Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes
It all started in 2002 with four people who started living in the squatted former grain storage facility at the Biesenwal 3 in Maastricht. Nowadays, the Landbouwbelang is home to fifteen people, a ‘free zone’ for art, music and culture and the set of many a festival, play and exhibition. Sina Maghami, a third-year Science Programme student, and Mareike Smolka, a research master’s student in Cultures of Arts, Science and Technology, are part of the community that lives there.
“Yesterday, a death metal band recorded their video clip here”, says Maghami, originally from Iran, as he shows off the old storage hall of the Landbouwbelang. Signs of the recording still dot the hall: a couch out in the open, a couple of chairs around a heater and a fallen lamp. “And in the summer, Cirque du Platzak lives and practices here.” It’s not difficult to imagine trapeze artists flying through the air in this huge space.
Maghami has lived in the Landbouwbelang for two years now. “I was introduced to the community through its events and activities. Their way of life – open-minded, sustainable, doing things for the love of it, not for money – appealed to me, so I decided to apply for a room.” As the community only works if everyone contributes to it, applicants first work as volunteers at the many Landbouwbelang activities. There are the bigger events, like the annual WE festival with all kinds of workshops and performances, and weekly activities, including jam sessions, movie screenings and shared meals. After getting to know the person, the group already living in the Landbouwbelang decides whether he or she can move into the community. Successful applicants can move into an existing room, as Maghami did, or build one themselves.
Smolka, from Germany, has just finished work on her living space. “It was a dark, unused room. I found some corn on the floor that had been there since it was used for storing grain. I’m not a builder, but I’ve had lots of help from friends both inside and outside the community. I would cook for them and they would do something they’re skilled at for me. I moved in two weeks ago.”
In another hall, Virginie Moerenhout is setting up her Dada exhibition (see box). She’s very enthusiastic about the Landbouwbelang as a location. “It’s so approachable. Nowhere else in Maastricht will you find this kind of space so easy to use. Normally you need a well-known name and a business plan to organise something like this. Here, you can experiment.”
“If someone asks to use our space for a non-profit purpose, the answer is always yes”, says Maghami. “The Landbouwbelang is very focused on society. Other communities are more focused on the living together part. They are often more political, share certain beliefs. We are more rainbow-like.” “The group is very diverse”, agrees Smolka. “Even in age alone: there’s an 83-year-old living here, but also a baby.” That also makes it a challenge, says Maghami. “You have to learn the dynamics.” Smolka believes that the combination of living and working together is the key to the Landbouwbelang’s success. “Because we live at such a low cost, people can put their time and energy into projects that give back to society.”
One floor above the exhibition hall is the studio of Reinder van Tijen. His foundation Demotech makes designs for self-reliance – practical objects that are easy and cheap to build. Van Tijen shows off the prototype of the Ebola-bed he is working on: a cross between a camp bed and a hammock. “It’s very comfortable, but the material is so cheap they can throw it away once a patient has passed away or – in those rare cases – recovered.”
All of the Landbouwbelang’s residents, hard at work on their own projects or just chilling out in one of the many rooms, wear coats or thick sweaters. “People always ask: do you have electricity? And internet? And central heating?”, says Maghami. The answers are yes, yes and no, but there are several heaters throughout the building. He himself doesn’t mind the lack of comforts. “I accepted that when I moved in. Now, I never think about it. It teaches you the value of food, warmth and water. I think that in today’s society we sometimes want too much comfort.” Smolka hasn’t lived in the Landbouwbelang long enough to have encountered problems. Her biggest challenge is time management: “I sometimes find it hard to combine living and working here, where there’s always something happening, with my studies and friends outside the community.”
Maghami is due to finish his bachelor’s degree in a couple of weeks. “I might have to move for my master’s. I’d like to stay, but the reason I’m in Maastricht is for my studies.” Smolka opted for a master’s in Maastricht so she could live at the Landbouwbelang. “I’d been giving cooking classes for a couple of years and I really wanted to try living here.”
Dada: The revolt of art
Lectures, an acrobat, a band, a minister of silly walks, a photo booth and, of course, art. All that and more will form part of the Dada exhibition at the Landbouwbelang on Friday 15 January. Dada was an anti-war art movement in early twentieth-century Europe. It was also known as anti-art, as the Dada artists ignored traditional artistic conventions. “This year, Dada celebrates its hundredth birthday”, says organiser Virginie Moerenhout. “It seemed like a good reason for an event – that, and a lecture on Dadaism that cultural historian Bart Jan de Graaf, a friend of mine, is giving at Studium Generale.” It turned out she wasn’t the only one who thought so. “I thought this topic might seem outdated. Something I needed to make sexy again. But the first day after I posted it on Facebook, a hundred people were interested in coming or getting involved.”
Moerenhout has collected the work of twelve artists, from those just starting out to more established names like Oliver Roosenburg and Heleen van der Wusten. “The timing is really special. Dada stood for absurdity against mania. Nowadays there’s also a lot of craziness going on in the world, so it’s become topical again.”