Adventures in Europe

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

From Seattle to Amsterdam

I feel like I've done a lot of research for my project, but haven't posted any of my data or analysis on my blog or the wiki. I am definitely more of a pen-and-paper kinda student, but since this program is focused on e-research, I suppose that I should get used to maintaining my blog and wiki.

My research interests have changed drastically over the past five months. Orginally, I wanted to conduct a comparative study of two non-profit art centers/music venues: The Vera Project in Seattle and Vera in Groningen. However, my research interests changed when I discovered that would we would be doing collaborative research projects, and I didn't want to be the only student in program working indepedently, so I decided to set aside my comparative study of the two veras and broaden my research interests. I knew that I wanted to study something related to music, youth culture, and community building, but wasn't sure if there were any students who had the same research interests.

Fortunately, Lacy and I discovered that we both shared a common love for hip hop and interest in youth culture, and decided to do our research project on how hip hop is helping to bridge the gaps between different communities of youth in Amsterdam. In the beginning, I felt really confident about research, but that changed once I got to Prague.

I wasn't expecting that it would be so difficult to keep up with the reading and stay in contact with Lacy when I was in Prague. It certainly didn't help that I didn't have internet access in my apartment or a 24-hour library. Also, it is challenging to prepare for a study abroad program when you are already in one. However, despite the challenges I faced, I am really grateful that I had the opportunity to study in Prague, and definitely wouldn't exchange my exprience there for the world. I think my experience in Prague has really enriched my experience in Amsterdam by providing me with another city of comparison. Also, Prague completely transformed the direction of my research. Before I wanted to focus on purely on music and culture surrounding it, but that changed after a few months in Prague.

When I was in Prague, I saw so much amazing graffiti. I've also had an interest in graffiti; it's a medium of expression whose aesthetic, history, and ideology I can appreciate. Graffiti is a unique form of art because it is for the most, illegal, ephemeral, and anonymous. Unlike traditional art, it is not housed in museums or galleries, but on trains, walls, and other public spacecs. It's a misunderstood form of art, and many people immediately label it as vandalism and defacement. Of course, it could be argued that this is the case since most graffiti is unsanctioned. However, I think that this kind of labeling stems from ignorance. Most people don't realize that graffiti writing requires a great deal of skill and planning, and it is not as spontaneous and effortless as it appears to be. Serious writers sketch their pieces in their black books first, choose the location and pick up the necessary spray cans and nozzles, and then finally paint their piece. Also, unlike most artists, graffiti writers have to worry about the police and security.

Also, I think graffiti is really interesting because it's usually created by untrained young artists, historically marginalized youth (e.g. youth of color, poor youth). Modern-day graffiti started with inner-city youth in New York during the 1970s. It was started by black and Latino street kids who were looking for a creative outlet to express themselves. They had a limited number of options since the city government was undergoing a financial crisis, and was forced to cut funding for many community programs. As a result, many young people suffered from an overwhelming sense of abandonment and harbored a great deal of anger towards society. However, they channeled this anger in a positive way and decided to take things into their own hands. Using spray paint, they tagged their names and group affiliations on subway cars, city walls, and other public spaces. As marginalized youth, this form of anarchic art was a way for them to express themselves and seize ownership of the city.

Unbeknowst to many people, graffiti is how hip hop began. Graffiti is one of the four elements, which also include emceeing, breakdancing, and djing, that compose the foundation of hip hop. Anyway, since I was inspired by all the graffiti I saw not only in Prague, but also Krakow, Berlin, and Rome, I decided to shift my hip hop focus from music to visual art.


While I was in Prague I not only learned a lot about graffiti, but also racism and xenophobia in Europe. I thought it would be interesting to frame my study of Dutch hip hop and graffiti in the context of racism and xenophobia since they are such controversial issues in Europe right now, and I was interested in seeing how these issues manifested themselves in hip hop and graffiti. However, I wasn't sure if I would be able to succintly link all these different ideas.

Once I got to Amsterdam, my research changed once again. I had a lot of catching up to do since I wasn't able to do a lot of preliminary research in Prague, and spent my first two weeks in Amsterdam catching up on reading, both for the program and my research, listening to dutch hip hop, studying at the library at the Dutch Pop and Rock Institute, and going on graffiti safaris in the city centre. Since I decided that my focus was going to be on graffiti, I spent a great deal of time emailing folks from the Urban Archives Project, and reading literature on graffiti theory and methodology.

I decided to use the Urban Archives Methodology to organize and archive my photographs of graffiti and the urban studies method to analyze the environment in which it was created. And, as I wrote earlier, I decided to frame my study of hip hop and graffiti in the context of xenophobia and racism, so I wanted to photograph graffiti that addressed issues of xenophobia and racism.

