Saturday, July 27, 2013

We Be Futuring

The first night of the Futurological Symposium at Ruigoord closed out with a performance by Kent Minault, an original Digger from San Francisco. It was a monologue, with slides, of Kent performing his experiences with the cabal of radical activist who functioned as the soul of hippie 'Frisco before and after the “summer of love.” Kent came out of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, an innovative radical theater group based on the commedia dell arte tradition with a dose of Brecht. The Mime Troupe had a hit with “The Minstrel Show,” and when Kent came back from a U.S. tour in '66, he found his fellow troupers plotting something... the year of the Diggers. This began with free food giveaways to street kids and anyone in Golden Gate Park, and continued through the “Death of Hippie” street procession, the free store, an encounter with a pre-Black Panthers Huey P. Newton, and a mysterious half-night orgy theater in the church. All of this narrated in engaging style by a magnetic actor who lived it.
The conversations on the day that followed, the “theoretical sessions” (the first day was “historical”), were dense and winding. Felix Rottenberg emceed the arguments. The main current was around the question of institutionalization, legalization of free cultural spaces and the compromises it entails. (This, as it happens, is a line of investigation for our SqEK group.)
Ivanjka Geerdink spoke about his Novaglobe project to link up “flowtowns” on the world wide web. Geerdink's idea germinated when he began to use his mother's land in northern Holland whilst she was on holiday. He and his friends party and try to build a community. Now his intention is to use his formidable IT skills to build an online infrastructure to help in “keeping a flow alive, a spirit alive in places” – Flowtowns. IT for him is the “ring of power” that can do this. Ivanjka is a “hippie with a plan,” building on concepts like the “trusted global community” behind, the “Route Soleil” of seasonal human movement – which he compared to the French seasonal migration of cattle, the transhumance.
Rutger van Ree, who pontificated so well the day before, asked Ivanjka how he will deal with “the angry outside world?,” that is the people who hate migrants, gypsies, travelers, and all manner of temporarily present human beings. Alan Smart observed that the project smacked of technocratic utopianism. “If you replicate this system of network, can't you take some poison with it?”
Rural occupations in the increasingly depopulated countryside is getting to be a hot project, even in the political squatting world, as police in the cities bear down heavy on new and old occupations alike. Ivanjka's faith in (a well regulated) network of mutual trust is not so “hippie,” useless, naïve and misplaced as to warrant the routine dismissals that come from both left and right.
David Graeber explains money in his necessary opus “Debt: The First 500 Years.” Drawing on decades of economic anthropology, Graeber reminds us that money came into general use with the advent of moving armies who needed some way to regularize their commerce with local peasants who relied almost entirely on systems of mutual aid and credit for subsistence.
Ergo, those of us “on the grid” are living like soldiers, alienated from the source of all we need to subsist, and entitled by our coin to ignore any scraps of human relations that might adhere to our smooth monetary transactions.
While I liked Ivanjka's project – and believe something like that is going to matter a great deal in the very near future – the toughest talk for me came from Jaap Draaisma. (“Tough” BTW, in my youthful surfer days meant “cool,” but more in the sense of really real.) Jaap was a squatter in the hardcore punk squat Vrankrijk (Frahnk-reich; est'd 1984), during the days when the Amsterdam squatting scene was political – but “not so political as in Germany!” He later worked for the city government organizing the controversial Breeding Places program that legalized many squats. With this experience, he worked on the legalization of Ruigoord and their Landjuweel festival. In that work he was always practical. But he acknowledged the dilemma that “If you follow all the rules it's expensive, so you exclude people.”
Contrasting the attitude of the hippies who came to squatting a generation before him, Jaap said “You build your paradise for yourself or you want to change society,” making “collective action for a tribe's benefit, or for the larger good.” Now the political situation has turned bad, and squatters are being regularly arrested. In Berlin and New York they have formed a strong Right to the City movement. Maybe, Jaap asked, something like that could happen here? “Can we make a political agenda as a tribe?”
