FRAGMENTS OF LIFE
Art has always been the trigger that has changed our way of life, living, thinking. One day when living in that country house, we met the art collector Anton Herbert and his wife Annick. She distributed the collection of France Andrevie and later of the Belgian designer Dirk Van Saene, and because of my shop in Quellinstraat I was interested to see the collection. When I entered the car park in Ghent I saw the writing of Laurence Wiener on the external wall of a warehouse; inside I was captivated by a work of Richard Long forming a circle in a beautiful and perfect space. Here a Dan Flavin on the wall and there a Jannis Kounellis in different corners of other rooms. This was a way of living that I felt was close to our philosophy; and the couple was so inspiring! I immediately called my husband and ordered him to jump into his car and come over to Ghent to see the house. That moment changed our lives! We immediately put the villa up for sale and we sold it quickly. We were rich (that’s what we thought), and with that money we wanted to buy a warehouse to transform into a loft! And so we did. After searching for many months we saw an advert saying: “Warehouse for sale, 500m2”. We went to see it and it was actually three floors of 500m2; a few days later we bought it. My parents were on holiday, it was the month of August; we were so convinced, but the warehouse was in a bad condition. You could see the pigeons and the sky above us! Many friends admired our courage…or were worried by our imagination and naivety. Who cares? It was the beginning of an amazing period in our life! When by chance I showed Wouter Hoste, a student of mine, the pictures of the warehouse we had just bought he said, well, my friend is an architect, why not talk to him. Good!!! I always like to work with young people and I invited him to my shop in Quellinstraat. Later he confessed that he parked his bicycle around the corner. He had just graduated and had no money, but this did not matter to my husband and me.
Conceptual art entered our lives!
Living in a 1.500m2 space is a pretty extreme way of living. The loft…the brief to the architect Kris Mys was very simple; put the staircase here, like Le Corbusier, from the basement to the second floor in one line to the sky, two chairs there, the industrial kitchen here; on the second floor the bathroom and the bedroom. In the middle of the building was an elevator for transporting goods, and there were those empty spaces where you could see down to the basement and up to the floor above. In fact, this simplicity was easy and complex at the same time. Kris, our young architect, was silent, but I felt our choice was made. My husband and I met him a few times and one day he brought a mock-up of the building. Amazing! We started working immediately on the sheer emptiness of the place. We finally achieved the most minimal result possible and we lived in that space for 10 years. We wrote on the wall “Less is more”. There was nothing more, oh yes, a TV and a sofa in the corner and, behind a wall, a library and an office desk. This ascetic way of living was a fantastic experience. I miss it now. Living in a city with a port makes a difference. Warehouses are perfect houses. You have no limits, no previous conceptions of what a house should be, only a shelter for feeling at home and protected. A façade 18 metres long and a depth of 30 metres, divided only by a wall and the staircase. What more could you want of a house than all concrete spaces, with light coming from the street or in from the roof. We started to work on the ‘Loft’. We put in floor heating, we built a staircase in concrete, we made a bathroom in white tiles and because we couldn’t afford expensive designer bathroom furniture – actually there was none that inspired us – so we decided to use garden fittings instead. The light in this space was unbelievable. At night with a full moon you could sit in our 500m2 living room and dream away! Thanks to our friends Anton Herbert and Annick, we rented out the ground floor to the best conceptual art gallery in Antwerp and Belgium, run by Micheline Swaijczer. Her portfolio consisted of names such as On Kawara, Torroni, Laurence Weiner, Dan Flavin and many others. Can you imagine that we had a Dan Flavin standing in a corner of our living room and a Richard Long on the floor? We also had an exhibition of furniture by Dan Graham in our house… Artists, photographers, friends came often to have a drink. The highlights of conceptual art were lying on the floor or hanging on our walls!