The Endless City
The Endless City is a great piece of sculpture. It is the result of the co-operation of the Dutch sculptors Joop Beljon and Ellen Vos. The result of this co-operation of twenty years is a truly remarkable work of art. Except for watching the Endless City live, the best way to enjoy it is to watch the slide show on this website.
Joop Beljon was director of the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, The Netherlands from 1956 until 1984. He taught his own class in the basic principles of design. In this weekly class were the best students that attended the academy. Beljon was very strict when it came to taking on students. He assigned the class different kinds of projects, like building sculptures in brick. First the whole class went to a builders course to master the art of brick laying. The maestro learnt to lay bricks himself and worked closely together with his students. Each student would design and build a sculpture. In the same way Beljon worked with textiles, reed and wax. The latter would turn out to be life changing for Joop Beljon. By the end of the seventies, he started to make small jewelry in wax. He had already done something similar, but in this new era the items he made were more organically shaped, rather than square. He decided to have his students work with wax. He gave them all a small amount of wax and waited for them to come back with small sculptures. One of his students would turn out to be ultimately better at this than the others. The result was spot on. Joop Beljon asked her to work with him. This was the beginning of a very fruitful working relationship. The first project resulted in a series of silver jewelry.
Very soon the working relationship between Beljon and Vos turned into a completely equal one. Starting with jewelry, they soon started producing small sculptures. After that bigger sculptures, better sculptures and more sculptures. They worked like musicians. They got together every week for what they liked to call jam sessions. They both started working on a sculpture, swap them and refine the work of the other, put it aside and pick it up later on. This process would repeat itself right until the moment they decided together that the sculpture represented the best of their abilities at that particular time. Sometimes one of the sculptures was ruthlessly rejected and cast aside to be turned into new basic material, fluid wax. Work that was up to standard would be put away in a large fridge, to prevent the sun from melting it. Later they started to put the sculptures together in small groups. Following nature and without setting out to a specific goal, a town-like entity arose consisting of wax structures.
Structures, spaces between the architectural elements, water, a ship and eventually cathedrals and an airport with large birds as aircrafts. The town grew in size, structures grew in numbers, the project ripened. More layers were added. The shapes became more complicated and the beauty of it all grew exponentially. This city in wax as a whole turned out to be ultimately more beautiful than the individual sculptures. The sculptures seemed to lift each other up. Beljon and Vos started getting together more often and most of the time they worked well into the night. Eventually they would work together this way for over fifteen years.
Somewhere along the way, they started to call their project the Endless City. Like a real life city, this wax city would never be finished. There is no final form, it changes through time like nature. It is organic. But still the moment came that the work had to enter the final phase. Wax had to be turned into a more solid material. Step by step the sculptures were turned into bronze. This last phase took another ten years. Of course the Endless city consisted of a lot of sculptures, many of which had to be sculpted again to make the bronzing process possible. The process of cire perdue(lost wax), demands a very specific way of sculpting so as not to lose the initial shape of the sculptures. This method is different from other bronzing techniques because it can only be done once. The plaster cast that is made around the wax sculpture is lost in the process, like of course the wax model itself. This way, all the sculptures and in fact the whole Endless City, are unique.
The development of the Endless City went on but would eventually come to a full stop because of the death of Joop Beljon on December 12th 2002. The last three pieces that were not yet bronzed were finished shortly after his death.
The Endless City is unique in several ways. You will find no similar sculpture anywhere in the world. The collaboration of two sculptors for over fifteen years makes the sculpture very well thought through. It was made better and better over and over again through time. That gives it an exceptional form of beauty. If Beljon and Vos could have continued working together, there would have been several changes. The Endless City would probably have looked different. Then again, it is complete as it is now. It does not need more changes. It is set in time. Still this work of art is very accessible, it calls to the imagination. Every time you view the Endless City, you see new details that you could not see before. That is what kept the sculptors going for so many years, because also for them, the Endless City slowly revealed its secrets, and gave them a different experience every day. And they made their decisions accordingly. And even though its shape is fixed now, for the viewer it is endless anyway.