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David Claerbout, ‘Weather engine’, 2018

Central Station | World

The Central Station metro-hall of the North/South line is located 15 meters below the water level and directly below the station square. The impressive metro-hall is sometimes called ‘the cathedral’ because of its great height, the striking ceiling and the monumental pillars. An elongated recess above the tracks was chosen as the site for the commissioned artwork. A media screen was planned for this recess of 2.5 by 23.5 meters.

The assignment to the selected (video) artists was to reflect on the city from a global perspective and to develop an inspiring work as a window on a new world. The artwork thus forms a triptych with contemporary work by Jennifer Tee in the station concourse-hall and Cuypers’ historic decoration programme on the façade of the station building.


The work during one of the try-outs. | Photo: Jorrit ’t Hoen

Parallel world

David Claerbout (Kortrijk, BE, 1969) was awarded the commission. Looking at the characteristic architectural forms of the metro-hall, Claerbout immediately thought of Mondrian. He then drew a parallel with the painter’s early landscapes and with the lines in the landscape to the north of Amsterdam. There he also found the starting point for the elongated art space.

Claerbout proposed a digital work, based on a strongly composed canal landscape. In the landscape the seasons pass by: the trees lose their leaves or burst into bloom, the grass grows or wilts, the sky is cloudless or grey clouds amass, powder snow falls gently or it is so cold that the screen behind which the landscape unfolds freezes. The landscape reveals what kind of weather the traveller may expect at the same time the next day: the artwork functions as a ‘weather engine’.

In this parallel world there dwells a character who cares about the landscape. If it rains and there is a risk of flooding, then he goes to work with a bucket. If many leaves fall, he rakes them into large heaps. If the sun breaks through, he will enjoy its rays or put up a tent. The actions are repetitive and form a parallel with the routine of the travellers. In the rush hour every morning, the character starts his chores; by the end of the afternoon he has literally done mountains of work and it is time to rest. The landscape and the character form an anchor point for the travellers.

Game techniques

Studio David Claerbout spent three years working on the digital construction of the landscape, blade of grass by blade of grass and leaf by leaf. The work is based on game technique which the studio developed and adapted to the needs of creating a landscape, moving the person and announcing the weather. The final real-time work is also fed by Internet sources that provide weather data. In addition to the repetitive actions, the studio also programmed more incidental events – ideas for these events were gathered by Claerbout during a session with future travellers and other interested parties.


Behind the scenes on the programmers’s screens | Image: Claerbout Studio

About the artist

David Claerbout was trained as a painter but became more and more interested in time through investigations in the nature of photography and film. Fusing together the past, present and future into stunning moments of temporal elasticity, his works present profound and moving philosophical contemplations on our perception of time and reality, memory and experience, truth and fiction. Claerbout is an internationally acclaimed artist.

Recently Claerbout developed his work ‘Olympia’, a computer-generated replica of the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. Because the actual aging data are entered, the work is ‘real-time’ and it is a work of art with a long lifespan of 1000 years.

About the work

Title: ‘Weather engine’ | Opening: 28 June 2018. | Material: digital film, using game techniques and fed by the Internet. | Measurement: circa 2.5 x 23.5 m.


Film stills of the character at work | Image: Claerbout Studio