Peter is notorious among the squatters’ communities in the Netherlands as the oldest active squatter. He always wanted to be a big shot, but never quite made it. His life is the movement. He attends all squatting actions in Amsterdam and if possible, squatting actions in other parts of the Netherlands. He presents himself at all meetings regarding squatting, takes part in every info-evening, turns up at every party, eats at every voku (people’s kitchen) every night of the week. To earn money, he receives benefits from the government and works random jobs for extra cash. Peter behaves like the typical alpha male squatter. Selfish in the household setting, but principally in favour of the poor and under-privileged. He fights for equal rights but is misogynist in everyday conversation. He’s rough and ill manners and is unable to recognize his own marginal position in the movement. Peter is a good guy in the end. He does his best to make the world a better place, although not necessarily a more pleasant one.
Played by Klaar van der Lippe: I work with Bart Stuart. As artists, we make projects about and in the public place in all its aspects. We script participative processes and give workshops about decision making in spatial planning. Right now, we are working with the same subject matter in the “real world”. We notice a silent revolution is taking place: practices of living are becoming more and more ‘normal.’ Experimental and different ways of living together in groups or small societies rapidly disappear in favour of the standard one-family household. Social housing is dramatically decreasing. In 2010, squatting became illegal. In the Netherlands, living is increasingly becoming an economic enterprise. Obtaining a mortgage and making a profit from the sale of your house is a way of securing your pension.
The sitcom is a chance to make people aware of what used to be a life choice: living together based on sharing ideals about the world, not as means to have a pension plan. Playing the role of Peter is something that happened randomly. Having worked as a performance artist, acting feels similar . My focus is mainly on the writing and the ideological input. The co-creative process is really interesting and resembles the ways that a squatted living group functions.
Karen grew up in Aerdenhout with her parents and younger brother. She had an easy childhood. Her father was a businessman and her mother, a housewife. Karen had friends but was also a bit distant and a little…arrogant. Perhaps because she could achieve easily and without much effort. She was good in school, athletic, and quick with words. With a little effort, she influenced people and situations in ways that served her. Puberty hit hard when Karen was about thirteen. She became critical about everything, especially her parents. While they were open people, but they didn’t really take part in the heated arguments with Karen. Deep down, they just wanted their daughter to act normal again, behave more like ‘their kind of people’. Heavy make-up, punky clothes, booze, staying out all night with guys,– became part of this “phase,” resulting in huge fights with her family.
At 17, she moved out to forget her self-absorbed, capitalist parents and ran into some squatters. They helped her and she became extremely active in the movement. She started law school to help the squatting and activist movement, but over time she became increasingly disappointed. There seemed lots of talking, but what did they actually achieve? Also, her middle class roots began to show. She feels surprisingly at ease with her college friends. At least, they were not hypocritical since they are honest about their selfish motives. Karen longs for a world where she belongs but does it exist? If so, which world would it be?
Played by Priscilla Desert: One reason why I joined this project is that as a kid I was in a “toneelclub” (drama club) for years, and had a lot of fun. This sitcom is a lot like that club: D.I.Y. story making, costume gathering, set building, and having a laugh. Another reason is that there are, with some exceptions, two ways squatters are represented in the news. There is the, “there are about four nice Dutch idealistic student squatters left…the rest are dangerous, MOSTLY FOREIGN!!! terrorists who only take a break from assaulting police officers to inject speed in each others’ veins, while blasting loud music and pissing from their balconies” way. The other representation is the, “the twenty or so squatters left in the Netherlands who failed to notice it is no longer 1982” approach. In other words, squatters are “has-beens.” As a squatter, I know both of these perspectives are not true. But a lot of people believe (some of) it, and it’s a drag having to tell your family at birthday parties that yes, “they still do that” and “no, I am not shooting speed and I’m not a terrorist.” Being the subject of a sitcom places squatting in the here and now in a non-terrorist kind of way. I like that.
Lucy is 35 year old and originally from San Fransisco, leaving her 5 year old son with her mother. She came to Europe to meet a guru and pursue her spiritual journey. She decided to stay in Amsterdam because spiritually healing the world is more important than being a mother. Yet, her attitude in the group is motherly. She nurtures people with her ideas and speeches. Politically, Lucy is an opinionated pacifist. Also her spirituality enables her to act randomly and can be self serving at times, for instance when she is trying to prove someone wrong or if she thinks that she is acting for the common good. She can be manipulative, although in a funny way. When Lucy was younger, she was hopelessly romantic and listened to songs like ‘Eternal Flame’ by the Bangles. Now that she is older and more experienced, she views sexual relationships casually and has multiple lovers.
