Arts & Giving | Diary of a Somebody

Job Smeets

The design star recalls a fellow student’s art project that kicked up a storm

Job Smeets

April 16 2011
Job Smeets

Day: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Nico, my old friend from art academy, came up with what – as far as I know – was the most talked-about final project in years. As the only child of fairly rich parents – his family was in the banking industry – he had a comfortable life as a student. You might say he had an instinct for making the francs roll in his direction. He could set the coins jingling like a master musician plays the xylophone.

On Judgment Day, December 19 1999, Nico went down to the local tool-rental company to pick up two industrial-quality, diesel-fuelled wood-chipping machines. He positioned them with perfect symmetry in front of the large entranceway to the – government-supported – second-hand recycling centre which normally supplies furnishings to the unemployed, asylum seekers, students, people on tight budgets, and anyone who keeps a firm grip on the wallet. Old kitchen tables, beds, sofas, table lamps, oak cabinets – anything and everything.

After positioning the machines, which were large enough to pulp a fair-sized tree, Nico – under the watchful eye of his examining committee – went into the shop, a former military hospital. In the record time of five minutes, he bought the entire inventory for 30,000 francs cash on the counter. A moment later, he was starting the diesel engines.

With the help of two strong assistants, and to the astonishment of a large crowd of low-income onlookers – it was a busy time of day – Nico systematically dragged one piece of furniture after another out of the shop and crammed them all into the merciless maws of the wood chippers.

Hacking and coughing, the two machines covered the street and the onlookers in a thick layer of shredded-wood confetti. To make the carnival complete, Nico slid two enormous, orange foam-rubber hands over his own fists, with two colossal middle fingers pointing straight up to heaven. He stood in front of the store provocatively, with his back to the chippers.

It was an impressive, symmetrical triangular composition: the roaring machines surrounded by disappointed spectators, streaming sawdust, the 18th-century cast-iron gates of the centre, and, in the middle of this gruesome scene, Nico with his giant synthetic fingers, utterly deranged, offering the biggest possible “f--- you” to all humanity.

After the local paper, tipped off by yours truly, had snapped this infamous final project for its cover of the week, the farce soon came to an end when the local cops treated the heroic trio to a night behind bars.

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