Scheffer tried to make his fifteen faces, which face the main entrance to the campus near the Excelsior stadium, representative of the entire campus community. “Ranging from cheerful to livid with anger or a tad naive. They’ll remain visible for six to seven weeks. After that the shrubs will grow back to their usual shape.”

Scheffer is a well-known topiarist in Rotterdam. He prunes shrubs without being commissioned or authorised to do so. He started doing it two years ago, when he quit smoking. “I started walking and pruning shrubs to get rid of the tension and mild aggression I was experiencing.” His previous projects include the shrubs near the Diergaarde Blijdorp zoo. On Mother’s Day he cut the word ‘mama’ (Mum) into a hedge. “People always like what I come up with.”

‘Shrubs will basically smile at me’

In a way, says Scheffer, his work can be compared with a graffiti artist’s. So which of his projects is he most proud of? “Currently, I think it would have to be the campus project. It’s nice and big, but I liked what I did on Mother’s Day too.” Sometimes Scheffer will create more ‘abstract’ works of art. “But faces work best. And they help lift our spirits, especially at a time like this.”

Sometimes his works are created spontaneously, unplanned, while he is taking a walk. He always carries a small hedge pruner in his back pocket just in case. “There are certain places where the shrubs will basically smile at me. All I’ll have to do is remove one or two twigs,” says Scheffer.

His action on campus Woudestein was planned when he read that the campus would be gradually reopened in the next few days. Once he arrived on the campus, he thought he was about to be caught by a guard. “But he only asked if I was going to put the leaves in my tea,” Scheffer says, smiling. “Clearly, they focus only on the big issues, not on trivialities.”

'Nice and nerdy'

Scheffer is not just a topiarist – ‘rather a seasonal activity, that’ – but is also a keen walker, in his own unique way. “I walk through Rotterdam in such a way that I walk in a near-perfect circle. And I’ve walked from Helsinki to Thessaloniki, and in Germany I walked along the full 51st parallel North. Nice and nerdy.”

It should be noted that no faces have been cut into the shrubs on the campus’s east side, the side people see when they leave the campus. “Perhaps the students themselves will cut those shrubs? I’ll be happy to teach them how.” Here’s to hoping the campus’s own gardener is OK with that.

Image credit: Olivier Scheffer