POWER, LUST AND ZINC
The industrial landscape and the myth of Moresnet
PRESS RELEASE 2 SEPTEMBER 2021
This autumn, Bureau Europa, platform for architecture and design, presents the story of the element zinc. The exhibition traces the development of one of Europe’s earliest industries and its particularly dynamic border and land politics. In this context, we also encounter the ambition of European unification expressed in Esperanto, the zinc lobbying conducted in Parisian salons and through affairs, the craft and curiosity for innovation that galvanised the zinc industry, and the traces of the Euregion in the landscape. Close to the current Three-Country Point, previously the Four-Country Point, there are still shared emotions and memories but also concerns about soil quality, the zinc violet and the possibility of mining’s return.
For this exhibition, Bureau Europa has collaborated with many partners and institutions in the Euregion. All elements are diligently researched to reveal improbably fantastic narratives and capture contemporary perspectives on borders, materials and crafts. In Power, Lust and Zinc, we detail the charms of Fanny Mosselman, the fourth country at the Three-Country Point (Drielandenpunt), the unique flower that every Limburg citizen knows, and our joint quest for the birth of the universe: all connected by the zinc mined from our land.
In this exhibition, curator Remco Beckers, in collaboration with research architects Dear Hunter, visualises zinc’s decisive influence on the development of local cultures, borders and landscapes in the Euregion. Since the Napoleonic era, the industry has often been at the heart of social engineering and its effect on the surrounding nature. On a small scale, the zinc in the Meuse-Rhine Euregion clearly demonstrates how economic and political interests shape human life worldwide.
The roofs of Paris Visitors enter a fascinating world: in the basement’s darkness, visitors walk across Parisian rooftops, the most salient example of zinc architecture. The fact that Emperor Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann, the visionaries behind the French capital’s redesign, allowed themselves to be seduced by this material speaks volumes about the often-bizarre history surrounding the zinc from Kelmis. If it weren’t for Fanny Mosselman, daughter of the Vieille Montagne zinc company director and a high society lady in the Parisian salons, zinc might not have become so quickly prevalent in the 19th century, and our world would look very different today. In a world without zinc, artist Irmel Kamp’s photographic series of East Belgian zinc building facades would never have come about.
Four borders On the ground floor, visitors encounter an array of sculptures, ornaments, tools and photos that illustrate zinc’s versatility and the multifaceted impact it had on people’s daily lives. The farming village of Kelmis was suddenly enclosed in new borders, and its 3.44 square kilometres declared neutral territory. The newly formed Neutral Moresnet, the fourth country that turned the Three-Country Point into a quadripoint, existed by sheer coincidence. Its inhabitants acquired a new identity only because they happened to live on top of land containing extraordinary wealth. They were suddenly and unwittingly confronted with political turmoil and industrial interference in their lives, which otherwise would have remained unaffected. But despite this country's inadvertent existence, the inhabitants soon fostered a sense of nationality. The village doctor played a central role in this sentiment and wanted to make Neutral Morenset the world’s first Esperanto-speaking country, named Amikejo (Place of Friendship).
The zinc violet After continuously being drawn into the past, the visitor also arrives in the present. Accounts of the first zinc factories dealings with angry winegrowers are strongly reminiscent of the modern-day legal battles of multinationals such as Tata Steel and Shell. Zinc, like any industry, has a considerable impact on nature and the landscape. But the effect is not always negative. Zinc production contaminates the ground with heavy metals, but this also creates a breeding ground for a unique flower, the zinc violet, which only grows naturally in this region. And where large zinc mining dried up the earth, making it unappealing for human habitation, a new protected landscape has arisen. Industry has clearly played a role in climate and landscape change, but at the local level, there are always two sides to a coin.
Looking to the future Today around Kelmis, there are hardly any reminders of the Vieille Montagne zinc industry or Neutral Moresnet. The former country has almost become a legend, and the zinc mines are closed. The people who stayed behind can only remember the nation and its mines with nostalgia. But there is also a fear that the mines may reopen: the minerals from which zinc is extracted also contain elements used in modern electronic devices and are therefore even more valuable. The people of Kelmis still live on very prosperous land! What does that mean for their future? Will the mines ever come back? A photo series by artist Filippo Ciriani beautifully portrays this mixture of nostalgia and fear.
Public programming Accompanying this exhibition is an extensive programme of lectures, workshops and walks in collaboration with various partners.
a. The zinc identity of Maastricht The most interesting insights into zinc and the infamous history of zinc oxide as seen through the city’s historical and contemporary architecture in a compact city tour.
b. Zinc nature trail in collaboration with artist Stefan Cools and the Very Contemporary network is a walk in Bunde’s countryside guided by the buried remains of industry.
The Vieille Montagne zinc company, the new De Zinkmeesters guild and the architecture of an artificial language such as Esperanto are the subjects of workshops and lectures taking place in the autumn.
The exhibition Power, Lust and Zinc runs from Saturday 4 September to Sunday 12 December 2021 at Bureau Europa, platform for architecture and design.
Curator Remco Beckers | Spatial concept Dear Hunter and Frida Stillman | Graphic design Janneke Janssen and Lyanne Polderman | Production Ilona van den Brekel | Communication Yongblood & Studio Buttons
Partners Brouwers Zinc | Filippo Ciriani | Stefan Cools | Elements 2021 | Thomas Eyck | IKOB | Irmel Camp | Maison de la Métallurgie et de l’Industrie | Vieille Montagne Museum | Museum Zinkhütter Hof | NedZink | State Archives in Eupen | Very Contemporary | De Zinkmeesters
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