On one level, Lucy doesn’t feel the need to have control over others in life and in her sexual relationships, but on unconscious level she also wants to control . In that sense, she is still naive. Her naivity saves the group from falling into rigidness. She also confronts the group with the two-facedness of being idealistic. Her role in the group manifests in the following ways: talking about meditation, bringing in motherly harmony, wearing lots of non-western jewelery and colorful fabrics, singing songs, listening to music, dancing around, talking about her Guru, and how her idealism and spirituality can solve all problems.
Played by Katayoun Arian: For me Lucy is an in-between character. She doesn’t necessarily make big statements about the movement. Instead, she is more involved in human relations and the functioning of the group. She is a commentator in the sense that she analyzes behaviours and people in the group to keep the harmony rather than for selfish reasons. She squats because she lived in communual housing in the past. She doesn’t feel the need to pay rent because she is pursuing her spiritual goals to come to terms with inner and group conflicts. When someone is pushed to the so-called terrorist line (as a scapegoat), she brings a different view of the situation into play.
Evert is completely dedicated to the social and political goals of the movement. There is no disjuncture between his believes and his practices. Cooperating, co-creation and co-housing are key strategies for him to deal with contemporary neoliberal politics, especially regarding social housing. He squats to protest vacancy and real estate speculation in the midst of a housing shortage. As a squatter, he invests a lot of energy in maintaining the movement so that it is a strong political organization that fights for affordable housing and workshop spaces for creativity. His idealism is both genuine and practical. You will not find him at large demonstrations. Instead, he finds his victories in less dramatic ways such as a won campaign that results in a legalized squat. In his idealistic struggles, with his characteristic to solve problems quickly and practically, he sometimes overlooks underlying conflicts within the group or plays them down by comparing them with the larger ideological struggles of the movement. This tendency often leads to, sometimes fatal, tensions within a living group. Nevertheless, his never-ending dedication to the house and the movement wins the respect of everyone. His gentle and humble nature makes him a nice guy to have around. Moreover, while he is outspoken about his idealism, he is just as withdrawn and quiet about his personal life. His background and personal motivations are largely unknown to the group.
Played by Mariska Versantvoort: (in process)
Iris Bauer is a 30-year old sociologist working and living in Amsterdam. Iris grew up in West Berlin. Her mother, Silke, was a high school teacher. Her father, Walter, left the mother for another woman when Iris was 8. That was in 1989, the same year as when the wall fell, and the same year when Iris started calling her mother Silke instead of Mama. Iris is a serious person who is also fun to be around. She is smart, well spoken, sharp and ironic. Iris is about to finish her sociology thesis on alternative forms of living after the squatting ban but she needs one last interesting case. By chance she came across this old squat with a room free. She immediately knew that this was a golden opportunity. Ever ambitious, Iris thoroughly investigates the squat and her inhabitants without telling them. Initially, she was the strict professional, but lately she is having more difficulty with the double role. Don’t they deserve her honesty?
Played by Anja Groten: Anja works as an independent designer and researcher in Amsterdam. In her work, she deals with the structures and dynamics of social and counter-economic movements and their organizational strategies. Furthermor,e Anja investigates the possibilities of an antagonistic design practice (“An Agreement to Disagreement – Why Designers need to Design Conflict“, June 2011). She has been involved in projects such as “The Invisible Operators“, “Breit – Kollektives Ausbreiten in Krefeld“, “barmbek.tv”…
“In a way I have a lot in common with Iris, who has never really been a squatter herself but seems to be very intrigued by their work and their idealism. As well as Iris, I am often surrounded by squatters and I basically support their movement. At the same time, I am also critical about it. In my own work, which is mostly a symbiosis of documentary and speculation, as well as in the sitcom, I would like to pose questions addressing the squatting movement such as:
Why do you use the language that you are using?
Why this medium/format of communication?
What does campaigning actually mean?
How does the idea of representation fit into the concept of a non-representative movement?
How important are you as an individual?
Can you be a squatter in 2012 and still be noisy and disturbing?
What would happen if the movement goes underground?
> Check the manifestation of “The Invisible Operators”