Le Merle

vol.3 no.1, Summer 2015
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Austerity
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In 2011, a right-wing coalition government in the Netherlands announced drastic cuts in public support for the arts and culture as part of an austerity agenda. Absent an effective opposition, the government succeeded in cutting the funding of numerous projects, gutting cultural organizations that were vital to the cultural milieu. Artists, writers and cultural workers discuss the circumstances, the effects of the cuts, and what dampened artists’, students’ and political groups’ attempts to fight them. This issue draws attention to the circumstances, but also to the various artistic and political initiatives that emerged from that struggle. Edited by Edith Brunette & François Lemieux as part of their exhibition Cuts Make the Country Better, presented in 2015.

Waking Up

Rune Peitersen

“Dear everybody, I am quite shocked by recent developments in Dutch politics. I thought it might be interesting to get together to see what we can come up with in the way of creative actions. Maybe we could find a way to combine art with a demonstration. Would you like to participate?1

The Alarm Clock

The above quote is from an email I received in December 2010 from a fellow artist who I had only met a couple of times. We had briefly discussed our shared concerns on the direction Dutch (cultural) politics was taking, which is why I found myself included in the list of people to whom she mailed her modest call for action. I was happy to receive it and immediately sat down to put a few thoughts onto paper in preparation for the meeting. I thought it important to emphasize that although the cultural sector was deliberately being hit hard, and disproportionally as compared to other sectors, the real cause for concern was the change in discourse2. Almost overnight, “art” had become Dutch politicians’ favorite scapegoat for many of the problems caused by their own policies3, and even though these budget cuts were to prove disastrous to the cultural sector, I felt the main focus of any kind of call to action needed to look beyond the symptomatic budget cuts and try to address what was at work at the core of these problems.

I believe the real reason we are meeting tonight is because our society is reaching a dangerous tipping point, and we are beginning to recognize that it is time to start shifting our weight to the right end of the scale. We realize that we have to become engaged in a different way. Maybe there is some truth to the argument that the “people” have become estranged from art, and that maybe we, the artists, have been too complacent, too content with the privileges we have come to take for granted.The same complacency can be found in every single sector of society, from politicians, bankers and journalists to welfare recipients, small business owners and creatives; however, that is no excuse. If we have been asleep, then it is time to wake up, not because others tell us to, but because we need to be aware that we occupy an important position in society, not only as artists, but also as intellectuals4.

 

Getting Dressed

Two years later, after many many meetings, arguments, manifestos, demonstrations, excitement and disappointments, the Platform Beeldende Kunst (PBK, Platform for Visual Arts) was officially launched. Although the road to the PBK’s founding started with the email and meeting mentioned above, both the people involved and the scope of our goals and actions had changed. After the initial shock it quickly became clear that the reasoning behind the budget cuts was not a matter of sound economic choices, but the implementation of an ideological vision. In the words of Merijn Oudenampsen, in a piece he wrote as part of our Retort project5:

The ambiguity of the budget cuts can be traced back to three different political agendas that run criss-cross through the new cultural policy: a populist agenda that propagates a friend-or-foe type of thinking and that views art and culture as subsidy guzzlers; a conservative agenda which banks on a conservative view of culture as heritage and the conservation of classical and elite “top institutes”; and lastly, the liberal agenda, which advocates free-market economy and the withdrawal of the state6.

With PBK we hoped to be able to halt the trend and even, in time, reverse it. We wanted to mobilize and arm the cultural sector with arguments against the neoliberal mentality underpinning the budget cuts.This meant trying to bring together the diverse points of view present in the cultural sector, and not to create one harmonious voice representing all, but by power of example demonstrate that a diversity of voices was our strongest asset, both within the cultural sector and as an open society in general. From this diversity we hoped new arguments and narratives would develop to form a critical mass, and that these arguments might eventually spill over into the media and political discourse – a process we would obviously try to facilitate and make happen.

Off to Work

There was no way we could hope to achieve full agreement on either tactics or strategy within the arts sector. Nonetheless, we needed some common basic causes in order to set out a course of action which would be considered important enough for people to rally around. Also, we needed these causes to be both abstract enough to represent an ideological statement and at the same time concrete enough to be able to manifest themselves as practical demands or suggestions for improvement. In other words, our mandate was to argue for the abstract importance and role of art in an open society and also to be able to translate this importance into concrete proposals for better funding for the arts. In another Retort, artist Barbara Visser describes the situation:

Of course artists will persevere no matter what, perhaps even more so when the going gets tough. This may be a solution, but it is only a temporary one. What is not considered here – and this is evident when you look at the problems in the financial and housing markets – is that society will be living on cultural credit at the expense of those producing images, music and text. For a few years people will be excited about so much initiative and professionalism in the arts. “See, it is possible!” is what we will hear. But, in our social context where the market is the only measure of standard, when the cultural credit runs too low or inflation gets too high, the atmosphere will turn miserable and grim7.

Since the budget cuts and malicious discourse were specifically targeting experimental, contemporary and critical art, we decided to first try to formulate the im- portance of what we later dubbed the “hummus layer”8. Art historian Christel Vesters, in her Retort “We congratulate the Rijksmuseum”, written on the occasion of the reopening of the newly restored National Museum, stated:

He [Simon Schama] also refers to our historian Johan Huizinga, who believed that books, objects and texts are inextricably connected in the birth of a civilization. If we follow this train of thought, we come to the conclusion that a new master (such as Rembrandt) could never have emerged without the “creative force of the milieu” in which he developed. This train of thought is diametrically opposed to the idea of the solitary creative genius or the singular institution; in fact it underlines that context, integration and a vigorous base are the necessary conditions for a thriving cultural climate9.

An intrinsic part of this layer or “thriving cultural climate” is the plethora of artists’ initiatives and collaborations in the Netherlands, as these are often the first places that new ideas are tested, experiments are carried out, and where young artists exhibit for the first time. We initiated a project, The Initiative10, in which we tried to map out these sites and groups, with the goal of show-casing existing creativity using collaborative models and the “embeddedness” of art and artists in local society, as well as to create a marker for the ongoing investigation of the impact of the budget cuts on the general artistic climate. The latter resulted in a beautiful silkscreen poster and an online archive published in 2014 under the title Verbeeldingsstorm (Neoliberal Iconoclasm)11.

Now

These projects also played an important part in trying to achieve a primary strategic goal, the injection of facts into the media discourse. Too often politicians and media outlets base(d) their stories on art on outdated or mythical information about the cultural sector. “Lazy” and “subsidy-guzzling” were common terms used to describe artists, intended to contrast with the image of the “hard-working Dutchman” conjured up by several right-wing and liberal parties (and in the meantime used by almost the entire political spectrum).

Possibly even more alarming, this kind of thinking has also become somewhat accepted within the cultural field itself. Irene de Craen warns of the consequences of this acquiescence in a Retort:

The rhetoric at play here is spreading and indicates a turning point in the discourse within the cultural sector, in which art is expected to serve the very political agenda which we were fighting against not so very long ago. By eagerly wanting to fulfill new criteria regarding audience numbers and entrepreneurship, we’ve lost sight of art’s fundamental values and needs. Once the autonomous position of the arts in society evaporates (thanks to the continuous repetition of qualifications such as “hermetic” and “distant”), politicians won’t have to worry about future austerity rounds being disturbed by screaming masses on the Malieveld, for there won’t be much left to defend12.

