Monday, 20 December 2010





PRIVATE VIEW 11 JAN, 6:30-8:30PM


The Hayward Project Space presents How Can I Help You?, the first solo show in a UK institution by the major Dutch artist Erik van Lieshout (b.1968).

In summer 2010, van Lieshout opened a temporary ‘shop’ in an abandoned unit in the Zuidplein mall in Rotterdam South, a working class district of Holland that is home to several large immigrant communities. Rather than simply selling goods, van Lieshout, who lived in Rotterdam South between 1993 and 2007, used his shop as a base from which to (re)connect with the neighbourhood and its people, engaging them in characteristically frank and often very funny conversations about roots, regeneration, consumerism, and the rise of the Dutch Right Wing. His new film installation Commission, shown in the Hayward Project Space, documents this experience.

Van Lieshout has said that Commission is ‘my commentary on the socio-political powerlessness of people and of art. It is also my quest for a home’. Examining the impact of figures such as the Rotterdam-based ‘starchitect’ Rem Koolhaas and the anti-immigration Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn, the film is both a portrait of a place, and of an artist’s half-sceptical, half-hopeful attempt to become an agent of social good.

The Commission has been commissioned by Sculpture International Rotterdam and Hart op Zuid as part of a long-term art project at Zuidplein, Rotterdam.

Curator: Tom Morton

Erik van Lieshout’s major solo exhibitions include: Museum Ludwig, Cologne (2009); MassMoCA, North-Adams Massachusetts (2007); Kunsthaus Zurich (2007); Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (2006). He has participated in numerous major international exhibitions and biennales, including: Shanghai Expo (2010); Morality, Witte de With, Rotterdam (2010); 6th Busan Biennale, South Korea (2008); 4th Berlin Biennale (2006); 7th Sharjah Biennale, UAE (2005). In 2003, van Lieshout represented The Netherlands at the Venice Biennale. He currently lives and works in Rotterdam and Cologne.



Adrian Searle reviews van Lieshout's Hayward show in The Guardian

Architect's Journal reviews van Lieshout's Hayward show

Guardian Guide preview of van Lieshout's Hayward show (scroll down)

BBC World Service report on van Lieshout's Hayward show

Exhibition e-flux

artist's website

van Lieshout poster project for the Hayward Gallery

Download the pdf of a long article on van Lieshout from A Prior magazine

frieze magazine feature on van Lieshout

frieze magazine review of van Lieshout at the Venice Biennale

van Lieshout interviewed by Ali Subotnick

van Lieshout on the Hayward / Southbankcentre website



Tom Morton: How did you come to occupy an abandoned shop unit in Zuidplein, a down-at- heel mall in the South Rotterdam neighbourhood that you used to live in?

Erik van Lieshout: The new work that will debut at the Hayward, Commission, was developed out of a public art commission by SIR (Sculpture International Rotterdam), who wanted me to make a film. I had been thinking for a while about South Rotterdam - getting back to my own streets where I worked and lived for 15 years. Out of this came some ideas about capitalism, idealism, revolution and parts of the city where architects have power. In the mall, though, I was an outsider. The most important people there are the shopkeepers, because they have seen the change in climate in South Rotterdam – have seen New Babylon change into a criminal ghetto, into a police state. I decided I wanted my own shop. There, I would be free to make my own space, invite my own people, provoke the mall, create intimacy, and know what it is to be a shopkeeper. Commission shows what happened next. Of course, shopping is a big issue in art, pop art…

TM: How would you describe South Rotterdam? Why did you leave? How is it to be back?

EVL: I left because I made too much money and needed to buy a house. The neighbourhood is good - full of poor people, very poor people, and a few middle class. For me, it’s the best place to be, because I know these people and I miss them when I am not there. They are funny and totally trashy. Sometimes stupid with lots of crazy energy. They are also sweet and clever and easy going. Many of them are totally stressed out, but they talk easily about their lives and when you need them they are always there, but you also have to give something back to them.

The neighbourhood is built on the south side of the harbour, which means the ‘real’ city of Rotterdam is on the other side of the river. In the years after the war, lots of very tiny little houses were built in South Rotterdam in which lots of families lived together, working in the harbour. In the ‘70s the climate changed and you had lots of immigration from foreigners. In a way they had a totally relaxed life, but of course they also worked very hard and built on their own investments etc. In the ‘80s and ‘90s they lived in their own Surinamese, Turkish and Moroccan neighbourhoods. Now everybody lives there together and goes shopping at Zuidplein.

For me it’s very cool to be back - this project is about getting back. The first thing you enjoy is the space: you really can do everything you want. Recently, I’ve been living in the North of the city (in a new house) but also in Berlin and Cologne, so to return to the South is good. Maybe it gives me more depth or, how do you say, more reason to make an artwork. I can make art here because I am with people I’ve known for 15 years. They are my friends. I should make artworks for my friends

TM: Your temporary shop in Zuidplein bears the slogan 'Echte Luxe is Niets Kopen' (Real Luxury is Buying Nothing) on its front window. Did the shop ever sell anything? What other activities took place in the shop?

EVL: The shop was a place to meet people. It was in the beginning a workshop. I really enjoyed working with the boys - my interns and assistants - making a crazy abstract shop, and having the pressure of renting a 5000 Euro a month space in the craziest place in Rotterdam. Nobody expects to find it there. People are staring inside the whole day: ‘What is this??? A flower shop? A sex shop? An art shop?’

