Gildekamers
(Antwerp, Belgium)

Located directly behind the Flemish-Italian Renaissance style Stadhuis van Antwerpen (Antwerp City Hall), one can find a small L-shaped cobbled street, running for a distance of not quite 100 meters. Until 1565, with the completion of the Stadhuis and its presence designating the east side of this small street, the facades along the west side of Gildekamersstraat previously formed the western boundary Antwerp's Grote Markt. Since the 1890's several buildings along the street have been demolished, with one structure at the northern end of the block, as well as the buildings along the abutting Zilversmidsstraat, clearly dating from the late 20th century. These most recent constructions, with their courtyard design structure, form a type of hidden postmodern village, just around the corner from the 16th century square.

The former Volkskundemuseum (Folklore Museum), once located at Gildekamersstraat 2-6 and out of operation since August 2007, has transferred its contents to the newly designed Museum aan de Stroom. Since this point in time, the quiet street, always a less-traveled route in the old center of Antwerp, is now nearly devoid of pedestrians at all times, barring the few residents that can be seen coming and going from #1: the 20th century apartment house forming an attachment to the postmodern village around the corner.

The lack of foot traffic along Gildekamersstraat could possibly be attributed to an urban phenomenon that tends to re-route the itineraries of most casual pedestrians: the blind alley. And here, along the full length of the tiny street, an almost unheard-of combination of a three-part (false) blind alley effect is found: first when looking in the southern direction toward the appearance of full-blockage created by the terrace café at the junction of Suikerrui; secondly, towards the northern direction, by the facades of Zilversmidsstraat; and finally, when observing the westerly perspective, with the help of the facades of Gildekamersstraat 8-10. This unique setting, being hidden from view directly next to the most heavily touristed location in the city (Grote Markt), gives the street a special theatrical atmosphere of emptiness.

In relation to this street's odd feeling of theatricality it is interesting to note that it was even possible for a short time, after the closure of the Folklore Museum, to witness a peculiar type of non-performance, seen up behind the windows of the second floor of Gildekamersstraat 2-6. Dressed in what appeared to be standard attire from the 16th century, a lone man was often seen pacing back and forth, seemingly lost in thought. In discussion with residents in the area it was gleaned that the man was previously a night custodian at the Folklore Museum and had lost his post after the institution's move to the new updated facilities in 2007. The impromptu and irregularly scheduled performances were only known to have taken place during the early months of 2008. One resident of the postmodern village on Zilversmidsstraat believed that the costume and styling of the man might have related to that of Jan Moretus, a Flemish printer active in the late 1500s. Other questioned residents though agreed that this style was common at the time and could have related to any number of well-known cultural figures. All residents were unanimous in having no knowledge as to the present day whereabouts of the man, in the years since 2008. There is also no information as to why the former custodian had decided to perform this quietly melancholic and unannounced event.

During the spring of 2010, a Japanese exchange student studying fashion and costume design at the Royal Academy in Antwerp, having heard of this strange event, decided to hold a one-night performance in the continuously empty rooms of the former museum. The event was an hour-long restaging of the man's performance, this time with a new uniform: an updated ensemble with a formal pastiche of references to what witnesses described as part 16th century Flemish fashion, part Rei Kawakubo-inspired uniform design. One commentator on the event noted that the performer looked somewhat like a futuristic public sanitation worker.

Since the 2010 event, no other theatrical exercises of note are known to have taken place on Gildekamersstraat.


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