The freedom of art

By Annewil Schippers

(Contributed reporting Dimitra Karapanagiotou)

Chances are you’ve probably seen the artwork below before. The mural, painted onto the wall next to the police station in the centre of Groningen, is one of the pieces that both Klaas Lageweg and the city are known for. What many don’t know, however, is that Lageweg has installed numerous other artworks around the city. We talk to him to discover what else there is, besides the pigeon, and how he identifies himself as an artist.

Klaas Lageweg’s mural at Rademarkt, titled “Vervlogen Tijden” (Time Flies)

“I’m so sorry, I wasn’t expecting you, I must’ve mixed up the times!” Klaas Lageweg (40) says, while he lets us into his house. Nevertheless, he welcomes us cordially, and so does Billy, his two-year-old dog that Lageweg adopted off the streets of Spain recently. The house is what you would expect from an artist: filled with CDs, plants, and of course, his own artworks.

Lageweg started his career early, as he always enjoyed drawing as a child. But he never went to art school. Only later on in life, he got into graffiti and realised that making art was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. “I was standing naked in front of the mirror when I was 18 and I was thinking what I wanted to do. And I thought about this. ‘This is what I wanna do’. And I did it. So my dream came true.”

Now he makes art that he himself calls “mural art” or “paintings”. His art is known for its bright colours and pixelated details, which Lageweg coined as “realpixelisme”.

Part of what made this dream so appealing to Lageweg was the idea of freedom of expression. For him, making art is a way of living autonomously, of living life his own way. “In my early life I thought I wascrazy, but now I turned it around and think: ‘you are crazy’,” says Lageweg. He follows his own course: “Are you with me? Great! Are you against me? Fuck off!”

That freedom of expression now also comes with literal freedom for him. Lageweg has established himself as an artist, and this way he is able to choose his assignments. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out with customers: “They tell me ‘I don’t want this’, okay, ‘bye bye!’. You have to learn to say ‘no’,” he says.

Freedom to choose is crucial for the art Lageweg makes. Because even though he is known for more manifest works, like the pigeon at Rademarkt, many of his murals are located in places that are hidden. Lageweg likes the obscure, the unknown. He tries to constantly create a feeling of anonymity. And as long as he is satisfied with the artwork and can add it to his collection, it doesn’t really matter if the location is popular or not. “Every place has its own fantasy,” according to Lageweg. Especially if that place is “fucked up” and “spooky”.

Lageweg’s favourite mural in this category is the one he painted onto Fort La Chartreuse in Liège, Belgium. The fort is completely abandoned, but it is a popular Urbex spot, visited by photographers from all over the world, looking for the thrill of sneaking into places that are under tight watch.

Klaas Lageweg’s mural at the Colosseum skatepark, titled “Give me the food and let me grow”

But in Groningen, too, Lageweg has left his mark in unexpected places. Take the Colosseum, on the outskirts of the city. The large concrete building, mainly used as a skatepark, is covered in graffiti and mural art, including a colourful bird that Lageweg painted in 2016.

However, nowadays, the artwork is completely covered in ivy. But Lageweg doesn’t really care. In fact, he was aware that the piece would eventually disappear under the ivy, even before he made it. “They were already busy trimming the tree on the wall, but I said ‘No, stop! I want to see it!’ Because I want to put the piece into the environment like it is. So I played with that,” he says.

Klaas Lageweg’s mural at Oosterpoort, titled “The Pheasant”.
Looking at this photograph, he said “kids play balls and I spray walls”, quoting another mural artist.

The role of the environment is also why many of his works are centred around birds. But the eye plays a large role in his murals too. “The eye is the soul of everybody, it’s like a diamond. But people hardly pay attention to them,” Lageweg says. Just like the “Pheasant”, one of his murals in the East of Groningen, people pass by the things that really matter, the hidden corners, without stopping to take them in.

“We’re in a rat race,” he says. “School, work, making money. After this interview, you’re probably running off to get back to university in time and write the article. It never stops. The whole system is ready to collapse. So we’re living on the edge with a lot of people on this planet. But could I change it? Maybe, yes. Maybe with my art.”