Such internalization of market-based thinking (especially among younger artists), is a warning sign that further politicization of the cultural field is paramount to understanding the political and economic forces at work. In order to achieve this goal, we offer our experience and research to fellow organizations in other countries and at the moment we are trying to map out similar organizations abroad (starting with Europe). We are convinced that we need to be able to connect the problems facing the cultural field with the problems facing society in general. This way we can combine forces with other sectors and join the general fight against neoliberal hegemony and rising inequality, so that one day we might wake up in a fairer world.

  1. Addressed to PBK members : Platform Beeldende Kunst is a strategic coalition that mobilizes existing networks and maps out new connections in order to develop a foundation for joint action and public communication.They have positioned themselves between the many individuals working in the cultural field on one side, and the media, policymakers and other organizations (e.g. lobby, unions) on the other side. Their aim is to positively affect the current perception and public opinion of arts and culture; to influence political decision-making in conjunction with existing interest groups such as De Zaak Nu and Kunsten 92; and to put forward new logics that can (re)define the significance of art.
  2. A strong analysis of neoliberal rhetorical trickery can be found here: Merijn Oudenampsen, “Retort #2 : TheVenomous Heritage of Halbe Zijlstra“, Platform BK, 2012
  3. A thorough analysis of the political climate leading up to the ‘budget cuts’ can be found in Jack Segbars, “The Dutch Situation“, Platform BK, 2014
  4. Rune Peitersen, “A New Story“, 2010
  5. Retort, in Dutch Weerwoord, was one of our first and most successful projects. We assembled a ‘team’ of artists, writers and curators who were on ‘stand-by’ and whom we could call upon to write an opinion piece as a direct counter to any misleading or inaccurate articles in the mainstream media on the subject of arts and/or artists. Although only a few were published in the national papers the editors quickly got to know about us and seem to have tempered their coverage in recent years. Also, each Retort acts as means of disseminating arguments amongst and rallying the cultural sector.
  6. Oudenampsen, “Retort #2 : TheVenomous Heritage of Halbe Zijlstra
  7. BarbaraVisser, « Retort #3: Measuring Standards », in Platform BK, 2012
  8. The Dutch term hoemoes really means fertile soil, but is pronounced like hummus, the chickpea dish. This made for some confusion during a presentation in Budapest which ended with us sticking to the somewhat odd term “hummus layer”.
  9. Christel Vesters, “Retort #5:We congratulate the Rijksmuseum!”, Plat- form BK, 2013
  10. This collection is called The Initiative (Het Initiatief). It has turned out to be a fantastic resource for art-students, trying to orientate themselves in the art world.
  11. The English title unfortunately doesn’t do justice to the Dutch Verbeeldingsstorm. It is a great untranslatable pun on the Iconoclasm of the Reformation, where not the images but the imagination is the target.
  12. Irene de Craen, « More Populist Than Ever », in Platform BK, 2013

Walking Hours: the Space Between Things and the Passing in Time I

Edd Schouten

I will walk.That is the work.

This work lies somewhere between a choreographic expression and an artistic gesture.Walking as an act of engagement, my senses attentive. I am prepared to embrace what I might encounter: ideas, interactions, objects, artistic epiphanies precipitated by the serendipitous convergence of events. But the work is the walk and anything it inspires is supplemental.

Between March and August of 2015 I will walk. That is essentialy it. Just the action of walking: one foot in front of the other, experiencing the gravity-induced pressure between the soles of my feet and the surface of the earth below. I limit the space by walking back and forth between the two Dutch coastal towns of Scheveningen and Katwijk, along the North Sea – from A to B and back to A. The fact that I live in one and my father grew up in the other is just an interesting coincidence, nothing more.

I will walk between 9 and 5, or working hours. Walking hours. The work is to walk.

It is a progression of work that started a few years ago with “Choreography of Love and Labour: The Flower Picker” where for six weeks I embedded myself as a daffodil picker on a farm in the South East of Ireland. Every morning I would stretch and prepare mentally before consciously stepping onto the stage that was the daffodil field. There I would pick till the end of the day funding the work directly by making the work (as I was paid 10 cents per bunch of 10 stems.) I was spectator as well as performer just as my co-workers were simultaneously the audience and part of an intricate, arbitrary choreography. I chose not to document the work in any way. It was ephemeral and lives only in memories maintained by a story of that particular movement and time and space.

“Walking Hours” intends to take the work outside of a conventional space and considers alternate mediums for artistic expression.The work does not depend on the necessity of a tangible result. It isn’t creating for the sake of a product but rather for an object of thought or an inspired vibration set in motion. It seeks to engage in dialogue with unexpected audiences. It does not want to be restricted by conventions – perhaps inadvertently breaking some and discovering others.There are no expectations of what the work might be. All that is intended is to embrace the process and be engaged in the action of walking.

“Walking Hours: the Space BetweenThings and the Passing inTime” will be bookended by two publications of Le Merle. The first – this text – sets the work in motion. It is a statement of intent and also a proposition to participate for anyone who might feel so inclined. I leave it open, just as I have no expectations of what (if anything) “Walking Hours” might bring. There is a title and a loose score to set something in motion. For the rest there is a wide openness within which to explore… from A to B and back to A. The final bookend – to be published later … – will present some sort of documentation referring to what “Walking Hours” was.

    Playback (II)

    Koen Brams

    Esteemed members of the board, dear Cees,
    Esteemed members of staff, dear Ankie,
    Esteemed advising researchers, dear Mladen,
    Esteemed researchers,
    Esteemed ladies and gentlemen, Chers amis francophones

    Motto: “The answer is this: war on totality. Let us attest to the unpresentable; let us activate the differences and save the honor of the name.” — Jean-François Lyotard, 1982

    They say that when writing a text, you always have someone in mind as your audience. If this is true, then who is this speech addressed to? To my parents, who produced and raised my brother and me? To my wife and child? To the people who appointed me as director of the Jan van Eyck Academy eleven years ago? To the staff with whom I have enjoyed such a good working relationship? To the researchers selected by the advising researchers and myself to spend a month to two years working on their own projects at the Jan van Eyck Academy? To my friends? To my colleagues, directors or board members? To the provincial governor, the mayor or city councillors? To civil servants? To the village idiot or the homeless noisy man? To the judge who decided in the Academy’s favour in a case against the city of Maastricht? If you were to write a text aimed specifically at one of these people, what would it look like? We’ll never know because I have decided to give a speech addressed to them all. To Omer Brams and Odile Wolfs, to Paula von Seth and Peter Pluymen, to Janicke Kernland and Anthony Auerbach, to Monique Vogelzang and Tonnie Lindt, to Suchan Kinoshita and Bert Nelissen, to Frans Pistorius and Lene ter Haar, to Mariana Castillo Deball and John Geelen – and to the anonymous thief who stole my computer ten months ago.

     

    1

    On the 25 th of June 2000, barely two weeks after starting my job as director, I gave a speech at Museum Het Domein in Sittard at the opening of the exhibition entitled Unfortunately last Sunday afternoon somebody left the door open…. Some time before I had received the proofs for the exhibition catalogue, compiled by Octavian Esanu, Franziska Lesak and Giselle de Oliveira Macedo, participants in the Jan van Eyck Academy who had had the audacity to write an alternative history of the institute.

