Art in the Dunes

About a month ago, W had an opening in Den Helder, about an hour and a half north of Amsterdam. It was a glorious, nearly cloudless day ("glorious" and "nearly cloudless" go hand-in-hand in Holland) and we decided to make a day of it. We went to a place just off the railway tracks on the outskirts of Den Helder called De Nollen. You step off the train, and this is what you see.

Den Helder is near the sea, and even in its suburbs, dunes pop up here and there. De Nollen is the work of a single artist, R.W. van de Wint, who spent 25 years creating the conditions for a very basic experience of dark and light, color, space and size, and perspective.

One finds oneself suddenly a "landscape of the imagination" that sharpens your view of reality (or the imagination, depending on how you look at it). It began as an artistic experiment, and wound up turning the old, neglected inner dunes in Den Helder into a sort of all-encompassing, permanent installation.

Some of the pieces are made from or involve bunkers built into the dunes during the Second World War, and some are entirely new constructions. If you go on a guided tour, you're allowed inside, and some of it is downright spooky. Descending into a long, narrow, concrete tunnel, with lit candles on either side showing you the way, but not bright enough to see anything else, then emerging into a nest-like dome above the ground again... entering a triangular room with bright colours blended on its walls and looking up, only to see that nature has begun to creep in from the skylight and cast shadows on it all (something van de Wint encouraged)...

There was a toasty fire in a woodstove in the visitor's centre, a glass building at the edge of the site, and the cutest, funkiest outhouses I've ever seen. And a resident cat who showed us the way.

It was a lovely day, as are all days when one discovers something completely unexpected (Den Helder is a naval port, and this is the last thing I'd expect to see there). The whole thing got me thinking about how we use landscape again, how we inhabit it, how we use it to declare who we are, what the things we keep coming back to ultimately tell us about ourselves... and how great it is when an artist can express it so boldly, and gracefully.