re:PAIR – ambonezenbosje

Above: Andrea Lenders who grew up in the 'Ambonezenkamp', with a photo of her
family there. Cinema in the woods. Below: Renee van Rijn and Reinoud 
Bekkema, local residents, in character. Preparing the scene for filming.


In June/July 2011 louie+jesse returned to the Ambonezenbosje in Groninger Province in the Netherlands for the second part of an ongoing site-specific residency project (see “histoires concretes” for part one) curated by PeerGrouP. This time we worked more closely with the displaced Moluccan ex-residents of the area and the current local community to make a series of short films, three of which were previewed in an installation in the wood at the end of the residency, as part of the Festival Hongerige Wolf. Preview clips and further info to follow.

This piece was reviewed by the Dutch filmmaker Dinanda Luttikhedde for the P.A.I.R. publication 2011; the following is an extract from her review:

On June 14 2011 I pay a visit to louie+jesse in the P.A.I.R. at Ambonezenbosje. Our meal consists of lukewarm lentils and spinach. Frugal and nutritious, I like that. The chalkboard behind Jesse is written all over with notes of meetings that are linked to ideas. I ask Jesse about the meaning of these notations and the P.A.I.R. reverberates with scraps of experiences and thoughts that have amassed during the two weeks they have been living and working in the shelter of the woods. Jesse’s style of explaining seemed unstructured but was enlightening in a way I only realized afterwards, when during their final presentation it helped me to better understand their work.

The Ambonezenbosje has a remarkable history. The Carel Coenraadpolder, where this small wood is situated, was impoldered in 1924. Between 1945 and 1950 the barracks that had been built there served as a detention camp for members of the pro-Nazi NSB while later, between 1953 and 1961 the place was used as a temporary shelter for some 300 Ambonese people. After the Ambonese had been forced to leave, the barracks were pulled down and trees were planted in their stead. Maybe as a reminder, maybe to cover up painful reminders, just like at another former camp terrain, at Westerbork, that was also planted with trees in the sixties. In the P.A.I.R.-publication Henry Alles quotes Mike Pearson: “Do not chose between the different meanings of the key terms, but compose by using all the meanings”, and interprets these words in the context of the P.A.I.R.-project as follows: all the different things that have happened at the Ambonezenbosje have equal weight and form the ingredients for a new event at the same Ambonezenbosje.

The final presentation of the Re-P.A.I.R. is on July 30, when in the neighbouring village of Hongerige Wolf a two-day festival takes place. On entering the Ambonezenbosje I notice a broken down tree that, judging by its circumference, must be significantly older than the surrounding trees and must have witnessed the life that was lived here 50 years ago. I find that throughout the wood, posts have been planted that are adorned with plasticized black-and-white photographs of Ambonese people. When I pause to look at a picture of two young girls, I meet Andrea, who as a girl lived here and returned last winter to meet P.A.I.R.-artists louie+jesse during their final presentation. She is the youngest in the picture, the other girl is her elder sister; they were 7 and 10 years old at the time. The building in the background is barrack A. Andrea has chosen the place for this picture with care. The inclusion of the pictures on the posts throughout the wood was her initiative. “This year it will be 50 years since the camp was broken up, two days before Christmas. The police forcibly removed the last twenty families. We didn’t want to leave.” Andrea tells me that she lived in the camp for nine years and that the strong social ties within the community were a comfort in their shared loss of Ambon. The bare fields of Oldambt presented themselves as a new home.

Our conversation seems to draw attention and more people join us. Andrea is a gifted storyteller. “We hardly ever left the camp. Sometimes we walked to Dijkgat, but other places were just too far to walk. On Saturdays there was a bus to Winschoten.” A woman from the neighbourhood draws near and interrupts Andrea, saying: “These days there isn’t a single bus running anymore.” I leave the group that’s gathered now around Andrea to continue my walk. A little further on I see a colour photo of a group of Ambonese people and one white girl.

I hear singing and guitar playing from deeper in the woods. I decide to check it out and find a tent like construction, covered with camouflage netting. Inside, there is a projection screen. I take a seat to view the film that louie+jesse have made. I watch someone preparing a meal with red pepper, tomatoes, onions and lemon and I hear people talking in an unfamiliar language. The appearance of a white woman makes me wonder if she is the same as the girl on the colour photo. She is seated next to an Indonesian woman, but separated from her by a colourful shawl. The white woman teaches the assembled Ambonese arithmetic and writing. The scene ends with some shots of the remains of a meal in the woods that are taken care of by insects.

A soundscape by Louie introduces the next scene. A man and a dog appear on screen. Jesse has told me about him, about how he feels mysteriously connected to the Ambonezenbosje, a connection he cannot explain himself. Everyday he comes here, all the way from Winschoten, to walk his dog. While the camera follows the man and his dog through the woods it changes level, sometimes it shows the man’s perspective, sometimes the dog’s. I move with them through the woods. The man himself is not recognizably filmed until the very end of the scene. It’s only then that he is briefly to be seen.

After an abrupt cut I see some men with spades grouped in front of the Ambonezenbosje. From there they walk together to the other side of the dike where the soil is muddy. They all wear boots. They start making movements as if digging. The sound of the wind in a microphone and of drops of water in a bucket enhance the somber and grey atmosphere. The men stop digging and start walking back towards the wood. On reaching the gate they line up and act out a drilling like choreography as if they were soldiers.

In the next scene the soil is dug loose and a clod of earth is shoveled into a wheelbarrow and wheeled away a couple of hundred yards to be put into a crate on the backseat of a bicycle. The rhythm of the wheel and the pedals make time seem endless. The cyclist has arrived at his destination, a place that is ‘empty’, where he leaves behind the clod of earth. The scene that follows is the scene that I saw first, with the Ambonese people in the wood. An hour has passed since I sat down and started watching.

louie+jesse made a film that loops, meaning there is no beginning or ending. The removal of the clod of earth is not only visually the connecting scene but is also important as regards the content of the film. While it symbolizes the journey from Ambon to Oldambt, it also refers to our close connection to the land. It was pure coincidence that, after my walk through the woods and my meeting with Andrea, following the trail of pictures on posts, the first scene I watched was the scene with the Ambonese people, but it shaped my understanding of the film.

I feel richer walking back towards the P.A.I.R. to join Henry, louie+jesse and the other visitors. There is a fire, wine and, of course, delicious food.


UPDATE: these are some low-res stills from the films. we are still seeking funding or loan of equipment to finish the edit.

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