    This trio – two theorists and a designer – had delved into official policy documents and newspaper clippings. They had plunged into the institute’s archives and found documents which had not seen the light of day since being safely stored away. Octavian, Franziska and Giselle had also interviewed the people involved. They took announcements and stuck them in the book, including wonderful sentences like: “It was emphasized that the ping-pong table in the exhibition space is definitely not OK” and “If a ping-pong table in the exhibition space is o.k., then why not a washing machine downstairs?” and “Keep the door closed! Felix the cat should stay inside until October 1 st”, and “Unfortunately last Sunday afternoon somebody left the door open… and Knut’s mountain bike has been stolen”.

    With growing astonishment, I became acquainted with the bizarre origins, erratic growth and present-day circumstances of the institute where I had just taken over the helm. Time and again I burst out laughing when reading about yet another bureaucratic manoeuvre on the part of one of my predecessors, the twisted reasoning used to justify a senseless measure and the arguments, so easy to deflate, for allowing one thing and prohibiting another. This was a marvellous initiation into the complex history of a still complex institute, one which directors, staff, artists, designers and theorists had tinkered with for decades. The Academy had undergone various metamorphoses, from large to small, sometimes involving a sledgehammer, but usually just the tiniest screwdriver. It had evolved from a Catholic art college, under the care of the Bishop of Roermond, into an international postacademic institute, initially only in the visual arts but later including design and theory. The story of Octavian, Franziska and Giselle – hilarious, exciting and poignant at one and the same time – revealed something that is often made into an abstraction: the fact that an institute is all about people.Thinking up a concept, setting up an organisation, the day-to-day business of different people within various hierarchical relationships – this is all the work of people.These concepts, types of organisation and human relationships are not there to begin with, they’re not there beforehand – they are thought up. What the exhibition and catalogue were suggesting was not only that these concepts, types of organisation and human relationships can be thought up, they can also be reconsidered.This implied the promise of the Academy as a ‘makeable’ institute. Would I succeed in reinventing the Academy once more? Would I accomplish this by avoiding the pitfalls of absurd measures, rhetorical dexterity and seamless contradictions? Having read Unfortunately last Sunday afternoon..., I would certainly never dare answer that last question in the negative.

    2

    I spent the summer of 2000 both finishing off The Encyclopaedia of Fictional Artists, which I had been compiling, and working on my ‘policy plans’. Actually the Encyclopedia has been a companion during my entire directorship, with a German translation in 2003, and an English in 2010. Back in 2000 I was editing the Dutch version of the Encyclopedia and writing my ‘policy plans’. This was a marvellous combination: on the one hand a parallel universe in which jealousy and folly, lies and brilliance fought to gain the upper hand, and on the other the dry-as-dust story of an institution. The policy document and the book came out at about the same time, in autumn 2000. So what were my ‘policy plans’? I quote: “The Jan van Eyck Academy is a post-academic institute for research and production in the fields of design, visual arts and theory. I would like to interpret this description in two different ways. First and foremost, in a literal way: the Jan van Eyck is an institute that offers designers, visual artists and theorists an opportunity to carry out research projects and create productions. It is therefore not a training institute, but a place for reflection and production. According to my second, admittedly metaphorical, reading of the term ‘post-academic’, not only should the Jan van Eyck Academy offer opportunities to designers, visual artists and theorists who already have an academic training, it should also leave the academic behind (hence ‘post-academic’). If ‘academic’ refers to using a standard procedure, worked out to the tiniest detail, to disciplinary experiments, or to the carefully prescribed or formatted way in which research is presented, then the Jan van Eyck should offer an alternative. In my vision, research and production should above all involve a willingness to take as far as you can the specificity of the discipline (whether it be design, visual arts or theory) and the research project (and hence the designer’s, visual artist’s or theorist’s particular objectives). The academic model is too restrictive and often rules out precisely those possibilities that can bring the participant or researcher to a new understanding (and to artistic or intellectual enjoyment). Central to my vision for the Jan van Eyck Academy is respect for the specific program that the designers, visual artists and theorists wish to achieve by coming to the institute. From the participants as well as the artistic and technical staff I expect a huge commitment to the Academy’s entire program (in other words, to everything that is done and made in the Academy by the participants, and by the members of the technical and artistic staff).” End of quote.

    These policy plans and the policy that arose out of them conjures up an opposition between academic and individual, between the pre-formatted path and the path of the artist’s own choosing, between ‘prescribed’ and ‘unwritten’ research projects. The fact that this policy allowed no room for the academic aspect was widely applauded. The urgent protest that was nonetheless directed at me from various quarters had to do with trusting in the independence of artists, designers and theorists. Is it a good idea to expect these people to rely on their own strengths to develop a practice, set up a project or produce a creation? Will anything actually happen if there is no compulsion, and if something does happen, in the absence of coercion or control, will it be worthwhile? I was met with scepticism, some of it implicit, some of it absolutely explicit. What happens to motivation if credits are not awarded? What happens to the desire to do something if there is no diploma at the end?

    These doubts – whether held in check or clearly expressed – can be swept aside after eleven years. It is this knowledge that gives me the greatest satisfaction after my time as director: the fact that young, talented artists, designers and theorists can dream up their own projects and walk their own paths. I have been present at selection interviews and have seen how our successful candidates have forged their own way. I have been witness to the partnerships – impossible to predict in advance – between people who came to Maastricht from the most diverse geographical and intellectual backgrounds. I have seen hundreds of unforeseeable creations take shape – from videos to symposia, from books to workshops, from exhibitions to websites. It is a huge triumph that the programme at the Jan van Eyck Academy has proven so successful without having to resort to sanctions, to awarding credits or issuing diplomas. It is the greatest triumph that we have all demanded this ourselves and that we have had so much fun doing it.

    3

    The 13 th of September 2000. Laurens Schumacher, the deputy director, and I were met in Zoetermeer by Marlou Thijssen, an official at the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. She guided us through a forest of bridges and corridors to the office of her boss, Maarten Asscher, director for the Arts. Never having met Asscher before, I didn’t know that he was a poet as well as a senior official. They took our coats and ushered us to seats in the salon. Did Asscher first pick up his pipe and start filling it or is my imagination getting the better of me? In any event, I do still remember his opening question. As he lit his pipe, he asked me: “So what do you plan to do?” Someone who asks a question like that is holding open the door to the unexpected. He is leaving open the possibility that he might be surprised at the response. “So what do you plan to do?” This is a question that doesn’t rule things out in advance, a question that implies that things are possible. It’s a question that reveals a positive bias. How did I reply to Asscher? I can’t remember any longer. No doubt I recited my ‘policy plans’, but I don’t recall. Eleven years later I can only recall the magical start to the conversation. It was the question that mattered; in every respect it was more important than the answer. The question was an echo of my experience while reading Unfortunately last Sunday afternoon somebody left the door open… An Academy is the work of people; it is a makeable institute. So make something of it.

