“Kiosk7: OudWestKiosk”

Smart Project Space

Russian émigré architect Berthold Lubetkin (1901–1990), who opened his London practice in the early ’30s, helped endow British architecture with Constructivist rigor. But as time went on his designs started to look dated to proponents of postmodern architecture, and some of his buildings were later demolished. In 2005 the artist collective known as Gavin Wade mit Simon & Tom Bloor appropriated two of Lubetkin’s abandoned structures, known as Kiosk 1 & 2 (originally used to sell sweets and ice cream), designed by the architect and his Tecton Group in 1937 for the Dudley Zoological Gardens near Birmingham. As the Bloors point out in the publication 34: What Are Senses?, Lubetkin’s architectural settings for the zoo suggest a circus more than a natural habitat. The artists turned the kiosks into temporary exhibition spaces/meeting rooms, a “kind of philosophical system,” as they stated in one of their publications. They then duplicated the original ellipsoid concrete kiosk in plywood and exhibited it in their installations at various venues, including the exhibition “Strategic Questions,” curated by Wade on the island of San Servolo at the time of the 2007 Venice Biennale.

“Kiosk7: OudWestKiosk” in Amsterdam, curated by the artists with Hilde de Bruijn, linked the transformed Lubetkin design to this city. The plywood structure was deconstructed, and the parts were used to exhibit architectural models in a competition for an interactive public space, destined for the Oud-West district of the city, known for its cultural diversity but also for its social tensions. On display at SMART Project Space were entries by four finalists: M4gueststudio, Beeldend Gesproken Art Library/Gallery, Spirit of the Time Foundation, and Municipal Youth Organization Amsterdam (known as SJA), unit Argan, each in a separate gallery.

All four organizations play unique roles in promoting contemporary art and culture in Oud-West. M4gueststudio is a group of artists who were residents in studios offered by the M4 Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to promoting innovative art. Beeldend Gesproken, a gallery and a library, represents and serves professional artists with a history of mental health problems. Spirit of Time Foundation devotes its activities to recording personal stories of the elderly and presenting them in exhibitions, books, and so on. Finally, the SJA, unit Argan, is the Oud-West section of the largest youth organization in Amsterdam.

Taking the design of the kiosk as a constant, each of the finalists’ projects differs in its degree of interaction with the local community, but all put function before form. Each entry was site-specific, relating to the mission of the organization that proposed it. ElevatorKiosk, proposed by M4gueststudio, is a lift for bringing visitors to the roof terrace and M4’s guest studio facilities in the Marelbach building. FloraKiosk, by Beeldend Gesproken, has been conceived as a “tranquil oasis, decorated with floral motifs by Beeldend Gesproken artists and equipped with calming and medicinal plants and an air filtration system to purify the air in and around the kiosk.” StoryTellingKiosk, the proposal by Spirit of the Time Foundation, would provide a space for the residents of a local senior citizen’s home inhabitants to share their stories, to be archived as part of the collective history of the neighborhood.

Viewers and an international jury have chosen the SJA Argan unit’s IslamicYouthKiosk to be realized later this year. Meant to serve the city’s Muslim youth as a stage for various activities related to cultural identity, it will host “a shop selling Arabic goodies from Morocco, regular fashion shows . . . a DJ booth for outdoor gigs . . . [and] henna decoration parties.” With its emphasis on the entertainment and commercial aspects of urban culture, this last project, in fact, comes close to Lubetkin’s Dudley Zoo design, and as such it sheds an interesting light on the meaning of social commitment in contemporary art, put- ting it in the context of minority identity in Holland.

Marek Bartelik