Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Re-posted with updated links and youtube videos

For full story see the Foundation for Art and Public Domain site. (Now only available on wayback machine). See Harmut Wilkening’s website as well.


On Thursday 24 June 2010, a piece of sculpture by Harmut Wilkening was placed on the first floor of the De Burcht nursing home in Hoogezand. It is a head weighing more than seven tons and is titled Vrij geestig (Quite witty). Just before a start was made with laying the roof in 2009, the sculpture was installed with the aid of an enormous crane. Prior to the installation, a programme was held in the carcass of the building with a presentation by the artist and an introduction by Douwe Draaisma, titled ‘Wisdom comes with the years, but is preceded by forgetfulness’. Douwe Draaisma is Professor in the History of Psychology at the University of Groningen.

The building of the De Burcht residential nursing home has the form of a panopticon. From the open well on the first floor there is an all-round view of the galleries on the upper floors where the entrance doors of the apartments are located. Inspired by the idea of a central point in the building from which everything can be seen in a single glance, and which can itself be seen from all angles, Harmut Wilkening proposed to make a large sculpture depicting the head of Michel Foucault, the theoretician of ‘panopticism’. The concrete portrait of the French philosopher sports a broad smile, his arm emerges from the floor and his hand is resting on his bald head.


As its first inhabitant, Wilkening’s sculpture is being incorporated into the construction process, as a built-in part of the building. Before the placing of the roof, the sculpture was hoisted in with a crane, under the watchful eyes of the future residents and other invited guests. After that the building work has been completed, during which time the sculpture was protected in a wooden crate. At the festive moment on June 24, 2010, when the building comes into service, Foucault’s head will be unveiled again. A large panel with a photographic account of the making of the work of art will hang next to the building’s entrance. The story of Foucault as the ‘first inhabitant’ can then be told to visitors and newcomers.

For the residents of De Burcht, Wilkening’s sculpture will be a fixed component of their changing entourage. The central open well will be used in diverse ways: as a reading room, theatre and party room. The sculpture refers further to the philosopher’s ideas and to the fact that the human head is the storeroom of memory – that essential mental function, particularly for the people who live here. Wilkening compares the building with a library, as a great collection of the knowledge and experience of all the residents together. He also sees the library as a translation of the social order. For him, the piece is about panopticism: the form in which knowledge is generated, ordered, disseminated and guarded. In De Burcht, Foucault’s head – with a wink – occupies the place of the globe that was also centrally displayed in old libraries, symbolising the all-seeing world.

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