    4

    I have set things up and torn other things down. The registration fee has been done away with, the open days were axed, the laureates – the Jan van Eyck diplomas – are no longer awarded, the departmental hierarchies have been dismantled, the list goes on… Instead of charging a registration fee, we have set up a fund to bring to fruition research projects and productions, which a board decides on autonomously and by simple majority. Instead of two open days, the entire programme – everything that is done and made in the Academy – is opened up to the public. Instead of awarding diplomas, we try to assist alumni actively to further develop their careers. Only one hierarchical division remains between the participants and advisors, with participants becoming researchers and advisors becoming advising researchers. This new structure and names convey the expectation that all participants in the Jan van Eyck Academy – researchers, supervisors and the director – will be involved in research projects. This has proved to be the most difficult but also the most important driving force behind the changes at the Academy. The most difficult because you cannot require someone to carry out their project or practice within a particular setting, and the most important because little by little it has become clear to the outside world what the Jan van Eyck Academy stands for. We have launched and developed countless projects. The future of the book, the intellectual property of the image, public spaces in the Euroregion, the work of Lacan and his intellectual descendants, the city as a communication platform and communication tool, nineteenth-century urban photography, design & populism, film & biopolitics – all these themes are just a handful taken from eleven years of research history. Whereas some people have dismissed this diversity as chaotic, I have always viewed it as extremely valuable. We have consciously gone in search of these differences because we have enjoyed doing so. We think it’s fantastic that someone can build an installation that makes reference to Michel Foucault in one studio, while in another someone else is reflecting on the impromptu market that has sprung up around a NATO checkpoint in Bosnia Herzegovina. We value these differences in themselves – they are a source of intense pleasure – but we have also seen that they can be made productive. Someone researching the house style of the Munich Olympics may benefit from a research project on how cities can at times create additional public space using their waste. Someone may decide to set up a museum in his or her studio and invite colleagues to exhibit there. Someone else can set up a Department of Reading and invite colleagues to join in reading texts together. In this way, different practices merge together.

    It has been a genuine delight for me to have contributed several projects to the Academy’s diverse research portfolio. I worked with great pleasure on the history of the Maastricht artist initiative Agora, on Matt Mullican’s Work in residence and on the Belgian television work of filmmaker Jef Cornelis.This latter project is part of a much bigger project, an alternative history of art in Belgium, which I devised together with Dirk Pültau and which he and I will continue to enjoy working on in the coming years. But I can say with great conviction that I would never have devised, conceptualised and developed these projects without the fertile environment of the Jan van Eyck Academy, without the constant exchange of ideas, visions and arguments with researchers and advising researchers. It is impossible to pinpoint exactly what the Academy has managed to achieve with me and perhaps with others too, but generally speaking I can say without hesitation that I could not have accomplished my research projects without it. I can therefore only regard my time at the Academy as an enormous privilege. It has been of invaluable benefit to me to work here for eleven years together with all these clever, committed, inspired and inspiring people. I would like to thank the board, the staff, the advising researchers and researchers for their contributions to the development of this community. Without this community I would neither literally nor figuratively have been where I am today. For this I am especially grateful to each and every one of you.

    5

    The 27 th of January 2010. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science drummed up all the directors of the various Dutch cultural institutes for a symposium entitled Basic Cultural Infrastructure, which was held at Ottone, on Kromme Nieuwegracht in Utrecht. “What do changing demographics, digital innovation, competition in the leisure market and economic changes mean for the cultural sector? What new opportunities are there? What does the cultural sector have to offer and how can we keep one another on our toes?” The agenda was certainly impressive: greater ethnic diversity in the streets and neighbourhoods of the Netherlands, Facebook & Twitter, the ever-increasing commercialisation of the leisure industry, and the credit crunch. At the very least, you would expect a demographer, an anthropologist, a designer and an economist to be called upon to shine their light on these complex issues. And why not toss in a philosopher as well? But who did Monique Vogelzang, Director for the Arts, and Judith van Kranendonk, Director General for Culture and Media at the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, invite to keep us directors on our toes? The following four speakers: Gerlach Cerfontaine, chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Onze LieveVrouwe Hospital in Amsterdam, Johan Wakkie, director of the Royal Dutch Hockey Association, Jildou van der Bijl, chief editor of Linda magazine, and Bart de Boer, chairman of the board of directors of the Efteling theme park. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, they had assembled this unique foursome in order to teach the directors the ins and outs of the issues I’ve just mentioned. Judith van Kranendonk sat in on the proceedings and was visibly delighted to hear the brilliant suggestions from the head of the Efteling. He boasted how he had managed to entice more people to his theme park by building a higher and bigger roller coaster. With a spring and an autumn programme, the Efteling was running like a top. But all his best intentions to involve the cultural sector in his plans had invariably come to nothing. Why did stage actors and opera singers turn up their noses at appearing at his amusement park? Hardly had he stopped speaking when a woman with a Limburg accent offered her services to remove the whiff of elitism that was just discernible.The problem was immediately sorted: from now on there would be plenty of singing and dancing at the Efteling.That afternoon in Ottone was a shameful spectacle. We were treated like grant-dependent pariahs who were completely out of touch with reality. From now on we would have to seek our inspiration from the hockey association, an amusement park, Linda de Mol and a hospital for Pete’s sake, not from Rembrandt, Mondriaan, Wim T. Schippers, René Daniëls or Marjolijn Dijkman. I thought back with sadness to my visit to Asscher, the official-cum-poet who had received me without the slightest prejudice. After barely ten years the dream of the makeable art institute was shattered. We had to be kept on our toes. Instead of asking us what we wanted to do and how we would achieve this, they held up to us as examples a woman’s magazine, a rollercoaster, an intravenous drip and a hockey puck, while a slippery consultant was given the job of initiating us – the directors of art institutes – to benchmarking, as we poor fools had probably never heard of it. With great excitement, Monique Vogelzang introduced us to the joys of comparative statistics. As a parting gift we were given a booklet filled with figures which we could use to measure ourselves against one another.

    But the grand finale, on Wednesday 27 January, was an address by Judith van Kranendonk. To keep us – the directors of the Basic Cultural Infrastructure – on our toes, she impressed upon us the spectre of a coalition government involving Geert Wilders’ party. Four months before the general elections, the most senior official in the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science entertained the notion that a Cabinet with the PVV was not unthinkable. I was dumbfounded. Coming from a country that has patented the cordon sanitaire and where, as a result, an extreme right-wing party has been kept from power for decades, I could scarcely believe that a senior Dutch official was openly speculating on the consequences of having a populist and xenophobic party in a coalition government. Then we’d really have something to complain about, Van Kranendonk warned us. Wouldn’t that make us descend from our ivory towers to pluck the ripe fruits held out to us by Bart de Boer of the Efteling? Wouldn’t we then be eager to take Johan Wakkie’s wise counsel to heart? We would soon see where we stood if Geert Wilders came to power. Van Kranendonk didn’t want to have it on her conscience that she hadn’t warned us. Was she aware that simply by imagining the possibility of a coalition government involving a xenophobic and populist party, she was in fact preparing the way for that party? In the meantime we have found out the answer to this question, because she and the rest of her crew have acted as willing henchmen to transform Wilders’ dictates into an unprecedented decimation of the Basic Cultural Infrastructure.

    6

    On the 10 th of June 2011, Halbe Zijlstra published his policy letter, carrying the cynical title Beyond quality: a new vision of cultural policy. This so-called ‘new’ cultural policy is the product of extreme neoliberalism and rabid nationalism. Extreme neoliberalism places full control of wellbeing and prosperity with the individual. Thus, and I quote State Secretary Zijlstra, “after leaving education, it is up to the artist to find his or her own way” and “the development of proven talent should no longer be encouraged by separate institutes, but by the artists themselves”. This proven talent should be able to buy “services in the field of in-depth practice or further training” and grants should only be used to stimulate entrepreneurship. On the basis of these policy proposals aimed entirely at the individual, starter stipends will be reduced and restructured. In keeping with this neo-liberal model, post-academic institutes (like the Jan van Eyck Academy), production houses and other training grounds will be shut down. After all, from now on it is up to individual artists to purchase “services in the field of in-depth practice or further training”. According to the State Secretary, “the cultural sector itself is responsible for further training or in-depth practice, as is already the case in other sectors, such as the legal profession, building and technology.”

