Public Art and the Peace of Utrecht

The Agreement
Continuing the theme of giant public works of art, which I started with my post about the giant teapot, I figured I should finally post about The Agreement. This 200-square-meter tableau hangs on the facade of the Stadhuis, the site where the Treaty of Utrecht was signed in 1713. It commemorates the event that brought an end to the War of Spanish Succession 300 years ago.

As part of the city-wide celebration taking place this year, this photographic mural was commissioned from an English photographer, Red Saunders. The final image is a combination of a series of photographs that have been morphed into one. Many of the people in the picture are volunteers. There was a request late last year for people who were interested in taking part. I briefly considered volunteering, but my lack of photogenic qualities deterred me.

The Agreement

The negotiations for the treaty (actually a series of treaties) took 18 months and involved multiple countries and various groups, including diplomats, negotiators, aristocrats, Calvinist bureaucrats, militaries, and civil servants. Not surprisingly, all of these various retinues were an economic boon for Utrecht, from bakers to prostitutes.

All of these groups and more are depicted in The Agreement, as well as a few visual nods to the Dutch Golden Age of art, trade, and commerce. There are ships, still life groupings, saints, and doves of peace to be found throughout the image.

The Agreement

The Agreement is a great blend of history and humor. As well as the bawdy figures on the left, there is a curious masked figure on the bottom right. It seems that he’s a depiction of the inevitable spies who were involved in the drawn-out peace process. For a more extensive explanation of the various groupings and symbols, there’s a tagged description written by the photographer, which can be found here (in English). The following are a few photos that show a bit more detail.

The Agreement

The Agreement

The Agreement

Finally, I recommend watching this relatively short video about the making of the picture. I had seen some of the video before the picture was revealed, and I found it fascinating to see how all the separate groupings were able to come together into one striking image.

The Agreement will hang on the Stadhuis through 21 September 2013.

Squatters or Saviors

Conflict Resolution
On a section of the square behind the Stadhuis (town hall), there is a small photo exhibition set up that explores the idea of conflict resolution in day-to-day life. Whether children or adults, there are ways to try to resolve problems without resorting to violence. Sometimes, though, this is easier said than done. Martin Luther King Jr. even said, “A riot is at bottom the language of the unheard.”
Conflict Resolution

I mention rioting, because despite the multi-color flags in the picture above that say Utrecht Viert Vrede/Utrecht Celebrates Peace” you should also pay attention to the unusually decorated building in the background. Known as the Ubica-panden, it is actually two buildings with a long and storied history. The one on the left (in black) dates to the 1300s, while the one on the right dates from 1865, but was built upon the foundations of another building from the 1300s.

During the last century, the buildings were taken over by a company called Ubica. However, the buildings suffered through numerous fires. The last was in 1989 and no one made any attempt to restore the building. Instead, it sat empty and fire-damaged until 1992 when a group of krakers (squatters) moved in and began to make the buildings inhabitable again. They claim — perhaps rightly so — that without their intervention, the historic buildings would have been left to crumble and decay past saving. The owner of the building Wim Vloet, has been described as a slumlord, and he seems to have refused to work with both the municipality and the residents of the building over the past 20+ years.

However, last year a developer showed an interest in the building, hoping to turn it into a hotel and café. The squatters themselves had used the building in various formats, including as a concert venue, vegan restaurant, free internet workshop, and art exhibition space. Despite their long involvement with the building, they were served with an eviction notice last week by a court in Arnhem. The squatters were not happy with the ruling, obviously, and they remain concerned that Vloet has not/will not actually follow through on turning the building over to the potential developer.

All of this led to conflict last Friday night. A small riot of sorts broke out as the squatters tried to defend their building and make a strong statement about their impending eviction. A small grouping of tires were set out in front of the building (not far from the photo exhibit) and set on fire. Some of the squatters moved up to the roof of the building and began setting off fireworks and throwing paint balloons. Other squatters remained inside and chained themselves to the building.

From everything I’ve read, there were no injuries on either side, just a lot of paint. Some of the police who attempted to go inside came out covered completely in paint. You can read a pro-squatters account (in English) here. There’s another good article with photos, as well, here. You may want to look through the photos in the second article, since they show the before, while I’m going to post some of the after photos I took the following morning.

Having seen some of the photos of the paint-splattered square and town hall, I was curious to see it all for myself. However, by the time I got there, they had already cleaned up much of the paint and were in the process of cleaning more, as well as cleaning up any char remains of the small tire fire.

After Ubica

After Ubica

Even the Stadhuis wall and window that had been covered in blue paint was cleaned up and the only damage left to be seen was a crack in the window.
After Ubica

However, some of the squatters still remained inside. I think the scene I saw through a window was an attempt by the police to break through the chains one of the squatters was using. In the end, the last of the squatters weren’t removed until 3 or 4 in the afternoon, almost 24 hours after events began.

The squatters knew they were going to be evicted and rather than go quietly, they chose to leave on their own schedule, making their own statement. Interestingly, there’s another quote about riots from Martin Luther King, Jr. that is fitting.

The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.

The squatters knew they wouldn’t be able to remain, but by making a statement, they gained a brief chance to be heard and to express their concerns. Whether it will all be futile remains to be seen.

(For a great series of photos of that night and the following day, check out this site by a local photographer.)
After Ubica

Stroke of Midnight

Gelukkig Nieuwjaar
Last night, about a quarter to midnight, we headed out toward the Oudegracht to watch the fireworks that would be going off all over the city. Taking a somewhat circuitous route, despite the rain, we made it to the Stadhuis just in time for midnight, hearing crowds of people counting down the last few seconds. New Year’s Eve is rarely my favourite celebration, but it gained appeal last night as we stood there with the Stadhuis next to us, the Oudegracht running beneath us, and the Domtoren rising up above us. The fireworks were the icing on the cake, or the sparklers in the ice cream, as I’ve seen restaurants do here for special birthday treats.

