July 07 - 09 @ freibesetzt

You could describe this organization as both an alternative think tank on the pressing issues of urban development and as a group of activists who aim to move this urban change in directions that leave more space for all kinds of alternative and small scale living, working and creating.

The organisation has it’s origin in the struggle against the eviction off a big squat in Amsterdam, called the Kalenderpanden. The Kalenderpanden were one of the last big squats in the city centre of Amsterdam, with room for big public spaces like a concerthall, a cinema and a restaurant. Amsterdam used to have a lot off these places in the eighties and early nineties, but were all more or less transformed in lofts for the urban and trendy people off the economic boom around the millennium.

In the period before and after the eviction off the Kalenderpanden by the police in October 2000 a loose coalition off squatters, activists, artists and academics where involved in trying to influence the political debate about the meaning off big squats for the people of Amsterdam, like the Kalenderpanden. From this group of people, there formed a political action group called the Vrije Ruimte.

The Vrije Ruimte focusses on two things: First we want to stimulate political, financial and social cohesion between the remaining Freespaces in Amsterdam. So they could support each other in there struggle to remain self-supporting. The Vrije Ruimte hasn’t been very successful yet with this, although slowly something’s are happening. Second The Vrije Ruimte wants to create a political momentum to stop the gradual disappearing off Freespaces from the urban fabric of Amsterdam.

"Laat 1000 Vrijplaatsen Bloeien"

Because of these issues the Vrije Ruimte started a large scale study under thirty Freespaces in Amsterdam, this study is called "Laat 1000 Vrijplaatsen Bloeien". First off all we wanted to show, that the Freespaces in Amsterdam form a important and lively network off alternative initiatives and spaces. We did this by categorizing all the different functions in the freespaces that form the network. It totalled 575 workspaces, from political pressure groups to artist collectives from creative workspaces to concerthalls. This made clear that not only the 1000 people living and working in the Freespaces benefit from this network, but many more people interact with this network, by going to the cheap raves and restaurants or being involved political initiatives.

The second objective off the study was more "inward" looking. We wanted to address the relation between the social organisation off the freespaces and the way these places function in their Urban Environment. Lots of Freespaces start off as "exciting" and "fresh" but tend to become duller over time. By analysing the social processes in a large frame off time, we extracted the strategies which were taken by the people living and working in these freespaces to try "to keep the place alive". We hope this information helps the existing Freespaces in there struggle, but also new groups who want to start a Freespace.

Paard van Troje

The study took us more then 8 months. So after this period there was the feeling there should be more direct action, like I mentioned, we are not all academics. The first thing we did was making the presentation off the book into a big demonstration in Amsterdam, called Trojan Horse. We built a 6 meter high wooden horse which we carried by boat over the canals to the City Hall. Here a big happening was going on, artist and musicians put on a good show and speakers from different freespaces attacked the city policy.

Sociale Huren voor Sociale Functies

After finishing the book and the Trojan Horse happening. The Vrije Ruimte shifted there attention to the broader Urban Debate. The struggle off the Freespaces wasn’t something which could be adressed in an single-issue political arena. It was part off the way the Urban Landscape was changing due to global political and economic forces. To address this issue, but also to get connected with an broader public, the Vrije Ruimte came up with the Guerrilla Expo, better known as the EasyCity

 

In autumn 2002 the Vrije Ruimte initiated the squatting of a commercial space in the shopping street the Kinkerstraat in the west of Amsterdam. Within one day the space, that had been empty for over one year, was transformed into an exhibition space called easyCity. Using the well known tactic of adbusting the exhibition was styled as a branch of the Easy company, known in Europe for it’s cheap rates on among other things flights, internet access, and car rentals, advertised with terms such as easyEverything easyJet and easyCar. This company uses a striking colour orange with chubby white letters. Around eight hours after putting the crow-bar between the door and its frame the abandoned and rather trashed looking shop was transformed into a slick white and orange store slash exhibition space and was officially opened.

The exhibition included a large variety of installations and video’s, which reflected the variety of the people that collaborated in the preceding months. There were those with impressive careers of activism and squatting behind them, who used the crow-bar in a routinely manner. But there were also academics and artists who, with a mixture of anxiety and excitement, followed the actions of the professional activists. And even to divide the people into those three groups would be am unjustifiable simplification.

EasyCity Book

Different contributors to the exhibition came together after the exhibition with the idea that the themes and thoughts that lay behind the exhibition needed to be developed further. So they started on a new project called the EasyCity book.