    What the State Secretary does not say in this particular passage is that this Cabinet is at the same time pushing through lower taxes for the business sector, is recruiting 3,000 new police officers and is buying two Joint Strike Fighters. These are the investments that the Cabinet is paying for with our grants. This is not the first and certainly not the last paradoxical twist for this cabinet, which is supported by the PVV. Consider the following: while extreme neoliberalism and maximum deregulation lie at the heart of the largest banking crisis ever and this huge financial catastrophe has prompted a ruthless cost-cutting plan, we are expected to welcome liberalism and deregulation with open arms! The entire financial sector has been whitewashed, while we are being asked to pay the debts they leave behind with our meagre grants and to embrace the causes of this financial nightmare. Indeed, even more so than in the past, we are expected to view this as good and ethical practice. This is an invitation that can only be described as perverse.

    We all know what the consequences will be if this policy is implemented in full or in part. We know that many institutes will disappear and that with them will go valuable expertise and heritage of great value, as well as national and international networks that have been painstakingly built up. We know that many of us will be without work and that from now on we will only be able to devote ourselves to our art, our passion, in poverty. We know that we are about to be struck at the very heart of our greatest wealth, which is our culture and our civilisation.

    Listen to what Zijlstra and Wilders have to say about the policy on cultural diversity – and I quote: “The new basic infrastructure will no longer offer room for development institutes in the field of cultural diversity”. And I’m sure you can guess the consequences of this policy proposal already and I quote: “The Cabinet believes that this is the task of the institutes themselves and it will not implement any specific policy on this matter.” This xenophobic, ultraliberal policy that is hostile to both culture and civilisation must be resolutely opposed.

    We should derive courage in this battle from the immense ill-will with which Wilders’ PVV and Zijlstra’s VVD have dealt with art & culture. The fact that art & culture are treated with such hostility demonstrates their power ex negativo. And what does this power consist of? Of the critical ability to take apart and comment on social processes, the unifying power of enjoying something in the company of others, the strange ability to present something intangible, the beauty of the pointless.

    I would like to wish my successor Lexter Braak, the board, the staff, the researchers and advising researchers every success in the battle for the preservation of art & culture in general and the Jan van Eyck Academy in particular. I place myself at your disposal to make a contribution where I can. The Netherlands may be done with me, but I am not done yet with the Netherlands.

    7

    The 9 th of September 2011. In closing, I would like to say a word of thanks. I wish to thank the board of the Jan van Eyck in general and Cees Hamelink in particular for our inspiring, productive discussions. I would like to thank all the staff, researchers and advising researchers for their valued work. And for their support, I wish to thank my friend Bart, Dirk, my ‘partner in crime’, my parents, my brother, his wife and their children, my wife Cateau and our daughter Liska.

     

    Thank you.

      A Cornerstone in Transition: Pillarisation in the Netherlands

      Gaby Felten

      When my inlaws decided to move to the countryside of Drenthe in 1979 to raise their children, a friendly neighbour cycled up to their house in the village of Exloëerveen to share some handy tips.

      Among the small variety of shops, general practitioners and churches in the area, there were some that leaned toward one religious denomination in favor of another.The neighbour wanted to save my inlaws the trouble of having to make these discoveries themselves.The northern provinces of the Netherlands are historically Protestant, but there are many variations of Protestantism to be found in the area. Similarly, the southern provinces have a Roman Catholic history. My grandparents were from Limburg, and in his free time my grandfather volunteered as a treasurer for a Catholic school catering to troubled boys.The school was in Den Haag, where my grandfather befriended two clerics who would often be at the family home at birthdays and religious holidays. Catholicism was the mortar between my Dutch family and the rest of Dutch society in the first half of the 20 th century.

      For a country that is so fiercely secular today, the Netherlands is still under the influence of De Verzuiling, in English: the Pillarization. From roughly 1917 to 1967, Dutch society divided itself into ideological streams based on religious denomination. Each “pillar” represented a parallel segment of society which did not interact with other pillars of society, while simultaneously holding up “the roof” which was the Netherlands as a nation. The Pillarization was very much a topdown organization in which only elites and politicians representing the four pillars interacted out of necessity in order to de- fine the national interest to which all pillars contributed. In the 400 years1 leading up to the 20 th century the Dutch experienced brutal internal conflict stemming from religious differences2, and equally brutal conflicts abroad stemming from colonization3. Yet the Pillarization is still widely regarded as the most politically stable period in Dutch history.

      Defining the Pillarization is rather difficult. Officially the four pillars were based on religious denomination, but in fact only one was a truly cohesive religious pillar; the Roman Catholic one. The many denominations of Protestantism were lumped into a second pillar. The third and fourth pillars were not defined by religion but by political or moral ideology, in the form of Socialism and Liberalism.

      A significant mythical element has also been thrown into the mix, integrating the Pillarization into a cohesive national history and framing it as a high point of tolerance and stability. Popular writers and journalists sometimes look nostalgically upon to the “simplicity” of the period, perceiving the idea of “knowing one’s place in the world” as both positive and impossible to revive4. On the other hand, one could also perceive these peaceful 50 years as a transitional phase to the more sophisticated and diverse country we inhabit today. The arbitrariness of the official dates assigned to the Pillarization does not help matters either. According to political scientist Arend Lijphart5 the 400 years preceding the Belle Epoque6 laid the ground for the Pillarization, and its breakdown can be traced to the end of WWII – but this breakdown is difficult to pin down and could be said to stretch into the present day. Hazy beginnings, vague historical facts, and a strong ideological current underlying the unification of a country can be useful tools in politics.

      Imagine the four pillars as vertical institutions with horizontal axes representing gradations in socio-economic class position. Each pillar had its elites, its middle class and its working poor. Each pillar had its representative political party, television and radio stations, newspapers, schools, universities, shops, and clubs. One could live in a world dominated by one’s own ideology and never have to mix with anyone who thought the slightest bit different. Both rich and poor felt more loyalty to their denominational pillar than solidarity to an equal socioeconomic class in a different pillar. The defining characteristic of living within a pillar was that citizens focused so narrowly on the pillars themselves that the negative space between the pillars came across as a nonexistent vacuum.

      “Pacification Politics” is the adjective used by Lijphart for the effect that the Pillarization had on the Dutch population. Although two explosive world wars changed the face of the Netherlands and Europe during the first half of the 20 th century, political stability within the country reached an all-time high. The Dutch population may have been divided by ideological differences, but it remained for the most part ethnically homogeneous. A shared language, geographic location and economic interests placed the pillars under the same roof. This has been gradualy changing. Martin Sommer (author of the foreword to the 9 th edition of Lijphart’s book), encapsulates the western zeitgeist of the first decade in the 21 st century, where an incessant preoccupation with Islam reveals the Dutch people’s difficulty to deal with forms of otherness that do not stem from divided homogeneity.

