For decades the Eggs were a familiar place on the campus to shoot your graduation photo; if it’s up to Nils van Beek (main advisor to the project), Der Stein des Weisen will take on that role in Park Noord. Artist Kathrin Schlegel created Der Stein.
“The brief was to develop a work of art of the same iconic quality as the Eggs,” says Van Beek. “The core of the work is a stainless steel blob-like structure, a kind of thought cloud like those in a comic strip. Park visitors will be able to stand on the pedestal situated in front of it, following in Erasmus’ footsteps. You are standing in front of the cloud, and in it you ‘see’ your thoughts mirrored.”
‘Following in Erasmus’ footsteps’ can be taken quite literally, because the original plinth served as the foot of the Erasmus statue at the Laurenskerk in Rotterdam from 1677 to 1963. This makes it one of the two oldest plinths in the Netherlands, and one which bears three hundred years of the city’s history. “There are cracks in it that were probably caused by the bombardment of Rotterdam”, says Van Beek. This burden of history is one of the main reasons why installing Der Stein has taken five years longer than planned.
“The original intention was to unveil the work during the 2013 centenary. Of course, the delay was also down to the sudden death of Carmen Heijmerink and Jeroen Bodewits from the Art Department,” adds Van Beek. The two died in a traffic accident in Belgium in 2013.
But the university achieved considerable headway by incorporating the historic pedestal into the artwork. “The plinth has been quietly mouldering away in a courtyard at the Erasmus Gymnasium since the 1960s. You’d normally see a couple of scooters propped up against it,” Van Beek recalls. “Only when we started to do something with it did the plinth become important again. We were almost done with the design, when heritage experts issued their pronouncement: this is a museum piece, you have to be careful with it.”
That scotched the plan to let visitors stand directly on the plinth. “Then Schlegel proposed erecting a glass showcase around the pedestal, but initially she wasn’t keen on it. She had designed a work of art, and suddenly an new aspect was put into it, changing the overall meaning of the work.” Visitors will be able stand on the glass rather than directly on the pedestal. The climate in the display case is regulated by a sophisticated ventilation system to prevent any green build-up, and the plinth remains visible.
Couple of tons
Putting the artwork in place also caused a few headaches. It weighs a couple of tons and is six metres high and four wide, so you can’t put it just anywhere. Park Noord, which was not even planned when the artwork was conceived, ultimately proved to be the perfect location. “It’s a really nice place,” says Van Beek. A huge foundation can already be seen in the middle of the park.
A project overrunning by five years must have been very expensive. Van Beek admits that the project has run ‘significantly over-budget’. “But that’s if you take everything into account: the advice, the reports, the extra showcase. The artist’s budget has remained largely unchanged, despite her having worked on it far longer. In spite of everything, the university has supported it without wavering, which is extremely commendable. Hopefully this statue will be embraced by people to the same degree as the Eggs,” concludes Van Beek.
According to the schedule, the work of art will be installed in July, and will be unveiled during the anniversary week in September.