Dijks and polders
Uit de keuken van de curator

Dijks and polders


After weeks of riding around the North of Amsterdam in varying mixtures of the following elements: rain/wind/snow/sun/wind/rain/mist/frost – I am beginning to understand at least one increddibly important aspect of the Dutch terrain (both physically and metaphorically) that with every dijk there comes a polder and vice versa. As we have been researching the history of the area in an attempt to familiarise ourselves with its current state(s) I’ve realised that, as other groups of people may map their time, the development of their society, by monarchys, by changes in government, by years up to or after a certain significant/catastrophic event – these neighbourhoods gauge theirs by the manipulation of the landscape around them. ‘Oh yes,’ you will often hear, ‘that was before they constructed that dijk’ or ‘Well, this would never have been the case had they not reclaimed this section of land from the sea’. No mention of the collapse of the shipping industry in the 80s which left almost the entire town unemployed, or the flood in the 1960s which meant that residents had to be boated out and scattered to relatives across the country. It’s all about dijks and polders.

So where does the symbolic come into this? As I struggled up the side of one of the forementioned manmade hills (the only ones to be had in this part of the Netherlands!) the story of the little boy, Hans, who heard the sound of trickling water coming from the dijk behind his house. The story claims that every Dutch child knows what that sound means (questionable), Hans then promptly stuck his finger in the hole in he dijk where the water was seeping out little by little to prevent the impending flood. He stood there all night and was only relieved of his post the next morning when a priest passed by. He is the little boy who saved the Netherlands.

Now, it seems to me that there are fingers in holes all over the country, preventing certain social situations, economic tensions, potential cultural incompatabilities from spilling over. These plugs are not necessarily misplaced but are preventing the friche which could possibly bring these conditions to some sort of reckoning. As “imports” into the situation in Amsterdam North, with all its politiking, small town spats, large-scale social engineering – where is the sound of trickling water for us? My challenge for the moment is to imagine what would happen were our project to remove certain fingers, let the holes in dijks get bigger and change the ideological landscape a little. What would be required were we to relieve Hans from his heroic post? What would the flood look like and whose responsibility to channel the waters?