      Despite being a moralistic and religious ideology, which would make it a solid candidate for Pillarisation, Islam is coupled with a multitude of different cultural customs emerging from the countries where it is practiced. Islam came to the Netherlands as the religion of Moroccan and Turkish migrant workers invited by the Dutch government to take part in a “guest worker” program targeting unskilled labourers during the 1960’s and 1970’s. The aim was to have the guests return home after the work was completed, but as things go, people settled into their new homeland and started families.

      Islam itself is a religion characterized by 5 pillars of faith which hold up the religion, so it’s rather ironic that it could not find its place among the existing Dutch pillars. The influx of new citizens from the former Dutch colonies in the mid 20 th century also played a role in dismantling the delicate myth of the Netherlands as a model of peace and tolerance. These citizens, often descended from slaves or a colonial educated elite, brought with them a myriad of different values and attitudes, starkly different to the four familiar ones and every bit as legitimate7.

      The Pillarization has contributed to a tendency among the Dutch to size up other Dutch citizens. Since the movement toward secularization that began in the late 1960’s, the practice of ideological segregation has been reconfigured around issues of socio-economic class, education and ethnicity. While the political landscape has become more unstable and varied now, the Dutch school system in particular is designed to separate children from the age of 12 onward into different intellectual classes that will foster the talents that become apparent at that age. The names used for these trajectories betray their hierarchical history: the difference between an academic education and a technical one is respectively characterized as high versus low (hoogopgeleide v.s. laagopgeleiden). Technical and academic educations take place on different campuses and groups of students never meet because they are on different educational trajectories, creating “separate but equal” worlds within a country in which each citizen has a role to play, but does not necessarily have to mix with others.

      One of the many consequences of this type of education has been drempelvrees, which means “fear of the threshold.” You will not see working class families lining up to see a play at a local theatre, nor a family of academics lining up to watch a local football match in earnest, for fear of crossing over the wrong threshold. In Den Haag alone there are two persistent caricatural tropes that divide the population: the Hagenees and the Hagenaar. The first is characterized by a working class background, while the second is characterized by an academic background. They have different accents, live in different neighborhoods, have different career trajectories: they inhabit different worlds within one city. The heritage of Pillarization is that Dutch people are in constant need of knowing their place in the vertical and horizontal scheme of things, as well as the place of others.

      1. The Dutch state formed in 1648.
      2. For instance, the 80 Years War (1568-1648), or the Beeldenstorm, the destruction of Catholic Churches and imagery by radical Protestants (1566).
      3. Among examples, the active slave trade by VOC, the Dutch East India Company (1602-1799) and WIC, the Dutch West India Company (1612-1792), or the Dutch Military Agressions in Indonesia (1947-1948).
      4. Journalist Yvonne Zonderop and novelist Franca Treur, both interviewed by Lex Bohlmeijer for De Correspondent
      5. Author of The Politics of Accommodation: Pluralism and Democracy in the Netherlands, University of California Press, 1968. (Verzuiling: pacificatie en kentering in de Nederlandse Politiek, De Bussy Amsterdam, 1968).
      6. Approximately, 1871-1914.
      7. Due to the active slave trade by VOC, the Dutch East India Company (1602-1799), and the WIC, the Dutch West India Company (1612-1792), the Netherlands had a colonial and trading post strongholds where the inevitable blending and mixing of cultures took place, despite strong hierarchical measures and structures created to prevent this. Locations worldwide included in Asia: Indonesia, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Malacca, Deshima, parts of Australia, parts of Iran, parts of Pakistan; in Africa: South Africa; and in the Americas: New York, Surinam, Guyana, Brazil, Virgin Islands, Tobago, Aruba, St. Maarten, Antilles, Curaçao.

      Short Remarks on an Ecosophical Pedagogy

      Aetzel Griffioen

      Following Gregory Bateson, Félix Guattari formulates an ecosophical approach that emphasises “molecular domains of sensibility, intelligence and desire”1, attaining ecological ways of feeling, thinking and acting, as a way into the global ecological crisis. With our foundation Skillcity, initiated by Dutch ecosopher Henk Oosterling, we have been developing this approach into a pedagogical method in excluded neighbourhoods of Rotterdam since 2007. During that time working with children has continually magnified the tension between the macro level of geo-ecology and the micro level where life first plays out. Between our practice and continuous reflection an ecosophical pedagogy is unfolding. Excess, not just in the sense of consumption overload and artificial scarcity, but more radically in the sense of the infinite multiplicity that ecosophy entails, is its horizon.

      Equivalorisation

      Guattari opens The Three Ecologies with a take on the production mode of post-industrial capitalism or “Integrated World Capitalism”, IWC for short. The integration of IWC is an integration of market and state. Government and the free market have fused; become two sides of the same coin. They operate under a double logic – a pincer or a scissor – that valorises human activity. Valorisation either takes place by equalizing different value systems on the market, or by placing such a system or population “under the control of police and military machines”2. IWC finds policing necessary where trading isn’t much possible, like in the Rotterdam neighbourhoods where we started Skillcity. In that way both trading and policing amount to the same process of valorisation, which is also the process of equivalorisation: the reduction of different values to an interchangeable economic value. Consequently, IWC has every appearance of a continuous process. It won’t just grind to a halt because of its internal contradictions, since it is predicated on and parasitizes off the ever shifting ways in which people find lives worth living, whatever their conditions3.

      Although it won’t just implode or come to a stand-still, IWC does entail further exploitation, deterioration of social rights and destruction of ecosystems; further extraction, if you will. In fact, we could say that equivalorisation is committed through extraction. The fact that extraction is key is the reason for an ecological approach to IWC. Just as, in the case of the fossil fuel companies, extracting oil, coal and gas from the crust of the earth is the basis for economic expansion, so it is for all profit generating market activities. Indeed, Naomi Klein tells us that “extractivism” is no longer just companies and states extracting natural “resources” for profit, but that it has come to mean a wider mentality of making profit without caring much for the consequences4. Guattari proposes ecosophy as the complementary threefold of “social ecology, mental ecology and environmental ecology”5. With that in mind we could say that the extractivist mentality acts on the relations between self and others, other beings and oneself. All of the relations in the three ecologies are treated as resources to be extracted by the market-state, and no heed is paid to the trash extraction results in, be it environmental, social or psychological. To revive forms of solidarity it is therefore necessary to work directly on the subjectivities of people in and outside of the market-state.

      Extinction 

      Contrary to what conservatives and liberals alike say of postmodernists, Guattari concerns himself explicitly with “the increasing deterioration of human relations with the socius, the psyche and ‘nature’”6. And while his concerns are on a par with that of a conservative like Roger Scruton, unlike conservatives Guattari does not advocate a return to universal values. His answer to such static and unified views on the population is that social movements need to develop “collective forms of administration and control”7 – in other terms, commons – and transversal storytelling in the face of ecological extinctions:

      “It is not only species that are becoming extinct but also the words, phrases, and gestures of human solidarity. A stifling cloak of silence has been thrown over the emancipatory struggles of women, and of the new proletariat: the unemployed, the ‘marginalized’, immigrants.”8

      In my view one of the guises of this “stifling cloak” is a specific form of economical and social stasis that is an emergent property of poor areas in our rapid, Northern European economy. In Rotterdam it is indeed “the new proletariat: the unemployed, the ‘marginalized’, immigrants”6 and even more, their children, who are resigned to these areas of permanent economic as well as social and psychological depression. Individuals may and do escape, and resistance is internally present in many forms. Often though, it is in the guise of conservative and patriarchic values. These react to and feed back into the external forces of racist and extractionist bends that in turn also keep looping back. Through this interplay of market forces, social forces and government forces power constellations have emerged that make it next to impossible for positive change to gain traction by directly working in and on those constellations. Meanwhile economic value keeps flowing out. In order to halt the social and mental extinction of forms of solidarity, new commons must arise. But they cannot grow in direct confrontation with this economic and social stasis, since this prevents networks of mutual care from taking hold. Specifically, in the neighbourhoods where Skillcity works, the social networks are spread thin for positive emancipatory struggles to take over.

