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Vijzelgracht Station

Marjan Laapers, ‘Ramses Shaffy, Lifelines’, 2016

Vijzelgracht | Street

Every day about 40,000 passengers use the Vijzelgracht Station. The station offers tourists, art lovers, and local residents access to the extraordinary architecture and urban design of the canals, the Museumplein, the De Bazel municipal archives, and the galleries on the Lijnbaansgracht.

This area reflects the important role of the enterprising and artistic inhabitants of Amsterdam in the city’s rich cultural past and present. It is the builders, architects, artists and performers who add colour to the city and have tangibly contributed to the Amsterdam of today. An ode to the big within the small is here in order: the city viewed from the perspective of the individual, the street.


Artwork during one of the try-outs | Photo: Ge Dubbelman

Ramses Shaffy Art Project

One of those residents was actor and chansonnier Ramses Shaffy (1933-2009), born in Paris, the son of an Egyptian diplomat and a Polish countess, and a symbol of the turbulent 1960s and ’70s. The initiative to focus on Shaffy at the Vijzelgracht Station came from Nigaio Wijnen and Rob Jansma, admirers of Shaffy, and was inspired by the Jacques Brel Station in Brussels. Wijnen and Jansma’s initiative took shape in the Ramses Shaffy Art Project.

Artists could participate by submitting a sketch for a permanent location: a 24 x 13-metre glass wall above the escalator. Travellers will have a long time to enjoy looking at this wall: the escalator is the longest in the Benelux countries. Part of the commission was to put Shaffy’s significance in a broader context.

Change in course

Marjan Laaper (Rotterdam, NL, 1971) won the competition and was allowed to develop her design. Laaper immersed herself in Shaffy by studying his biography, and she became intrigued by the course of his life, influenced by chance encounters that produced surprising twists. She decided to display 28 of these individuals who influenced Shaffy – his parents, partners, colleagues, friends.

For each of them she created a lifeline with important moments in relation to Shaffy’s life. The lifelines together form a portrait of Shaffy, which builds up in all kinds of different and sometimes abstract sequences. The lines and nodes resemble lines in a subway network. The work has a broader significance beyond commemorating Shaffy’s life: it invites the traveller to ask him or herself who plays or has played an important role in his or her life, who has represented a turning point or produced a change of course.

LED lines

Laaper previously worked mostly with video projection. She soon realized that for this specific location video was not an option because of its limited durability. She therefore searched for an alternative form, which could meet both her own artistic standards and the (safety) technical standards set by the station environment.

The choice fell on LED lines, placed in specially manufactured containers behind the glass wall. The glass panels were provided with a light-blocking layer that followed the lifelines and junctions, so that the LED lines become sharply visible from the front side. After the installation, all the individual lines were programmed for colour, brightness and the speed with which they light up. A total of 39 sequences have been programmed. These are played randomly, so that the frequent traveller encounters different combinations when using the station repeatedly. Shaffy’s portrait appears several times an hour.


Marjan Laaper’s sources of inspiration taken from her sketches | Image: Marjan Laaper

Space for art in the metrostation

For our ‘Space for Art’ video series, we visited various projects and members of QKunst’s community. In the video below, we speak to Marjan Laaper about the importance of art in the metro station.

About the artist

Marjan Laaper studied at the Willem de Kooning Academie and the Rijksakademie Amsterdam. She has held residencies in the United States, Japan, China and Iceland. The lifecycles of humans and in nature play an important role in her video-work and installations.

About the work

Title: ‘Ramses Shaffy, Lifelines’ | Opening: 8 December 2016. | Material: LED lines behind glass with a light-blocking layer. Measurement: circa 24 x 13 m.