By Amée Zoutberg, Class of 2018
May 4, 2021
Much like Middelburg, Brussels is a city of great opposites. Life and movement starkly contrast decay and motionlessness. Worlds collide, yet entire ecosystems thrive in their isolate ways. There are a few differences, of course: where Middelburg is a past city of international grandeur, Brussels has recently regained its significant position in global politics.
But then the pandemic came, engulfing the capital in a wave of desolation.
Suddenly, exploring the urban jungle meant something completely different. After all, in classic urb-exing, risking a fine is only worth it if you get to romanticize ruins in return. At the same time, the city realized it could now finally reveal its bareboned brick and mortar. With no one there to see it, 191 years after Belgium was born, Brussels seemed to unite itself at last.
For me, working from home left plenty of time to balance the ever-changing line laid out by the Belgian government. Mask on, mask off. Doors open, lock up. We’ll never close the border with the Netherlands again – but don’t expect to actually be allowed to cross over. When you have nowhere to go, what more is left than your own backyard?
Sadly, I only have a small balcony, and so found myself meandering through the neighborhoods surrounding the European institutions. Between the usual buildings of power and prestige, the void behind the façade had expanded itself. At times, what I saw may have been described as ‘developing’, ‘alien’ and ‘apocalyptic’ by a modern day colonist.
In this New-Brussels, the shadows of demolished buildings that still cling to their neighbors’ sides had become more defined. Temples of money and trade had finally been emptied, but this time Brussels’ many defiled churches had not regained their stature in times of need. Bindweed and strangler’s fig continued their chokehold on an abandoned opera building. Flaking paint reminded me of civic psoriasis.
Suddenly I was struck by inspiration. The inner rot and decay foreshadowing what might have been, but likely will not be the outcome of this pandemic lay out in the open. With the photo series you are currently hopefully enjoying, I tried to capture that essence.
If the coronavirus had truly driven our society over the edge, this is what our future would have looked like. With that observation, another juxtaposition arose: civilization had not yet left this place, but it certainly looked like it did. The lockdown united and equalized Brussels. Its living mosaique had been wiped off the surface.
At the same time, I felt that when this artificial hibernation comes to an end, these islands of total destruction will not disappear.
The post-human landscapes of Brussels that caught my eye had been there for years, maybe even decades. It took life itself disappearing off the streets to unblock that view. It makes you think.
What if the apocalypse has always been right around the corner – and we have just chosen not to see it?