Gateway to Ruigoord

Last weekend ‘Heaven on Earth’ was praised and sung about with incantatory words from Hans Plomp, Hedy d’Ancona, and Joep van Lieshout. In the context of 50 years of Ruigoord, the art route ‘Oase of Wonder’ was opened: thirty (art) projects spread over the grounds of the only ‘free state’ in the Netherlands. A unique place that has been known as an artists’ colony since the 1970s where ‘different’ rules apply.

Last Friday my name was Alice and I stepped through the gateway into No Man’s Land near Amsterdam’s Afrikahaven, a green oasis flanked by (oil) storage terminals and wind turbines. Above our heads the occasional rustling of metal birds. Before my visit, I had seen a TV documentary about this place. While watching, I was pleasantly surprised by writer and poet Hans Plomp (“The indistinct stench of the city disappears under the scent of elder- and lime blossom…”). He was one of the first squatters in the village The Wild Place (‘t Ruighe Oort, old Dutch). Triggered by this poem, I am reminded of the summer of 1989. At that time, I was preparing my application to the Royal Art Academy in The Hague. My portfolio consisted of poems, photos, paintings, and drawings, but soon realized that essential (graphic) parts were missing. Together with a good friend, we designed book covers on a multi-colored photocopier, including – as I quickly decided – Hans Plomp’s ‘Amsterdams Dodenboek’ (Amsterdam’s book of living and dying). As a seventeen-year-old, this book made a big impression, especially because of the stories about booze, drugs, and sex, but also because of the main characters and allusions to ‘Titaantjes’ (Little Titans) of Nescio, my favorite Dutch writer at the time. Later in life I also got to know Frederik van Eeden, known for the Walden colony (based on Thoreau’s Walden, or Life in the Woods). The magic circle seemed to be complete. For the cover design I came up with ‘Amsterdammertjes’ (typical steel traffic bollards) projecting crucifix-like shadows on the pavement .

The access road, leading to the centrally located church, is bathing in sunlight. Brick houses with painted poems and French wild wood on either side. Just like in the video from 1991, but a bit messier and less rural. On the open field a colorful group of vagrants, artists and artisans, but also ‘bon-ton’ city people who have parked their luxurious Land Rovers and Teslas around the corner. This place will surely score high on the bohemian-index. Old hippies and early school leavers, searching for freedom by following the smell of disobedience. After listening to words of welcome, Richard and I stroll through the green fields, witness a performance with out-of-space objects (Transcendental sympathy by Natalija Gucheva) and lose ourselves in a maze of winding paths along the Observatory of the Microverse (Jamie Nee) to the edge of the Afrikahaven. The healing hands (flag) of Willem de Ridder (1939-2022) mark the outer limits of this exhibition. The nearby oil tankers have been turned (propellers facing North) in order to reduce noise pollution.

Lost in the land of tall grass, reeds and rats, we arrive at a soothing pond with a mechanical octopus (Hydra) by Zoro Feigl. In my personal translation ‘a commune of plastic eels’. For me the highlight of the art route. The brochure states that this lake was dug by Theo Kley (1936-2022). Zoro Feigl’s work is poetic and unique, think of earlier work ‘Infinity’ (2018, Nest, Elektriciteitsfabriek, The Hague). At the edge of the open field a blue school bus reminds me of Tom Wolfe’s Merry Pranksters in ‘The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test’. Insiders inform us that this ‘air bus’ recently caught fire and was used to travel to India and China. Every corner here has a story to tell. On our way out, we say goodbye to this ‘Oasis of Wonder’. With a bow to the poet, lifetime guardian and gray-haired pirate telling tales of adventure and danger, his clothes rough and worn, with patches and tears that speak of battles fought and won. In the hope young new Titans will stand on the shoulders of Giants to tell new stories of bravery and resilience.

Click here for a photo impression.