Lageweg believes art can help us through self-expression and identification. “Maybe we all have ‘it’, but it’s hidden, by society,” he says. “We have to break that wall.”

The voice of Groningen

By Valerie Scholz

It’s a stormy Saturday night in the small village of Loppersum, located just a short train ride north from Groningen. The man sitting across from me is balancing his coffee cup on the armrest of his leather sofa. He is looking at me with a mixture of friendly amusement and an edge of indifference. This is not his first interview; he knows the drill. “I’ve been asked practically everything”, he says with a little sigh. No wonder. Moti Rymarczuk (64) is Groningen’s most famous street musician. His voice is known as the city’s unofficial anthem.

Our musician

“Locals call me onze muzikant”, he says proudly, “our musician”. He laughs his husky laugh, “I am a property to them”. This man is as much part of the city of Groningen as the canals that frame it, or the maze of streets that compose it.

Street musicians are usually nomads, never staying in one place for long. But Moti’s voice has meant home to generations of Stadjers. Over the past 40 years, Moti has been a constant in the city. During that time, he has stepped into thousands of strangers’ lives, listened to their stories and sang their songs. “It is nice to know that somehow you mean quite a lot to some people”, he says.

This isn’t how it’s always been, though. The people of Groningen were distant at first, he tells me. But with a little patience and a whole lot of rock ’n’ roll, he sang his way straight into their hearts. Moti knows how unique his standing is with this city and its inhabitants, but he doesn’t boast. “I stayed the way I am; they liked the way I am, it fitted”, he smiles.

From the USSR to Groningen

“Our musician” came to Groningen as a foreigner. Born in the former USSR, Moti’s parents immigrated to Israel when he was only 2 years old. Having spent most of his childhood and teenage years there, he calls Israel his second home.

After high school and his time in the army, he shouldered his guitar case and set out to play music all around the world.

But how did he end up in the Netherlands? “It was just a normal story”, he claims modestly. Falling in love, creating a family and getting divorced again. His two grown-up sons are his anchor nowadays, keeping the musical globetrotter in a sleepy town in the northern Netherlands.

“I will probably be buried in this village, there is a nice cute graveyard here”, he winks.

Photo credit Moti Rymarczuk

A life filled with music

“I played music all the time”, Moti remembers. In fact, he has never worked another job. “Why should I?”, he grins and shakes his head, his curly white mane dancing around his impish grin. “This job suits me like a glove”.

His first instrument was his voice, the second an accordion. When his love for rock ’n’ roll was sparked, he picked up a guitar for the first time. “Before I knew how to play, I was pretending” he laughs and jams on an imaginary instrument on his lap. “You know, with a broomstick”, he added. “But in my mind, I was already a star anyways”, he says, grinning.

The language of music

Music has accompanied Moti throughout his entire life. But to him, music doesn’t mean so much. “It’s not the music. It’s what I get through with the music”. “The emotions that you trigger in other people are truly beautiful”, Moti explains.

It doesn’t matter where in the world one is; music is understood everywhere. “With it, we manage to shake the cold out of the people”, he tells me about his street musician colleagues. Whether he played for Norwegians, Japanese, Chinese or Italians, “they end up all the same: screaming and shouting!”

In his youth, Moti preferred a roaring crowd. But things change. Nowadays it is often the youngest audience members that touch the Rock ‘n’ Roller at his core. Children are brutally honest and while they probably don’t pick up on the song itself, they pick up on so much more. “If they stand in front of me, dance and tell me they like my music – That is something else, where can you get such a thing?”, Moti gushes.

One time, he tells me, he was playing in front of the HEMA in Groningen. A father and his little daughter stood close by, watching him. Suddenly the girl started walking towards Moti, “she came closer, closer, closer…and I didn’t know what to do”, he remembers. She walked up to him and kissed him, then returned to her father. “I was crying afterwards, big time”, his smile glows as he indulges in the memory. “These are the sort of moments…”, he pauses, “I call myself lucky for this”.

The magic of the streets

In street music, the artist has a relationship with the audience that a musician on stage can never establish.

Being on stage in front of an anonymous cheering mass can make you think you’ve made it to the top “but basically it’s fuck all, it’s nothing”, Moti says. “You are living in your bubble and that’s it”.