The book is divided in four parts. I guess all of the articles in the book focus on the tension between large-scale developments and small-scale actions of people and the way in which people deal with and act on the contemporary city. In the first part, the book deals with economic and commercial forces shaping the city, most strikingly its visual outlook. For example it focuses on the fact that the consumer utopia many cities aspire to become, is achieved with the labour of those who are not able to benefit from this as for example the illegal or otherwise marginal workers, here or abroad.

The second part of the book deals with the issue of what space actually means in the city and how it can be used in creative ways. For example it provides an account of how people can change a space by employing bodily movements that are inconsistent with the connotations of a certain space. It shows the transformation of urban space into a stage for graffiti and self designed artistic and political stickers. But it also shows the limitations on the use of space. For example the air, freest of spaces, is increasingly non free as we learn from an insider in the world of pirate radio.

In the third part different authors deal with the issue of experiencing the city. For example in one contribution we are shown that the city of fast finance and multinational companies comes with leftover spaces, spaces that people usually do not notice. We are taken on a tour along these spaces by the author. But the experience of space can also be motivated by spirituality, as another artist shows us.

In the last part of the book we turn to the safety rhetoric that grows ever more powerful and has a definite spatial and material effect. Safety is something most of us desire, but in achieving this safety some of us end up on the wrong side of the line. This is striking in the contribution of a video artist who visualised her own experience of being on the wrong side of the border. She recorded her own refusal to enter the country at the Amsterdam Airport and her experiences in the immigration Lounge, where she was kept with others who were refused entry. Together they could look towards the world behind the glass without being able to go in.

As said, at the centre of both the exhibition and the book lay the ambition to show the activities and perspectives of people who live in cities. Thus it tried to move away from solely pointing towards the global forces, the commercial greed and the political power that affects life in cities. Instead it pointed the focus towards those people living in cities, who deal with this city and in whose lives these abstract forces become concrete.

 

Conclusion

The activities off the Vrije Ruimte, can be summarised as activities where it is being tried to combine both academic, activist and artistic methods, to perceive political goals. We have chosen for this strategy because we think that the combination off these three worlds can produce an "critique" that is "open" and "stimulating". Not only from an activist standpoint, but also from an academic or artistic point of view.

The cross-over in the easyCity event resulted in an tactic of parody, that worked out very well in the exhibition. EasyCity produced a public space with openings in different directions. For one it invited people to think, rather than to confront them with a certain activist ‘position’. The "easy logo" drew in people who do not regularly visit the debates and events organised in the network of squats and otherwise alternative places. By doing this the EasyCity event avoided the feeling of preaching to the quire that some other activist events have.

During the exhibition days also many people who lived in the neighbourhood came to check out what was going on there. I expect that if the space was designed in a typical squatting or activist fashion and with the common symbols that go with it, they would have passed-by, seeing it as belonging to another world to which they did not belong. Using the symbols of the more common world of shops and multinationals, it appeared that people outside the so called ‘scene’ were more ready to come in, in some cases, I must admit, to ask whether they could book a flight or go on the internet.

But be aware that the cross-over method off the EasyCity is not without problems. The "fuzz of parody" did also backfire on easyCity project. For example one of the items of the exhibition, an poster where the image of Bin Laden was mixed with Che Geuvera, which could be seen as an critique un the omni-present idols-culture, was being adored by some marocan kiddies from the neighbourhood. They seemed to miss the parody off the poster, they just saw the poster of their Hero: Bin Laden.

Also the aim of being an more open platform for critique caused some problems. During one off the debates about urban development, one of the guests, a major Urban Developer, was attacked with eggs and feathers. On one hand the new open public space of Easy City made it possible for an urban developer to get in discussion with squatters, on the other hand the openness of the place made it possible that he was attacked in this manner.

The EasyCity event didn’t only confuse the vistors, it also confused the participants. The mixture off academics, activist and artists sometimes made an explosive cocktail. Some of the academics were allergic for anything that looked in their eyes as simplified "hardcore —marxist-anarchist" critique, and were constantly arguing an more "scientific" viewpoint. And it seemed that the activists were "uncertain" about the artists-motives to join the project. They argued that the artists were to "vaguely" and "non-political". Interesting was that the Amsterdam Fund for Art, one of the subsidence of easyCity, felt they were tricked into an to subsidise an political action. Which in a matter of fact they were…

http://www.vrijeruimte.nl

 

 

 

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