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  • Gabrielle Antar

Culture: a right for all citizens?

The whole situation that went down at the iconic Batiment4 has compromised the creative Luxembourgish scene. I am going to start off with a personal note. Because I think the whole situation that has gone down at Batiment 4 is an attack on the youth, on our local creativity and our very limited and now non-existent community space. And, I am taking it very personally. Moreover, everyone who is craving for something new and different in Luxembourg should as well.

I only frequented the Batiment 4 for a handful of moments but I know that when I entered it for the first time and was aware that this place is real, I had a huge sense of relief. Finally! Finally, there is a place for alternative culture. There is a space where we can develop and redefine subcultures. Finally, a place centered on redefining community and creativity for our generation. It was the only place in the whole country where this kind of space was created for us to thrive and evolve.

There is a reason why all the talented creatives from Luxembourg do not live in the country. There is a reason why time and time again people try to stay to create something here and the bureaucracy not only allows them to not do so, but it also indirectly kicks you out of the country. Why? Because if there is no space for you to foster your culture and community, you will head out and go look for it in other cities where there is a multitude of Batiment4s.

A representative for Richtung 22, a group of politically-motivated theater and film artists, said that when the building was provided to them in 2021, people came from Berlin, Barcelona, Vienna to establish and help build voluntarily this space. After all this time, to be constantly fighting bureaucracy the people still within Batiment4 are exhausted. The goal was to gather around all the multifaceted forms of creative expression from recycled textile art to performance art.

Batiment 4 is a building that was supposed to house collective organizations from 2021 onwards. It is located in a specific industrial space away from residential areas in Esch. A city considered to represent culture given the multitude of events and projects organized for the occasion of Esch2022 where it held the title of European Capital of Culture. “Each year this label is awarded to a different city or area within the European Union,” it says on the Esch2022 official website. It is also the second largest city in Luxembourg and is known for housing more alternative communities in contrast to the capital and the yearly pride event.

Even though it is owned by Arcelormittal, a Luxembourg-based multinational steel company, and FrEsch, the municipal cultural organization, was responsible for allocating the spaces to creatives. Batiment4 was supposed to be a self-governed and independent space; the commune hijacked this process, representatives of the organization pointed out. Most testimonies wanted to remain anonymous in order to keep them protected from the commune’s backlash. The budgets given ranges in the limited thousands of euros while an event such as Francofolies was given the large sum of €1.6 million. BUNKER Arts + Vintage received €2000 from the municipality.

Last week on the 1st of June, BUNKER and Cell, two collective organizations were informed without an official document that they had a couple of days to leave the premises. This came as a shock to them because to their knowledge, they were awaiting the approval of the extension of their contracts that ended on the 31st of May. Instead, they had to pack all of their belongings immediately.

BUNKER, an art collective focused on multidisciplinary and upcycling creative work existing within the basement of the building for the past year, had organized an event for the 3rd of June in collaboration with another collective in Batiment 4 called Nobody Owns Culture, a collaborating art collective, to host a party with Brussels well-known clubbing collective C12. They have had a permission from the mayor for this event since the 19th of May of 2023. But, by chance, they were informed of their expulsion the very day before the event was supposed to take place.

The argument used by frEsch was that “two fires were lit near two emergency exits in an area enclosed by a fence, despite the formal prohibition,” frEsch representatives said in a response to a Woxx article. This is the reason that was given for the expulsion. They received no official confirmation, just a CCed email.

“There is no agreement between noc.turn asbl and frEsch asbl for the provision of premises at B4. No request for the organization of an event has been sent to frEsch asbl by noc.turn asbl. […] frEsch asbl is solely responsible for safety at B4 and must ensure that safety rules are respected within B4,” they added in their response to the alternative media.

This “fire” that was lit was actually a small barrel where they “were able to stop the flame within a very short time,” BUNKER said in their statement of the event. “No effort for investigation and zero chance for explanation were given,” they added. After their expulsion, a sign for VIP entrance for the Francofolies, an event tailored to the upper class, was put up in front of the building.

And, coincidentally, in the following week, Richtung 22’s banner saying “Open the frEsch Blackbox now” was taken down of which they found the ashes ironically burnt in the courtyard of the building.

The eviction at the drop of a hat has left many people who were and still are part of the building unsure of the future of their collective spaces despite all of the unpaid work that was put in just to create a space for themselves.

“I was just happy to be there sharing and exchanging with people, creative people, having the space, having the options for different activities […] because it wasn't that common especially inside of Luxembourg. So that was one of my only ways to connect with like-minded people around here,” said Rey, the project leader behind BUNKER.

“I came up with this idea of upcycling, upcycled, textile and making collaborations with artists through the context of the art collective as well. So we could all gather under one roof and continue to do what we like to do,” she added.

“It's also a lot of hours of work that have gone into the imagination of the building. And I think that's also a bit disgusting. Because it's reminiscent of gentrification, because somewhere along the line you establish something, you establish a system, you establish a way of working. And once it's up and running, [they start kicking us out,]” said a person who is part of Richtung 22.

“But the thing that tipped us off to the fact that we certainly weren't going to stay was that all [of what the collectives at Batiment4 are organizing], apparently, isn't pretty and super clean. It's a bad image for ArcelorMittal. We heard that from the alderman for Culture in Esch,” said the interviewed people who are and were part of Batiment4.

“[Rey] devoted herself to this project, she fought for it, and she carried out a renovation that I've never seen Rey do. She did everything, she did everything for this goal, which was to bring creative people together and to bring different audiences together […]. Because creatives have a magnetic effect, they attract certain people around them and others,” a Nobody Owns culture person said.

“It's about rallying around art and rallying around the simplicity of a message of values that are a bit alternative […]. And so it bothers [the municipality]. I clearly felt that as an outsider, as a person close to the project, as a person involved in an ASBL, I felt that it bothered them at all levels,” they added.

The fight has been tough for those part of the Batiment4, which houses around 20 collectives; to a point where they do not have energy left in them to continue and would rather just leave to somewhere where their hard work in upkeep and cultivating a space is valued. “Life is a lot simpler abroad, so it's easy to understand why people don't come back when it's not as if there's a shortage of money,” said a person from Richtung22.


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