Lino Hellings of Kanaal 10 Guest Studio, Plantagedok, Amsterdam

Getting the opportunity to be an artist in residence in Amsterdam must be the dream of quite a few artists. The city has drawn artists and creative people to it for centuries and today is no different. Even though I’m from the Hague and they always say that Dutch people who are not from Amsterdam grumble about the amount of attention our capital gets compared to the other beautiful cities…well, I’m just as in love with the city as you are 😉 In December, I was back to the Netherlands for a month and I wanted to visit a residency in Amsterdam to write about, and that’s how I ended up at Plantagedok talking to Lino, who runs the guest studio Kanaal 10 in the very special artist run Plantagedok.

Plantagedok used to be occupied by squatters back in the eighties, it used to be a school and it used to be a church and you can still see all of that the history in the building. It hasn’t been gentrified, it still has that little rough edge that shows both the history and the love and attention the artist collective that runs Plantagedok put into their building. Lino showed me around and everywhere we meet people who are interested, stop to have a chat, invite me to the cafe night downstairs, the atmosphere is fun and exciting. Add the location-in the center of Amsterdam-and you can imagine why guest artists enjoy it here so much. It’s a simple but very strong concept that is protected by Lino, and it works just as it is.

I found my visit to Plantagedok very inspiring, and I hope this interview will do the same for you! Enjoy! You can find their website here and here is a direct link to the Kanaal 10 guest studio page.

Are you Dutch, or a foreign artist so enthusiastic about going to Amsterdam that you want to start reading the interview in Dutch? Click here for the Dutch version 🙂

Plantagedok as seen from the outside

Could you start by telling something about Plantagedok, the building and how this place got started?

The building used to be occupied by squatters, as one of the last places in Amsterdam actually. Back then there were a couple of very large buildings with lots of squatters that were being emptied by large police forces, like the Kalenderpanden not far from here..this was one of the last ones left and by then the city had noticed artists were leaving Amsterdam and going to Berlin, Rotterdam, Antwerp..and they realised, oh, well, that wasn’t really what we intended. That’s how this place became one of the cities first ‘Broedplaatsen’, a cultural and artistic hub. The original squatters, I wasn’t one of them, they remodelled everything in about a year and a half, two years. We own the place, but that doesn’t mean we can just sell it or anything, it means we pay rent for the land to the city Amsterdam and do the upkeep of the building ourselves and that’s how we’re able to keep the rents low.

Was the guest studio part of the concept right from the beginning?

Yes, the building was remodelled from the idea of openness and collaboration. All studios have a glass wall somewhere and the bathrooms and kitchens are in central areas rather than in the individual living and working spaces and that comes from this idea of meeting each other. You create a kind of choreography inside a building that facilitates meetings. From this same concept came the idea of having a mix of people in the building, we try to create a mix between artists, crafts people and small activist groups.

One of the centrally located kitchens

So that’s where the idea of a guest artist comes from, to have someone new in the building who works and lives here for a short period of time?

Yes exactly, and I try to make sure the guest artist really works in the studio. The studio is on the ground floor and it’s explicitely in the middle of the building, and there’s a bedroom upstairs, on the top floor of the building. That bedroom is truly in the most beautiful spot of the whole building, it’s located to the south and you’re looking over the buildings, over the Vakbondmuseum..it’s beautiful, but then of course there’s the temptation of locking yourself in there with your laptop and not really working downstairs in the studio. We try to keep an eye on that, make sure people are actually downstairs in the studio working on their art.

The guest studio

Did a lot of things change since the beginning? You said before we got started that you tried to do things more ‘officially’ in the beginning and less so as time went on?

Yes, yes, in the beginning I had two deadlines, one in May and one in November and then I’d collect all applications and look at them with one or two other people from the building. By the time we made a choice it turned out everyone we thought was interesting had already found another spot, so that wasn’t really ideal. Now I’m much more flexible about the whole process, if there’s an interesting artist applying and the studio is available I make sure to arrange it right away and that’s been working well for years now.

Exhibition by Maria de Brea, guest artist in 2013

How many guest artists have been here so far?

I’m guessing about..twenty, twentyfive(twentyone, we looked it up later). The guest artists stay between two and five months, so that means about two to three people a year.

Which is quite long, has that been a concious choice from the beginning, to make the guest artist period not like a month or so but really a bit longer?

Yes, it’s been like that from the beginning, the people who started this, the squatters I mean, they started the guest studio and I’m still using their application form and their contract, I’ve only made a few tiny alterations to it. It’s kind of funny, there’s another place-Het Domein in Weesp, and they just started a guest studio and they’re using our model, and again our application form and our contract.

That must mean it’s working! Have you been on a residency yourself?

