Since kick-off I have spent three days at the study centre of Het Nieuwe Instituut, inspecting materials that were registered at the search-portal with words such as: Herbestemming, renovatie, vernieuwing or Sloop. In the first two visits I went through books and publications, while in the last visit I have ordered some materials from the archives. The difference was quite interesting. Books are often dedicated in retrospect to realized projects (and are usually edited and published by external bodies), while the archives contain also documentation of work-in-progress, competition-contributions, unrealized projects, theoretical studies, general correspondences, etc. that are collected by the architects themselves (and are later selected by the archivist to be preserved).
Mostly through the books I came across numerous inspiring ways of architects and planners to “deal” with the built past: allowing nature to take over, selective replacement of materials, stripping surfaces to the core, defining (statistic) criteria for destruction or rescue, fencing and monumentalizing selected elements, displacing, reuse of discarded materials and temporal approaches.
Diagrams from the publication Ontwikkelingsplan voor de Westergasfabriek (Klazien Duijvelshoff, Evert Verstraten and Stadsdeel Westerpark, 1996, p. 34-35) show how specific buildings in the re-developed former industrial terrain are planned to be kept, and the surrounding areas are schematically allocated space according to desired functions (sport, flowers, parking, water, etc.).
In the self-made publication De Amsterdamse woningnood – sloop- en saneringskalender 1973 (author and publisher unknown) a reproduced newspaper clip describes the careful destruction of a small coffeehouse due to the construction works on the Metro line nearby the central station of Amsterdam: “All parts of the building are being numbered so that the coffeehouse can eventually be rebuilt in a different location in its historical shape.”
The publication Betonschade; oorzaken, herstel en financiële konsekwenties (P. Groetelaers, Delftse Universitaire Pers, 1985, p. 38 and 50) deals with the challenges of deteriorating concrete in after-war housing projects, and proposes among other possibilities, the selective replacement of ruined materials by new pre-fabricated elements.
The materials from the archives have so far surprised me in one main aspect, namely through the personal and emotional involvement. This is well exemplified in the case of a specific street corner in Alkmaar: In 1966 architect Piet Tauber (1927-2017) was commissioned to design an office building for the AMRO-Bank at the corner of the Voor- and Zijdam at the city centre. For this cause several very old traditional houses were demolished, despite large protest and critique. Thirty years later, the bank sold the building to a housing company, which decided to demolish the building in favour of a new housing complex. Now it was time for Tauber himself to protest. His archive holds dozens of determined complaint latters to the municipality, many newspaper clips, correspondence with the housing company, touching demands for support from colleagues, sketches for alternative renovation plans, etc. – spanning a period of more than three years. Tauber fought hard, but in vein. The last piece in the folder is a shiny brochure: invitation to the opening of the new building.
Parallel to the “architectural research” I was strolling through and around the online “cultural archive” of Sound and Image. Without a clear idea of what I search, orientation in this large pool is rather difficult. In general I find that despite its immenseness and the diversity of topics it addresses, this collection (mostly of polygon-newsreels) is quite homogeneous in character – it often presents a clear, condensed, formal and inauthentic perspective on a public event/issue, and correspondingly depicts mostly public, commercial or natural spaces (footage from private spaces is rare). Quite different are materials from the Amateur Film collection. Here the makers make use of an immediate access to personal life stories and spaces of their families, friends or neighbours, and since they do not have any time pressure (like on TV), the footage is edited – if at all – in a much more generous way. Hence, while it feels more “boring” these materials gave me the impression of documenting a more “real” and emotional past (similarly to the differentiation mentioned above between the materials I encountered in the library and the archive of Het Nieuwe Instituut).
After receiving an excel sheet with the detailed contents of the Sound and Image collection, navigation felt easier. I excluded the NSB part of the archive, and began scanning through the titles one by one – and upon interest viewed the video itself. In my own excel sheet I list links to interesting videos with a personal note, which usually refers to an aesthetic composition or thematic relation to my research (like the videos from my first blog-post).
In general, the journey hitherto has brought up two initial questions and thoughts:
First, I ask myself about my personal relation to the archives and the documents they hold. As a migrant by choice and privilege, I live in the Netherlands for more than a decade, and yet feel quite detached from its past (and in a way from its present as well). This position is ambivalent – it can be powerful and demotivating at the same time, and I wonder if and how I should define my position within the framework of this project. Notions of belonging, cultural appropriation, right to speak, (mis)use of language seem all very interesting and relevant to explore. For now, I am intrigued by the idea of “eigen-maken” (both in terms of the material and the things it symbolizes) as a means to begin my creative exploration.
Second, but still reflecting on my position, I am reminded by the archive that in many processes of urban renewal (and gentrification), artists play a significant role, often without realizing that they are being utilized by developers and municipalities. What is my take on that, understanding that my intention was to undertake a similar process of “renewal,” commissioned by two “national” institutions?
On May 4 and 5, instead of locally “celebrating” freedom, I have visited a series of exhibition openings and talks in Cologne. Under the title “Artist meets Archive” of the Photoszene Köln, six international artists were commissioned to work with a photographic archive and create/curate an exhibition in one of the city’s museums. Among their different approaches, most interesting, relevant and inspiring for my research was the exhibition project Noisy Images by Antje Van Wichelen at the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum. Van Wichelen researches colonial archives and speculates about the possibility of their destruction. Willing to work against the “classifying gaze” and “categorizing of the other” she asks: “What to do with all the images from the colonial past in our archives? How can we create new imagery on the basis of these? Do we need to keep looking, or start destroying them?” Her interventions include various methods – but for one of them she has let negatives from the archive be eaten by bacteria from Colognes Rhine water – every week one filmstrip is taken out of the water and put up for display.