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Geleenbeek under the Line  /

 This project is a commission for Museum Het Domein in Sittard Geleen. Once again I was working alongside curator Andy Brydon from Curated Place,  see more of our Secret Cities projects here.

Underground has long been the home for mythology and secrets within the city. No matter where you go there are always stories of hidden tunnels, a place where the rules no longer apply. Forming an alternative network of transit, communication and trade, the spaces just out of view have long conjured ideas of an alternative way of life within the built environment. In the collective imagination they become space where time and space become elastic – places of fantasy where the status quo can be thrown out.

But so often, pushed along by the pace of modern life, we fail to see the openings and opportunities for these dreams to become reality. The familiar space we occupy gradually take on the character of wallpaper in our lives as we hurry from meeting to meeting, commitment to commitment, never stopping to appreciate the places where we live. In our rush we miss both the fantasy and reality of our pace in the world, habitually ignoring even the points where the opportunities for simple adventure encourage us to indulge.

The industrialization of mining in particular created character that we have long associated with the underground. For the first time rather than being the realm of the supernatural the underground became populated and controlled by humanity and with it became the site of projections of our morality. The underground became a space where darkness was a useful tool under which the rules of the above ground world could be bent and broken without fear of reprimand.
Along with the power fossil fuels created came an explosion in urban construction; underground sewers and railways were constructed en-masse and the notion of the underground extend into aboveground space. In Sittard this included the culvert built over the Geleenbeek – the river that had served the town for both refreshment and sanitation for centuries, hidden in an industrial culvert to prevent the flooding created by rapid urbanization. 

In this new age cities evolved their own clandestine corners within the labyrinthine factories, tunnels and warehouses built at a scale never before possible. This shift dragged the moral and social dimension of escapism projected upon the mines into the city’s unseen spaces and so the underground moved from the physical spaces of the subterranean to occupy the imaginary spaces of the urban world.

But we don’t seem to see it anymore – it has become hidden in plain sight. The excitement of discovering these hidden corners have lost their promise of concealing hidden treasures or secretive societies. They have been replaced by a global web of drama and intrigue piped directly into our homes, computers and phones that we experience as individuals not as a geographically connected collective. It’s as though in becoming engaged with the global through our instantaneous communication devices we’ve lost a connection with the local and the creation of our own stories.

Beneath the streets of Sittard there is a remarkable space that carries the Geleenbeek secretly through the town - home to colossal spider’s webs, armies of flies and acrobatic bats constantly threatening to collide. It’s a surreal environment that feels infinitely separated from the order of the town above. However, it’s proximity to the city for anyone willing to explore this ignored space is palpable as delivery vehicles and shoppers private conversations are clearly audible through the manhole covers that separate this subterranean nature reserve from the retail heart of the town.

However, soon it will be gone, seeing the river once again returned to a position of prominance within the town. The construction of the Ligne development will see the Geleenbeek released form its industrial prison for the citizens of Sittard to enjoy once again. New parks and public space will accompany a 21st Century re-visioning of the town, again centred around the water that first brought life to the region.  But for now being under the town in such a parallel world stands as a stark reminder of how close one can be to the every-day and yet discover an entirely new environment completely divorced in pace, texture and tone. All one needs to do is look for it.

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Geleenbeek under the Line Secret Cities Sittard Geleen