IJsblokkenactie [Ice Block Action]

Pan am foto 1188

Dr. Hugo Heyrman Panamarenko

1968

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The events of May 1968 reverberated in Belgium too, at the Université Libre de Bruxelles first of all, and then at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, also in Brussels, on 28 May 1968. Antwerp followed suit two days later with the creation of the Vrije Aktiegroep Antwerpen (‘Antwerp Free Action Group’ – VAGA). This loose group of individuals reacted against the rigid policies of the city’s Museum of Fine Art, focusing primarily on social and ecological issues. VAGA declared, for
instance, via a manifesto and a non-violent occupation with a sit-in on 23 June 1968, that it wanted Conscienceplein, a square in Antwerp, to become a car-free zone. The following week, the demonstrators brought road signs with them
bearing the words ‘Autovrije zone’. The local police countered the demonstration by blocking off neighbouring Wolstraat with their van, forcing cars to drive across Conscienceplein.

And then it happened: Ludo Loose (Ludo Martens) drove up in a truck and asked the police if he could park on the square to unload blocks of ice for a restaurant’s refrigeration system. Permission was granted, but rather than delivering the blocks to the restaurant, he unloaded them – assisted by Hugo Heyrman and Panamarenko – onto the road. Panamarenko had the idea of stacking the blocks to form a cube shape, with the result that they stuck together and froze onto the road surface, turning the ice into a natural traffic barrier. The structure is strongly reminiscent of Allan Kaprow’s Fluids (1967), albeit on a smaller scale and with a bigger social impact. The police had no option but to reopen Wolstraat to traffic. The campaigners’ success was celebrated exuberantly on the square the following week, in a full-on street party. White balloons were handed out, turf laid, bands invited and films screened, including Marcel Broodthaers’s Le Corbeau et le Renard and Joseph Beuys’s Eurasienstab. The city council eventually gave in to the demands to
pedestrianize the square.

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