That morning I was wandering here and there, with no clear intentions nor destinations, when I suddenly realised I was very close to the Oude KerkAmsterdam‘s ancient cathedral. I didn’t read any information in advance, so for once I was totally unprepared and didn’t know what to expect. I believed it was just an historical church, like many others in the world. Well, at least in Europe. 

So I was caught by surprise when I found myself in the dark, surrounded by creepy sounds of insects echoing in that gigantic space. I decided to stay, obviously, fascinated by the whole “thing”, clearly a site-specific. And a few minutes became half an hour, and then an hour. And an hour and a half. The longer I stayed, the more I could see. 

The surroundings of Amsterdam's Oude Kerk (January 2020). Picture taken by Silvia Colombo

Adrián Villar Rojas' Poems for Earthlings

In the end it was Adrián Villar Rojas‘ site-specific I was visiting, the Argentinian artist who was able to transform the Oude Kerk into wonderful Poems for Earthling (2019). In his hands, the medieval cathedral became a reflection of and on the past, letting us re-live some tragic but significant occurrences happened during the Second World War. When churches and historical buildings were preventively reinforced with sand bags and timber frames in order to be protected by aerial bombings. 

In Roja’s project, the Oude Kerk is in fact emptied and its perimeter fortified by timber structures and poor materials such as jute sacks and mattresses. Then, the electric lighting system is substituted by majestic chandeliers on wooden pedestals. All this create a humid and gloomy environment where one is forced to stay for a while in order to experience the whole concept. To explore the space, as well as to listen to the sounds periodically changing, one after the other. Nature comes first (listen to the rain, to the cicadas chirping) and national anthems, marches and solemn music follow.

Within such a space...

We instinctively connect human and natural, artificial and organic. The artistic fiction Rojas has created is so real that the visitors have the possibility to project themselves into other times and other places. To Milan in 1940s, when Santa Maria delle Grazie’s refectory was fortified for the sake of Leonardo’s Last Supper. To Paris (same period), where the choir of Notre Dame was structurally reinforced, in case of aerial attacks. Starting an iconographic journey that, at the same time, also represents someone else’s memories.

All in all, we can say that even if the idea behind Poems for Earthling is effectiveyl simple, the materials poor, and the message crystal clear, the artist was able to build a world within a world, full of interesting references and echoes. Moreover, the research work leading to the final result is really impressive, passing through documents, historical facts as well as pictures. In the end… yes, I am pro-simple things in life as they are capable of speaking universally.

On the left: Leonardo's Last Supper's protections (www.corriere.it) | Above: Notre Dame's choir during WWII (www.reddit.com)

Pictures portaying Andrián Villar Rojas’ installation taken by Silvia Colombo (Amsterdam, January 2020)

De Oude Kerk in pills.

Photo: Jörg Baumann (source: www.oudekerk.nl)
  • What. Adrián Villar Rojas' Poems for Earthling - De Oude Kerk
  • Where. Oudekerksplein 23, Amsterdam
  • When. from November 2019 to April 26, 2020. Open daily 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. | Sunday 1 – 5.30 p.m.
  • Tickets. Regular €15 | Group > 15 €13 | Students €10 | Children <13, Museumkaart, I amsterdam, Holland Pass, ICOM, BankGiro Loterij VIP-KAART €3
  • Web. www.oudekerk.nl