Herbert Nouwens over de Brettensuite

Relationship with area.
‘I lived in Amsterdam for a long time and in the 1990s I had my workshop on the Westergasfabriek site. When the Westergasfabriek was cleaned up and the park was built, I had to leave. I came back in 2014: because I turned 60, it was a great moment to see the work of the past decades together at my old workplace. A number of sculptures were also made there at the time. As a result of this Angels’ Share exhibition, I was approached by officials who wanted to put the Brettenpad on the map in a cultural way.

The places along the Brettenpad were carefully chosen.
‘I think it is very important that there is a relationship between a sculpture and its environment. So I deliberately chose sites that, as it were, asked for a marking point along the Brettenpad. Most of the sculptures come from the Angels’ share exhibition and some are specially from Slochteren, where I have been living and working since 2004, because I thought they were a sensible addition. I hope that the cyclist or hiker along this wonderful path will be surprised by the images that are placed there and that they also see it as a row of beads on a chain. No separate elements, but sculptures that tell a story together. That’s why I also called it the Brettensuite. A suite is a collection of pieces of music that can sound independently, but which, in connection with each other, make a musical journey possible for the listener. If that happens with my Brettensuite, then I’m happy. ”

Location: Amsterdam – Halfweg

Photography: Piet Koster

Brettensuite, a spring impression

Remco Daalder, city ecologist Amsterdam wrote a beautiful piece about the Brettensuite at the request of Herbert Nouwens. Eight o’clock in the morning, at the end of February. I take the ferry from Amsterdam Noord to the Houthavens. The ferry is full of cyclists, who after a mooring in a long traffic jam go to Westerpark. It reminds me of photographs of Amsterdam from the fifties. Long lines of cycling dock workers on their way to work. They cycled because they had no money for a car, we cycle because a car has become useless in the city. The sliert cyclists enters the Westerpark, goes towards Sloterdijk. I never realized that this part of the Bretten is such an important commuter route. In the Westerpark cyclists are joined by runners in all shapes and colors. And of urban nature: breeding herons on nests high in the trees of the island, ring-tailed parakeets. Food-seeking gulls cover the grass fields. At the Waternatuurtuin there is a tunnel that leads to the children’s playground Het Woeste Westen. There I see the first sculptures of Herbert Nouwens. They are on either side of the tunnel entrance, as robust sentinels. Despite their size, the sculptures are unmistakably present. They hardly stand out. They fit well with the large stones of the ecopassage that must guide animals through the tunnel. They fit well with the tanned man who is jumping fanatically. These sculptures have a human size and organic forms, just like the Westerpark itself. From the water-wetting garden, teal calls, I hear a green woodpecker laughing. This place is right. The Bretten route is marked with green dots on the asphalt. Follow the dots and you cycle between the allotments and the backs of inhospitable office settlements, towards Sloterdijk. Flowing cyclists, running runners. Forest birds singing from the allotments: song thrush, robin, winter king. A sperwer shoots through the trees. I see the sculpture of Nouwens on the edge of the allotments only at the last moment. Again such a great modesty. No cheeky gesture, no look at me, but a simple addition, an accent for those who want to look good, who want to discover something. And at the same time a meeting place for the allotments, a village pump, we meet at the rusty tree. I am really impressed at the old village of Sloterdijk. Here is an sculpture that looks like a tree stump, on the trunk of a giant fig tree from the rainforest. The statue stands in the water and joins the alder, poplar and carrots around it. On this somewhat misty morning, the sculpture gives the whole place a mystical atmosphere. Organic and just out of this world. A beautiful contrast with the gloomy, wooden sculpture “Ode to the disappeared farmer” by Karel Gomes that is twenty meters away. Then the Arlandaweg. Candle-right, too wide road between not too fancy school and office buildings. Curious, always wind against, a feeling of discouragement overtakes the cyclist. Nouwens has put down sombre, angular figures here that accentuate the practicality of the environment. You will not be happier. After Sloterdijk everyone is suddenly gone and you are only with the green dots on the asphalt and the cars driving along the Haarlemmerweg. Traffic noise reminds us of the murmur of the sea. A cheerful curl from Nouwens near the sports fields makes the mood, which got a dent on the Arlandaweg, clear again. The Bretten are becoming increasingly wilder and stranger to the west. In the ditches, crickets, diving tufted ducks and baltting grebes. Mummant goldheads are just above the traffic. Fossil rolls along the bike path. The sculptures become beacons in the lonely wasteland. Beacons on their way to the coast. They make the almost threatening space more intimate. They are less in number: the city is behind us. At Halfweg the last sculpture waves me farewell. The dunes beckon.

Remco Daalder 3/3/2015