Sphinx (inside-out) / 2018-2019

Sphinx (inside-out) is a collaboration between cmunzartists and the artist and the others


Sphinx (inside-out)

An iteration of the inside-out project in Maastricht on the wall of the former ceramic factory complex.

In the background

  1. Five iconic Maastricht buildings will be photographed. Landscape format. In color. Under ideal conditions. With a level of detail that will make visible how meticulous they have been restored. These photographs advertise and signal the lavish and bourgeois beauty of the city.
  2. A photographic studio will be constructed within one the renovated buildings of the former „Sphinx“ factory complex.
  3. Each of these five photographs will be printed and mounted to fit the back wall of the studio exactly.
  4. The five wall prints will be the background for the photographic portraits.
  5. The photographer will choose which print she will use as background for each session individually.
  6. It is to be expected that the distribution of the backgrounds over the series of photographic portraits will be uneven.

A series in three parts

  1. The series “Sphinx (inside-out)” will consist of between 200 and 300 photographic portraits.
  2. The series will have three parts.
  3. The first part of the series will consist out of photographic portraits of former employees of the ceramic factory. The second part will consist out of photographic portraits of the squatters that occupied the buildings of the complex after the closure of the factory. The third part will consist out of photographic portraits of the people that work in the new, the redeveloped complex.

Studio portraits  

  1. All the photographic portraits will be shot in the temporary photo studio that has been created for this purpose in one of the renovated buildings.
  2. A print of an iconic building of Maastricht will form the background.
  3. The shooting of the photographs will be a factory like process.
  4. People will arrive to be photographed at specific allotted times.
  5. The lighting will be controlled and constant across the series.
  6. Backlighting will be used.
  7. The position of the person with regards to the background will be the same across the series.
  8. All the portraits will use the same cut. The people will be photographed from the waist up.
  9. The face will be prominent and will (together with the slight variations in posing) express, underline and strengthen individuality.

Three visually distinct groupings (blurred)

  1. The people will be photographed in their normal day to day clothing that they would wear to go to work.
  2. That will distinguish the three groups and create three visually distinct groupings.
  3. The clothes of the former factory workers will be subtly different from the clothing of the former squatters will be subtly different from the clothes of the people who currently work in the renovated complex.
  4. The visual distinction between the groups will be overdetermined and strengthened by the specific age signature of each of them. The factory workers will all be pensioners; the squatters will be mostly around forty with a sprinkling of other ages. The current people will have a large group of millennials within their ranks.

Sequencing the wall

  1. The photographic portraits will be mounted on the concrete wall that surrounds the renovated Sphinx complex.
  2. That wall is a residue, a left over. It was left standing.
  3. Every portrait will be 90/135 cm.
  4. The portraits will be mounted in two or three rows above each other -depending on the height of the wall.
  5. The first group of the portraits mounted will be the former factory workers; then the portraits of the squatters will follow; the portraits if the current people will be last.
  6. The boundaries between the mounted groups will be blurred a little. A squatter will appear between workers, and then another; a few current people will turn up before the squatter group is finished.
  7. The portraits of the camouflaged squatters will be mounted within the group they imitate.
  8. Without permission, forewarning or consultation some of the portraits will be printed and mounted in color.

A debt comes calling

  1. “Sphinx (inside-out)” pays homage to the former factory-workers. It acknowledges and asks its public to acknowledge that without them, without their work, without the wealth they created but never got to own, the urban space that the squatters occupied and that the current people now inhabit, would literally not exist. Of course their historical contribution goes much wider: the whole of Maastricht is in their debt. Hedonistic Maastricht is the dividend payed for by their labour, is the pink flesh around the now erased industrial skeleton.
  2. In this acknowledgement of the foundational-factory-workers-in-their-individuality “Sphinx (inside-out)” is closest to the spirit of the global Inside-Out project, “the People’s art project”. That first grouping of the portraits of the former factory workers is “Sphinx (inside-out)” perihelion.
  3. That instead of archival photographs of factory workers at that earlier time, individual photographic portraits of (aging, old, wrinkled) former workers in the present time are mounted on the wall, prevents that the homage becomes a nostalgic empty gesture. The debt is personal. It provokes questions about pensions, about multi-problem neighborhoods, about generational wealth and generational poverty.
  4. That not only the former factory workers but also the squatters and the current people are photographed and portrayed and put on the wall makes that generational transfer and the accompanying debt visible and tangible and undeniable.

A society announces itself

  1. “Sphinx (inside-out)” is not just related to the global “Inside-out” project of which it is a proud iteration. Because of its focus on a place of work and the people working it also reconnects to the photographic “people art works” of an earlier era. The work of the great American photographers who documented the depression of the thirties come to mind. But closer in attitude is maybe the work of August Sanders in Germany a decade earlier. He had the sociological ambition to create a gestalt of German society by meticulously photographing people grouped together by their trades and professions.
  2. “Sphinx (inside-out)” portraits not just individuals. The three groupings of people in their distinct work clothes, with their distinct age signatures and their particular modes of individuality – if observed patiently and with consideration – render also three different societies to view and analyze. There is the post war industrial society that the factory workers represent with its strong hierarchies, medium inequality and broad based solidarity. There is the anarchic, egalitarian society of the squatters with its narrow group solidarity, that only seems to exist outside historical time, in between. There is finally the society of the current people with its weak hierarchies, extreme inequality and unrealized solidarity, forty years in the making, tottering on the brink of its unmaking.
  3. “Sphinx (inside-out)” asks the question of society, again, anew.

A city gets real

  1. The hundreds of photographic portraits of “Sphinx (inside-out)” share just five backgrounds. Those five backgrounds tie them all, the individuals, the factory workers and the debt they are owed, the three societies rendered, one definitely past, the other that only exists in between, the third present at its own unmaking, the distinct clothes, age-signatures, individualities, the identities undermined and the boundaries blurred, these five backgrounds tie them all to a city, a specific city, to the pale stone of hedonistic Maastricht, the city of the good life, that has erased, finally, definitively its industrial past, that has polished its roman, medieval and mercantile buildings to a shine, that aims to please, to entertain and to satisfy.
  2. Of course the falsehood of the studio background betrays itself to the alert and careful observer. It is that staged betrayal of a falsehood that delivers the final message of the “Sphinx (inside/out)”. It reveals that neither the factory workers nor the squatters have ever belonged to this polished, shiny, instagrammatic city they are tied to. It shows that the creative professionals that have become the current users of the renovated buildings do seamlessly fit. This falsehood that unmakes itself, that lies at the heart of this iteration of Inside/out, is a challenge. It challenges current users and current city in the name of factory-workers and squatters. It challenges them to become real, to act in accordance with justice, to embrace the ugly, the stranger and the weird. Welcoming the Syrian refugees would have helped. Fighting for the Union of democracies, formerly known as European will help. Paying the debt owed to the people with low education who for over forty years have not shared in the accumulation of wealth, will help. Embracing critical thinking and by doing that becoming a university city instead if a city with a university, will help. And finally cherishing contemporary art will help: you will -be grateful!- not be entertained.


Making of Sphinx (inside-out)

Square re-edit of RTV Maastricht news for social media.

Originally broadcasted 26.02.2019, https://www.rtvmaastricht.nl/nieuws/144162539/kunstproject-als-eerbetoon-aan-geschiedenis-sphinxkwartier