      Physical Integrity  

      While the economic approach is about extracting other values, ecosophy is about drawing relations between the different planes of our existence. Crucial for ecosophy is thinking transversally. Enter our ecosophical education. It is both the fruit of a transversal network analysis of the social stasis described above, and it teaches transversal thinking. Skillcity’s primary school traject is called ‘Physical Integrity’. The traject is concerned with the development of skills, virtuous manipulations of matter and thought, that bear on the children’s relations to themselves, to each other and to the other beings. In other words, skills they can use to tend to their mental, social and biophysical ecologies. Six to ten hours of the school week are dedicated to explicitly relational activities, organized in an ecosocial circle centring on the children’s bodies. From the earth and back, the circle starts with eating together. Quite a number of parents, mostly mothers, middle and higher education interns and a professional cook prepare a two-course lunch every day: a warm meal and a bowl of fresh fruit afterwards.

      The pupils themselves are seated at long tables where the higher graders tend to the younger kids under the supervision of a parent or an intern. In the Netherlands school lunches aren’t normally a part of school culture. Instead pupils eat at home between noon and 1 pm. As a consequence in the poorer areas many children don’t eat well or don’t eat at all during their lunch break, on top of a diet that is generally lacking in nutrition. To try and break this cycle, we do not just serve the children lunch. They are also taught to prepare food in cooking classes for all ages between four and twelve years old, and they attend gardening and permaculture class in gardens specially built for the schools. Growing, preparing and consuming their own food constitute the first half of the ecosocial circle. This half is concerned mostly with caring and regaining energy. The second half is about spending the energy gained bodily and mentally in more competitive classes: judo and philosophy. Caring is present here too, albeit in a different way: not exercising care will result in injury during judo and in hurt feelings and boring discussions during philosophy. Thus Physical Integrity interprets Guattari’s ‘mission statement’ for ecosophy: “How do we reinvent social practices that would give back to humanity – if it ever had it – a sense of responsibility, not only for its own survival, but equally for the future of all life on the planet”10 on the micro level of the school class and the meso level of the school.

      Ecosophy

      It is in philosophy class that we give room to what we’ve come to call “Ecosophy” with a capital “E” as a proper subject to be taught at school. We’re in the middle of writing a first definitive three-year syllabus for children aged 10 to 12 years old. “One of the key analytic problems confronted by social and mental ecology is the introjection
      of repressive power by the oppressed”11, says Guattari. To break with that introjection, “Ecosophy” is a form of children’s philosophy that is not only concerned with developing the mental ecology, but also with developing the physical and social aspects of ecology. The model we use is that of concentric spheres of influence, with the threefold ecology touched upon during each successive grade. Guattari calls for the development of “a new gentleness”12. But many children in our classes have trouble recognizing their emotion for what they are. Therefore, we use meditation techniques as the introduction to each class. During first year, the occurrences during meditation often serve as the material for reflection and conversation. Year one is mostly about discovering what thinking and feeling mean for each child respectively; year two takes the class as its starting point; and year three engages the class with their wider environment.

      When thinking about skills, probably arts and crafts come to mind first. Such skills are often referred to as “hard skills” because they are immediately applicable for material creation. Widespread in modern education is now also the emphasis on “21 st Century Skills” such as creativity and problem solving. This is a set of skills that was developed as an offshoot of earlier discussions on “soft skills”: skills that help one find one’s orientation and relational bearing. However, the 21 st Century Skills are designed with personal efficiency and employability in mind. While that makes them far from useless, they are not primary for our purposes. Instead, we think of soft or relational skills in terms of the threefold ecology. And far before employability becomes an issue, becoming able to form positive relations with oneself, one’s peers and one’s surroundings is.

      Ecowise

      This becoming “ecowise” begins with training skills that are important for any conversation: listening, responding, expressing a feeling, giving an opinion, formulating an argument, repeating another’s argument and countering it. The second year adds conflict mediation, meditation, and discussion. Year three adds developing ecological projects in which the 21 st Century Skills come in handy too. But what of properly ecological skills? What could these be? When does transversality come into play as a skill instead of just the leading motive of the traject Physical Integrity? After all, if transversal thinking is ecosophy’s crux, then the same should hold for children’s “Ecosophy”. It is the California Centre for Ecoliteracy that put us in the right direction. With poet Wendell Berry, they believe that the prime ecological skill is “solving for pattern”13. We have translated this as becoming able to search for causal connections, to weave a thread, and then to manipulate them. In order to do this, you have to be able to feel and then handle tensions within yourself, within a group and in the wider world. With multiple threads, you weave a web. Both thread and web traverse different domains of life, different ecological planes. And so ecosophical skills for children have turned out to differ very from those for adults. The skill is the same. Only the scale is smaller.

      The fact that narrativity is the primary ecosophical skill actually shouldn’t have come as a surprise, for Guattari lauds Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers for explicitly introducing it into physics. However, his much stronger emphasis on the micropolitic and macropolitic scales of ecological problems creates a double bind that we found no use for in the case of “Ecosophy”. Even more than it holds true for grown-ups, the last thing anyone should do in the face of the ecological crisis is heap it on the shoulders of a child or a teenager. Employing such an “Atlas method” of education could rightfully be labelled as eco scare. However, the Titan carrying Earth is “the view from nowhere” or “le point de vue de Sirius”14 under which ecology came to be: the Spaceship Earth metaphor. Therefore, it is not easy to avoid the Titan. We try to do it by breaking out of the economic and social stasis where much is happening around the children and their parents, but very little is happening with them. Breaking out of this stasis, “ek” in Greek, would literally be ecstasy or “ek-stasis”.

      Excess

      With transversality as the leading principle, the Atlas view is rejected. Tracing tensions, causal webs and patterns through storytelling is principally infinite, whereas Atlas’ plight is carrying and caring for all of totality – a debilitating curse which “Ecosophy” doesn’t exactly lift, but which it postpones for a lesser tension: dealing with the excess of an infinity of possible threads to trace, weave and recount. Through ecosophy, ecology becomes a field where anyone can enter and find a responsibility for one’s own life, of other people and of other beings on a scale they can handle. Ecology becomes inclusive even for children, though at the price of also becoming infinite. Then again, the idea of a finite horizon for ecology is exactly what we are trying to leave behind, and not just for the kids.