No, I don’t think so..I’ve traveled as an artist, but I prefer to create my own conditions, so I’ve never been to an official residency. I’ve been invited to a kind of conference in Montreal where artist residencies all over the world were gathering, but I was asked for my art work and not because I’m running the guest studio here. What I experienced there confirmed for me that the way we do it seems right to me, because a lot of artist residencies I saw there offer a lot, but they also have a lot of rules. For example, there was an artist residency that required the artist to work with the locals. I already do that as an artist, but if someone says it’s required of me to do it I find that to be restricting very quickly. I think I’d prefer to arrange the money by myself, go to a place and find contacts of my own. Our place costs 550 euro per month for two spaces-which isn’t much for Amsterdam but it can still be considerable money for an artist-but that does leave you free to work on your own project.

 

What kind of image or expectations do guest artists have of Amsterdam when they first arrive?

A lot of them have been in Amsterdam before, even if it’s just for a vacation. And well..everyone just falls in love with the city, if they weren’t already. Pretty much all of the artists want to stay and a lot of them do, often they’ve build up contacts in the time they were here. There’s this great couple from Budapest who were here..four or five years ago as guest artists and they’ve stayed in Amsterdam ever since! They can never find a permanent place so every three, four months they pack up their stuff and move again, but still they stay in Amsterdam.

Do people sometimes stay in the Netherlands but go to different cities, like Utrecht or the Hague?

No, they really stay in Amsterdam. We have some form of exhange with het Domein in Weesp, a while ago they had a cancellation of a guest artist which left them with a hole in their planning so they asked me, do you know anyone who could stay here? And then no one really wants to go because, well, it’s in Weesp..

Haha, that’s great, they really turn into these typical Amsterdammers who are known for never wanting to leave their city!

Yes hahaha! Right now, the couple from Budapest is staying there, in Weesp, I think they’re pretty happy there.

A collaboration between previous guest artists and a permanent Plantagedok artist, exhibited in the Plantagedok hall

Do the guest artists have a lot of interaction with the artists who have a permanent studio in the building?

Collaborations do really happen, to use the couple from Budapest as an example again, they’re film makers and they applied for a grant at the Amsterdam Art Funds together with Caroline Lindo, she has a project named Textile Hunters so there’s a kind of spider web hanging in the hall right now that they created together. Maria de Brea is one of the people who started Textile Hunters. She’s staying here as the guest artist at the moment, she’s been here before and was working with recycled plastic and knitted hammocs,  and she started working together with Caroline to form Textile Hunters. Eventually, Maria left from here to London so Textile Hunters split up and the couple from Budapest started working together with Caroline to create a sort of installations where they project on the textiles. So yes, a guest artist period can result in collaborations, it doesn’t happen all the time but it does happen. There’s been a guest artist from Slovenia who went on to do the Film Academy Masters, and I teach there at that school. Maria wants to apply for the same masters so I’m helping her out with that, in that way you’re in each others network and you can help each other find openings.

Do guest artists sometimes do projects with the neighbourhood?

Well..it’s a bit strange, guest artists love to be here because we’re located so centrally in the city, you can walk from here straight to the Waterlooplein and everything, but the relationship with the neighbourhood is very difficult because we’re so centrally located in the city. We have a beautiful hall and cafe space and on the one hand it’s part of our function as determined by the city is to do something with the neighbourhood, but on the other hand the people in the neighbourhood have problems with noise and such very easily, since it’s  such a narrow street. The hall is very suitable for parties but we can’t really do that. It’s a difficult balance to achieve.

Preferably no big parties, according to the neighbours 😉

For me, often when I go to a residency I tend to choose remote places, like a Norwegian village of 200 people, and when you arrive in such a place it’s quite a ‘thing’ that you’re there, everyone notices you and that makes it fairly easy to organise something or to find people interested in what you’re doing. If you come as an artist to a city like Amsterdam, you’re one of the many. Is it sometimes hard for people to get their projects started or to find space for their projects?

We have a beautiful hall and cafe space and the guest studio is right next to it, so if people want to present something it’s possible right away. The cafe is open once a week and on those nights there’s always live music and some kind of opening, people can invite new friends and there’s always some kind of audience that night. It also depends on the guest artists themselves, we’re like; if you want to present something just let us know, there’s a cafe commitee, a zaal committee, there’s me..there’s plenty of possibilities for you.

The cafe

My next question was going to be if there have been Dutch guest artists, but you told me before we started the interview the first one is going to arrive soon!

Yes, for the very first time, and she’s from Amsterdam! It was a condition for her to have a plan, to very clearly come to work on this plan. I don’t really choose from an artistic quality because the determining factor shouldn’t be my taste, it should be that people are really coming here to get to work on some sort of art project. For her, it was also a condition that she really comes to stay and live her for the guest artist period, not that she’s going back and forth between her house in Amsterdam and the studio here. It will be a fun experiment.

What kind of projects do the artists bring here?

There’s been quite a few painters who have created amazing work, if you have two to five months here you can truly produce a lot of work without distractions from other things. Maria was working on Textile Hunters, the couple from Budapest are film makers, then there was Nadine who was working on a fashion label, there was an artist from New Work who created installations with objects, another artist from Bilbao who worked with objects made from concrete..there’s been a lot of diversity.