After Julian Jansen, a demographer with the Amsterdam city planning department explained the population statistics of greater Amsterdam, a squatter from the nearby ADM, also in the harbor area, explained their work there since 1997. Bev – (I did not get her full name, since the program changed radically, and she ended up not on it) – explained, “We organize as little as possible. We work together” as artists.
Bev, who grew up off the grid in New Zealand, is an ecologist trained in earth sciences. She studied “transformation management,” that is, “how to change the world.” You can't do that from within; “you need places for new ideas to develop.” The squatters at ADM developed and protected a lake which harbor authorities wanted to fill in. Her mission: “Protect the ecological systems in the harbor area.”
After the sessions Maik of the Robodock group explained a little of the “cultural defense” strategy at ADM. The owner of the building, he said, were “mafia,” who came around at various times in a limo with thugs, bouncers, wrestlers, and “cage fighters,” and later with demolition machines. Robodock was the answer to these intimidations and attacks. This highly successful festival, which “grew bigger than ADM,” used machine components, fire, and circus, working with NYC's Madagascar Institute. Their motto: “Safety third,” after “fun” and “fear.”
There was ever so much more... presentations by the “ambassadors” of Christiania, the spokesman for the nomadic Mongolians who never appeared, held up by visa problems at the various borders they had to cross. And sometime soon the audio of the conference should be posted on the website.
This symposium went on in Hippieland for real, as the purposively fantastic Landjuweel festival slowly gathered steam during the course of it. To send my emails I sat on a stump, my bare feet in the sand outside the “Salon” house with the wifi as Ivanjka the theorist strummed a guitar nearby... a woman approached carrying a frying pan. The bright-eyed musician who shared our tipi the night before lit up a hand-rolled cigarette. Two stiltwalkers dressed like Michelin people in costumes of orange and green walked in front of the church blowing bubbles. A woman passed pushing a child in a bakery trolly. And Aja Waalwijk dashed by, clutching conference papers. Aja does not wear a watch nor carry a cel phone. “His friends remind him what time it is.” Amazingly, things came together very well.
There is a lot more to be said about the rich load of information, about instances of alternative movements, and there were many realizations. There is also an analysis to be made of the symposium discourse, what was said and what was not said, what was allowed and what was not. I certainly want to know much more about the Ruigoord artists' community – I'm looking forward to the “ethnography” of the beaming Rumanian student Anna.
While I did not smoke the poros of hash and tobacco that were circulating, I certainly contracted a “contact high” from the lush hedonistic environment of happy people, hippies both for the weekend and lifelong, milling about and looking forward to their festival. Finally, though, I had to leave, although everyone was telling me not to, that there was nowhere to go better than this. Maybe so, and I surely feel the siren charms of the Landjuweel. But really, it is too late for me to reach for that kind of life. I felt better immediately with the city sidewalks under my feet, with soap and water close at hand. And in the end, I will have to fight for the right to the city, not the right to be left alone in the country. Although it is always so nice to come for a visit!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

How Hippie Is It?

I am sitting in an open air cafe at a folding metal table. Chez Bernadette is run out of a refitted bus. A long haired shirtless cook is sorting fake meat. This is the Landjuweel festival at the Ruigoord community, which is celebrating its 40th year this summer. They produced a book – their second – and hosted a “Futurological Symposium on Free Cultural Spaces.” That's what I am here for, sleeping in a tipi and (not) taking cold showers. It's in part a Zerzanesque future, a rural-like community sandwiched between the Amsterdam port of ships, containers, and massive storage tanks, unfolding on a small strip of land carefully let to go to nature. Overhead the jets roar continuously, on approch to Schjipol airport, even the four-engined transatlantic behemoths like the one that brought me here from New York a few days ago.
The tipi we are sleeping in was built by a pair of Dutch twins who brought the two dwellings down from their community in Jutland, in the north of Denmark. They are expertly made and set up. One of the van der Schaar boys spent nearly a year in a tipi while he was at university. It seems the best spot for us Americans, me and Stevphen Shukaitis, who was also invited to this symposium.
It's nice to be invited. We get the tipi, and a few free meals with the volunteers. But the real deal here is the festival. It's one of many – only a couple of weeks ago the barefoot festival – but this is the big one, the largest of the year. The tipi now is surrounded by tents, since it is on the “familie veld” campground.
