Justin Linds, Sarah van Sonsbeeck

An interview with Sarah van Sonsbeeck

"Noord's potential for new developments has only risen."

A look at how space and power are intrinsically connected to Amsterdam Noord's massive development.


UNESCO map, Amsterdam - The recently applied UNESCO border which designates the Amsterdam center as a world heritage site. This image comes from the Amsterdam Municipal Department for the Preservation and Restoration of Historic Buildings and Sites (bMA) and was taken from the Wikimedia Commons

How did you begin working with the politics of space and power?
In my graduation year (Gerrit Rietveld Academy) my teachers demanded I finally use my background as an architect, which I had refused so far. Out of protest I wrote my noisy neighbors a letter, asking them to pay a portion of my rent for the space they were taking up in my house with their noise. It opened up my mind to art: an artwork can be a tool to change your perspective on very basic things. The real work is created inside your head. Ever since, I've been researching immaterial architecture (silence, noise etc) and the usage and ownership of space.

How do Noord and your Mapping for Tourists (now Noord) project interact?
In one of the Mapping for Tourists plenary meetings, I became intrigued by the possibility of involving the Noord residents in Noord's new real-estate developments. I wanted to make a symbolic gesture and buy a tiny piece of land within this development zone that I'll reserve for Noord residents. When its value has risen due to surrounding developments, I will sign it over to them again. Even if that means they will all end up with one grain of sand, at least they will have had an opportunity to be a part of it somehow.

Your project seems to have a social motivation. Does this make it less about art?
That you see a social motivation says perhaps more about you than about the work. But it's good that art can raise that question, and perhaps change the way you think. As Bruce Nauman once concluded: "art is what the artist does in his studio", which lead him to make a mesmerizing series of videos where he drinks coffee endlessly, walks in circles for hours, plays the violin out of tune for quite long.... I don't think I could make the point any better than he did.

What was your personal view on Noord before the project? What insights can you share?
Mostly I felt - and still feel - that I don't really know Noord. It seems a bit like 'the land of opportunities', but I realize that that's an outsider's view. Still, last Monday the city center officially became Unesco world heritage, and the 'buffer zone' passes safely through the middle of the IJ river. So Noord's potential for new developments has risen, as the center is now officially more restricted for modern architecture.