Evita Vasiļjeva's solo show will open at Riga's kim? Contemporary Art Centre on May 9. She is currently finishing up her last year for a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. Evita tells how things have been going for her in the following letter.
“Amsterdam, New York or Berlin – these are the three best cities in which to start your career,” says Harry*, who is about 50 years old, as we stand in the smoking section at Gerrit Rietveld Academy. The previous day,Yvonne**, who is also around 50, said during lunch: “You should go to Singapore or Rio.” The question of where to go after graduation, or whether or not one should just stay in Amsterdam, is often talked about lately. So often, in fact, that I don't want to either think or hear about it; I'd rather just stay in Amsterdam.
The smoking section at Gerrit Rietveld Academy, April 11. Photo: Evita Vasiļjeva
Amsterdam isn't all that bad, even though I still don't understand how Harry could have grouped it together with New York and Berlin. I've never really trusted his opinions. He's from the 1970s. To them (i.e., those from the 1970s), Amsterdam still seems progressive. Who knows why? The squats were closed last year. The best “24 h” parties don't exist in Amsterdam anymore, except for in the creepy neighborhoods. And everybody is afraid to go there after dark, and besides, the metro is closed at night (another reason why Amsterdam can't be compared with Berlin and New York). And no one can afford a taxi (just like in Riga). Overall, everything in the city closes at four. That's why my friends and I really don't go out anymore. Instead, we go to bed early on weekends, and in the morning, we go to museums – for instance, to learn about Indian culture. Then we have lunch at a Surinam-Chinese bistro. Hmm, I wonder what Surinam has to do with China. A look at the map doesn't make it any clearer. What is also unclear – why is Amsterdam's municipal government considering putting new regulations on the red light district? It's a lowly image for Amsterdam. The city should be attracting more families and people with real jobs (no more artists, thank you). In terms of marihuana, it's the same as with the girls in the windows – the municipal governments don't like it. After seeing Anish Kapoor's exhibition in Tilburg, we decided to pretend that we're tourists and want to smoke some weed. “Do you have a pass?” – “No” – “Then, no.” Since when was this law adopted? I had heard rumors, but is seemed like just a joke. Even Bono*** (36) was a bit surprised, and then tried to arrange something with the clerk in Dutch, but to no avail. The law is the law. But we didn't stress-out, we just had a laugh and had some herring – the national snack – and went on to the art show openings in Rotterdam. There's nothing to stress-out over. Overall, no one really stresses-out over anything.
Everything here is so normal that the biggest stress for my roommate's friend, a squatter named Sven (29), is how to come up with a party that would be even more illegal than those of the other squatters. He's found a good place, by the border with Germany. Even taxi drivers stress-out sometimes. Once a year, on my birthday, we pool our money for a taxi and go see an opening at De Service Garage (an independent art initiative).But the moment of luxury was fleeting. “That's it, everyone get out! I heard someone open a beer!” That night we had to stress-out a bit over our freezing feet. The exhibition space wasn't heated. But everyone suffers through it and doesn't stress-out – because it's a cool place and we want to see all of the performances, drink the cheap beer, and chat with people we've seen before at some other place.
Once in a while, everybody stresses-out a bit over having to move again. But that happens so often that it's become second nature, and the problem usually solves itself. Because of this phenomenon of Amsterdam, no one (i.e., students) owns anything anymore, and everything necessary for the four seasons can be stuffed into one or two suitcases. Only practical things are kept, and again, there's no need to stress-out.
Amsterdam, April 11. Photo: Evita Vasiļjeva
Since there isn't any real stress, evenings take on a mostly regular rhythm, and within a spectrum of a few activities. The rhythm of life mostly revolves around the working hours of Rietveld. (I'll mention here that Rietveld Academy is open workdays, from 8:30 – 21:30. Why isn't it open 24 hours? There have been incidents in the past in which students got drunk and did all sorts of stupid things, like, for instance, suicide.) After your work in the studio is done, and the academy is closed, you can do nothing (“nothing” being everything that one can do at home, alone: doing laundry, reading books, paying bills and writing theses); go to one of Jeffrey's films (Jeffrey has established several underground film theaters in Amsterdam); get another tattoo from the Norwegian, Nikolas (26), who, for the sake of “doing nothing”, has bought a tattooing machine and invites friends over for wine a couple of times a week – which usually end up with everyone getting a new tattoo; listen to a lecture at Amsterdam's contemporary art museum, Stedelijk, or at the independent art institute, De Ateliers; listen to live jazz, go to the galleries (the number of which can be counted on one hand), or argue about art with friends, again. The time spent outside of class is becoming so predictable that it's a joyful treat when the rhythm is jostled somehow. But that's practically impossible. Sooner or later, everything falls into a rhythm. Into a nice rhythm. For a change of pace, I decided to try something athletic: the pool. My hopes of finding something new turned out to be naïve. At the pool, I met four other “Rietveldians” and a Ukrainian boxer, Sasha (40). This just goes to show how small Amsterdam can be . Or else, I've become overly talkative and I know too many people. The Dutch have infected me with their talkativeness. Now, I even say “Good day” to the people I pass while walking in the forest.
There's nothing much to stress-out about. The only considerable stress, and which no one talks about, is our studies. We don't ask each other “How's it going?” anymore; our tired faces already give away the answer. The questions of what to do afterward, and will you stay in Amsterdam or not, have been pushed to the side. Few are preparing to go home. Only my classmate, Lisa (36), who is from Sweden, and the Estonian – Kaisa (22). The rest are planning on staying in Amsterdam for a couple of more years. This city pulls you into its singular and peaceful rhythm. Here, no one leaves things for the last minute – everything is planned out so that there's enough time for a beer. There's no reason to make a revolution, or to go on a strike. Whoever wants to can smoke some marijuana, play some football, take a jog in their new Nike trainers in Vondelpark, snack on herring, and work for a bit; if you'd like a change in scenery, then Brussels, London, Paris and Berlin are not far. It's so comfortable in Amsterdam that you don't even want to go anywhere else. Everything is here: good music, the “underground”, the occasional good exhibition, good films, lectures, hipsters. Everything here is in order. Even a bit scarily “in order”.
A view on a typical garden in Amsterdam, April 11. Photo: Evita Vasiļjeva
*Harry Heyink – head of the Audio Visual Department, Dutch artist **Yvonne Dröge Wendel – Visual Arts Department coordinator, German artist ***Bono van Dorn – guest lecturer at Gerrit Rietveld Academy, Dutch artist