On the street it’s different. There is a special connection to every face in the audience. “Maybe I am living in my bubble too”, he laughs, “but my bubble is shared with the bubbles of other people!”

Once the connection is established, these people are more open than in any other situation. They tell Moti their stories, cry about lost loved ones and celebrate their victories. He smiles proudly, “that’s the magic of the street”.

Playing by his own rules

Moti has always done things his way. “I may know the rules, but I tend to ignore them”, he says and smirks. “Some places I can get away with that and some places I do not”. Clashes with the authorities, arrests, court cases – he’s been through it all. “At the end of the day, what can they do to me,” he laughs sheepishly, “what, kill me? – I don’t think so”.

Of course, the job is sometimes frustrating, but it is his passion and he knows that doing a job that you love makes it a whole lot easier.

Either way, one thing is clear, says Moti: “I will continue playing music until the end.”

A story of loss

By Annewil Schippers and Juliane Glahn

The synagogue in Groningen, located on the Folkingestraat, is one of the few noticeable landmarks that hint at the street’s connection to the Jewish community. But there are also several smaller artworks that commemorate the losses the community suffered during the Second World War. One of these artworks is Portaal by sculptor Gert Sennema, a shut door with no handle, which symbolizes a story that cannot be told.

As part of the project Verbeeld Verleden (which translates into “images of the past”) commissioned by the municipality of Groningen and the Jewish community, five artworks were installed in the Folkingestraat, more than 20 years ago, in 1997.

“They had the idea of making artworks as a remembrance of the history of the Folkingestraat,” says Sennema. The street was the center of the Jewish community in Groningen. Due to the war, most of the community disappeared – only few returned.

In this video, Sennema explains how he created that piece that now almost blends in with the wall of the building, which now houses a café.

Gert Sennema was born in Grijpskerk, a village in the province of Groningen, in 1962. After briefly following classes to become a drawing and sculpting teacher, he eventually switched to studying sculpting at Academie Minerva, an art school in Groningen, and graduated in 1989. He’s been creating art almost nonstop since.

Hidden artwork

After being asked to design a piece for Verbeeld Verleden, he started thinking of an idea. While doing that, he took the logistics of the street into consideration, aware that a large piece would obstruct the narrow path. “I like art that tells the story in relation to the space in which it is made,” Sennema explains.

Rather than creating a large monument, he kept the door simple and barely noticeable. “I made a small stone step before the door, and that’s my pedestal you could say. It’s the only thing to get attention for the door,” Sennema says.

Hiding the artwork is part of Sennema’s intention in telling the story. Much like the window next to the door – blocked by bricks – the door is not something that can be opened. “A window where you can’t see through is interesting as a metaphor for inaccessibility,” he says, adding “I wanted it to be a secret story.”

Everyday, countless people cross through the street that connects the main train station and city center. Sennema doesn’t expect many passengers to notice the door. He sees it as part of what his artwork represents.

“I wanted to tell the story of a loss of a people, a loss of space, a loss of story. That’s the consequence.”

A music night with Takeaway Spacewolf

By Benjie Beer

Sitting at the back of the crowded room in Lola, the esteemed music venue in the heart of Groningen, Hugo Erenmalm sips cider as he tries to articulate what it is that makes him create music.

“I’m studying medicine,” he says, “but music has always been there. I have to make it. I didn’t come here thinking I was going to make music, but when I realised I could, I just had to.”

He laughs at my suggestion that he’s some kind of hopelessly compelled, tortured artist, though as the open mic night we’re attending, rolls through its fourth and then fifth set of students covering Ed Sheeran with their acoustic guitars, the theme of tortured art perhaps is not misplaced.

The space is dark but colourful, the dimmed lights just revealing the extent of the elaborate, painted baroque ceiling, and through the dewy faces of the young people crowded around the front stage, you can just about see the other members of Hugo’s band hunched in the corner, nervously awaiting the start of their first ever gig.

An eclectic mix of cultures

‘Takeaway Spacewolf’, as the name perhaps suggests, is an eclectic mix of cultures, music and ideas melded together into one musical group. The five band members, all students at the RUG, originate from no less than four different countries: two from the Netherlands, and the rest respectively from Sweden, Lithuania and Turkey.

