Utrecht, 2015


Early one morning I found myself on a construction site, working in the street shoveling a Zen garden where a footpath was prepared to be newly paved with cobbles. The work had forced me to stay alert and present every moment. I started rather late; around 5:30am, not knowing what time the construction workers would appear. Apart from choosing the place in advance, and bringing the tools, I did not prepare anything. All decisions, concerning form and method, I made on the spot. Scraping the lines into the partly very solid ground demanded focus and concentration, otherwise they would have ended up crooked. In the moments when my thoughts carried me away, I worried about not getting finished in time and feared the arrival and possible confrontation with the construction workers. They finally appeared when I still had some way to go.

It took them a long time to exit their cars, giving me just enough room to finish drawing all the circles and lines into the wet sand. It felt like I was on a stage, wrapping up the last preparations before the play, while the audience is already present. The arrival of the huge truck delivering bricks announced the end of my time there. The street workers walked over to the Zen garden, and I took my pictures. I expected them to be angry with me but instead they just seemed confused. Mainly they tried their best to ignore me. They asked no questions about the carefully leveled sand, tidy circles and lines I had made on their work surface. After the initial confusion of their arrival settled down, they began to prepare all their tools methodically, installing a wooden mini pallet in the sand and began loading it up with bricks. They started throwing the bricks between the three of them, the heavy stones flying in an aerial dance, their movements were fluid, precise and highly concentrated. In the end their appearance enriched the project. Their practice is actually very close to mine; we just used the ground differently. This made me think carefully about my art practice and what the ‘work’ I labour over, is about? Is it so distinct to the practice of the construction workers?
We both carried out physical repetitive actions following an outlined procedure. They worked for the needs of the city, to improve the infrastructure. Building a footpath that enables the citizens to move forward can be seen as laboring for the useful foundations of society. While I adapted the methods of making a traditional Zen garden on a construction site, to give space to contemplation for myself and society.