07 - 09 @ freibesetzt
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
organisation has its 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 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.
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 hasnt been very
successful yet with this, although slowly somethings are happening.
The Vrije Ruimte wants to create a political momentum to stop the
gradual disappearing off Freespaces from the urban fabric of Amsterdam.
1000 Vrijplaatsen Bloeien"
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
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.
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.
Huren voor Sociale Functies
finishing the book and the Trojan Horse happening. The Vrije Ruimte
shifted there attention to the broader Urban Debate. The struggle
off the Freespaces wasnt 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
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 its 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
exhibition included a large variety of installations and videos,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
EasyCity event didnt 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