The symposium has been grand – chock full of subcultural history, the hard stuff. I spent most of the time seated next to Alan Dearling, a historian of the traveler movement in England and Europe. He's written 42 books, sold hundreds of thousands, and lives off the proceeds. He lives in Scotland and teaches archery for a living. That scotch company can't have him, though – he drinks cider.
The proceedings of the symposium were rigorously conducted by Felix Rotenberg, a Dutch TV host who has also served in the Labor Party. On the first day of “historical sessions” we heard from the long-time denizens of Ruigoord, a lineup which included our host Aja Waalwijk (who wrote on this in “House Magic” #4) and ex-Provo Hans Plomp. The symosium is being held in the heart of the community, a deconsecrated Catholic church. As the village was evacuated, the last man to turn out the lights, the priest of the church, handed the hippies the keys to the gothic-style edifice. Over the handsome wooden door now hangs a new sign, “fortune favors fools” (translation from Latin). After this infro, Simon van Dommelen outlined the “cultural defense line” of Amsterdam, the alliance of squatted houses and lands, all in various stages of legalization, which have banded together in the face of shrinking culture subsidies and tightening repression. Britta Lillesoe and Nils Vest arrived from the Copenhagen “free city” of Christiania – she let out a whoop and he showed maps. Frank Sol talked up the Doel project outside Antwerp, another small town evacuated of residents in preparation for a harbor reconstuction project, just like Ruigoord. The project has not been built – the installations around Ruigoord were constructed only in the late 90s – although hundreds of millions have been poured into the paper plans. Sol and his comrades are pitching Doel as the next Ruigoord, and an embryonic free town is already well developed there.
Ralf van Schaar talked of the place he lives in Jutland – ThyLejren, “the People's Lair.” Inga Cholmogorova pitched her project Art Guslitsa as a straight-up artists' residency program, on land given by a rich sympathizer, then fell into a twisted, expressionistic Butoh dance. This to me more or less said it all about the repression nonconformists face in Putin's Russia. After lunch at the organic canteen, we trooped back to the church to hear from the Italian organizer Chiara Baldini about the Boom Festival in Goa, Portugal, a trance dance rave which has been going many years (see HM #4 on the links with Ruigoord). Then Rutger van Ree, a writer and organizer I met at Quartair in the Hague this spring, gave a rousing rhetorical call to resistance.
Geanme Marin came over from New York to talk about her life in the “Umbrella House” squat on the Lower East Side. She showed a filmic portrait Sebastian Gutierrez had made of her eventful life, which began in the sefl-organized city of Pereira in Colombia. Several important people did not show up. Missing were the group from Tacheles, the recently evicted cultural center in Berlin, and the group from Warsaw, the “Orange Alternative,” a Kabouter-style pranking protest movement which was a key ally of the Solidarity Union in the move away from Soviet dominance in the later 1980s. The organizers filled in with more Dutch groups. There is sure no shortage of them!
Now, with my feet in the sand of the open-air cafe, and blossoms following gently on the keyboard I think it may be time to pause in this telegraphic account of the Ruigoord free spaces symposium, and pick up tomorrow. A small band is playing the Monty Python song, “Always look on the bright side of life” alongside the church. Besides, it is time for the presentation of the embassies – Christiania, Boom Festival, and the North Americans. I have to go; I think I may even be part of it somehow, although I have mislaid my diplomatic robes....

Monday, July 22, 2013

From Ruigoord, Outside of Amsterdam

I am in Ruigoord – the 40-years squatted community some 8 km outside of Amsterdam. They are preparing for the Landjuweel, the annual festival of music, performance and free culture. It's summertime in Europe, and the kids will come. They have been making this happen for a long time (see House Magic #4). Even so, it's way outside the mainstream of touring families and soccer-loving crowds of visiting inebriates.
Tonight begins the third annual free culture symposium, three days of talks with folks from all around reporting and opining on their lives outside of capital. (The full program, as participants received it, is pasted at the bottom of this post.) I will report here on the symposium as often as I can.
