Images by Kelly Donckers & Jonathan De Maeyer

Ghosts in Town

Contributors: Jonathan De Maeyer, Ioana Lupascu, Claire Chassot & Tijana Petrović

What can we do as village dramaturgs in Wortel?

How are/can rural conditions in western and eastern Europe (be) linked?

What makes a house a home?

"Come here, come here!" Her voice carried across the street, beckoning those who knew her.

In the parking lot of De Guld Café in Wortel a slightly taller-than-legal house on wheels stood motionless after a long journey. Its sharp and light grey exterior is a strange invitation for snooping around.

Four individuals stumbled diligently to make this space feel like home, cleaning, wiping, hanging drawings and folding maps. They took breaks for coffee and cigarettes, making the space a little messier. They shyly called the passersby from the Sunday church service or the cafe visitors to join, but there was little avail, and that was also alright. The setting was there as an open invitation.

To the right, next to the bike parking area, a wide canvas displayed a printed image from Bucovina, marking the space between the street and the parking lot. You could see from both sides this atypical landscape had taken residence between two trees. Behind it, bar tables were draped with wine-stained cloths, further, you could spot an open car trunk supermarket refreshments - juices and water. There was no backstage to this parking lot dramaturgy, the stage-like spots set up for intimate chit-chat, snacking, sipping drawing, and hanging out. The air was a simmering scent of coffee, tea, and deliciously hard homemade chocolate cookies. 

And then there were five, R stopped in sight of the hanging landscape, and then they joined in helping out. "Come here, come here!" Her voice carried across the parking again, beckoning those who heard her to join in a photo together. And then there were eight, six, twelve, twenty, seventeen, or more.

It rained, maybe for the best. A small group sheltered inside the house on wheels, pushing the Kempen-printed landscape further inside to make space for each other. She spoke about her connection to this place, its history and Ar-tur. Another small group took Polaroid photos of the foreign landscape, drying dripped photos on the clothes. Others stumbled around, in search of nothing in particular while enjoying some snacks.

Sometime past one in the afternoon, under the tone of Andreea’s voice songs from Bucovina were sung. The audience joined in a dancing circle, a hora they call it. This dance is about spinning in circles while holding hands as a big group, the proximity is both awkward and endearing. Some scattered, some spun, and a lot of them took photos and smiled.

Event on the 22nd of Octobre 2023 in Wortel Dorp (Belgium), as part of “dorpsmakersfestival” organised by Ar-Tur, platform for architecture and space in the Kempen

Many thanks to Ar-Tur for organising this opportunity, to Gheorghiță Macovei from Sint-Jan Baptistkerk, the collective minds of Seasonal Neighbours, Edith Wouters, Ciel Grommen, Maximiliaan Royakkers, Annelies Hofmans, Sien Beyens, Bo Struyf, Zus & Peter Ouwerkerk from Dorpscafé De Guld, Dirk Vanhaute. There are many others that have helped in visible and invisible ways. We are grateful to have met you.

© Selma Gurbuz

Migrating Seasons 

Contributor: Anastasia Eggers

Can a farmers’ almanac become a tool to explore the distorted nature of post-seasonal agricultural practices?

The farmer’s almanac is a traditional calendar documenting the rhythm of the agricultural year including knowledge on sowing dates, tide tables, and weather forecasting. However, due to global trade and the modernization of agricultural technology, the knowledge of this almanac became obsolete or at least out-of-tune, as well as the traditional harvest celebrations and rituals.

Migrating Seasons is an attempt to redraw the farmers’ almanac according to the contemporary post-seasonal world, where the growing, harvesting, and consuming of food is no longer dependent on natural factors. The project looks at agricultural practices and their interdependence with phenomena such as the trans-European movement of workers and goods, international politics, labour rights, and energy supply. Several events representing crucial aspects of modern agriculture are highlighted on the timeline of the year. Can they become the subject of new celebrations and rituals that introduce the invisible realities behind our food system?

During the Seasonal Neighbours group exposition, a first two timelines/rituals were explored:

The Eggplant Relay
Every year during week 44 the "olympic fire" of the aubergine season is passed on from Westland (Netherlands) to Almería (Spain) to mark the switch of the seasons between Europe’s two biggest exporters of aubergines. Looking at how the season is directed by economic aspects, and what are the logistics making this switch possible, the project follows the aubergine season and its pathways and traces in Europe.

Bread and Salt*
On the occasion of the arrival of seasonal workers on Flevoland’s farms, locals reflect on their ideas on temporary habitation in the countryside by collecting objects that will be presented to the workers as a welcoming gift. The exhibition in Z33 was an in-between station for the objects that will be passed on to the workers at the beginning of the season in 2022. 

*Bread and Salt (Bulgarian: хляб и сол / Polish: chlebem I solą / Russian: Хлеб-соль) is a welcoming ceremony in several cultures that is mostly know by its Slavic names. Guests are welcomed with bread and salt, bread representing wealth and prosperity, and salt is associated with friendship.

Biography Anastasia Eggers 

Made possible by a grant from the Creative Industries Fund NL.


Contributor: Karolina Michalik

How can I explore representations of “Polskość” (Polishness) through the lense of migratory seasonal labour in the European countryside?

In Poland, harvest festivals called Dożynki were celebrated as early as the 16th century. Originally a folkloric event, the rural communities celebrated a year of harsh labour on the field with dance, songs, and art; specifically the weaving of a wreath (a wieniec) in the form of a crown from local grain harvests.

