The Dutch design pilgrimage (Day 1)
June 4, 2010 § 2 Comments
So I’m back from my biggest trip of this semester. I hadn’t realized it was so long till I was there. Two days in Amsterdam, three in Rotterdam and another two in Amsterdam to round it off. Plus half a day in Geneva on my way back to Lugano. Boy did it feel long, especially towards the end. I thought I would never get back after camping 12 hours in Schiphol airport, taking a plane and 2 train rides (approx. 5 hours) across the Swiss landscape lugging more than 20kilos on my shoulders.
Exhausted, but feel like I’ve grown and learned so much on this pilgrimage of sorts. Right now it’s still difficult to put into words everything that is imprinted firmly in my head, I’m not sure if I will actually succeed in verbalizing what I’ve experienced, but I will try.
This is the first in a series of self-reflective entries about the trip. Each part of it was a different sort of learning journey for me as an individual and as a creative, so they deserve the attention.
Walter was with me for about 4 days, the 3 in Rotterdam and 1 in Amsterdam. I think he thinks I’m a very sad person, I don’t know why. Contemplative, reflective, more so than usual, but I’m now ready to reconcile with myself and push forward with walking down this path.
I return with a renewed sense of strength to pursue my craft, with an understanding of the maturity of Europe’s design culture that is so gapingly absent back home. Now my thoughts are, how do I bring these things that I have learned and apply them back home? The Dutch are really fortunate in how supportive the private and public sectors are of good design.
I used to think that Swiss design was good, then I went to Holland, and now that I’m back in Swiss things are starting to feel ugly. I know I’m going to encounter even more grief once I return to Singapore. But truly I was hard-pressed to find bad graphic design in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. The government really supports the design community, and in turn the design community is allowed to experiment and grow so much as designers that they have reached a comfortable sort of pinnacle in terms of their work.
Of course with some entrenched ‘schools of thought’ in that circle, designs sometime become stifling and predictable, but still very strong and largely, admirably brilliant. I must not despair. (Though I did, in the immediate aftermath of the conference.)
I will bring my work to a higher level, and I will bring it back home with me. I will live to see the day that the Southeast Asian design community is strengthened through collaborations and unique work that is excellent but definitively ours, one that will be distinct from the European schools of thought but still equally brilliant.
Okay! Design stuff later, but since I like chronology, we’ll start with my first evening as an introduction to Amsterdam.
Okay, yes Amsterdam has lots of canals and pretty houses. But those pictures above were more of my general first impression of the place (after the copious presence of bikes, read on to find out. City-wise I felt very comfortable there. Maybe because I was finally somewhere I could speak English and be understood. It took me a while to readjust to saying ‘Hi’ and ‘Thank you’ instead of ‘Bonjourno’ and ‘Grazie’.
And maybe also because Amsterdam has very diverse ethnicity, sort of like Singapore. But whatever it was, it didn’t take me long to feel pretty comfortable there. The whole place is actually pretty small and walkable. By my last day there I didn’t really need a map to navigate around.
On my first evening (was past 7pm by the time I got to my hostel) I went for Art Amsterdam. Now, I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting, but what I did encounter was a little bit of a surprise. It was essentially an exhibit of exhibits, of various galleries exhibiting and trying to sell their 4-digit priced pieces to rich people sipping champagne. It felt somewhat like a display of modern day bourgeoisie. Eager artists and sellers trying to pawn their goods and sidle up into the good books of people with lots of time and money to throw around. (But hey in the context of it I’m just a lowly uneducated peasant, so what do I know. )
On the way to the exhibition hall my bus passed this van, which I just managed to get a snapshot of.
I realize you can’t really read the words but it says ‘Art doesn’t give answers, only questions’. Little did I realize what a premonition this was for my experience at Art Amsterdam (I paid 10 euros to walk around for little over an hour. And that’s student price mind you, it’s 20 euros a pop).
If art asks the questions, then I suppose design hold the answers. I have heard, been told and totally agree with the statement that design isn’t art. Design has a function. Art, well, it’s subjective there. But I guess after going for this exhibition I must say that the converse holds true. Art is definitely NOT design. I’ve always had an issue with post-modern art. Most of the stuff in London’s Tate Museum flies over my head. And most of the stuff at Art Amsterdam I likewise, could not appreciate.
But I did catch some photographs of the things that I did like better, even if I didn’t understand it.
So that was Art Amsterdam for you. No other opinion apart from how out of place I felt at that rather ‘chi-chi’ event.
More about Day 2 later when I get up, where I nearly die every 10 seconds attempting to ride a bike on the streets of Amsterdam (which can also be referred to as the day I got sworn at the most in the life).
Amsterdam is a bike friendly city, which is a nice way of saying that almost everyone here bikes, cars and bikes travel at almost the same speed: fast, and everyone has to share that same little bit of road and you have to look both ways all the time because bikes/pedestrians/tourists come from EVERYWHERE and ANYWHERE. It is shit scary. I have no better way to describe it.
But just to whet your appetite and give you a small sense of how it is, here’s the bike parking space outside the central train station. It was the very, very first thing I saw of Amsterdam and I literally LOL-ed as I walked out of the station and gazed upon this amazing spectacle.
Get ready to be blown away, though the pictures really do it no justice.
And you know what’s the best part? The bike park ain’t enough, seriously. The bikes overflow and spill all over the outside as well.
Truly one heck of an amazing sight!!! (Yes I think it deserves 3 exclamation marks.)
So I’ll update more in a bit. Right now though I realize I have two exams to study for before my next trip to Spain on the 14th. One on Tues and the other on Friday. Let me attempt to remember what this ‘studying’ thing is. It has been so long and under normal circumstances I would be panicking just about now that I haven’t, at all, started studying.
But circumstances here are different.
So catch you guys in a few hours.