Contradictio In Terminarium
Humanities most influential achievement is gaining control over fire. Metals can be melted to create a wide variety of tools and weapons paving the way for new inventions. Dirt and sand can be heated to fabricate ceramics and glass opening up the possibility to store food and medicine. Tiles and bricks are made to create elaborate and long lasting habitats. All over the world dirt is being transformed into building materials and the desire to build and own a house is still today one of the most important incentives to fuel the market economy. In times of economic crises, the advice is universal and univocal: when in doubt, invest in bricks.
Belgians have a particular relation with bricks and building houses. The omnipresent desire to build a house for oneself resulted in the common saying that ‘every Belgian is born with a brick in its stomach’. Most houses in Belgium are still build with bricks or at least, after construction, decorated with fake or very thin bricks giving the impression that the whole building consists of bricks. They generate value by responding to the desire that the building is sturdy and robust and will withstand the erosion of time. Bricks could easily survive us, even as a species, since they have been regarded as one of the longest lasting and strongest building materials used throughout human history.
In Africa, bricks are also considered a good investment and an upgrade from the houses made of clay and branches. The best way to get free, clean and abundant dirt to make bricks is setting up camp next to a big termite mount or terminarium. Most villages in the countryside have a few within their borders. A proper sized termite hill can generate up to 200.000 bricks, enough to build several houses. The carefully constructed termite city is destroyed by hand and squeezed in a mould. The bricks that come out are stacked in such a way that they become the kiln itself that is fired afterwards. The high temperature makes them shrink and turn red. The houses are consequently constructed directly next to or around the kiln. This three step process, from extracting raw material to the construction of the kiln and finally the houses itself is sometimes occupying a distance of merely 20 meters, making it the most efficient and sustainable building technique known to man. After the house is abandoned, nature can reclaim the earth and transform it back into dust, with or without help of a new termite colony.
Location: New Belgian Embassy, Boulevard du 30 Juin, Kinshasa, D.R. Congo
Commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Belgium
Contradictio In Terminarium brings Belgian and Congolese brick traditions together while honouring the ingenuity of one of the most intelligent animal species on the planet, be they termites or homo sapiens sapiens.