Art(ificial land)scapes.

The performativity of the public place.

Off the grid, appropriation of the public place by site- specific art interventions.*

I am Irene Janze and I want to thank you for inviting me. My art interventions and research  are focused on  the public place as a particular physical arrangement that give meaning to certain concepts and to the exclusion of others.

My talk of today contains two art interventions in public places in Amsterdam. I will show that the public place is an actor in the realisation of the intervention. And not only is the public place an actor, its caracteristics emerge in relation to the artwork. The public place is part shaper of the artwork and he or is it she, is partially shaped by the art intervention. The public place is and becomes.

I don’t consider the public place as a passive environment, a neutral landscape, but as an active ‘doing', an agency, a knot or hub, a network of activities, materials, stuff and ideas, that takes an active part in my artinterventions and works out in the action. Its performativity defines which art interventions are allowed and which are not and how the public should perceive them. Factors, like, expectations, the scale and function of the public space, and its public image play a significant role in defining the characteristics and meanings of the art interventions.


In order to show how the public place and the art interventions give each other meaning and 'intra-act'( I mean that properties and qualities emerge in the action and are not there as an essential component beforte the action) I will focus on the performativity of the public place in two of my art interventions: the vest pocket parc on the Soembawastreet in the Indonesian Neighborhood in Amsterdam east, also known as studio Open Air and the Logolength laboratory on the most expansive ground in the Netherlands, the Zuidas in Amsterdam Zuid.

The art interventions abrade and push against existing normative landscapes and enter into a dance with the public space. In the dance properties of the public space and of the art interventons emerge.

1.The vestpocket parc Soembawastreet in Amsterdam Oost.

A neglected, remnant piece of space next to a small parking lot in between residential blocks was transformed from an addiction wilderness into a small parc with a terrace and activities for children.

In the area was a bench that was populated with residents with drug addictions, who drank themselves in a coma and or people with phychiatric poblems. Dogs were send off to attack passers-by, mainly to children and adults were stabbed by accident. At some distance more severe criminality of harddrugs and illegal prostitution took shape. During the summer residents - (I am a resident. My artist studio is located on top of the other houses) - stood once a week before the municipal bench which we had baptised and named: the ideeenbank (the bench of ideas) over night. We wanted to appropiate the public space, so it could become a place for all local residents. We branded the porch windows. We built strip gardens, artifcial flowers and knitted 'tree shirts'. With the help of the architect Miek Witsenburg we made a plan to redesign this piece of the public place.


De transformation of the public space. 2011, 2012, 2013

On the link below are pictures made by the residents: PpIa_0uSQ

click here for films about the transformation: Activities of residents; Transformation; Opening chessboard;

On this spot in Amsterdam EAST individuals, the smallest minority so to speak, or small groups of civilians have a lot of power over the public space. At first the 'addicts' were ruling the place, then the residents. One person can undertake a lot without being disturbed. The space has a high resolving capacity. It carries many identities, so no-one is hit if something is undertaken. If it is of no concern to you, nobody cares. No one called the police when I painted the municipal waste bins. Besides: the police would not have come anyway. Together with children I built a small tent, to grow some plants. Against all odds of the residents who did warn me that the tent would provoke vandalism again, the tent rested undisturbed for two weeks untill harvast time.


The effects of such small actions are huge. Many children with in their wake their parents come to help.  Others thought we were building some kind of memorial, because a lot of violence had happened. The spatial grammar of the place changed and the place obtained a different charism. Extreme violence and criminal behaviour disappeared from the scene.  

summer 2012

spring 2013, Studio Open Air

"Drank addicts" (who helped at first with the changes but were not content with the final result: too neat they said) were helped again by social work. To our surprise we got support by the police who paid us a visit every now and then. In fact everybody came and gave support: from the local municipality and housing cooperatives, to fund raisers and ministers. We were even invited by the queen an we made it into her the place and its inhabitants rised from neglention and disgard into the spotlight of attention. The intervention has been used as an example for basic democratic initiatives to alter the public space and gave rise to more initiatives of this kind in Amsterdam and else where in the Netherlands. In the neighborhood many small changes, many under the embrella of the Foundation of VestPockets Parcs (this foundation was founed by the architect Miek Witsenburg, who had mapped neglected remnants of public space in the neighborhood for twenty years and had great faith in local communities. She and her foundation perform little miracles) for the occasion, took place in public areas where residents were already active. I cannot emphasize the work of Lied Nolet and Rob van Veelen, both participation officers of the municipality and one police officer who's name has left me- sorry senior moment) enough.

