In Amsterdam I applied my earlier analytical Sense of Place & Belonging model on the long, rich and multi-faceted history of the Bijlmer.
This model facilitates the researching of changes over time and the sense of community across a particular region. By taking one person or a group central for each era, visualised in a series of hand paintings, the changing history of a place becomes visual in a unique way.
Important periods of change in the twelfth, thirteenth and eighteenth century have been analysed during the first part of this research project. What was going on then? Who lived and worked where? Why?
Based on historical research, I highlighted lives of key characters (Harman, Gijsbrecht III and Cornelio), their relationship to the place and spirit of the times.
During the next phase of the project, while completing the historical painting book, the same procedure will be applied on the most recent fifty years, starting with the architect Siegfried Nassuth.
The historical background so far has been largely based on the book Knights in the Bijlmer (Ridders in de Bijlmer) by Evert van Voskuilen and Netty Droog. Further information was provided by local residents in the Bijlmer.
This project has been supported by the AFK (Amsterdam Fund for the Arts) and CBK Zuidoost.
In the year 1118 the serf farmer Harman lived on the Utrecht Heuvelrug with his wife Alijt and their three children. The number of residents there grew so strongly that there was a shortage of good agricultural land. The family was forced to seek their future elsewhere.
Wolfger van Amstel, a servant of the bishop of Utrecht, made them an attractive offer. They were offered to mine a demarcated piece of peat at the Bijlmermeer. Forced also by a prolonged drought, the family travelled to the uninhabited area, this along with other farm families. A journey of 45 kilometers on foot.
They reached a wilderness of muddy peat as far as the eye could see. By digging
ditches to enable dewatering, the peat was made suitable for fields and meadows. Heavy and dangerous work. The area was difficult to access and you could sink into the peat and drown. Many reasons to work in groups and support each other. Alijt and the children participated in the hard labor.The disadvantage of dewatering was that the peat came to lie lower than the river, and dikes had to be built. The ditches of nine hundred years ago are still visible in some places.
Harman received ownership of the cultivated land. He could leave it to his children through inheritance law. Like the other farmers, he was no longer a serf but more or less a free man. He did have to pay rent to the bishop. It had been worth all efforts.
In 1235 Gijsbrecht III was a powerful man. He owned many lands, fiefs and had rights around the Bijlmermeer, the Naardermeer and the Ankeveense plassen. His knighthood and marriage with a daughter from the noble Van Cuijk family showed the increased social status of the entire Van Amstel family.
It all had happened fast. In a hundred years his unfree family of servants had ascended to hereditary stewards with prominent positions in the Episcopal militia. Since 1231 every male Van Amstel has assumed the title of 'Lord van Amstel'.
The Lords conducted stewardship on behalf of the bishop and arranged the cultivation. They also practiced power politics for the sake of their own gain and claimed territories. Including the Reigersbos.
This repeatedly put them in conflict with the bishop. Sometimes even resulting in battle. Even if they were corrected, they were allowed to continue managing the fiefs and lands.
The Reigersbos (Forest of Herons) was an interesting possession for several reasons. The forest at a relatively higher ground offered potential for good exploitation, but was rather soggy. A heron colony was thus an excellent soil indicator. After all, herons nestle in tall trees and they need solid ground.
Herons were seen as a delicacy in the Middle Ages. Falcons were used for the capture of these birds. An expensive form of hunting that was reserved for the nobility. The fact that the Van Amstels allowed themselves falconry indicates their high level of prosperity. By inviting nobles and persons with prestige they used the falconry to increase their status.
When Cornelio van Laer worked as a trading merchant at the beginning of the 18th century, Amsterdam was 'hot'. He lived in the center at the Herengracht, near the Spiegelstraat.
At that time Amsterdam was crowded. Due to the availability of jobs, the number of inhabitants continued to grow, but the city area did not expand. The canals smelled bad, they were used as sewers and dumping ground for waste.
Cornelio preferred to be in the city and loved the liveliness. Occasionally, however, he was invited to the country houses of his prosperous fellow citizens. These houses provided relaxation, space and ability to maintain social contacts.
In 1702 Cornelio himself became the owner of a country house in the Bijlmermeer area. A majestic mansion called Driemond. In 1714 he had the gardens expanded and decorated. He was only too happy to show his prosperity. With the flourishing of the economy, a need arose in the Calvinist Holland to show off.
His trade contacts and friends often came to stay. In summer, visits were made to residents of neighboring country houses to strengthen mutual ties.
There was a good connection with the city. Occasionally he picked up his longboat, the Drymontsloep, to experience the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam.
Siegfried was born in Indonesia in 1922. His youth was free and without worries. Together with a brother and sister in the Indian tropics. Always surrounded by plants and birds.
His freedom came to an abrupt end when the Japanese invaded in 1942. As a prisoner of war he was employed on the Burma railway. At the time he was nineteen years old. The work was heavy and a struggle to stay upright. He kept his emotions hidden in order to survive.
After the war Siegfried studied architecture in Delft. Upon graduation he started working for the municipality of Amsterdam. Here in 1962 he became master builder for the largest project of his time: the Bijlmermeer.
A project upon which he could project his ideals and bittersweet memories from his childhood. Space, air, light and green for poor and rich. Equal conditions and facilities as the foundation for an ideal society. From your house with your bare feet into the grass.
With endless patience, he brought out his ideals and optimistic ideas about people and society. Inspired by the ideas of architect Van Eesteren, he worked on a strict separation between living, working, recreation and transport.
Partly due to budget cuts, not everything was completed as planned. Vacancy arose and due to crime, the Bijlmer got an unsafe image.
Until the end of his career in 1981, he tried to convince others of his vision. Upon one day he left and never came back.
September 6th - October 20th 2018
The first phase of this project has been presented in the exhibition Ode to the Bijlmer at CBK Zuidoost. During this group exhibition eleven artists reflected on recent and earlier urban development of the Bijlmer.
While my project was still in progress, the exhibition was a moment of reflection and feedback on location in the Bijlmer.