Looking to the contemporary forms of these celebrations as a public representation of the modern Polish rural identity, I observed folklore being used as a colourful tool of political agency: enabling and maintaining a selective interpretation of the past and present based on nostalgic, religious and land-rooted patriotism. Contemporary versions of rural culture, including migratory seasonal work, are excluded from this narrative.

My goal is to create a wieniec, that will be qualified to enter the competition for The Most Beautiful Wieniec Dożynkowy at the annual Presidential Dożynki hosted in Warsaw. This creation process is an attempt to broaden the folkloric representations of contemporary Polish rural identity; a hybrid construct entangled between strong notions of tradition and locality, and Poland’s engagement within the complexities of the European agricultural system. By doing so, it also seeks to debate the role of traditional artefacts as democratic tools for representing multidirectional narratives of exchange between history, surroundings, and communities.

Exposition: Z33 (Hasselt, BE) - 30 January 2022 > 17 April 2022

At the Seasonal Neighbours group exhibition in Z33 I presented the metal skeleton of the wieniec that will enter in the Presidential Dożynki 2022. The “architecture of the body” is one of the voting criteria (0-5 points) which refers to the overall form of the wieniec. While adhering to the guidelines provided in the contest rulebook, the form of this wieniec symbolizes my interpretation of work in contemporary European agriculture.

Biography Karolina Michalik

Photo documentation at the harvest festivals: Leo Malek


Image of the Romanian house of our colleague’s aunt, as send by Facebook messenger.

Images of the model in Z33, and the discussions around it.

Houses for a Seasonal Neighbourhood

Contributors: Maximiliaan Royakkers & Ciel Grommen

How to transform a Flemish suburban house into a residency for seasonal migrants?

How are/can rural conditions in western and eastern Europe (be) linked?

After picking strawberries in a greenhouse in Hoogstraten (BE) for two weeks, we decided to visit our former colleagues in their hometown Maneuti. The Romanian families proudly showed us their brand new houses that were built thanks to the money of their foreign labour. The houses, sampling bits and pieces of western suburban typologies in shape and lay-out, are inhabited in a peculiar way to us, out of tune with the lifestyle we would normally expect in such a lay-out.

To understand this contrast between the production of space and form, and the way of living, it helped us to look at the traditional houses in the Romanian countryside. There we learned that the house and the space around it unfold into overlapping places between public and private, inside and outside, allowing for a convivial coexistence with neighbours and livestock.

These observations lead us to question the built environment of the Flemish countryside and its typical housing typology, the fermette. By applying a logic of appropriation of form and space we will imagine a residence for migrant workers, inspired by our observations in Romania’s countryside and fed through conversations about the built environment and daily life in different Eastern European countries.

Exposition: Z33 (Hasselt, BE) - 30 January 2022 > 17 April 2022

For the Seasonal Neighbours group exhibition in Z33 our imaginations unravelled in a model of a prototypical street of the Flemish countryside. Over the course of the exhibition, conversations with different stakeholders (farmers, policy makers, seasonal labourers etc.) were condensed into a series of models; transforming, cutting and editing fermettes.

Many thanks to Steve and Leen from Hoezaerenbosh in Hoogstraten to give us a seasonal job and becoming our friends, to our colleagues Elena, Adrian, Cornel, Vasilis, Patrick, Marek, David, Ornella, ... to share so many stories and collegial moments and to host us in Romania, to Stebo and Samenlevingsopbouw to exchange their insights, and many more.

Showing the room and telling someone

Contributor: Jonathan De Maeyer

How do I react to a total surrender to work in the field, without a sense of time?

No one is more deeply rooted in the landscape than the farmer. He cultivates and inhabits the landscape on a very local level. It is precisely this position that makes him exceptionally strange. A distinction arose between those who inhabit the landscape and those who recognize and understand it. Everyone who lives in the countryside understands his living environment, but no one is as entwined with the landscape as the farmer. What place do seasonal workers have in this story? They inhabit and work a foreign landscape for a certain duration. What connotation do they have with the seasons?

Between the home and the workplace of seasonal workers, a linear figure emerges. Between a home, a house and work, there is an annual displacement. The home, the living facilities on the farms in Belgium belongs as a consequence to the work on the land. I am interested in the connection between the work in the field (and the incidental living on the farm) and the home far away. What's it like to have two residences? One that you are emotionally attached to and a second that has a purely practical function.

For a long time I have been following lines in the landscape. Visible lines form the appearance of a landscape. Invisible lines contribute to emotional or even political approaches to the environment. The invisible line I follow in Showing the room and telling someone is the line of communication that connects two landscapes through the phone conversations of seasonal workers and their home. Both at home and at work, they describe their environment and its state to each other.

The line that catches my attention, I try to document. The line itself is invisible, but it activates the environment. Into that activation I wanted to immerse myself. For me, this was a new way of approaching my subject. From the moment I decided to join the field, I suddenly found myself in the middle of the landscape that I usually observe from a safe distance. I try to understand the landscape by becoming part of it, by observing and documenting it from the inside.

During the Seasonal Neighbours exhibition at Z33, I used a visual diary to tell the story of the picker in the landscape. What is it like to spend months in function of the apple and pear harvest? What stereotypical, nostalgia-tinged images do we have in our heads of the - by now fiercely industrialized - fruit picking? What is it like to perform the job no one wants? How do I react to a total surrender to work in the field, without a sense of time?

Biography Jonathan De Maeyer

Text and photos: Jonathan De Maeyer

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