In poor neighborhoods the “Richard Florida” effect pops up: artists face lift the area that increases in value. The local townships love art interventions and subsidize artists, who as a kind of new cheap and temporarly social workers punch the old social work away. The government retreats from the maintenance of the public place, and cheap labor entrepreneurs like artists as myself jump in. I did not perform social work however. I donot "teach or help" other people. I try to work things out with what is available. Everybody has their own useful skills and identities as is the case for the place and the materials we find. The only important criteria for change was that activities took place outside and were open to everybody who paid a visit. What I did, apart from being outside once a week with workshops for children, storytelling and facilitating activities of other residents, was to establish an infrastructure for community support.

Small actions changed the place eventually. The public place appeared as a kind of prop, that changed by another use. The public place behaves in the intra- action with the art intervention as a canvas that is changing into a new painting.

Mmme, so the public place has properties of a decor after all. Does it behave passive then? Did it had anything to do with becoming an ' addiction' wilderness? The place is located at the intersection of four roads. A synoptic place for drugsdealers. One can spot the police from miles away and flee if necessary. The bench was faced in the sun. Ideal for for people with a drinking problem, particularly because the police, social workers and the municipal service for maintenance of the public space did not have the spot high on their priority list. The spot was surrounded by social residential blocks with in their wake coffeeshops and food markets with very cheap liquor. The public place had a big voice in the becoming of a addiction wilderness, but still, it obtained relatively simple another use, air and glow.

small actions, huge results
high resolving capacity of the public space, a lot of tolerance.
different users( even once a week with small interventions), huge effect, different spatial grammar and esthetics

2. The Zuidas

The other art intervention, the 'logolength research' takes place on the most expensive piece of the Netherlands: de Zuidas in Amsterdam. In general de Zuidas is seen as an anonymous, international business district, a tax heaven, a place without Amsterdam roots that could be picked up and put down anywhere in the world. Also known as an off shore.

the Zuidas


impression of the scale of the Zuidas

The public space on the Zuidas has a large scale and is focussed on movement. From one building to another, from the buildings to the higway or trainstation and from there to elsewhere in the Netherlands or to the airport with international destinations.

The public space is powerful. It has a strong regulatory component. The ever propelling west winds blow freely through the streets. You do not want to stand still. The public space is a transit area with very limited things going on at the plintlevel. There are hardly any lounge- areas and there are no childeren playgrounds. It is a bit better now in 2014. But the first public childrens playground is right on the spot of the Art Reseve Bank ( a great artist initiative). So one public function was exchanged for another.The Zuidas has a lows resolving ability. Everybody looks more or less the same as a succesful business women or man. That is to say apart from the students in the west part of the Zuidas. Individuals and small groups have hardly any power. Ordinary people do not have much influence. The place is taken out of the hands of the general public and put into hands of companies and well organised civilian organsiations( with highly educated laywers).My art intervention started at the Free University and is called the Logolength.

the logolength:

LogoLength Zuidas is an artistic, mathematical research project.

The research:
Characterize the corporate logos by measuring their heights and dissect the
logos into stories and images.
The aim is to change the general vision on the location and its logos.

The calculation:
The logolength formulae consists out of three components: the logo-height, the logo-speed(stories and images), the logo-force. LL=lh + lv+ lf

formulae in symbols:

A mathematical formula translates the three components in a number and calculates the length of the logo. Through a website the public can value the stories, images or deliver a story and hence influence the length of the logo.

The logolength-ratings:
Through a database we measure the variation in lengths.

The art intervention
a/ An old house on the Zuid-as is transformed into an art installation: the logolength laboratory.
b/ A light installation on top of the building operates as a beacon and depicts the ratings

The project Logolength investigate logo’s at the Zuidas. The project measures the height of the logos( the disctance between the figurative and the ground) and enrolls the logos into stories that are translated into an art landscape. Through a mathematical formulae all the information is expressed in a number: the ‘length of the logo.’(

Through the stories, sculptures, videos and drawings the Zuidas gets different properties. The aim: to alter a mono-vision into a multi vision about the logos and the place where they dwell. The project wants to expropriate and appropriate the logos and the Zuidas out of the hand of the companies and give it back to the people. After all: logos connect the owners to the towers and provide for a strong image about the place.