The guest studio

I really like how informal the guest studio is, that you run it yourself and the application process is so loose, is that on purpose? I often feel a lot of spaces in Amsterdam are organised in a more official way, with committees and that sort of thing.

Hmm…I used to do everything by myself and a little while ago someone from here said she wanted to work with me, but I noticed right away that makes it a bit harder and a bit slower, you can’t make decisions with the same speed and because you’re slower with accepting a new artist you might lose a good one because they’ve found something else in the mean time. But well, that’s how you learn. She’s created a Facebook group where previous guest artist are presented and upload work and she’s going to work on the website, make sure there’s more on it about the guest studio and what the guest artists are doing here. I really only did that whenever Transartists asked for it, and when they did it was fun to do but I need a push to do that soft of thing and she’s doing it from her own initiative.

I do stop her from making it too official. I believe it should not become some sort of system, it should stay a living relationship between us and the person who comes to create something here. I place a lot of value in the conditions of someone coming here not as a tourist but to truly create something and take the opportunity. At the same time, I also do things in a way that are doable for me, after all, I’m renting a studio here too, I’m working here too. I want to run things in a way that keeps in fun for me and that keeps me curious about the people who come and work here. That’s the kind of balance I’m looking for. One the one hand, I take this very seriously and the guest artist has to be someone who truly contributes something and who’s really here to work but on the other hand I don’t want it to become a system with commitees and all that.

The guest studio

What’s the most popular time of the year to come?

Actually, it’s been going pretty well throughout the years. There’s always another aplpication that’s interesting enough to get through the next period and always about two, three months in advance. We don’t really advertise ourselves, the only way people find it is through Transartists and we write that profile page ourselves so sometimes it’s not that easy to find or we’re renewing or something..but in spite of that we don’t have a lack of interested artists. I think if we advertised ourselves more we’d run the risk of drowning in applications, after all, we’re in the center of Amsterdam and in such a special building..although, a little more advertising wouldn’t hurt. But, the guest studio is pretty occupied throughout the whole year.

How long in advance do people apply for the guest studio?

Like I said I stopped with the deadlines and now there are about two, three applications coming in every week. It’s been changing, it’s kind of funny, now often people just knock on my door instead of sending an email! Usually it’s foreign artists who are already in Amsterdam, sometimes they’re working with others in the building and they tell them, hey, we have a guest studio, go by Lino and ask about it. When they do, I tell them about the availability and to look at the website and download the application form, so that’s a possibility too. I do prefer to work with people who are specifically coming from abroad to Amsterdam to do a project, because it would be really easy to fill the guest studio with people who can’t find a work and living space in Amsterdam. That’s not the point of the guest studio and I want to keep this space for it’s original purpose.

Do you have tips for artists who are coming to Amsterdam for the first time, things they might not think of?

Something that goes for pretty much every guest artist is that they need to find a job. Almost all of them need to find a way to make money during their stay here, there’s only a few who don’t have to do that. So my tip is to do some research before you come about how to find a job here and the requirements for being able to work here. It differs per person. Nadine for example, she came from Canada but she had a British passport and since it was before Brexit she could legally work here. Lina from New York really had to do a lot of research and she did it all officially, got a permit to stay which allowed her to take a temporary job here. It’s something to consider if that’s what you want to do, to know your position and the possibilities. There are foreign artists in the building who’ve been living in Amsterdam for thirty years and they have knowledge about how to do it, you have to think a bit about it beforehand but there is know-how available in the building as well.

The night view from the guest artist bedroom

What are the future plans and dreams for the guest studio?

Hmm..I don’t really have that many dreams, to be honest..

What I understand from your story is that it’s working just as it is and you see it as your task to protect it as it is, simple, loose, focussed on the people and their projects and not too much unnecessary fuss around it.

The idea of having a building with thirty, forty spaces where people live and work and where you reserve one space for someone from the outside, I think that is a beautiful concept and we don’t really need to change anything about it. It’s more than I want to protect that simple concept, keep it like that.  Although, I do have one wish, I’d like to every now and then offer the guest studio to a refugee artist. Coincidentally, when I had just had that idea, In de Tussentijd opened it’s doors, which is a large building full with studios for refugee artists, so it’s not immediately neccessary for us to do that anymore. But it would be interesting, it would be someone with a very different background. We have a meeting here once a month so if I can develop a good plan for it I can present it there, and who knows.

Lino in her own atelier

Thank you Lino for the interview and for showing me around, it was really cool to have a look inside such a special building and really get a sense of the friendly, creative atmosphere in this artist run collective space. I really like the simple concept of the guest studio and how that simpleness is being projected and how it’s all about the art, the artists and the creativity. It’s a very special place and I understand very well that people fall in love with it.

If you want to read more about Plantagedok and the guest studio, here is the website. Lino creates really interesting art herself, so if you want to see more of that here is her own website. If you want to do some more reading, here is the interview with Maria de Brea, the current guest artist. When I spoke Lino(end of December 2017)there was still availability from March onward, so if you want to make an application, I’d say go for it!

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