Ruigoord, with their heads in the clouds

Squatting has a long history; the concept is as old or even older than the idea of property itself. Squatting actions normally increase during periods of housing shortages and are often tolerated when properties are awaiting redevelopment. However, as the real estate market improves laws tend to be enforced.

Dutch squatting has its origins in the 1960s. In 1971 a court ruling opened the way for anyone to be allowed to squat an unoccupied house or building. After years of public discussion the government motioned a squatting ban and on October 1st 2010 squatting became a crime in the Netherlands. Authorities are planning on gradually evicting 200 squats in the capital.

The problematic of unoccupied buildings and the legitimacy of occupying them is an ongoing discussion throughout the world. Considered one of the oldest and most successful squatting projects, Ruigoord, with its 38 years of history, remains an example of how a community can survive if freedom, responsibility and self-motivation go hand in hand.

This small village located in the industrial area of Amsterdam has been a sanctuary for many artists pursuing their own vision ever since it was squatted in the early 1970s by the art collective Amsterdam Balloon Company. After a long political and legal struggle, Ruigoord is now officially recognised as a cultural breeding zone, a creative and social experiment.

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Introduction by Peter Baum (collage artist and Ruigoord resident)

Ruigoord was the name of a former floating island in a big lake west of Amsterdam. It became a rural village with about 100 inhabitants until the 1960s when the Amsterdam City Council decided to build a larger harbor to its west.

The authorities persuaded most of the people to sell their properties and move. Houses were being demolished when the international oil crisis of the early 1970s put the project on hold. In 1973 a group of like-minded artists with roots in Dada, Surrealism and Provo discovered the village and started using the empty houses as ateliers.

By that time the collective, know as Amsterdam Balloon Company, bought an old school bus and travelled the globe with it, performing and making friends. In the summer time they invited their new friends and held artistic festival-like gatherings, which grew into the legendary Landjuweel festivals.

Nature took over the doomed construction site and went wild. All was well until the late 1990s. The economy was booming and Amsterdam dug up the old harbor plans. The bulldozers came to destroy the bushes, the butterflies, the orchids, the trees and turned the area into a desolate wasteland once again. But not without protests that were intense and loud enough to wake up some people. In 1999 a Tower of Babylon built with pallets was erected in front of the construction site and caught on fire as a symbol of protest. It was decided that the village should be kept from destruction.

After years of debating, Ruigoord was officially acknowledged as a cultural center. The Amsterdam Balloon Company still continues to travel and make friends all over the globe. And all those friends will, sooner or later, show up in the magical circle that is Ruigoord. I think Ines, in her pictures, captured some of that magic.

Peter Boom
Ruigoord, October 2010

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