The logolength intervention is strongly influenced by its surroundings:

The project started as an academic and artistic platform for students of the VU (Free University)and of the Art academy( the Rietveld Academy)in 2009. I only had the possesion over a desk once a week and every now and then a showcase. The building of the university is open to the public seven days a week and I consider the showcase as part of the public space.


Everthing was small and mobile. Small interventions outside of the building did not seem to get any hold of the place, because of the scale of the space. This also applied to the Art Reserve Bank,( an art intervention that occupied a complete plot) and the Art Chapel, the latter was located hidden in a parc. The art-interventions were swallowed by the environment without many people noticing them. A pity. Strangely enough small try-outs of Logolength interventions were easily noticed in the monotonous environment and often not accepted by people who worked at the Zuidas. The police was warned. And they came. The labourors in the businesstowers must have used binoculars because the 'logolength' tent was placed in the middle of nowhere.( see illustration). With permission by the way.

tent on the Zuidas

Trains stopped and the drivers made an arrest when we shoot pictures from the platform. I am too old for that. For bigger interventions I did not get any permission or money. The first results were scientific based stories. Due to the crisis the university withdrew from the project at the end of 2010. Due to that same crisis the schoolgarden did not had to move just yet. But the administrator building was already empty. After mediation of the administrator the municpal service of the Zuidas made that building available for the logolength research. From 2011 till present the building was tranformed into a Laboratory, an art installation with presentations for a general public, that is to say passers by, visitors of the hospital, business people, students and for local communities.
Inside an artscape was built.


logolengthlab outside

In the interplay between the installation, the active and passive public, the companies, students, construction workers, “schoolgardeners”  and media arises the meaning of the logolength laboratory that shifts between different realities and is no longer under my control alone. Actions of others give rise to a different space that changes all the time. To give a practical example: I planned a simple teagarden (on request of the Dienst Zuidas to give something back to the general public) . After all the laboratory is located in a beautiful garden, just opposite the  Free University hospital. And in this way I could make some money. So far so good.


But when I started the entrance of the Laboratory was blocked by machines and sand due to construction work and a generator produced a constant odor of gasoline. No place for a tea garden. No one could visit the laboratory except for using the schoolgarden entrance and the administrator was not all amused and did not allow it. After all the schoolgarden was still functioning. (It moved in December 2013). This situation lasted for two years. That kept the laboratory hidden and the place was written over by an ”under construction atmosphere”. Commercials on the fence to indicate that the lab was there, were welcomed by putting containers in front of it. The workers of the schoolgarden started to see the lab as an extra storage room. Garden - and cooking equipment was placed carefully and gentle amongst the early works of art.

For two years a lot of energy was put into creating support to survive with the laboratory. To engage local communities a drawing garden -for the elderly- started on wednesday afternoons( when there are no school classes on the garden) Workshops were given during open days of the schoolgarden. The Open Zuidas- where companies opened up their doors and showed artwork from their collection or from invited artist,- was organized under the embrella of the OntdekdeKunst vanZuidManifestation. Needless to say: the Schoolgarden and Lab participated withexhibitions and permanent storytelling about the logos of the 'neighbor companies' that participated in the Open Zuidas: the ING bank and the VU.
 Results from the logolentgh research were presented on a variety of academic and art platforms.

drawinglessons in the garden ( teachers M. Louwers, S. Kruisbrink and I.Janze)

The poet Peter Koning reads his poems .........; music performance PotM

After two years the Lab gained enough publicity and support to get an own entrance and the artistic light installation was finally built: the logolength meter on the roof : a work by the artist Anton Dekker. It has an industrial look and is adapted to its suroundings. Music, poetry and tales were performed. The stories are published on a site ( ) where people can rate the stories and logos or deliver stories themselves. This changes the length of the logos and that's how the logolength-ratings arise. The logolength meter shows the logo ratings and is an eye cather for the laboratory. It functioned as a lighthouse. (The light installation was dismantled in july 2014).

The artist Anton Dekker explains the logolength meter

Apart from special openings the laboratory is open two days a week for the public. To let the place speak for itself, the artworks are made for the greater part out of waste materials that are produced on the location. In this case construction materials and materials out of the Dr Alma schoolgarden. The artworks give the disgarded materials and, in a sense the disgarded place, other identities. A new life so to speak. The artscape has a political connotation: the lab was built in the wings of the rich and eye catching corporations with left overs of the construction of those companies.


