Clear Cut by Wouter Osterholt

An ecological disaster exercise in the Amstelpark

by Wouter Osterholt
February 4- 14, 2021 (Postponed because of Covid-19 regulations)
het Glazen Huis and outdoors in Amstelpark, Amsterdam


Exploded View Zone2Source 2020, image Ilya Rabinovich

In 2019, hundreds of trees in the Amstelpark were cleared during works on the nearby A10 motorway. Despite the relatively large scale cutting, there was no protest. This calmness is characteristic for the Amstelpark that lays hidden as a kind of Arcadian landscape behind a large fence in order to ward off threats from the outside. It’s a place where cycling is prohibited and where the strict supervision of park rangers ensures that nothing can take place off the beaten track. Park management is taken so seriously that artists who want to work in the monumental exhibition park are forbidden to fix objects in the ground or in the trees. The entire park is treated as if it were a museum object. But this false sense of security makes the park very vulnerable.

The absence of any public outcry over the felling of the trees made clear that the park lacks a group of involved stakeholders. This lack of support is even more striking knowing that tree felling became a much debated topic in Dutch municipal and provincial politics over the last years. The threatened tree has become a political subject, showing the anxieties and concerns of people in a rapidly changing world, where climate change is often a rather abstract and invisible phenomenon, while the cutting of a tree, on the other hand, forms a tangible link with the endangered natural world.

To break through the silence that surrounded the clearing of the trees in 2019, the project proposes to further test the resilience of the park by allowing a fictitious threat in the form of an ecological disaster exercise with the assumption that this can benefit the sustainability of the park. The week-long exercise is based on former tree protests that took place in the Netherlands during the last decades. The research into this phenomenon has led to a compilation video with more than 200 examples of tree protests, found in various media archives; from small-scale improvised actions to strategically planned manifestations of political parties. During the exhibition this 90 minutes video work, together with replicas of the original protest signs, will serve as source material for staged situations that take place at different locations throughout the park.

The protest actions are reenacted with two actors on different locations throughout the park. Simultaneously these moments form the opportunity to interact with passersby, who might take the staged actions for real. By placing the historical events in the present, bystanders are challenged to revaluate the status of the Amstelpark. The results of the interventions will be documented and shown as a film during a final event at the end of the exhibition. The screening will be combined with a meeting between activists from different organisations, whose actions were used in the making of the film. The public meeting will allow for a reflection on the sense and nonsense of resistance against tree felling in the Netherlands in general. In the debate we will focus, among other things, on the relationship between art and activism. Clear Cut forms a case study and together we will evaluate how the project itself has or has not involved people and made them think.

We will also look at what the participants can learn from each other by sharing information about the different strategies of resistance. What is needed for an action to be successful and how can people be actively mobilised? Clear Cut is an ode to the passionate involvement of concerned citizens and an attempt to ideologize the park as a place where the urgency for environmental problems can be made palpable.

In the press