However, I didn't find very much graffiti that addressed these issues. In fact, most the graffit that I found wasn't even that political. I assumed that since xenophobia and racism were such prevalent issues in Dutch media and society that they would be expressed via graffiti as well. Obviously, I didn't find that to be the case.

Another problem that I ran into is that not all graffiti is hip hop and not all writers identify themselves with the hip hop community, especially in the Netherlands where graffiti surprisingly started in the punk rock, not the hip hop community.

Since most of my pre-conceived notions regarding Dutch graffiti proved to be false, I decided to just set aside my interest in hip hop, xenophobia, and racism, and attempt to study Dutch graffiti without any sort of assumptions. My new plan was to go on graffiti safaris in the city, take photographs, analyze my photographs, and then make conclusions based on my analysis. So far, I think that this inductive method has worked well for me.

Another problem that I've run into is coming up with a focus, but I think that I've finally figured it out. I've decided to focus on my favorite graffiti writer/urban street poet, Laser 3.14. Instead of just tagging his name, he writes these cryptic, poetic messages all over the city. His work is different from most dutch graff writers because it focuses more on the content than the form. His work is written in English, and very plain and simple lettering, without any embelishments or intricate color schemes, which is very different from what most writers do. Not surprisingly, many other writers do not like his work, and I think he is more appreciated in the world of art critics than world of writers. Most writers write for other writers, but Laser writes for everyone. He is also different from other dutch graff writers because his work cannot only be seen in public spaces, but also galleries and museums. He definitely occupies a very interesting place in the graffiti world.

Anyway, that's the evolution of my research in a nutshell. Sorry this post is so choppy and non-sequiter, but that's happen when you write in a stream of consciousness...

PS photos of laser 3.14 and other interesting graffiti soon to follow

Monday, May 08, 2006

A Walk Through Letna Park

Sorry that I've been M.I.A. the past month. I've been incredibly busy with my classes and research in Prague. It's so hard to keep up with everything when you're abroad, and attempting to soak up as much of your surroundings as possible.

I decided to conduct this project in the park right by my apartment, which is located in Letna, this artsy, up-and-coming neighborhood about thirty minutes away from the city centre. I had only been to Letna Park once before, and it is the kind of park that's really easy to get lost in. The scale of Letna Park reminds me of Central Park and Discovery Park. It's the kind of park that makes you feel like you're not in the city.

I started my walk around 7pm, and since the sun was just about to set, there weren't that many people in the park. Just like many other urban parks, Letna Park isn't the kind of park that you want to walk in after sunset. There are some urban parks, like the park in front of Seattle Central Community College, that are designed in such a way that makes it safe to walk through at night. The park in front Seattle Central does not have any bushes, corners, or potential hiding places for thieves, rapists, and murderers. The park is open, and everything is in plain sight. Unlike the park in front of Seattle Central, Letna Park has many bushes, hills, walls, abandoned buildings, and other potential hiding places. Also, it's easy to find spots in the park that are completely deserted.

However, the lack of complete safety in the park does not take away from its beauty. The park is filled with tall, beautiful deciduous trees, several ponds surrounded by willow trees, tulips, and daisies, and many winding cement paths perfect for cyclists, roller bladders, and pedestrians. The people that I did come across seemed to be really enjoying themselves. I saw a group of friends having a picnic in one of the open green fields, a few couples skating, a few people sitting on the benches by the ponds, and one woman reading in one of the trees. During the day, Letna Park is the kind of place you could spend hours in.

My walk through Letna Park made me not only think about the importance of safety in parks, but also, the inherent value of such spaces. People in the city need spaces like Letna Park in order to get through their week. They need a space where they can temporarily escape from the hubbub and clamor of the city. Spaces like Letna Park provide urban dwellers with an opportunity to experience a slice of nature in the city.

This exercise made me think more about the function of parks, and the planning that goes into them. This exercise forced me to be a more objective, distant observer, and made me more aware of things I might not otherwise have noticed. I think this method of study will be extremely useful when I am in Amsterdam, and make me think more about space in terms of intention and function, not just the immediate aesthetic and visceral value.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Nederhop Resources

Sorry this is late! I've been so busy with my classes and research in Prague. Right now, I am conducting research on the relationship between punk rock and the anti-communist movment, and I've been focusing most of my energy on that project.

So I found some amazing sites on Dutch hip hop, but unfortunately, nearly all of them are in Dutch! However, the sites are still valuable to our research since they have contacts listed. Below are the sites, both in English and Dutch, I thought would be most useful for our resesarch.

Vera
Vera is a non-proft music venue and community arts center located in Groningen, which is just outside of Groningen. Groningen has a plethora of concert, e-zine, and radio links listed on their site, and I am sure that the people at this venue have contacts in the hip hop community.

