An Oasis of Art in an Industrial Wasteland

An Oasis of Art in an Industrial Wasteland

By Eugene S. Robinson



Because good art is too great to just hope it gets better.

By Eugene S. Robinson

There’s a certain magic to the appearance and sometimes disappearance of industrial activity. It’s a now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t glimpse into the heart of human endeavor. Like the Marchienne-au-Pont, near Charleroi, in the southern part of Belgium near Brussels. 

In 1832 a factory was built there whose specific purpose at the time was steel manufacturing. Steel was largely the name of the game in Marchienne until World War I, when, unsurprisingly, everything there was blown to freaking bits. A fact that saw the years between World War I and World War II full of a rebuilding: the piece of land was called La Providence, and it settled into a business as usual that lasted until the 1980s. And in the 1980s, when the economic downturn claimed it, the entire region plunged into a financial wasteland.

But the patch of fallow territory was not unnoticed by a collective of artists who, by both hook and crook, bought it in 2005 with the intention of reviving that which was dead and directing it toward a different kind of industry: the production of art and the venue that would house it.

Equal parts music venue, live/work artists’ space, record label and, yes, still a steel forge.

“Art, in our opinion, is as necessary as plumbing and probably more necessary than fur coats or whatever else people desire as markers of class and culture,” said Michaël “Mika” Sacchi, one of the two founding members of Rockerill, an industrial space that is equal parts music venue, live/work artists’ space, record label and, yes, still a steel forge. It took the collective five years to rebuild, and four more to see success. “Just money didn’t build this. Belief in the value of art did.”

So, Sacchi and the collective of “children from coal mountain” — born, bred and still living in the region — banged out event after event with bands, DJs, artists and steel folks: first to the tune of 500 people per event, then 1,000. The label pulled in bands who hit the road to tour the U.S., Germany, France, Italy and Spain. Most recently, they’ve branched out into a just-completed film, L’impitoyable poursuite, a 61-minute industrial road movie.

And this is the point where it’d just be another story of urban transformations and transitions if not for the curious fact that the only thing that’s been transformed is Rockerill. The surrounding area? One of the scarier places you’ll find in Belgium: a leftover from the bad old years, with crumbling shops and stores, and the factories that have belched back to life spewing smoke and flames as you get closer, adding to the whole phoenix-from-the-ashes effect.

“The neighborhood? Scary as shit,” said studio producer Raphaël Rastelli. “But when I think of how much cool has come out of there? All of it really is a small kind of miracle.”