Het HEM is a new cultural space in Zaandam, North of Amsterdam at the Hembrug site. The building— a former bullet and munitions factory— has been developed into an exhibition space, artist studios, living room, library, café and coffee bar, reading room, a podcast and video louge, a restaurant and a listening bar. It’s name, ‘HEM’ comes from the old German word ‘haima’ meaning ‘home’. Something which the organisation say is “exactly what we have in mind for Het HEM: a destination where everyone feels welcome and connected.”
“At Het HEM we oppose the assumption that art is not for everyone. Art is in everything: in food, in music, in clothing, in conversation. It does not require knowledge, just a curious and open attitude… Bullets were once made on this site, produced by workers unable to look outside for the high factory windows. Now we are opening the doors for anyone who wants to join us in our artistic experiment.”
The building has been adapted from an unused space; transformed into something new whilst still keeping the integral history and image of its former self, in a similar way to places such as De School: a former school turned nightclub, NDSM: a former ship-yard turned creative co-working space or Restaurant De Kas: a former greenhouse turned high-end restaurant.
The organisation see each exhibition as a chapter in the story of Het HEM with each chapter telling a story. The first and inaugural chapter, Chapter 1NE, tells the story of Edson Sabajo and Guillaume Schmidt, a creative entrepreneurial duo known for their successful streetwear and lifestyle brand Patta. Deeply rooted in hip-hop culture, they are aware of its history, legacy and message as well as being in constant contact with the contemporary.
G: “Music is at the heart of everything we do. Music is our first passion. One of the basic principles of hip-hop is that you are unique: that you distinguish yourself from the rest and that you’re your own person.”
More than just a popular music genre; hip-hop takes the form of a lifestyle, philosophy and a culture; created by communities. Stemming from hip-hop culture this group exhibition focuses on the artistic hip-hop language and nature of sampling, assemblage and the idea of learning through doing. The artwork on show reveal the role of communities and the rise of expressive urban culture.
G: “We have never done this before, a guest curatorship, working so closely with an arts programme. That was exactly our reason to say yes: we are forever on the hunt for something new. The two of us started out together behind a sneaker store counter, from there we grew into a cultural platform–we’re always looking to expand our boundaries. And of course, through the years we’ve met countless artists and performers. Chapter1NE is our way of showcasing this. All of our interests and fascinations. It’s all interlinked because it comes from the same hothouse”
Boris Tellegen & Rich Medina – The Band (2017–2019)
Boris Tellegen (1968) is a Dutch graffiti and mixed-media artist also known as Delta who started painting graffiti in the 1980s, exploring the dimensionality of the flat surface he was painting on. Later Tellegen learnt how to push the depth of his work after studying industrial design engineering at TU Delft which led him towards sculpturally driven work rather than just paint on flat walls. Tellegen has continued creating mixed-media sculptures, often through commissions.
Here he shows his sculptural speaker set, ‘The Band’, a series of five blocky speakers playing a sound piece specifically made for the exhibition produced by DJ and professor Rich Medina (1970) who has developed a unique performance lecture style combining DJing with his knowledge of hip-hop. The sound piece uses lyrics from James Brown’s song ‘Take Some… Leave Some’: “Can’t be greedy… You gotta take some, and leave some”, the motto of the exhibition.
G: “I’ve known Boris for a really long time, here in Amsterdam. He belongs to a group of artists in the graffiti scene that really brought it to its own level — super special how he did it.”
E: “In fact, he and Parra are ongoing legends. They’ve done a lot of things that people have imitated since.”
G: “The same goes for Rich Medina. We’ve known him since the nineties.”
E: “Rich owned a shop already in the 90s. He’s a proper centipede: a multi-tasker! Even back then he had a lot of knowledge as a DJ; he was the first to come up with that Fela Kuti shit.”
Dana Lixenberg – Christopher Wallace (1996) & Tupac (1993)
Dana Lixenberg (1964) is a Dutch photographer known for her genuine interest in the people she photographs, approaching them with analytical accuracy. In her work, both internationally famous celebrities and regular, unknown citizens receive equal amount of attention and respect. For a long time she was the in-house photographer of the influential American hip-hop magazine VIBE where she was commissioned to photograph many iconic figures and musical legends such as the photographs on display here of Tupac Shakur aka Makaveli and Christopher Wallace aka The Notorious B.I.G. aka Biggie Smalls.
Both of these hip-hop artists died in the mid 90s following a dark and vicious West Coast vs East Coast feud, played out very publicly via the media. Lixenberg’s photographs show a different image however, that of two musical geniuses in the prime of their lives and creativity. They are perfect examples of each artist’s distinct style: Biggie Smalls in thick rimmed glasses and a colourful Coogi sweater and Tupac wearing a bandana tied around his head and a cross around his neck.
G: “What can I say, Dana is Dana. We collaborated with Dana years ago, making T-shirts with these images. It was a long process and we built a personal connection. She’s a very warm, passionate person; this is reflected in her photographs — in her series Imperial Courts, for instance, for which she took years following the residents of Watts neighbourhood in Los Angeles. That’s seriously a beautiful life’s work.”
Piet Parra – Anxiety Rabbit Part Two (2018)
Piet Parra (1976) is a Dutch artist, graphic designer, illustrator and musician (as part of Le Le & Mich) who for over 15 years has been a defining figure in Amsterdam’s youth scene and beyond. His distinctive and absurd illustrations are impossible not to recognise using striking figures and shapes; combining human figures with animal parts in cheerful colours (usually red, pink, blue and white). His illustrations have appeared on t-shirts, record sleeves, skateboards, shoes, hats, walls, rooftops and city parks and have become part of the city’s identity.
For the 2018 Amsterdam hip-hop festival Appelsap, Parra made a new sculptural piece, ‘Anxiety Rabbit’ which was donated to the city of Amsterdam by the Appelsap festival and has since been situated in Flevopark, the site of the festival. For the occasion of this Chapter 1NE exhibition, the sculpture has been moved to Het HEM and called ‘Anxiety Rabbit Part Two’, later it will be returned to its rightful place, in time for the 2019 edition of Appelsap.
“We grew up together, we share a history, brotherhood. To witness someone spread his wings like that is so cool.”
E: “He also made the Patta logo. He’s a true all-rounder. He used to be DJ Skelter and is a really good skater and biker too. But he’s also a bit of a loner actually. Having him on your team, he’s one hundred thousand percent gold.”
Navid Nuur – Tentacle Thought No. 23 (PUSH IT) (2006–2019)
Navid Nuur (1976) is an Iranian mixed-media artist whose work is often ephemeral or process based; his work—drawings, paintings, video and sculptures—is often activated through people’s movement and subjective experiences; reacting to a pre-existing space with phenomena such as light, energy and air.
His installation at Het HEM, ‘ Tentacle Thought No. 23 (PUSH IT)’ is part of an ongoing series in which Nuur uses simple fluorescent lamps to observe the phenomena of light; situated on the underside of the staircases of the building. The fluorescent tubes come straight from the artist’s studio, transported by the artist and arranging them in such a way to transcend their functional application as an energetic entity.
“Push It could be our motto for this entire show. We’re all about doing things we haven’t done before and stepping out of our comfort zone.”
Chapter 1NE was on display until the end of August 2019. The next chapter, Chapter 2WO will be curated by Chilean artist and composer Nicolas Jaar.
“Chapter 2WO will be an intensive exploration of the Hembrug site.
The historical, sociological, archeological and geographical data gathered by Jaar and his ‘Shock Forest Group’ will serve as the source material for a sound piece that is both about and from the location where it is played.”