Monday, 27 July 2015

Details: Station Noord (& space-time)

I spent some time on and around the Rotterdam Noord train station. This is a small station that has two platforms (one for each direction) and a building attached to its southern side. The building was constructed in 1953 and housed a NS office as well as a passengers' waiting room on the top floor. At one time this was a more crucial point of transit, and international trains to Germany used to stop here. Only slower sprinter trains stop at this station now. The NS office also closed down in the early 2000s, and the building, no longer needed for its original purposes, had been converted into an art exhibition space. Usually it's pretty great for everyone if any old-timer finds new life in artistic expression, and especially if the artwork connects with a relevant piece of history.

I don't know what art projects are currently going on in here though. The space has a website, it has a recording of some projects that took place before, but the site doesn't say anything about the now. The door seemed closed too but maybe I should've knocked.

Anyways I was here in the now, and I walked around the station in hope to notice some details. I can share a few with you.



two Thomassons at Station Noord
I've briefly written about the stamp machines in Rotterdam Central Station before. In that same blogpost I also spoke of Genpei Akasegawa's Thomassons. Thomassons are, in Akasegawa's definition, inexplicable objects that can be observed on the streets: architectural vestiges in the urban environment. As the urban landscape experiences renovations and transformations, some small details from previous times are left behind, for one reason or another. Stairs that lead to nowhere, walls that define no specific spaces, these are objects that serve no real purpose other than simply being there, yet they have been indefinitely maintained in their original places. Therefore, Akasegawa concluded, they must be works of art.

These two things seen at Platform 1 are, then, prime examples of Thomassons. An elevated door on an outer wall that 1)doesn't open and 2)doesn't provide entrance/exit to anywhere, such a door is a classic Thomasson. Its kind had been spotted all over the world (1, 2, 3, 4). This specific door used to connect the waiting room to the platform, but the small bridge in between had since been demolished.

The outdated stamp machine, like its cousins in Central Station, is also a functionless urban object that's maintained in its original place, and therefore another Thomasson. The label, Buiten Dienst (out of service), is appropriate for both items in this situation.

I do find charm and comfort in many otherwise functionless things, but I don't have a great thesis that frames Thomassons in an anti-economic-efficiency meaning-structure. Also I don't know if Akasegawa would consider a comprehensive meaning-structure necessary, he was primarily interested in urban objects as they are. My best shot at this would be to imagine two hypothetical urban societies that mark the two ends of a spectrum, one super-sterile and completely without Thomassons, another super-chaotic and saturated with Thomassons. Neither scenario is entirely desirable, but if our society is placed in a middle of that spectrum, I'm pretty sure I prefer for it to move towards the latter. It would be a culturally richer society that has a physicality which spans across more time.

Walking to the end of Platform 1, there are some more leftovers that are less visible. Probably there are many more that I cannot see at all. These don't qualify as Thomassons because they're not maintained but rather are abandoned.

greenery behind the end of platform 1 contains leftovers

(Concrete stubs in the green. The first one is near the building. The last one has the NS name on it.)


On Platform 2's noise barriers we see the artwork of Aukje Litjens, titled Vogelvlucht (Bird Flight). It is the flying motion of a white bird, presented in a progression of moments in time. When passengers are riding on the Intercity toward Rotterdam Central and passing through this station in speed (the Intercity doesn't stop here) , it may be possible to view this artwork as an animation. It is an example of viewing movement-through-time by experiencing movement-through-space.

Alternatively, I have also animated this artwork as a gif image, so it is now possible to view this animation without being on a train. There were 64 frames, each a different moment in the bird's flight. Note that I chose to perceive this work as one bird in flight through time presented in 64 moments, but it is also possible that these are 64 birds flying one after another, frozen in the same moment in time.Or it could be 32 birds frozen in 2 moments in time, or 2 birds in 32 moments or 8 birds in 8 moments etc. My intuitive perception is not more correct than any other possibilities.

At several different points on Platform 2, I have noticed leaves from nearby trees that grew through the crevices between the metal sheets of the noise barriers and made their way in.

Some of them are painted black while others remain green. Presumably the black leaves were painted over when they did the paint job on these metal parts. My initial speculation was that these leaves must have grown out at different points in time, some before the paint job and some after, and if we look at the painting schedules in the last year we might speculate when did each of these strands of leaves breach the barrier.

On second thought, the more likely possibility is that they only did the paint job on specific sections of the barriers in order to cover up some graffiti. Therefore some areas were painted and some were not.

To determine how likely each of these possibilities are (they could be both true), I would have to know the (re)-painting schedule of this station and also the growth schedule of these trees (eg knowing if they shed off dead leaves every year and grow everything anew). The painting information I could not find anywhere. As for the trees, I looked up these trees on the Bomenspotter Rotterdam app, and their species is Platanus x hispanica (also know as London Plane). These are, indeed, deciduous plants that loose all their leaves annually in winter and grow new ones in spring. All these leaves must be new, so I guess, then, that the paint job was done pretty recently in the past 2-4 months or so.  The leaves at these different spots on the platform are also roughly the same size, so they can't be too different in age. If we look into recent graffiti photos on the platform (like these) since the start of 2015 and identify which graffiti disappeared, we can probably figure out a timeline.

(and probably the first step in understanding any stretch of history is figuring out a timeline.)