I introduced the words ‘Real Luxury is Buying Nothing’ because it’s a quote from [the Rotterdam-based architect] Rem Koolhaas, who worked so hard on his shopping mall ideas. But it means you can’t buy anything at my shop and we did not sell anything. However, we had many things on 'sale', and when somebody wanted something I gave it to them. Some people became totally greedy, others not.

TM: Could you tell me about some of the things you gave away?

EVL: A trucker left in the last week with a couple of wheels. There was a young Moroccan mother who could not find Mecca when she wanted to pray, so I gave her a compass. To my girlfriend I gave a ring, a cooking pan and the fishes that swim in the shop’s decorative waterfall. Many visitors needed to fix small things on their car or in their kitchen and I always had the perfect screw or nail etc. I also gave away beers and very small little intimate presents: pieces of plastic, iron and so on… stuff which was already old and used a lot, which makes it more special.

TM: What kind of people visited your shop?

EVL: All kinds of people came along but for me THE BIGGEST ISSUE was can I become a shopkeeper? How can I change the shopping mall? How can I revolt? So all the people who came were connected with this issue, and the best people who could come in while I was building my shop were other shopkeepers. They helped me choose the letters for the signage, talked about colours and brands, about big shops and how small shops are disappearing. We talked about nail shops and telecom companies, about cash flow and about the rent, and gossiped a lot.

Also, the managers of the shopping mall came a lot. My strategy was to sincerely build the shop, while at the same moment I was in the mall to expose it....

TM: Can you tell me more about the reaction to your shop from the people who visited it? What did they say to you?

EVL: ‘Am I getting filmed? Don’t film me!!’‘What is this?? Do you sell something? ‘When is the shop opening?’ ‘How much is your rent?’ ‘How can you survive?’ ‘I love your flowers’ ‘Who is Erik?’

I don’t think you can win with this shop.

TM: There are several famous cases of artists opening shops: Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas in London in the early 1990s, Keith Haring in New York and Tokyo in the 1980s, Claes Oldenburgh’s studio-based ‘The Store’ in the early 1960s… Did you have any of these projects in mind when you opened your shop in Zuidplein?

Yes , all of them. But in my case it wasn't really about having a shop, but about having human contact. Before I opened my shop, when I was filming in the mall, the security guards would always demand that I show them the material I shot. They were super suspicious. Also, before I became a shopkeeper, the other shopkeepers were not so keen to talk to me, and I wanted to make contact with them. Having my own shop meant I was a serious man, serious enough for the Zuidplein entrepreneurs, and they began to come by. I needed the shop to have private conversations with people, to have my own private space in Zuidplein.

TM: In one sense, the film is very Dutch, in another it speaks about globally familiar issues: consumerism, regeneration, the artist in the community, the search for home...

EVL: Yes. What’s the ideal shop? How to shop without money? How can shops work together? What is my market, and how can I change my market, which galleries should I work with, and how can I work as an artist on a commission? Am I there for my people when I am making a work about them? What is my own position in terms of socially engaged art?

TM: So what is your position? From conversations we’ve had in the past, I remember you feeling frustrated that art institutions have sometimes misunderstood your work, and thought of you as the kind of artist who just parachutes into a place with your camera and then makes a film about it…

EVL: I am a political artist and bump into places, but I am also a real studio artist making collages and drawings. The interesting thing is the tension between the commission (which parachutes me in) and me. A commission means rules, limits and it is good for me. I like to find out if the limits can be stretched a bit more than they like, and I have problems but fun at the same time. Simply, I need contact and art gives me the most freedom to make contact the way I like, and to make work out of this contact.

TM: Let’s talk about the shop’s decorative waterfall, which spilled out from a huge poster of a weeping Rem Koolhaas, an architect based in Rotterdam who is very engaged in urban regeneration, and thinking through the city. Can you tell me a bit more about this work?

EVL: Crying out of one eye means you are very greedy – it’s a Dutch spreekwoord [proverb]. In my shop I placed images of the three most significant contemporary figures for the city of Rotterdam: Pim Fortuyn [the openly gay, anti-immigration politician who was assassinated during the 2002 Dutch general election] Ahmed Abouthaleb [Rotterdam’s Muslim Mayor, and the first Moroccan immigrant to hold Mayoral office in the Netherlands] and Rem Koolhaas. Koolhaas is the elite and the megastar. He is engaged in four big projects in the city of Rotterdam, alongside his international work, I want him to rebuild Zuidplein, but there is no money on the Southside and perhaps Koolhaas doesn't belong there anyway. We are proud of him because he is the best, but he’s a sculptor - he is only building for himself.

TM: Didn’t Koolhaas once write: ‘In the end, there will be little else for us to do but shop’? Do you agree with his vision of the future?

EVL: I admire Rem Koolhaas: his craziness, his provocation in building his transparent buildings. All his buildings planned for Rotterdam are very beautiful. I don’t really know if I agree with that statement or not. I am not a specialist in shopping, but I think his ideas are from the 90's. Shopping is over. I understand people think Koolhaas is a visionary. I am not Koolhaas, but I doubt he still thinks shopping is the future. I don’t think people only want to go shopping and do all the things they want to do in one building… Koolhaas has designed buildings where you don’t have to leave the house at all. You can work, shop, play sport, relax, sleep and meet people all in one place. That’s probably a ghost building in a couple of years.

Rotterdam / London January 2011.