Site-specific Art by Birthe Leemeijer

DokkumGeneral 10-2023

Birthe Leemeijer (Amsterdam, 1972) does not create static artworks. Observation, listening, and allowing things to happen are important to her. Her works have a continuous interaction with the environment, such as the ‘Vanishing Staircase’: a staircase in the Zocherpark in Utrecht that slowly disappears under the flowers and plants growing on and around it.

Unfortunately, an overzealous employee of the Utrecht greenery maintenance completely cleaned and burned the stairs one day because he didn’t realize it was art. The plants and flowers will have to grow again, and eventually, the staircase will disappear again.

Making Changing Weather Conditions Visible 

This incident illustrates how Birthe’s artworks blend into and become part of the environment. This is also the case with the Ice Fountain in Dokkum. Leemeijer specially designed a copper sculpture with organic-shaped elements for this northern Frisian city, from which water vapor rises. Depending on the sun, humidity, temperature, wind, and precipitation, the fountain makes changes in weather conditions visible in ice. Some days the ice is transparent and glassy, while under different conditions, ice crystals form on the relief. When it’s warmer, streams of water find their way across the sculpture. 

From the Rietveld Academy to Skilled Gardener

To make the fountain a sustainable whole, the energy needed to evaporate the water is generated by solar panels. And that’s not the only remarkable aspect of the fountain. The individual parts are arranged like the leaves of a plant to optimize the use of shading. It’s no coincidence that Leemeijer chooses nature as inspiration; after her education at the Rietveld Academy and the Sandberg Institute, she obtained her Skilled Gardener diploma from Wellantcollege in 2016. 

Birthe Leemeijer has an impressive array of exhibitions, shows, and artworks to her name, of which the Ice Fountain in Dokkum is just one. In 2020, she was in Dubai for the world exhibition Dutchdubai. And although transitioning from Dubai to Dokkum is quite a change, it would still be nice if she could visit Dokkum again to see how ‘her’ fountain is faring.