I arrived in the former Magic City last night, jetlagged and work-exhausted for a stay in the Winston near the central train station. Crazy at night with young folks avid for drink – “you can get a bottle water at the bar,” I was told around 9pm Sunday night. “I'm afraid...”
After sleeping off the jetlag, I met up with Jordan Zinovich this Monday morning. Jordan is one of the organizers of the Landjuweel, and in between errands he took me and his guest Ken Minault of the San Francisco Diggers on a whirlwind walking tour of radical Amsterdam. Jordan is an editor with the Autonomedia collective, my publishers. They've done a number of volumes on pirate lore, and Jordan pointed out a hanging painted head of an African hanging above a tavern. That was an apothecary sign, he said, with a very old reference. It's from the time when the pirates had the best medicines, the medical plants their indigenous crews knew of from their homelands. That African is sticking out his tongue for the medicine, showing that you could get it here. Long long before it was a tavern.
Jordan also paused his running at the massive Amsterdam state house, wherein he said is the map of the world in tile on the floor, laid down during the Dutch golden age, when the country was an empire. Sailors' wives could pace that floor and follow the likely route of their absent lovers' journeys. At a corner of the building, scratched into the soft stone, is one of the last remaining scraffitos of the mad genius of the Provo movement, Jasper Groetveld. This rune is an apple in a triangle, signifying.... I forget what all, but a penis, buttocks and anus, and the Beatles' unacknowledged inspiration for their record label. We have to make a rubbing!
Groetveld's old teenage sidekick Arie Taal was waiting for us on his floating island, moored among the houseboats of Amsterdam. Groetveld had built these 25 years ago out of styrofoam blocks roped together with fishing nets. This ramshackle recycled ad hoc innovation has been gradually extended. Ari saw that the birds were getting into his garden, and built another part of the island just for them. There's also a lovely little house with an old office typewriter sitting on the desk, and a toilet all covered in vines that just drops its load straight into the canal.
We sat on the island listening to stories for a while, drinking white wine since it's Sunday and we're dying of heat, and well, why not? Then wandered up the canal to see the original Groetveld floating island, built as an extension off a houseboat in 1968. It was here, Ari told us, that the original Lowland Weed Company opened its, um, gangway, selling pot plants for 1 guilder each. Yes, said Jordan, I saw the photo with a banner advertising 10,000 plants for sale. There is still one painted sign from this time left on the side of the boat.
Across the street was the police station. They did not interfere with Groetveld's blatant scheme because by then the cause was lost. The youthquake was in full swing, hippies had flooded the city, and besides, Groetveld was married to a TV producer.
Jordan edited and translated a book by Marjolijn van Riemsdijk called “Assault on the Impossible: Dutch Collectives and Imagination in the '60s and '70s,” which treats of the art culture that accompanied the infamous Provo movement that marked the first evanescence of hip politics. This is the radical countercultural history that was peculiarly Dutch. These folks knew what they were doing with their plays to the media, and their tactics with the cops. The Situationists disdained them. Pah! “Hijack the culture and the politics will follow,” Jordan said. (“Free your ass and your mind will follow,” said George Clinton.)
Slowly, globally, I think this has proved true. But the work of carving out and maintaining space for free culture in the neoliberal world as it was screwing down to the repression-drunk form it presents to us today, has led many to think that art and fun are a distraction from the real political work of fighting capitalism.
Even so, as bicycle activist Timesup Bill says, “You gotta have tunes” if you want people to turn out. And this Landjuweel is shaping up to be ever so tuneful. I wandered the grounds of Ruigoord after shaking hands with the local gang – characters who will play a role in the story I will write of this event in the days to come. The swarms of folks around here are putting up tents, knocking together structures, and getting ready for the big fest. Tents are springing up – “there will be 500 tents in that field tomorrow” I am told, where the teepee is going up in which I plan to sleep. A stone's throw from this hippie paradise stand giant turning windmills, oil storage tankers and cargo cranes, off them built in the last 10 years as the port development Ruigoord was squatted to prevent finally unfolds. Passenger jets constantly roar overhead. The free culture festival unfolds in the jaws of the beast.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Ruigoord's Third Futurological Symposium on Free Cultural Spaces

The NYC museum project is underway, which has been absorbing my full attention. But I am going here now. Amsterdam looks charmingly cool after the suffocating heat of a full bore New York heat wave...