We saw some great fireworks over by the Visbrug. I was staring up at the sky with a huge grin on my face, despite the frequent rain drops in the eye! We then went over to the Domplein to watch some of the smaller rockets being set off right in front of the Domtoren. Looking back the other way we could see more fireworks rising up over Mariaplaats.
Gelukkig Nieuwjaar

Some of the best views came from the Maartensbrug, which gave us multiple views, both north to the Stadhuis and south toward the Donkere Gaard. While we were there, we were even offered oliebollen by someone going around with a big bowl of them. He may have been trying to get rid of them before they got too soggy from the rain.
Gelukkig Nieuwjaar

Gelukkig Nieuwjaar 1:365
Despite staying out until after 1 am and not getting to bed until after 2 am, I was still up early this morning at 8:30. So much for my hopes of sleeping in. The day was dark and rainy, but surprised us with sunshine this afternoon. We decided to take advantage of the nice shift in the weather and went out to take a little walk around town. We were one of many couples and families out for a promenade. I forgot to check if the Bacchus fountain at Janskerkhof was sporting a wine bottle again, but we did see the remains of the many fireworks. Empty containers and spent casings were everywhere.
Remains of the Night

Tonight we’re sticking with the Southern tradition of some sort of pork, some greens, and black-eye peas, all meant to bring luck, wealth, and general prosperity. Let’s hope it works this year; we could use some!

Gelukkig Nieuwjaar!

Title inspiration via The Daily Post at WordPress.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Windows.2

Still Life With Bike
As I explained in my previous post, my first thought for this week’s theme was to photograph the Dom cathedral’s wonderful Gothic windows. However, as I was walking down Domstraat toward the cathedral, I passed this art gallery that has been a frequent source of inspiration for me. A window installation of the work of one of their featured artists inspired my own artwork that now hangs in our bedroom. The current exhibit by an artist who does wonderful graphic-style images of Utrecht is another favorite. I love seeing the different parts of the city depicted in this format.

As I walked past the gallery Saturday, I was inspired by one of the paintings. The artist has focused on one section of the Stadhuis, including just the windows and the ubiquitous bicycles. I loved the idea of using this painting of windows, seen through a window, with the reflections of other windows layered over it all. Even better, some of the Gothic windows of the cathedral, which is just a few steps away, are reflected in the gallery’s window.

Windows Multiplied
Additionally, I love how the windows in the painting seem to line up so well with the windows of the building reflected in the gallery window. This collection of windows, all in one window, was too good an opportunity to pass up!

Unexpected Sights

Broken on the Oudegracht
I went over to the Oudegracht area today for a couple of reasons. First off, my main goal was to go to the Stadhuis to see the Trekhaak Gezocht exhibit. They have some photos and bits and bobs showing one man (and his dog) on a hitchhiking trip from Utrecht to the three European Cultural Capital Cities of 2010. The kicker is that he was hitchhiking with a caravan. As he headed from city to city, he had to rely upon the kindness of strangers to help tow his caravan from place to place. The website has a lot of info in English, so I do recommend checking it out. And if you’re in Utrecht, head to the Stadhuis before 1 November to see the exhibit. Plus, on 31 October, there will be a free showing of the documentary that was made along the way.

My second goal of the day was to head to Hema to get their infamous (and delicious) rooktworst. We’re having hutspot tonight! Yum! Lekker! *drool*

As I was wandering through the city (with camera phone, rather than full-on camera), I saw a few unusual sights. First was that broken umbrella hanging from a branch out over the Oudegracht, as seen above. I’m not sure if it blew away and happened to get caught, or if someone decided to toss it and managed to catch it on a branch. Either way, it was kind of pretty amid the few yellow leaves and against the reflection in the canal.

Yet I think the most unexpected sight I saw was the arrival of the holiday lights that are strung up over many of the streets here in town. Echt? Already? It’s not even November! I know the pepernoten has been out for a while, as have the chocolate letters, but somehow I thought the lights might wait a little bit longer.

Holiday Lights

Cultural Sunday


For the first time in days, we had sunshine today. A nice break from the rain we’ve been having for the past week, and the rain it looks like we’re expecting next week. Today also happens to be the monthly Cultural Sunday, which has a changing theme each month. This month the focus is on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. We took advantage of the sunshine and headed over to the Stadhuis (the old city hall) by the Oudegracht to see the temporary wall that is being built on the square. Many of the blocks making up this wall feature comments from people in regard to the Berlin Wall and the lack of freedom many experienced as a result. One comment that I saw was from someone whose parents were Hungarian and who didn’t have the freedom to travel at will. This person, however, does have that freedom and says to appreciate the freedoms we have now.

We also went into the Stadhuis to see if there was anything that we could look at/take part in, that didn’t require an understanding of Dutch. Not much luck, but we did get to see some animation stills that are on display as part of the Holland Animation Film Festival also going on this week.

After wandering around for a while, we decided to stop at the Winkel van Sinkel and have a coffee on the terrace before heading over to Albert Heijn for a bit of grocery shopping. It’s that time of year again when a few more shops — especially grocery stores — are open (or open earlier) on Sundays. It seems to last through the holiday season. Just long enough to get you used to it to make you than miss it when everything goes back to the closed-on-Sunday hours in the new year.