Sunday, 24 July 2011

A'Dam: NDSM-Werf & Eddie the Eagle Museum

Amsterdam Centre can get a little touristy, and mainstream. Apart from commercial galleries, cool markets and the usual smart shop coffee shop drib-drab that so many people wind up getting wasted, (I'm a little past all that) I wanted to see something different and exciting whilst I was there. I had heard rumours from people of great places across the waters that were exciting. So one afternoon I decided to head out of the Central parts and get on a ferry boat (free and only 10mins) directed towards "NDSM-Werf". (The ferry runs from behind Central Station in case you wanted to go yourself).

NDSM Werf is an old Shipping yard which has been occupied by artists in residence. When I arrived, there was actually a big perfomance festival going on called "over het festival". There were lots of crate containers in which you could pay to see each act. The initial greeting was overwhelming and a surprise to see such life and activity in such a remote place. But leaving that aside I ventured further in to find this residence.

Along the shore there were lots of disused trains that people lived inside. The big crane in the back of this picture has massive tracks to go all the way down in the water with a massive bay used originally for tugging in large boats. All along they were setting up for performances. I saw there was going to be parkour and urban-freeflow acrobats doing some amazing stuff!

The Noorderlicht Café serves very good food inside a former greenhouse. It was very popular as you can see.

Eventually after a lot of dilly dally I got inside the NDSM-Werf complex. A beautifully large hung space, I was bewildered and reminded of the Charlie Kaufman film "Synechdoche New York" (if you've seen it you'll know what I'm talking about), the place is massive! They even had a £4 Million skate park built by the authorities, almost suspended inside (apparently this was a later development which has annoyed many founder artists due to noise, but I still think it's pretty cool!)

Inside there were self built ateliers and studios, workshops the lot. I got talking to a few people, all friendly and happy to see English speaking people. One guy was a set builder working on commissions for Burning Man Festival. I was surprised that it's not only Visual Artists working there but a whole range of professionals doing such diverse work.

Massive sculptures too. When you have enough space who cares! This I liked. I'm always upset that the commercial and mainstream often sub/consciously demands smaller works because they sell more easily. Sometimes I like to see people who make what they want to make and just don't give a shit about how they'll shift it or where it goes to!

It was really nice to experience and hear from Dutch people how different their art world is to how it appears to be in London. European artists don't seem to be struggling as much as in London where we often have to battle several jobs, maintain studio space, no chance of squatting, and anything that is underground or slightly counter mainstream seems to go unnoticed or a black X gets put over your name.

I'm led right now to talk about Aukje Dekker, a good friend of mine who I met up with in Amsterdam. She has in the last year received huge amount of acclaim for setting up her Museum space Eddie The Eagle, an underground art space (Counter Mainstream) in Amsterdam Noord - (another ferry takes you there). click to watch good video of the space

We talked for a while at the Rembrandt Café (apparently one of the oldest cafés in Amsterdam) about the space and how it promoted exactly what I seek to do with my own ideas for space which is involving a whole range of artists doing what they feel passionately about in an ungoverned or uncontrolled space that is only tied to integrity. It appeared that the artists got to take the power back. They have had some mad installations by the looks of pictures.

Since setting this space up and during the course of the year, The Dutch government have been cutting huge amounts of funding to the arts hitting all kinds of projects, which means the amazing residency De Ateliers may also cease to exist(?) and the Reijks Akademie being hit immensely. No longer will there be funding to bring in all those fantastic visiting artists...

Aukje's museum space came just at the right time, giving the right incentive to others, and bigger people started to listen to them. Now she is in talks with the Stedelijk Museum (Like the Tate Modern of A'Dam) for her shows to travel/become bigger so I'm really watching this space for her.

She continues to support me telling me to make the work I want to make... It's always reassuring to hear this from someone who shares similar opinions and that what the world needs are people who believe strongly in themselves. And she is living proof. People with great ideas however random and complicated or strange and unfitting, making these happen by creating the opportunities, and that is what people will want to talk about in the future.


  1. Congrats to Aukje!
    I am a Dutch artist living in New York who started an artists group 3 years ago for those who employ Jewish themes in their work. Not Judaica; terrific fine art. There were very few opportunities and most artist did not know one another.
    Now we have a thriving network with museum exhibits scheduled all over the USA. Artists need to create their own destiny.

    Yona Verwer

  2. Congrats to you both! London seems to be lacking, but hopefully give it time! x