The IJssel biennial is an art event along the IJssel River. The IJssel biennial is a tribute to the IJssel, the most beautiful river in the Netherlands. How? By telling the story of the river and the region through art. The concept of a sculpture trail exhibiting the works of national and international artists in public spaces in the region’s most beautiful settings every two years was conceived in 2013. The 2017 edition is the first.
The IJssel has changed dramatically in recent years as a result of global climate change. We therefore asked artists to focus on the causes and consequences of climatological change in the IJssel valley. Subjects such as the malleability of nature, high tide and floods have yielded artworks depicting dreams, utopian visions, or calamitous scenarios of doom.
The Dutch riverscape is a source of inspiration to artists. Landscape art has a long tradition in the art scene. The relationship between artists and nature and the landscape is subject to continually changing conditions. The art evolves with the landscape.
Climate change has necessitated significant interventions in the riverscape of the Netherlands for ten years. The ‘Ruimte voor de Rivier’ project was developed and executed in 2007: a Department of Waterways and Public Works project in which the riverscape is being modified drastically to improve water safety. It is producing a new landscape, sometimes at the cost of the existing landscape to which many Dutch are attached. But it is part of a centuries old tradition of our continual manipulation of the landscape.
The river is primarily a landscape feature, but it represents so much more: industry, economy, agriculture, livestock farming, the fishing industry, transport, architecture, shipping, tourism, et cetera. In principle, a river is ‘a natural watercourse’, but in the Netherlands, we have manipulated rivers in every possible way, even when we decide to allow the water free rein here and there.
The essence of the IJssel biennial is how artists respond to this. The IJssel valley, from Doesburg to Kampen, is a platform for their imagination. Twenty eight national and international artists were invited to create artworks at specific sites. The point of departure for the artists is the relationship between the river as a natural phenomenon and as a waterway controlled by man in an age of climatological change. They demonstrate that there are numerous ways of adapting to change, even when one has no control over it. With a meandering river such as the IJssel, you never know exactly what might be waiting around the next corner. The panorama changes continually. The art meanders too. Together with the museums in the cities along the river, this unique event reveals how artists depict our changing relationship with the IJssel.
Alex de Vries
2 March 2017