Kunstfort bij Vijfhuizen
The art fortress ‘Kunstfort bij Vijfhuizen’ – a unique example of placemaking between world heritage, landscape and contemporary arts
The Netherlands is a cultural landscape in and of itself. In no other country is it more essential for people to interact with their environment and design and engineer every square foot. If you live below sea level, you have to stay creative to keep the water out. As a result, Dutch identity is deeply influenced by the constant need for human intervention. In response, Dutch artists have established a rich tradition of art in the public domain, where they explore the relationships between art, landscape and urban life.
Kunstfort and UNESCO Heritage
Just outside of Amsterdam, hidden in the green belt surrounding the capital, one can find a number of historic military complexes from the late 19th century, that belong to the UNESCO world heritage site ‘The Defense Line of Amsterdam’. One of them, the fully restaurated art fortress Kunstfort by Vijfhuizen is not only an example of the former strategic function of the site, it is foremost an example of peaceful cultural re-use.
The Kunstfort operates as an independent foundation since 2001, but only in 2008 started to develop as an ongoing contemporary arts centre under the leadership of the present director Holger Nickisch, who manages: 20 acre of polder-land with a growing sculpture garden, the massive concrete casemates which serve as exhibition spaces, 10 rented studios, and a restaurant with meeting rooms. Next to a permanent historic exhibition, the fortress is famous for its site-specific approach. It organises several new exhibitions and/or art projects in- and outdoors every year, that function as a dialogue between invited artists/curators, the place and the urgent issues the fortress wishes to address.
With themes like ‘military cultures’, ‘the changing landscape’ or ‘self-sustainable traditions’ Nickisch emphasizes on the combination of the different qualities the site has to offer: as a place of heritage, a place of nature and recreation, a place of education and a place of contemporary art. In practice, recreation and education follow the main ambition of the arts centre, which is to organize a dynamic relationship between heritage and contemporary art. Or to put it differently: The Kunstfort uses contemporary art to understand heritage from a present point of view; and uses heritage to create a more complex awareness about our contemporary condition.