Objet Mathématique shimmers and shines as it used to when first made. It was part of the project ‘Le Poème Electronique’ that Le Corbusier produced for the Philips pavilion at the World Exhibition of 1958 in Brussels. After forty years in storage at Philips Lighting, it was given a new home on the KOE field.
And since then it has stood outdoors in all sorts of awful weather. Which makes its maintenance essential. This past week the artwork was carefully repainted in three days with RAL 6000 (green), 5003 (blue), 3020 (red), 1013 (yellow) and a glossy grey. “The structure had started to rust after having been damaged,” says Henk van Heeswijk (54). He and his partner Ton Hoeks (50) have now completed this job for the third time. It is work that requires some tricky crawling around all those bars, but Van Heeswijk calls it “challenging and something different”.
Read on below the photo.
Not that their work has ever been monotonous. As well as recoating artworks, they have painted complete floors of Traverse, Laplace and plenty of other buildings. They have fitted glass, covered walls in MetaForum with posters of yellow flowers, hung up signposting, and drawn yellow stripes where no cars are allowed to park. And painted the parking spaces too, some of them with a wheelchair symbol by hand with a paintbrush full of white paint.
“I was a lad of 16 when I first came here,” says Hoeks. “TU/e feels like home. Until 2015, when a new European contract was put out to tender, our boss was Van Vonderen, the TU/e's own painter. In our heyday there were thirty of us painters working in the summer and fifteen in the winter. Eventually, we could get all the work done with just the two of us. When a building is being renovated the painting is included in the job; we aren't involved.” Currently Van Heeswijk and Hoeks come along to the campus only once a month on average.
And they enjoy being here! “Not everyone wants to work here, we have plenty of colleagues who would rather be working on new builds. You haven't got any residents and users there, it's nice and quiet,” says Hoeks. “The most important thing here is to take account of the students and staff. They must be able to carry on with their lectures and research.” “It's not that the work here is the best, it's that working with the people here is the best,” adds Van Heeswijk.
They can almost read each other's minds. They have been working together as a team for more than 25 years and they see more of each other than they do of their own wives. And they carpool from Bergeijk, where they live only 50 meters from one another. They really enjoy this working partnership. “Ton only has to look over his shoulder and I know what I need to pass to him. What's more: I've already got it in my hand,” says Van Heeswijk.
How do they keep it fun? “Humor. One time we spooked an intern so thoroughly that he took off to the station and caught a train back to his mother.” The memory makes them laugh. Another example: “Traverse used to have terracotta walls of a soft porous stone. We had to paint the walls white and the TU/e employees weren't slow to give their opinion. Too much like a hospital, too echoey, and the like. So I explained that the white walls offered protection against vermin, and that made everything okay.” Then Hoeks took down a painting from a wall that hadn't yet been painted and, indeed, silver fishes skittered away. Opposition solved!
Over time the humor has diminished. “Everything has to be done quicker, there's no time anymore for having a laugh.” Less time maybe, but more people, especially more girls and international students. Hoeks: “When I first started there was a huge gulf between academic staff and students. ‘Professor, Sir’ was a customary form of address. If anyone so much as saw a radio, there'd be a telephone call saying it had to be switched off. ”
Another change relates to the accessibility of the buildings. “There are now places we can't get to with our van. If we have a job to do in Gemini, it is a fair way to walk with our pots of paint,” say Hoeks by way of example, but it's not a heartfelt complaint. A positive change he has noticed is that the TU/e buildings have become easier to maintain and more sustainable. Although for his profession that isn't such a good thing.
Something the painters really don't like? If in their eyes the paintwork isn't good enough. If the budget means they can paint only half a window frame. Or aren't allowed to put on a top coat of paint. Then it doesn't look good “and we'll be the ones in the hot seat”.
Recently the golden letters in Mens Agitat Molem, visible from the Kennedylaan, have got another lick of paint. The result will no doubt be attractive. Just like the blindingly white ‘Bolplastiek met zadel’ ('Spherical plastic with saddle') by Frans Peeters. This artwork on the second floor of Auditorium was damaged, but after Van Heeswijk and Hoeks had intervened, you wouldn't even know.