Ruigoord's Third Futurological Symposium on Free Cultural Spaces.
Space Is the Place
― Sun Ra Free Cultural Space Is the Place! More particularly, the place is Ruigoord Culturele Vrijhaven, which between the 23rd and 25th of July 2013 will host the Third Futurological Symposium on Free Cultural Spaces. This year, again under the inspirational chairmanship of Felix Rottenberg, The Cosmopolitical Parliament welcomes an international group of presenters from important Free Cultural Spaces. Central aims of this year's Symposium include generating a comprehensive collective vision of the extraordinary value and essential importance of Free Cultural Space and refining and publishing a Declaration on The Universal Right to Free Cultural Spaces.
The first day's program focuses on the practice of declaring cultural space free and autonomous. Our presenters, responding to input from Felix Rottenberg and the attending audience, will help generate the substantive foundation for the Symposium's Declaration. On the second day, which will focus on theory, we will view Free Cultural Space through different disciplinary lenses, refining the Declaration on The Universal Right to Free Spaces during course of the day. Thus the overall Symposium will serve as a true Futurological session of the Cosmopolitical Parliament.
Participants scheduled for the presentations and debates include town-planner and demographer Julian Jansen, who advocates for the importance of Free Cultural Spaces in urban environments; founder of the Totaltheatergroup Solvogn (Sun Wagon Theater Troupe), Britta Lillesøe, attending on behalf of the Culture Union of Christiania in Copenhagen; Penny Rimbaud, founding member of the Punk band Crass and founder of Dial House Dynamic Centre For Cultural Change in Essex, England; Waldemar “Major” Fydrych and Agnieszka Couderq for the Orange Alternative Group from Warsaw, Poland; Diogo Ruivo Mendez for Portugal's Boom Festival; and Dalch Ochir and Harun Wolf representing the Blue Sun group in Mongolia. Russia's Guslitsa group will send representatives. New York City-based Canadian author and publisher Jordan Zinovich (the 2013 Ruigoord Trophy recipient and Ruigoord's North American ambassador) will represent the Autonomedia Collective. Kent Minault, one of the original Haight-Ashbury Diggers, offers a historical acte de presence with a theater piece chronicling the Diggers' emergence. Geanme (Jane) Marin will represent the Umbrella House squat in New York City. Allan Moore will represent Madrid. Stevphen Sukaitis will represent the Minor Compositions publishing project ( The Cultural Defense Line of Amsterdam will be represented by Simon van Dommelen. Ruigoord will be represented by Hans Plomp, Michael Kamp, and Aja Waalwijk.
Please note that this list of participants and topics is neither exclusive nor completely finalized and may change ― see the final agenda for more information.
Ruigoord has contacts with many important free cultural spaces around the world, including: Christiania and Thylejren in Denmark; Doel in Belgium; Tacheles and UFA-Fabrik in Germany; Blue Sun in Mongolia; Finisterre in France; Dial House in the UK; the Harrop-Proctor Community Forest in British Columbia, Canada (; Tree Frog Radio of Denman Island, British Columbia; the Mattole Salmon Group in Northern California (; the Ida and Pumpkin Hollow Communities in Tennessee; the Autonomedia Collective in New York City (; and the Boom Festival in Portugal. Ruigoord is also part of The Cultural Defense Line of Amsterdam, a network of about 30 free cultural spaces in and around the city, including: Domijn, Nieuw en Meer, Zaal 100, Tetterode, OT33, ADM, Op de Valreep, Krux, NDSM, and Slangenpand.
There will be no entry fee for the Symposium (De Entree Is Gratis!), and we encourage and welcome public attendance.
Following the launch of Ruigoord's new community history, Freehaven Ruigoord, on the 25th of July our Symposium will come to an end with the formal opening of Embassies representing Christiania, Tacheles, Blue Sun, Boom, and Autonomedia in Ruigoord.