      1. Guattari, Félix, The Three Ecologies. The Athlone Press (Continuum), London, NewYork: 2005, p.28. Translation by Ian Pindar and Paul Sutton.
      2. Ibid. p. 29
      3. Guattari, Félix and Antonio Negri, New Lines of Alliance, New Spaces of Liberty. Port Watson: Minor Compositions, London, NewYork, 2010, p.83. Translation by Michael Ryan, Jared Becker, Arianna Bove and Noe Le Blanc.
      4. Klein, Naomi, This Changes Everything. Capitalism vs. The Climate. Allen Lane (Penguin Group), London, 2014, p.169
      5. Guattari, 2005, op cit., p. 41
      6. Ibid.
      7. Ibid. p. 42
      8. Ibid. p. 44
      9. Ibid.
      10. Guattari, Félix, Chaosmosis. An ethico-aesthetic paradigm. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indianapolis, 1995, pp. 119-120. Translation by Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis.
      11. Guattari, Félix, The Three Ecologies. The Athlone Press (Continuum), London, New York: 2005, pp. 48-49. Translation by Ian Pindar and Paul Sutton.
      12. Ibid. p. 51
      13. Stone, Michael K. and Zenobia Barlow, Ecological Literacy. Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World. Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 2005, pp. 30-40
      14. Latour, Bruno, “Facing Gaia. Six lectures on the political theology of nature”, The Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion. Edinburgh, 18th – 28th of February 2013. PDF, version 19-2-13. p. 54

      A Step Towards Collapse : Stories From the Student Occupations of the University of Amsterdam

      Alexandre Poulin

      A revolutionary wind is currently blowing through academia in the Netherlands. Though the current tumult stems from the rejection of the (unpopular) restructuring of one specific faculty, the movement that is brewing is rooted in a radical rethinking of the administrative structure of Dutch universities, itself the result of decades of neoliberal colonization of the academic institutions.

      In September 2014, following the announcement of a 13 million Euro deficit within the Faculty of Humanities, the Executive Board (CvB) of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) imposed a significant budget cut which resulted in a complete restructuring of the faculty as a means of improving its performance. In a document entitled Profile 2016, the directors of UvA make several proposals, notably the outright cancellation of specific programs; the merger of all bachelor’s degrees into one general educational curriculum; the elimination of 150 teaching positions; and the suspension of all independent research funding. This restructuring of the faculty, triggered by mismanagement, is immediately denounced as demonstrating an astonishing ignorance of the conditions necessary to ensure a stimulating and nurturing environment for research and teaching1.

      Facing the first wave of resistance, the CvB organized working groups in collaboration with the academic community, without consideration for the critique stemming from these encounters. As of January 2015, the directors of the UvA announced that they would move forward with the proposed budget cuts, totally ignoring protests within the university community.

      Bezet! Bezet! Bungehuis bezet! 2

      On Friday, February 13, 2015, De Nieuwe Universiteit, a group composed of a dozen students and one teacher, begins occupying Bungehuis, one of the main buildings of the Faculty of Humanities. This target is largely symbolic: UvA recently sold the Bungehuis to real-estate developers with plans to transform the historic building into a luxury hotel. The Bungehuis serves as an example of UvA’s financial motivations, as they actively engage in real-estate speculations at the risk of considerable losses. Perhaps due to the university’s lack of transparency in the matter, this issue goes largely ignored by the community.

      Therefore, De Nieuwe Universiteit sets the tone for the enormity of the crisis and the radicalization of the protest movement. In addition to demanding the cancellation of Profile 2016, the group also demands the resignation of the CvB and the establishment of a democratic process to elect the new leadership of UvA; the reconsideration of the proposed financial allocation model; referendums on all major restructuring; the establishment of stable contracts for employees; and the termination of all real-estate speculation.

      The CvB however, refuses to engage in any form of negotiation and has sued the occupiers: the lawsuit threatens individual occupiers with fines of up to 100 000 euros per day of occupation. In response to this abuse of authority, more than a hundred professors from the Faculty of Humanities publicly opposed the criminalization of activists and have signed an open letter stating that they have already participated in or are actively taking part in this act of disobedience3. On the seventh day of the occupation, the case is heard before the municipal court: the CvB wins the trial, but the fine is dropped to 1000 euros daily for the whole group of occupiers, as opposed to the individual.

      Following the trial, donations flow in to cover legal expenses. On average, one hundred new supporters join the occupation each day, primarily to attend the conference program organized by the occupants despite the imminent eviction threat. The mayor of Amsterdam decides to mediate in order to force the CvB to start negotiations. Following two days of talks the UvA administration present their final offer: a “science festival” organized by the CvB in collaboration with the occupiers, at which the issues raised would be discussed without any guarantee of the application of these propositions. De Nieuwe Universiteit immediately rejects the proposal in a general meeting and reiterates their demands previously ignored by the CvB. After 11 days of occupation 46 occupants are put under arrest and expelled from Bungehuis.

      The taking of Maagdenhuis

      The day after the evictions, a large protest is organized in support of the demands of De Nieuwe Universiteit. The route ends at the gates of Maagdenhuis, the administra- tive headquarters of UvA, a symbol of student struggle since the 1960’s4. In a burst of insurrectionary action, the protesters storm the building and begin a new, spontaneous occupation. Members of the CvB appear and attempt to calm the protesters but are chased from the building amidst shouts of: “Aftredin! Aftredin! Aftredin!” (“Resign! Resign! Resign!”). To everyone’s surprise, the mayor of Amsterdam arrives that evening and engages in a 2+ hour-long discussion with the 300 occupants. This assembly is broadcast on local television channels and online.

      The weeks that follow are a significant turning point in the student movement in Amsterdam: the occupation of Maagdenhuis brings national and international attention to the situation. In Groningen, Leiden, Maastricht, Nijmegen, Rotterdam, and Utrecht, students are organizing under the banner of De Nieuwe Universiteit with the aim of opening dialogue around the managerial structures of their own universities. A petition in support circulates online and is signed by over 7000 sympathisers, including Judith Butler, Noam Chomsky, Jacques Rancière, Jean-Luc Nancy and David Graeber. The movement has spread all the way to London, where four separate occupations have been declared in two weeks5.

      At press time, the Maagdenhuis, which remains occupied for more than a month, has literally become the marker of a major turning point in the history of the Dutch student movement. The idea behind De Nieuwe Universiteit – the creation of a new, democratic and decentralized university – is unfolding to the rhythm of daily conferences, general meetings, and cultural events that animate the public agora. Rethink UvA, a collective of nearly 700 professors and recent graduates, proposes the institution of an alternative governance system as a means of discharging the current authority and replacing the hierarchic structure in place at UvA with a model based on the popular general assembly. If this project were to become reality, it would signify not only a first step towards the decline of the neoliberal university as denounced by the university community, but it will inspire further possibilities, for all communities, to shed the traditional capitalistic power models in favour of ones that promote self-determination and are based on the principles of direct democracy.

      Though it was difficult to imagine a few weeks ago, this radical turn of events places the Dutch universities on the front line of the international student movement. Alongside Québécois, Chilean, Spanish, Macedonian, Burmese and British peers, they are participating in the rebuilding of the academic sphere as an autonomous space for experimentation and in the fight against the impoverishment of our consciousness.

      1. A group of students immediately set up the platform Humanity Rally to mobilize the university community and to put pressure on the administration.
      2. “Occupy! Occupy! Occupy Bungehuis!”
      3. The open letter, signed by 290 academics as of March 13 th 2015, is available on-line
      4. The Maagdenhuis is known for the legendary student occupation of 1969. The occupation lasted four days.
      5. The following institutions are currently occupied: London School of Economic and Political Science, University of Arts London, King’s College London et Goldsmiths University of London.