Pieces of the pietonnier
Pieces of the pietonnier is an intervention that put the historical significance of the recent construction works of the city of Brussels into perspective by inviting people to take a part of it.
In our practice, we put a special emphasis on what trigger people to act, what influences them, what interests them. One element that stands out in our survey of objectal participation in the streets of Brussels is the ubiquity of tear-off tab flyers and posters. This ubiquity and supposedly popularity of the object puzzled us. We decided to test whether people were interested in the subject displayed on the poster, or the mere pleasure of tearing the paper away was driving them to interact with these objects.
In order to test that, we displayed some posters which were either ironic "do you like to tear-off paper tab?" or blank (a blanc poster with tear-off tabs). Much to our surprise, both worked well and the act of tearing off paper, of taking something out, seemed to be confirmed.
The experiment made clear that tearing something off and taking something away acted as a trigger for some people.
We wanted to see if we could use this trigger to probe the people on the historical significance of the recent works on the pietonnier. Before our intervention, the construction works had uncovered a large section of old buildings of archaeological interest: the former piers in the centre of Brussels. This discovery revealed a stark contrast between two urbanistic change separated by time. At the beginning of the XXth century, the Senne, Bruxelles' river, was covered for health and cleanliness reason and made way for more buildings. Compared to this engineering feat, turning an already existing street into a pedestrian one seemed a mundane change. We were curious to see how people reacted to this comparison and how they saw this works from a larger historical perspective.
If we wanted to lure them by tearing off a part of the city, how were we to do that? How could people take a part of a city during a historical moment?
One of our co-workers grew up in Berlin at the beginning of the 90ies and this question brought her back to her childhood, in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin wall. After the fall, people started to mine the remaining part of the wall, taking out parts of it first as a souvenir and then as commercial commodities. They realised that they could sell these otherwise worthless pieces of stone as a totem of this historical change. Real fake certificates started to pop up to highlight their significance, attesting that these rocks were once part of the wall.
In our installation, we mixed these influences and proposed to passers-by to take a piece of the construction works, and offered them a certificate, attesting that this piece was part of the construction works that turned the city centre into a pedestrian area. On top of this small package made of a piece of rock, a plastic box and a certificate, we displayed on our modules pictures of Brussels at different times ( in the middle ages, at the beginning of the XXth century, in the fifties, etc..) and pictures of the picketers in Berlin.
This installation allowed us to gauge the feeling of the people of Brussels when it came to the pietonnier and to approach different types of people, from homeless people to diplomats, from other parts of the world.