Nabijheid / Proximité

Sculpture, 2023
Kunstenfestival Watou, Watou, Belgium
Photography by Niels Albers

Today, a border within the European union is no longer a real obstacle, but rather a line of transformation between cultures and languages. Albers found that from Watou, while the physical distance from France is small, the mental distance seems much greater. On both sides of the border, people speak each other’s language less, and on the French side people know little about the Festival or do not want to participate in it, like the farmer just across the border.

Niels Albers’ work often draws inspiration from the location and its history. For instance, he discovered that a large part of the ‘Westhoek’ is the only area in Belgium that was never occupied by the German army. Presumably, the nearby trenches played a role in this. This wartime fact inspired his project for Watou, which stands right on the border. At first, from the Flemish side, it looks like the blind side wall of a house as we often see in Flanders. But on the other, French side, the visitor discovers an organic stack of sandbags that give the impression of supporting or reinforcing the wall. The sandbags provide protection and from some grow tree saplings and there is a stream of water running to the stream. This is very symbolic because not only is the name Watou derived from the word ‘water’, but water is also, of course, a source of life. So is the border formed by the stream. The number of saplings is based on the amount of CO2 it cost Albers to travel up and down to Watou and realise the work.

From the sandbags, visitors can look across the border into France. In this way, he or she can contemplate the landscape but also reflect on the often invisible physical and mental borders. After the festival ended, the little trees were planned in Watou, to let them continue to grow, capture CO2 and exist longer than just in the memories of people who visited the Festival.

Made for Kunstenfestival Watou.

On view from Juli till September 2023.