Sandro Setola – Untitled (House) (2011)


During his first solo exhibition, last year at the Beelden aan Zee sculpture museum in Scheveningen, Sandro Setola (b. 1976, Heerlen, lives and works in Rotterdam) showed his work Reservaat (2009), a wall built in a completely enclosed circle with an irregular design on its surface. A camera on a stand slowly revolved at the centre of the circle, creating a projection of a drab construction whose size could not be fathomed, running in a never-ending loop, showing the same reliefs and shadows over and over again. The wall was reminiscent of the Berlin Wall, the Israeli West Bank barrier, and every other wall or fence that has ever been set up to separate people. It also suggested the notion of gated communities in countries such as South Africa, Saudi Arabia and the United States, where rich people shut themselves away, safely protected from the wicked world outside. Setola very effectively demonstrated the grim nature of such constructions and the almost inhumanly high price that people pay for this apparent security.


In his drawings, films and three-dimensional work, Setola focuses on the urban and architectural environment and its influence on the individual. His works are often critical statements about the built environment and feature recurring themes such as isolation, expansion, decay and transformation. Setola identifies the discrepancy between what he perceives as the ideal situation and the actual situation, from which he takes inspiration to give shape to his own ideas about housing and construction. His opposition to currently accepted architecture is based on its finality. This is at odds with the dynamism and mutability of life. Buildings should actually develop and grow, just as organisms do in nature. Nature always forms the starting point of his art, or to be more precise: natural processes. One of his proposals for experimental architecture involves the shell, a shape that often features in his drawings and sculptures. The shell is the home of a mollusc – Setola appropriately calls these works Beachhouse – but is at the same time organic material that is growing larger, albeit very slowly. The shell gives sturdiness to the creature and protects it from all kinds of outside influences, while also growing along with the mollusc. This makes the shell an ideal living environment.


Like all the other buildings and surroundings that Setola designs and builds, his shell houses are obviously not functional – and often not even feasible from a practical point of view. They provide commentary on the existing urban living environment or lend expression to Setola’s utopian architecture.


For Lustwarande ’11, Setola built a house, around eight metres long and five metres high, in the style of American pioneers’ houses. He used the wood of recently felled trees in De Oude Warande. Like his circular wall, this house has no openings. Rough wooden planks cover the entire surface, including the openings. It was as though the house had been overgrown by the trees in the park. On the one hand, this means it is at harmony with its natural surroundings. On the other hand, Setola’s shuttered-up house alludes once again to the desire of modern people to protect themselves, which, taken to its extreme, alienates us from our fellow human beings.


Manon Braat / translation Laura Watkinson