The contrast between the bright sunlight, pounding music and creative frenzy of street artists outside a crumbling old factory in Rotterdam, and the calm, dark interior of the very same abandoned building couldn’t have been more striking. Stepping through the doorway into the cavernous interior was like entering an alien world, one not meant to be discovered by most of humanity.
You can almost imagine future generations of archaeologists excavating this site with their tiny brushes and trowels, pondering over the meaning of artworks this elaborate in a location this obscure, far from the heart of the city. Was it a religious site? Were rituals performed here to the gods? Which gods? What do these paintings tell us of a civilisation long vanished?
Inside, the building was transformed into a world populated by creations as weird, wonderful and elusive of meaning as the Nazca Lines or Lascaux Cave paintings. As I wandered around, it struck me that not unlike the stained glass windows of churches, the bright and bizarre paintings inside this decaying building made it into a street art cathedral. There was probably more pigeon crap on the floor, but that’s also found in cathedrals.
Some graffiti inside the building dated from well before the street art event happened outside. Some pieces were tagged from 2015, others from 2012, although judging by the state of decay, the building had been abandoned for much longer. This will only add to the confusion of future archaeologists.
We’d come to this anonymous part of Rotterdam because of a promotional event for a tattoo shop. Walls and Skin were hosting a street art party to celebrate the opening of their new shop, and numerous well known Dutch street artists were taking part. While everyone else was painting, we were just hanging around drinking free cocktails, and watching the artworks transform the brick exterior of the building.
The funny thing about all of this is that none of the creativity on display in the old factory would ever see the light of day. Even the works on the outside of the building wouldn’t be seen by many. This isn’t art for public consumption. Instead it seems intended for personal satisfaction, or for the community of artists and followers who know where to find it.
One of the most interesting things about seeing all these different artists and artworks side-by-side, was just how varied the styles are. For someone whose street art education only began when they moved to London’s Shoreditch – where Banksy made his name painting anarchist rats and ecstasy-faced policemen – it’s fascinating to see this collision of different work.
It may be that I don’t understand the subtleties of the work, but most street art I’ve seen in the Netherlands doesn’t seem overtly political, or to be making any obvious social commentary. It’s a striking difference between the work I knew in East London and here, but maybe that’s just because Britons have more to be pessimistic about …