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15m2 of Freedom – A Sense of Freedom and Anarchy

15m2 of freedom is a series that I made in my 3rd year of studying Documentary Photography at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. In this year every student does their own project within a certain set theme. This year it was ‘Endless Possibilities’. It immediately made me think of my best friend that got her truck drivers license, bought a truck and made it into a mobile home, moved out of her house, quit her job and started to travel around in her truck. Whenever she was in The Netherlands she’d stay on a squatted site near Utrecht, one of the few left in our country. The Netherlands used to have a very vibrant and activist left squatting scene but this has been changing. Especially since 2010 when squatting got illegal and people were put in jail or getting big fines when doing so.

When I was about 18 I lived in a squat too, not very long though and the experience was quite intense. We got evicted by the riot police after half a year, most of our stuff was thrown away and we were left homeless. For me, it was done, I didn’t want to squat anymore but lots of my friends still did (they were luckier than me). I have been going to parties in squats and empty warehouses since I was about 16 so the scene was quite familiar to me. I always felt drawn to that sense of freedom and anarchy, the do-it-yourself culture that you could feel over there.

I started to squat because my boyfriend and lots of my friends were really into it. We found a crazy big residence in The Hague and I decided to leave my other home to live together with him. It was hardcore, -14 when we squatted it and the complete inside was torn down (so no electricity, water, heating). We rebuilt the place again and made it liveable. Unfortunately, it only lasted for a half year, the owners were very rich guys with lots of connections. We got evicted and were homeless for a month, after that I didn’t want to squat anymore. The insecurity of maybe losing your home wasn’t something that fits my personality, I need a steady place to live. I’m still drawn to the travelling around in a van part though.

The series I made is about that search for freedom and how it shows in people’s homes. When I was working on the project I got fascinated by the insides and outsides of the trucks and trailers people were living in, almost everything had been touched by a human hand. With little money these places were rebuilt and fixed, I specifically asked them not to clean up for me so you could really see the traces of the people living there. I liked the idea of not incorporating people in the series so the mind can be triggered to think of these people. In a way it was a personal search too, to find out if I would be fit for a life like this. I found out it has many, almost romantic, positive sides about it. At a lot of these sites you live close to nature and are outside a lot since the homes are small. But living like that can also be cold and insecure. This insecurity is what kept me from moving into a trailer. Buying a van or truck one day and make a big overland trip is still one of my biggest dreams though!

The biggest difference between a home and a truck is first and foremost the size of course. On the other hand, most city homes don’t have much outside space. The terrains I went to usually were surrounded by nature. The small living space and these surroundings cause for much more life outside and living with the seasons. Usually, trucks have a wood furnace so wood has to be chopped regularly. Then the biggest difference is that trucks have wheels so they can be moved anywhere you want.

I think the pressure of having to live up to all these expectations in modern society (right clothes, right job, happy family, looking good etc. ) sometimes make people want to escape from it. Capitalism and therefore consumerism made lots of people wanting for stuff that they think is making them happy. This caused for a countermovement of people refusing to participate in all that nonsense. Going back to basics, work to live instead of living to work. Housing in the Netherlands has become more and more expensive and swallows up large parts of our salaries. Living cheap gives you so much more freedom to do what you really like to do, living outside and in nature makes you feel less stressed and more relaxed. Life is slower and more clear.

Through mutual friends I got access to different sights in the Netherlands and stayed there mostly for 2 or 3 nights. I felt at home immediately almost everywhere since I got to stay in people’s trailers and really live like them. The people I met were extremely friendly and helpful, it was such a lovely experience. I made a lot of friends during the making of this project. For example, I joined some of them to a party in Groningen and had lots of fun!

Since I’m a part time student I still have a job next to my studies and photography work. I work as a social worker in mental health care facilities for children and youth. It is a flexible contract so I can work as much or as little as I want to and take a month off to travel too. I work in mornings, evenings or nights and it could also be in the weekend. In between I attend classes. Currently, I am in Northern Ontario, Canada, on an indigenous reserve to work on my graduation project.  About 9 years ago I started working as a social worker. I had been to some Open Days from art academies but was too shy and not confident enough to go for it. When I got fed up with my job, changing policies and cutbacks I decided I wanted to finally make a choice for myself and decided to apply to art school. When I set my mind to something I just work as hard as I can to accomplish, so I got in.

I chose to create a photo book because I’ve noticed people were interested in having an object to remember these squatted terrains by. No-one every made a book like this before with this specific subject. I also felt it could be a great opportunity for me to just learn by doing since I was still in Art School and could get lots of feedback.

For the design of the book, I worked together with graphic designer Mark Holtmann (Kad.Re) and lithographer Sebastiaan Hanekroot (Colour & Books). Since I was still at the Art Academy I could talk about the process during class as well. Working together with Mark was great, since he really tuned in to me and my project, figuring out a concept that really fitted the work. In the earlier dummies I already used smaller paper with quotes but Mark suggested to have these loose cards in there. The colours were taken of the trucks in the book and shaped like a truck. These loose cards represent this freedom the book is about. People ask me where every card belongs but then I tell them they can decide for themselves, they don’t belong somewhere.
The cards are vulnerable as well, you can loose them or they can rumple, this represents the downside of this freedom. Living on a squatted terrain you always have a risk of being evicted from your spot. Every card is put in the book by hand by me personally, 10 cards per book. The lettering and spacing of these letters were inspired by truck shapes and parking lots. The white edges around some of the pictures are not completely centred, which represents the different lifestyle of the people living in these spaces. Even the size of the book 32×23 cm was deliberate since the number 23 is frequently used in the underground scene as a number representing chaos.

My work has evolved into working with subjects that are more engaged. I search for stories that don’t get enough attention in the media and it involves people in vulnerable positions. This means the getting access part takes a way longer time than it did for 15m2 of freedom. For me, the making of 15m2 of freedom was an incredible working experience which helped me take myself more seriously and to step up and really show my work. In the work I make now I search for a deeper meaning, it involves ethical issues and it is a constant search for the right balance in how to portray my subjects.

You can buy Angeniet’s book ’15m2 of freedom’ here.

Angeniet Berkers

Angeniet Berkers (1985) is a social documentary photographer based in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. She is currently graduating from the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague.

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