By Guido Cocconi
Last summer in Groningen, homeless couple Mila and Henry found the most unusual shelter inside an outdoor art installation. Guido Cocconi wrote about his encounter with the couple and the artist for 9to5.
The artists behind the Norderlicht Bloom project discovered that homeless found regular night shelter in one of the “doorways” in Akerkhof’s public garden. The homeless couple were grateful they received permission to remain from the project.
In the summer of 2021, the pandemic restrictions requirements on gatherings posed an obstacle for all indoor art exhibitions. Exhibiting art in public gardens worked as the fittest solution to the problem, as they enabled an outdoor space and a free flow of viewers. Yet, artists could not have expected how common folk would engage with the art.
Hugo Braams is a Dutch painter from the Bloom project and his “doorway” was located in the Akerkhof public garden. The artwork is named “Void tunnel” and became a home for a homeless couple.
“My doorway depicts the experience of the pandemic time, as a grey washed out tunnel that constantly held a bright light of perspective at the end of it, but never came to grips with what is at the end of it,” said Hugo to 9to5.
Around mid-August Hugo was informed that someone was sleeping inside his structure. He was glad to find out that, in a way, the work provided comfort and shelter where there would not have been otherwise. The work was placed in a public domain and he though it was right that someone took shelter in it. After all, “there is no guideline as in how to interact with the work” said the artist.
Henry, 51 years old, and Mila, 33 years old, are the homeless couple that slept in the “Void Tunnel”.
Sleeping alone on the street is dangerous, “you get very tired from constantly watching for dangers in the street,” Henry told 9to5, “we have good rest here, really”.
Mila was robbed once of all her belongings – clothes, money, mobile phone and paper documents. She also feared someone would rape her when she found herself alone at night. But dangerous people stayed away from the old Church’s public garden.
They felt safe and at home. “I’m feeling very happy, like I’m not homeless” said Mila, with an incredulous smile. “God sent me here, I think”.
Henry and Mila were happy to have received permission to stay. In return, they would keep watch so that no one would steal or damage the artworks in the garden. They would also clean the trash people left around the garden.
Mila said she has sad moments during the day, when past memories arise, but by meeting and talking to new people, this place helped her not to think about them.
9to5 asked Hugo what happened when people experienced artwork, and if he believed that anyone was able to experience art.
“Of course they can, isn’t a homeless person simply someone like the rest of us?” He also added that, “an artwork serves as a trigger or a vessel of some sort. Like a big red red button that screams ‘don’t press me!’ and doesn’t tell you what happens if you do”.
Pointing at the painted canvas, Mila said she could see a devil hiding, “he’s small and he’s flying” she said, laughing at her fantasy.
“It’s a tunnel, with the devil coming out from the ceiling,” added Henry. “Look here,” he pointed towards a bright blue detail, painted on the right side of the installation. “It’s in corona times, because there is a face mask!”