In 2010 Dutch artist Erik van Lieshout (1968) was commissioned to make a film about Zuidplein, a shopping mall in the South of Rotterdam. Van Lieshout lived and worked in this neighborhood for 14 years and made a couple of his films there: Respect which was shown at the Dutch pavillion at the Venice Biennale in 2003 and Awakening (2005). After living abroad for several years Van Lieshout approached the commission, seeking an opportunity to return to this working-class district that is home to several large immigrant communities.
Built in 1968 the Zuidplein mall was one of the first in the Netherlands and represented a utopian vision regarding future wealth and urban harmony.
Over the decades the Rotterdam South neighbourhood sunk into severe poverty. The Zuidplein mall became a hangout for the poor and the unemployed. And thus became a place that was best avoided.
At the same time the council policy was focused on prominent architecture along the banks of the river Maas, which divides the city into two. By commissioning star architects as Renzo Piano, Norman Forster, Álvaro Siza and Rotterdam-based Rem Koolhaas the Southbank is being transformed into a display of contemporary architecture. But the Zuidplein mall is too far south and neglected both politically and financially. The mall management has tried to regain a positive image by assuring security with 150 film cameras and making it obligatory for adolescents to keep walking.
In summer 2010 van Lieshout opened a temporary shop in an abandoned unit in the mall. Rather than simply selling goods, he used his shop as a base from which to (re)connect with the neighborhood and its people, engaging them in characteristically frank and often very funny conversations about roots, regeneration, security and consumerism. Commission is Van Lieshouts commentary on the socio-political powerlessness of people and of art. It is also a quest for a home.
Examining the impact of figures such as Rem Koolhaas and the assassinated Dutch populist politician Pim Fortuyn, the film is both a portrait of a place, and of an artist’s half-skeptical, half-hopeful attempt to become an agent of social good.
The work has been commissioned by Sculpture International Rotterdam and Hart van Zuid as part of a long-term art project at Zuidplein, Rotterdam. Other artists involved are, amongst others, Ken Lum and Ai Wei Wei. Due to the economic crisis the council decided to withdraw the financial support for the Zuidplein art commissions.