Chambres des Canaux
CARLOS AMORALES Coal Drawing Machine, 2012 Installation with plotter printer, paper and charcoal, variable dimensions Courtesy of Collection All Art, Amsterdam Photography Erik & Petra Hesmerg The Tolerant Home 400 years of liberal culture on the Amsterdam canals Author: Siebe Tettero “What other place could you choose in all the world where all the comforts of life and all the curiosities which can be desired are so easy to find as here? What other country whereyou can enjoy such perfect liberty?” – René Descartes, 1631 The Tolerant Home – preface On a recent trip to Beijing I had the opportunity to talk to dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (1957). We spoke about tolerance and he postulated that tolerance cannot exist without power. Tolerance is the benevolent flipside of power, even a cohort of power. The prolific Weiwei has become a key figure in contemporary Chinese art and is an internationally recognisable example of the ability, as well as the risk, of an artist to question existing social conditions. He is known for deliberately dropping a 5,000-year-old urn – as a commentary on China’s rapid transformation and the impact of capitalism on cultural heritage and traditional artistic practices – as well as his collaboration with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron in designing the remarkable Beijing National Stadium, nicknamed the ‘Bird’s Nest’. Ai Weiwei’s observation on the interrelatedness of power and tolerance comes from very personal experience. He was arrested in 2011 for alleged tax evasion, a cloaked attempt to silence his strong critique on the Chinese government, and even now he remains under house arrest. Having already spent his childhood in exile, growing up in a labour camp in Xinjiang because of the expulsion of his father, the famous Chinese poet Ai Qing (1910-1996), Weiwei has been subjected to ‘power-tolerance’ dichotomies all his life. It is in great part because of this that he has become an artist that fearlessly explores the ramifications and parameters of tolerance. Amsterdam has its own complex historical relationship with the concept of tolerance and it is this that Chambres des Canaux examines. As the centre of the former Republic, Amsterdam can be heavily criticised when it comes to its policies on the world stage, but on the home front the city was sowing the seeds for a humanist, tolerant society. As such, Amsterdam became a refuge for persecuted minority groups – from Spanish and Portuguese Jews to Protestants from Antwerp. This influx in turn gave further rise to a tolerant social and cultural climate in the city, something that is still very much evident in Amsterdam today. Celebrating the wide range of contemporary artists that work (or have worked) in the prevailing tolerant climate of this city, Chambres des Canaux features a selection of works illuminating a variety of interpretations of the ‘tolerance’ theme.