There are so many empty buildings in the Netherlands, while artists are desperate for jobs. There must be another way, thought the philosopher Erik Rietveld (53) and the visual artist Ronald Rietveld (49). The brothers have worked together as RAAAF since 2006. In 2010, they made Available NL, the Dutch participation at the Venice Biennale. They floated ten thousand pale blue miniature blue foam buildings through space. Each building represents an empty public building in the Netherlands.
RAAAF has been nominated for their installation Black Water, which attracted hundreds of visitors to Zeeburgereiland last year. There are three huge silos which have not been used for fifteen years. They were part of the city’s sewage treatment plant from 1982 to 2006. Erik: “All the piss and pee from every Amsterdammer, rich and poor, known and unknown, eventually ended up there.”
Visitors could crawl into the pitch-dark silo alone or in pairs. At first they were completely disoriented and heard only the echo of water drops. Later it turned out that there was more to see. At one point, the city’s skyline was projected through a hole in the inner wall, without technical aids. The whole silo was a camera obscura and a room for contemplation.
What characterizes your work?
Ronald: “It’s always about work made specifically for a location, usually in public space. They touch on socially pressing issues such as climate change or war.”
Erik: “Black water took place in a vacant building. The potential of vacancy is something we have been working on for years. Government buildings stand empty for an average of five years. We argue that this time should be used for knowledge and the development of young talents from art and science. Give them temporary access to the vast sea of vacancies.”
Ronald: “We also do a lot with ‘known strangers’ in the public space. How can you promote social cohesion through spatial efforts? How to ensure that people from different socio-cultural groups – who would not normally meet each other so quickly – can still meet each other and build some kind of familiarity? It’s about shared fascinations and interests. It doesn’t matter what your background is, on a cold autumn evening a fire appeals to everyone. Of course, we try to create something that also visually appeals to the imagination.”
What does Amsterdam mean to you?
Ronald: “It really is our city. Amsterdam’s nightlife has had a great influence on our thinking in total experiences, where all the senses are treated. With our work, we also create a new sensory world each time, which also invites reflection.”
Erik: “Amsterdam offers a respite. Precisely because the city is becoming increasingly crowded due to the strong growth of tourism, it is important to preserve that breathing space. The empty buildings in the city have enormous potential for this. So do we humans Black water wanted to experience. The contrast between the hectic on the one hand and the darkness and silence on the other. In the artwork you really step into another world and you can come to yourself. For example, one visitor said: ‘With the help of a psychologist, I am recovering from severe burnout. I would go to every day Black water want to go detox from everything’.”
What is it like to work together as brothers?
Erik: “The special thing is that it makes us feel really good with each other. We are complementary.”
Ronald: “And half a word is enough for us. You can also be tough on each other’s content without making a fuss. There is clarity.”
You also sawed through a bunker along the A2 as a criticism of the monument policy. Now the bunker is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Erik: “The bunker was a municipal monument at the time of the sawing. It took five years to convince the Danish Cultural Heritage Agency that sawing through a monument is a good idea. That this work of art appeals to the imagination more than the pure preservation of such a historical object.”
Ronald: “Later it became a national monument. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as part of the new Dutch waterline.”
What will you be doing in five years?
Ronald: “We will continue with the subjects we were already fascinated by in 2006, artworks that touch on themes such as climate change, historically charged heritage and the potential for vacancies. It is the long lines that run through, even though the projects are always different. We like to be the canary in the coal mine with our artwork. We don’t work with a theme because it just happens to be hip.”
Erik: “It’s about contemporary art that is accessible to everyone in the public space. It will still be exactly the same in five years.”
The prize money for the Amsterdam prize is 35,000 euros. What will you do with it if you win?
Erik: “We will continue with our long-term ambitions. It is urgent that places are created for young artists and scientists because their imaginations allow them to offer a new perspective on all the social issues at play right now.”
Ronald: “We will use the money to carry out long-term research, which we are continuously working on. We initiate our work ourselves, no one asks for it. We can quietly work on a project for five years. It just requires a lot of time, energy, manpower and material.”
The six nominees for the Amsterdam Prize for Art in the categories Stimulation Prize and ‘Work of the Year’
Ocho and Ibs
Black water from RAAAF
Echo Box radio
Jason from Maasja Ooms