With almost all of them new to Groningen this academic year, these students kickstarted their Dutch music careers by joining the Erasmus Student Network’s (ESN) Music Project, which encourages students from abroad to play rock music together for just one night.

Lead singer Aisté Alisauskaite says it all really started when guitarist Ada Ossmann saw her performing the Rolling Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’ for the Music Project.

“He approached me and said he loved my voice,” she tells me out on the chilly evening street surrounded by young smokers.

As romantic a start as this may have seemed, however, everything was not quite as smooth as they might have hoped.

“The problem was that we all have different musical tastes,” continues Aisté. “Some of us are into funk, some jazz, some blues, I’m into rock… You name it and it’s there.”

“There was a moment when we decided to cover ‘California Dreamin’ by the Mamas and the Papas,” says Hugo with a laugh. “But we couldn’t decide which version to do, because we all have such different musical tastes!”

With this experience as the starting place, Takeaway Spacewolf came together in no time at all. Before the Music Project had even finished in mid-December, the as-yet-unnamed group were already rehearsing once a week, making the most of Groningen’s Viadukt rehearsal spaces.

An unforgettable performance

The crowd are loud and enthusiastic when the band take to the stage, and as the evening goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that the music is impressing the viewers.

Takeaway Spacewolf are tight, rehearsed and energetic. Their set of four original tunes and a cover of Hendrix’s ‘Fire’, inspire ever wilder reactions from the audience. The music rolls deftly between classic rock, blues and funk, Hugo tapping out his jazz influences on the drums, Ada and Ezra gelling with their funk and blues backgrounds on the guitar and the bass respectively, Nadine Blaak joining with organ-voiced keys and Aisté establishing a firm and fiery stage presence up front.

The débutante show, in fact, proves to be so impressive that, come the announcement that they have just the one song left to play, the audience boo with disappointment.

“Encore!” shouts one onlooker, to the enjoyment and excitement of the rest. The band members, although flushed with adrenaline and thoroughly enjoying themselves, have to say no for now.

“But we’ll be doing this for as long as possible!” insists Hugo.

An International Theatre Festival in the Heart of Groningen

By Dimitra Karapanagiotou

Jonge Harten Theaterfestival, a performance arts festival for young people that brings theatre to the spotlight, is coming back to Groningen for nine days, from the 16th to the 24th of November. The festival will take place in five different locations in the heart of the city.

With a 20-year history, Jonge Harten is an international festival that gives young performers the stage and the opportunity to showcase their art. The wide range of performances and activities that include experimental theatre, live music, movie screenings, discussions and more, attract around 10,000 visitors each year.

At Jonge Harten theatre and art enthusiasts can enjoy a wide selection of theatre, music and art performances in both English and Dutch. “The last few years we’ve been quite Dutch-oriented, but we now see the importance of our international population here in Groningen,” says Marc Maris, the director of Jonge Harten “We wanted to create a balance and make it approachable for both Dutch and non-Dutch audiences.”

The festival is made possible with the help of its team and over 70 volunteers, including internationals. Stefana, an international student with a love for theatre, joined the volunteer team because she “would like to get to know people from this world of theatre, and become more rooted in the theatre culture of the Netherlands.”

This year the themes that are explored through the performances focus on awkwardness and discomfort. “We chose this theme because we believe that the polarization we see in the world right now may be a result of not being able to deal with our own awkwardness and the tension we feel when meeting someone different from us,” says Maris.

The subjects of the performances range from human relationships, intimacy and inequality, to sensual pleasures and the power of silence. Maris notes that he “chose themes that are taboo, performers that look awkward or that have a different kind of look than the dominant notion of beauty.”

During the festival there will also be “awkward after performance talks” where the audience will get to share their experiences.

Every evening a party with a DJ set will take place behind the Grand Theatre and the festival will end with a party on the 24th of November in the Grand Theatre.

The festival aims to bring young people together through art for an affordable price. In addition to single performance tickets, day tickets are also available, with a special discount for people under 30.

For more information, visit http://www.jongeharten.nl/.