Industrial becomes urban

The preservation of unused industrial sites always brings along a conundrum – what to do with this space? Having the recognition of the historical and cultural value of a closed industrial site from UNESCO is an achievement. However, is displaying what used to happen there enough?

The UNESCO World Heritage Site at Völklingen has embraced its cultural significance and uses its large site to show works of art as well as tell the now faded industrial history of the region.

In the description of the blower hall, I had already indicated the current exhibition of significant music videos. That is just the start of the art journey across the whole site. Since 2011, the site has hosted art festivals every two years the “Urban Art Biennale”. The artworks of the first events were only displayed in the year of their creation, since 2017, some works have remained at the site.

What had originally been an exhibition in the Möllerhalle, the burden shed, the building in which the raw ingredients for the furnaces were stored and mixed, is now an international centre for urban art. The works on display there during my 2022 visit include these.

I had planned to return for another shorter art-focussed visit, but did not manage to before the biennale finished. The bottom two photos my be of artworks which will remain. The one with the lockers placed around a room is an oral history collection. Some of the lockers contain speakers through which stories of former workers at the ironworks talk about their time there. As it relates to the ironworks rather than being urban art, I suspect it may remain permanently.

The wall with the handprints may not be a formal artwork at all, it could just be hand-prints from people who were there when there was mud around to use!

The artworks on display outside the building are likely to be the more permanent exhibits. The giant gorilla is quite well known, and there is signage to it, suggesting people come to see King Kong. I hope to visit the car on multiple occasions to see how it changes with the seasons and over time.

This image of a face is also quite well-known, it is used in local press articles about activities taking place at the ironworks. I like the way the contrast was created by chiselling and creating shadows, which are more or less apparent depending on the angle from which the image is seen.

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