Peter Weening pepr@vera-groningen.nl

Boombap
Boombap is an on-line Dutch hip hop magazine, but unfortunately, almost everything is in Dutch! However, there are some contacts listed on the site, and am sure that they'll be very useful for our research.

Thomas Gesthuizen info2003@theboombap.nl

Dutch Pop and Rock Institute
The Dutch Pop and Rock Insitute is the center for Dutch Popular Music, dedicated to promoting Dutch music at both home and abroad. Their site has a plethora of information: artist bios, venue listings, and much more. Since they are dedicated to promoting Dutch music abroad, I imagine that they'll be receptive to our research.

Robbert Tilliinfo, Editor-and-Chief info@ npi.nl

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Research Abstract

Dutch Hip Hop: Building Youth Community

Melissa Andrada
Lacy Cooper

Amsterdam is a city composed of dozens of immigrant communities. As people immigrate, issues of assimilation and identity inevitably arise. When people immigrate, they are forced to re-negotiate their cultural identities. Often, they must strip away parts of their native identities in order to assimilate into the dominant Dutch culture. For youth immigrants, the issue of identity is especially entangled. Unlike their adult counterparts, many youth immigrants come to Amsterdam without strong ties to their native culture. Yet, their native culture is an intrinsic part of their identity, and some how they must find a balance between their native and Dutch cultural identities. I am interested in looking at how youth immigrants create and maintain their multi-cultural identities. I am also interested in looking at the relationship between immigrant and non-immigrant youth.

I am interested in exploring these issues of assimilation, identity, and cross-cultural interaction through the lens of hip-hop. Hip-hop has become a global phenomenon, attracting followers from all corners of the world. With it owns unique brand of hip-hop, often referred to as Nederhop, Amsterdam is no exception to this phenomenon.

Youth immigrants have been at the forefront of the Dutch hip-hop scene. I am interested in looking at how youth immigrant communities forge their cultural identities and create stronger ties with non-immigrant youth through hip hop. How does hip-hop allow youth immigrants to reconcile the differences between their parent and local culture, and create hybrid cultural identities? How does hip-hop help to bridge together different communities of young people? How have immigrant youth appropriated hip-hop as a catalyst for social change?

I hope to gain intimate knowledge of the Dutch hip-hop scene through personal interviews, documentaries, and books. I plan to photograph, record, and videotape hip-hop shows and other related events.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Saludos!

Hey there! I am so excited to go to Europe. I leave Seattle on Friday, March 31. I will be studying in Prague this spring through the Comparative History of Ideas(CHID) Department, so unfortunately, I will be missing the spring seminar.

To give you a brief background about me, I am a CHID major focusing on music, youth culture, and urban spaces. Most people would call me a professional appreciator. I don't play an instrument, but I LOVE music. Music is my life. Currently, I intern for Barsuk Records (Nada Surf, DCFC, Long Winters), and volunteer for the Vera Project, a non-profit, all ages music venue and arts center located in Seattle.

My research interests, in fact, stem from my involvement in the Vera Project. The Vera Project is one of a handful of venues where young people never to worry about being underaged, or not being taken seriously. It is a space created for and by youth. The Vera Project is a space that recognizes young people as active cultural agents and producers. At the Vera Project, young people are not just the audience members, they are the booking agents, sound engineers, and performers. It sees youth as individuals capable of making meaningful and long-lasting contributions and changes to their everyday spaces. Young people at the Vera Project are not only given the chance to play important roles in the organization, but also, the opportunity to assume fluid, multi-dimensional identities and be a part of music community that strives to be based on hybridity and inclusion. The Vera Project is a space that allows young people to blur cultural categories together and form identities that may not be easy to classify. It strives to be a space where everyone is welcome.

The Vera Project may be seen as a model for how to treat young people and bridge together different communities. The Vera Project was modeled off Vera, a non-profit music and film venue based in Groningen, which is about 45 minutes away from Amsterdam. Like the Vera Project, Vera is a volunteer-based organization where everyone is welcome. However, unlike the Vera Project, Vera is completely government-funded and geared towards people of all ages. I am interested in conducting a comparative study of the Vera Project in Seattle and Vera in Groningen.

I don't want to limit my research to these organizations. I am also interested in looking at subcultural youth communities that exist outside of formal public art spaces. I am very interested in street culture, graffiti art, biker and skater culture, and drug culture. I am also very interested in looking at how urban youth appropriate their cultural resources in their everyday spaces, and it use as a source of identity, empowerment, resistance, and community. I am also interested in looking at how one may use music and art to bridge together different communities.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Testing

Does this work?