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.