping only three weeks after the

From Zevs, 2002

By now the Lavazza company have paid the ransom of 500,00 Euros to Palais de Tokio in Paris. They where influenced by the media and played along. They profiled themselves as sponsors of the project.


Reverse graffiti When is cleaning the sidewalks a crime? When you’re doing it to create art. Obviously. A number of street artists around the world have taken to expressing themselves through an innovative practice known as Reverse Graffiti. Taking a cue from the “Wash Me” messages scrawled on the back of delivery trucks, they seek out dirt covered surfaces and inscribe them with images, tags, and even advertising slogans using scrub brushes, scrapers and pressure hoses. The UK’s Paul Curtis, better known as “Moose,” is one of the technique’s pioneers. Operating around Leeds and London, he has been commissioned by a number of brands, such as Smirnoff, who want to convey a sense of “clean” in an innovative way. On a more overtly environmental bent, Brazilian Alexandre Orion, turned one of Sao Paolo’s transport tunnels into a stunning mural last summer. The mural, comprised of a series of skulls, very succinctly reminds drivers of the impact their emissions are having on the planet. The practice puts authorities in a definite moral quandary. According to Moose, “Once you do this, you make people confront whether or not they like people cleaning walls or if they really have a problem with personal expression.” The Leeds City Council decided to lead their attack with an hilariously nonsensical position: “Leeds residents want to live in clean and attractive neighbourhoods, and expect their streets to be free of graffiti

and illegal advertising. We also view this kind of rogue advertising as environmental damage and will take strong action against any advertisers carrying out such campaigns without the relevant permission.” What action was taken against the advertisers is unknown. What is known is that Moose was charged under the very scary sounding Anti-Social Behaviour Act and ordered to clean up his clean act. I’m not exactly sure how he managed to did this. By making it dirty again? The Brazilian artist’s work came to a happier resolution. The authorities were certainly miffed but could find nothing to charge him with. They had no other recourse but to clean the tunnel — but only the parts Alexandre had already cleaned. The artist merely continued his campaign on the other side of traffic. The utterly flummoxed city officials then decided to take drastic action. Not only did they clean the entire tunnel but also every other tunnel in Sao Paulo. By removing or making something absent, they create new images

Designing absence: Competition ‘If we put the emphasis on the absent we emphasise the structure‘ The cathedral of Antwerp remains unfinished. When they started building it in the 14th century they didn’t take the future in account and soon ran out of finances. They made the building functional but lost one tower. This absence creates a blank canvas for today. By generating ideas for a new tower, we can put a focus on the cathedral itself. The given fact of an absent element within an existing structure functions as a great generator for ideas. ‘By playing with the idea of the absence, we generate a focus.’ Keeping this in mind, every participant comes up with an idea for the unfinished tower. The competition can be seen as an international brainstorm, which means everybody can join. The result doesn’t need to be functional, it can be an inflatable tower or a high tech amusement park attraction. Your entry can be a 3d render, a paper model, a collage, a black marker drawing or anything else you think fits your concept the best. Below on this page u can find a picture of the Cathedral with the missing tower (the ‘download here’ button). Your tower must be placed on this picture, the way how is completely free. Together with the picture of the Cathedral completed with your ‘new tower’, you should write a short explanation about

your concept and submit it on the ‘Submit entry’ page. The downloaded image can not be cropped or resized. So u need to send the same picture back, only with addition of your second tower.

Design a seccond tower for the Cathedral of Antwerp. This text was published on the website on the 19th of February 2010 and announced the start of the international designing absence competition.

The Competition

The start The first work was to create an appealing visual image. An image that could attract the attention (cfr. Zevs). The website would become the heart of the competition, supported by posters and flyers to send around. Text were written, send to mailing lists, organisations and blogs all over the world. This part had a deadline of only 3 weeks, seeing that I only had 6 months till graduation day. A tight schedule helped me to get an overview and made me work step by step. The assignment was picked up by more and more blogs and the website reached in the mid of March a peak of 1800 visitors a day from all over the world. At the start of the competition I promised the participants an exhibition and a publication. To achieve this goal, before the end of the deadline on April the 20th, all my time was spend looking for people or organisations who where interested in the project. Meetings and mailing conversations became almost a daily routine, combined with advertising and selling the project.

The Competition

Statistics For the duration of the competition I was a Google analytics addict. Google analytics is a Google service that shows the statistics of a website. It shows from which country your visitors come, how they got to your website, what words they typed in search engines, and so on.

It was my goal for two moths to make all this numbers as high as possible. 22.895 visitors came from 122 different countries over a period of 60 days.

The Competition

The Winners After the deadline of the competition on the 20th of April 2010, the judging took place.

And now the winners!!!

The jury:

Chris Idema & Tim hobbelman; ’s Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands

- Pieterjan Grandry (Graphic designer) - Valentina Karga (Arhitect) - Jonas Bloneel (Furniture designer) - Jonas Smets (Student Psycology)) - Anneline Geerts (Sociologist) - Bram Kinsbergen (Artist) After figuring out a fair voting system, reading all concepts and comparing all submissions, we had our top thirteen. Three winners and ten honourable mentioning’s. These were discussed amongst the jury and altered till everyone was satisfied. The winners got a mail, congratulating them and inviting them for the first exhibition.

1st place goes to:

2nd place goes to: Sergiy Prokof’yev; Dnepropetrovsk, Ukrain 3rd place goes to: Danijel Zezelj; Brooklyn, USA The honorable mentionings: - E Sang Hoon; Seoul, Republic of Korea - Cunningham Warrior; Newcastle Upon Tyne, England - Arthur Stolk; The Hahue, The Netherlands - Patricia Lynch; Buenos Aires, Argentina - B-Architecture Pierre & Julien; Strasbourg, France - Wim Francois; Halle, Belgium - Sebastian Felic for Mia Ernst; Berlin, Germany - Malte Banding; Braunschweig, Germany - Tom Adriaensen; Boechout, Belgium - Robert Buss; Osnabrück, Germany

The exel file of the voting system

From my scetchbook: Couning the votes

The Competition

The Exhibition The first exhibition took place from 9 till 12 June in Designcenter ‘De Winkelhaak� in Antwerp. Coming up with a low cost system to display the towers was a lot harder then first anticipated. It was important for me to show the towers in a grid, this way visitors could feel the quantity and impact of the general image. To combine this grid with the individual concepts, authors name and city, all the submissions where printed on one single sheet of paper, on the front side their tower and on the back the information. To enhance the feel of absence, all the single submissions where placed in a series of incomplete grids.

The general idea for the exhibition


Thank goes out to: Organizing a competition is a great deal of work. Work I couldn’t have done alone. I would like to thank: Valentina Karga for making the voronoi graphics, writing the introduction text, being part of the jury, help with the exhibition in designcenter De Winkelhaak and overall support. Xavier Almeida for providing the starting point. Dorien Wendelen for her help setting up the exhibition. The members of the jury: Jonas Blondeel, Valentina Karga, Jonas Smets, Bram Kinsbergen, Anneline Geerts, Pieterjan Grandry Greenfudge and the city of Antwerp for their interest and financial support. And off-course participants!




Designing the absent  

designing absence catalogue 01,