September 2007

From The Nucleair Shelter

“Gimme Shelter” - Loek Grootjans and Rob Moonen

 “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” George Orwell, Animal Farm, Penguin Classics, London, 2000, p.90

 On 28 September 2007, artists Loek Grootjans and Rob Moonen emerged above ground after spending seven days in the nuclear shelter located beneath the Museum van Bommel van Dam. What was striking was that both of them were hyperactive and bursting with energy. Like mountaineers or other sportsmen, it was as if they had just completed an extraordinarily satisfying session of high altitude training in - of all places - a bunker in Venlo. When we exchanged greetings more than a week later, Loek Grootjans was almost euphoric in his description of the seven days spent in the nuclear shelter: “Without even noticing it, within the first 24 hours you completely lose all sense of time and the rhythm of day and night. The fact that there are no external sensory stimuli means that you are automatically forced to rely on your own resources. Because of this inevitable confrontation with your individual consciousness, Rob and I have made a great many new things. Each day we staged photos, shot short films and worked together on texts.”  

The underground complex in Venlo was formally delivered in 1986. That was the year when what subsequently proved to be catastrophic, radioactive fall-out spread across vast areas of Western Europe from Chernobyl. It was also the moment that Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the USSR. Within a few years, particularly the positive effects of perestroika would bring a relatively quick and unexpected end to the Cold War, which had lasted for more than 30 years. Contrary to the political détente, Venlo’s nuclear shelter was at first regularly “inhabited” by special army units from the Dutch telephone system. They conducted exercises in, for instance, compressed air suits that were extremely taxing not only physically but alsomentally. 

The most astonishing aspect of the project “From the Nuclear Shelter” is that the artists soon succeeded in empowering their reflective imagination in the curious, “Orwellian” spaces of this bizarre “communication complex” in Venlo. Out of the blue, the imperative “Gimme Shelter” - also the title of a phenomenal Rolling Stones song - was imbued with positive connotations. 

Recently, the Museum van Bommel van Dam decided to acquire six photographs from the series “From the Nuclear Shelter”. As you can partly gather from this publication, these brand new works by Loek Grootjans and Rob Moonen form a unique and intensely engaged cluster in the Museum’s rapidly growing collection.

Rick Vercauteren, director Museum van Bommel van Dam Venlo