Het logolengtelab, inside

The beauty committee and all kind of other, in their area of interest, very successful and powerfull organizations, paid us a visit and wanted to have their say about what happened. After explanations they all gave green light. This is different from Amsterdam east where people were not very well organized or not organized at all. The expropiation and changes of the logos seem to happen en companies react. Which also applies for art and architectural routes in which the Laboratory suddenly is included. And : the hand painted sign of the laboratory was first taxed ( as a commercial sign) and later -in 2014- stolen. It became a collectors item!

Presentary Room

The back room: Veals and other marriage rituals, an installation of Ariaan van Walsum and Irene Janze

Unlike in Amsterdam east, where artists are welcomed and considered to facelift the area, on the Zuidas and ' off the grid', ( that is to say no longer supported by an University or Art Initiative), funds are very difficult to find. The Zuidas is considered to be rich and may be too rich and Amsterdan Zuid as well. A lot of taxs money was given to the banks. Therefore those companies do not want to give the impression that they also fund experimental, prestigious and difficult art projects. After all, in the eyes of the public, artist are like bankers: lazy people, who spend taxs money and produce things nobody understands with no economic benefits. At least that is what some bankers said to me. On the other hand the Municipality and Amsterdam Art Foundations prefer to spend their money in disavantaged areas. A good thing may be, but now I was putting money earned in a disadvantged area into art in the rich part of town. It felt like a topsy-turvy world to me.


Summurized: small interventions have no effect on the spatial grammar (due to the scale of the area), esthetics or ambiance of the space, but they do effect the behaviour of people. A small part that deviates from the monotonous norm is excluded. Low resolving capability. The tolerance of the public space is low. One is easely expelled form the Zuidas. Not only by the workers and users of the Zuidas, but also by the wind and infra structure. Broad streets, so called transit strips, huge squares,- sidewalks and- parcs. The scale is streessed by the sky scrapers of international companies.

So the image of the space, the public opinion, together with the economy determine very strongly what can and cannot be done.

One may even conclude that what is allowed or not in the public space is dependent on what is built there. Powerfull companies or social rental homes.

Still the logolentgh research, unfolded out of the VU logo, shows, that it is mainly the public space itself, in particularly the west winds together with the water in the subterranean, that produced the difference in the economical development and set up of this two places, Amsterdam east and the Zuidas, on such a short distance of each other.

Dia military map

here is a short explanation:

Amsterdam east consisted out of small islands of peat floating in water. People and animals were transported by boats and put on the bog; in between the Schinkel river and the Amstel river consisted of a condensed dome of peat, the Amstelveen (amstelpeat), the peat grew 10 meter above sealevel, so one could move about on foot and a maze of small streets materialised with exit roads to the west and south. West of the Schinkel was hardly any peat.
By the west winds the small amount of peat was blown away and a lake arised. Excavated and reclaimed different polder landscapes arose: the east of Amstrdam consisited of small polders, that developed into small residential areas; from the Dam till Buitenveldert one condensed polder emerged with a good infrastructure. It enacted a lucrative moneymaking living and working area.  The dry lake, the Haarlemmermeerpolder was unsuitble for agriculture but the propelling and ever blowing south west wind, the same one that blew away the peat, appeared to be very suitable for an airport.

It is easy to understand that this advantage in infrastructure, the roads even follow the former polder ditches, and the historical lucrative living and trade area with nice houses together with a nearby airport is the best place for an international corporate service industry.  Formerly cows grazed on the zuidas, now international transctions and money are harvested. Our beautiful high rises are just moneyfarms.

So the public space in former days created the conditions for the highrises that in their turn create an even better infrastructur with hardware squares, roads and pavements.One could conclude that it is the power or performativity of the public space itself that overtime enables the difference in 'cheap' residential houses and industrial international moneyfarms with broad loss roads, a railway and an airport.

Therefore it is plausible to say that what is allowed and what is not in the art interventions is partly due to the performativity of the public space. The public place and the artinterventions intra -act and give rise to each ohter caracterisitcs.

Well one might ask, why did this difference in the peat landscapes occur? Look it up under the logo of the griffin at the ice and the real estate on the Zuidas.

* In 2013 I gave two lectures for the Dutch Association of Esthetics(NGE) called art(istic) landscapes. One lecture took place in Utrecht, April 19 2013( annual conference and one at the EGO salon Dieren. The two lectures were a bit different and were put together and rewritten for the web in July 2014