Last week, I looked out of the window, and had to accept, once more, that spring was not yet here. The familiar grey clouds, the drizzle, the easterly wind, it was all there to remind me that I had been away in the tropics for most of the winter and that I deserved a little bit of the weather everyone else had had to put up with. So I decided to add something to the glumness and drove to Germany to visit the Völklingen Ironworks and the Urban Art Biennial near Saarbrücken.
In many areas in Europe, mining and ironworks have transformed the landscapes. Huge ironwork and their blast furnaces or the mountainous silhouettes of the mining spoil tips are distinct features of parts of Belgium, Luxembourg, northern France and Germany. The Völklingen Ironworks are particularly impressive and are basically the fossilised remains of an industrial dinosaur. This industrial complex was born in 1873 and after a difficult start, became one of the most innovative and productive steelworks in Europe. It had no less than six blast furnaces, towering 40 meters above the ground. The golden age came in the post-war period, when the Völklingen Ironworks employed over 17,000 people.
But, as everywhere in Europe, the post-war economic boom came to an end and the steelworks ran into trouble in the 1970s. The last fires in the blast furnaces were blown out in 1986 and thousands of workers lost their jobs, an event that has had an impact on the social fabric of the region to this day. But the ironworks were immediately placed under a protection order and became an industrial monument, which was inscribed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1994. The Völklingen Ironworks now house many art exhibitions and other artistic events – even a production of the opera Rigoletto in a blower room!
Urban Art Biennale 2013 – El Bocho El Bocho: Are you the Artist?
The Urban Art Biennial, which started in 2011, is a showcase of some of the great names of urban art. It presents the different artistic positions that have derived from graffiti. From its birth on the New York subways in the 60s, urban art has moved into the 21st century, the Internet and the art galleries. The artwork of the Urban Art Biennale in Völklingen places great names from Europe and the Americas side by side, with legends such as Cope2, who started spray painting when some of the artists exhibiting next to him weren’t born yet! The styles differ greatly but you always feel that common ancestry. Sometimes, you see the link immediately, but at other times, it is not so obvious.
Urban Art Biennale 2013 – FinokFinok: Namastê
The exhibition is a success and totally fits into the rusty and dusty environment of the old ironworks. The place is huge and once you’ve seen all the artwork, you can wonder around the site, and climb up to the platform thirty meters off the ground and put the dinosaur your sitting on within its industrial landscape. The grey sky and drizzle really added to the feeling of industrial decay, and I must say gave me a little pinch to the heart thinking of the thousand of families affected by the closure of the steelworks.