Het HEM: A new mecca of contemporary art
Amsterdam is a city that you fall in love with, but if art is your passion, your place is Het HEM. It’s located in a stunning industrial architectural space that was an old ammunition factory. Today, following its refurbishment and its new life, it is home to works and installations of contemporary art, as well as a café, a restaurant (Zanini), a terrace on the promenade with beautiful views, a shop, a library and a bar. A hotspot that, you will never want to leave from the moment you step inside.
“Located in an old ammunition factory, Het HEM is the new home of contemporary culture.”
Het HEM’s history
At Hembrug (Zaandam), the 1895 artillery establishments that produced firearms, artillery and ammunition for the Dutch army were located behind high fences and strict levels of maximum security. In 2003, their military functions were suspended and that’s when the first artists and creators began to move in. A decade later, some businesses received the government’s blessing to refurbish the building and convert it into a residential and recreational area.
Since 2017, Amerborgh International is the owner of this old ammunition factory, located in a titanic white building built in 1956 that is over 200 metres long on the shores of the North Sea Canal. In 2018, Het HEM BV was founded as a subsidiary of Amerborgh to provide a new function for the ammunition factory as a meeting point for contemporary culture. Stichting Het HEM is the foundation, an affiliate of Het HEM BV, which was established that same year and which produces the multi-disciplinary arts program focused on experimenting, on human values, on the experience of art and the unique context, as well as actively involving artists, creators of culture, organizations and local, national and international financial partners with the aim of increasing cultural participation and public involvement in social concerns. All of this in this unbeatable 10,000 sq. m. building.
“Het HEM has become an operational base for anyone in search of inspiration, critical knowledge and new encounters where they can reflect on our present.”
The arts program
Its program is based on different exhibitions which are divided into chapters. Different personalities, that may or may not be actively involved in contemporary art, collaborate on each one. Each chapter/ exhibition explores a theme/Story by the hand of a special guest who, through their own story, their experience and perspective, become the spokesperson for the exhibition together with the team of curators at Het HEM.
Chapter 1NE was carried out with Guilliaume Schmidt & Edson Sabajo; chapter 2WO with Nicolas Jaar; chapter3HREE with Maarten Spruyt and its current exhibition was created with Simon (e) van Saarloos. The curators involved are Rieke Vos, Laurens Otten and Vincent van Velsen.
“At Het HEM, artists from all over the world can experiment freely.”
They, in turn, offer a platform for different artistic disciplines such as visual arts, dance, music, the art of light and sound, theatre and film-making, as well as science, politics and philosophy.
“Het HEM is a place of exchange and a refuge for creation, experimenting and the exhibition of the most unorthodox artistic disciplines.”
A chat with Kim Tuin, director at Het HEM
Before leading this incredible project, young Kim Tuin was one of the directors of TrouwAmsterdam, a temporary cultural activity centre (disco, restaurant, artistic space) in Amsterdam Oost, as well as the director of an old shipyard/ cultural centre known as NDSM Werf in the North of Amsterdam. Both experiences contributed to the vision she has developed for Het HEM.
“Places where the artists have to interact with raw surroundings often deliver surprising results and they produce a special connection, that is perceived by the spectator.”
When, how and why did you decide to face this challenge?
The owner of the building asked me to come and take a look in 2017, and the truth is that it was love at first sight. I immediately decided that I wanted to create a new cultural site centred around art and experimenting and where anything was possible.
What is your mission?
“I think it is important that we see art as a means to better understand our surroundings.”
There is this idea that art manifests itself in an elitist environment, but it is exactly the opposite. Art is everywhere but you have to learn to see it. We use art to tell the stories of the people that inspire us. With them, we create exhibitions that somehow make us look at the world around us in a different way.
My mission is that everyone who visits Het HEM will have the feeling of having looked through the eyes of another person, even if for just one moment. This change in mentality can be inspirational and provide a broader view of things. And this precisely can be very useful in these times of algorithms and uncertainties.
At Het HEM you promote a personal interpretation of art. What type of artists have a place in this incredible and titanic space?
A personal interpretation is essential for me. If the curator or the artist explains his art in advance by means of exhibit labels, for example, before a visitor has had a chance to make a previous connection to the work of art, they take away the viewer’s freedom to think what they would have thought about it for themselves.
We are all different and we all have different backgrounds and, subsequently, we experiment different emotions when we are faced with a work of art. And that’s great, because it’s about learning to trust our own interpretation, which in turn generates confidence in ourselves and allows us to discover art in our everyday lives.
“At Het HEM, we mainly offer artists a space so they may act as a mirror and question our society in their own way. Whether they are more or less well known, their age or their background is not really relevant.”
(*) Photos: Cecilia Camacho.
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