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Moby Train

Moby Train is a project by François Schuiten and sculptor Pierre Mater. The project, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of SNCB 1), will be build at the Van Praet roundabout in Brussels. In March 2023 the project was largely funded by The Brussels Capital Region 2).

Brussels needs artistic sculptures that highlight the capital's significance to the world and the surrounding area. The planned Moby Train on the Van Praet roundabout will in a few years' time have become a new popular icon for Brussels residents, commuters and domestic and foreign tourists,” says Brussels minister Sven Gatz 3).

Besides the old locomotive destined for demolition that will be incorporated into the sculpture, it will have the body of a water animal recalling Brussels' port function. The sculpture can also depict rail traffic, which plays an important role in the accessibility of our capital city. Moreover, the green colours of the Moby Train will refer to green mobility and the imperative need to remain committed to the environment.

The target date for this sculpture is 2026, the year SNCB celebrates its centenary 4).

Moby Train is a reference to Moby Dick, the well-known sperm whale from the novel by American author Herman Melville 5).

Not far from the Port of Brussels and Train World is the Van Praet Bridge, one of the main entrances to Brussels. At present, this area, with its very blurred structure, has no clear architectural line.

Train World, in collaboration with the Brussels-Capital Region, the City of Brussels and the Port of Brussels, wishes to give this masterly entrance a strong artistic visibility in the same spirit as the monumental gates that once marked the entrance to the cities. A sculpture, designed by two renowned artists, François Schuiten and Pierre Matter, will be placed on the Van Praet roundabout, situated in the extension of the bridge of the same name. This work will be illuminated by the lighting designer Jean-Pierre Majot 6).

Images published by Pierre Matter 7).

The proposed landscape scenography accompanies the imaginary world conveyed by the sculpture. It proposes a lively and sober allegory of the aquatic environment from which the sculpture seems to emerge, as well as an allegory of the landscapes passing by the railway lines. Movement, power and fluidity, the yellow and green chromatic range of the locomotive, are subtly declined by an oscillating and luminous grassy carpet. The simplicity of the plant language helps to harmonise the perception of the van Praet roundabout, to better highlight the central sculpture, a major focal point from all approach routes. The extension of the design along the access embankments to the cycle-pedestrian underpasses creates a unique and powerful progressive experience through the sudden proximity of the work to the end of the tunnels. The seasonal evolution of the grass blades from green to straw yellow and the permanent maintenance of the dense carpet guarantee the quality of the scenography throughout the year and the feasibility of future maintenance of the site 8).

The idea is to install an old 1957 locomotive in a metal whale structure designed by comic artist François Schuiten and French artist Pierre Matter. It concerns locomotive ‘5404’, also known as the ‘Big Nose’. A diesel locomotive only two of which are left 9).

After ten years' experience in architectural firms, Anne-Marie Sauvat founded Atelier EOLE in Brussels in 1999. The profound and rapid changes in society and the multiplication of “traumatised spaces” are elements that inspire her. For Moby Train, she designed a landscape of plants and grasses reminiscent of waves of the sea around the sculpture 10).

During a meeting in Amiens in June 2022 François Schuiten talked about this project. Nicolas Rivoal made the following pictures.