The Millers Tale
Forget the colorful clotheslines of Naples. This winter, traditio- nal Dutch sheets will blow in the strong Amsterdam wind in the Hortus Botanicus: sheets as strong as sails of a ship. They tell the story of the 17th century mills at the time when the city was enclosed by a five-meter high city wall. Twenty-five mills stood on the wall whose rotating blades could be seen from far, a kind of Kinderdijk avant la lettre. The white sails tell the stories of children playing, turning the blades of the windmills and throwing their kites into the air under a sky of turbulent clouds. In all those stories, the wind plays a very important role.
Everything comes together in this design by Amsterdam- based artist Lucas Lelieveld, a series of hanging ‘canvases’. It’s first and foremost a ships sail, also used for the blades of the windmills, a material that has traveled many sea miles and passed through many storms. The Textile Museum’s TextielLab has punched small holes into the fabric that create movement in the cloth when the wind blows. Then there are the corn-shaped holes. You could argue that they refer both to the grain mills and the plants in the Hortus Botanicus where the artwork can be seen. And who knows what else the wind might blow through the laundry.
The mills once stood on fortifications made of stone. It wasn’t permitted to build above the height of the fortifications, guaranteeing the mills strong winds. It was an ideal place for those who wanted to saw boards, grind malt, or pump excess water. Or for those who wanted to get some fresh air and look over the fields of waving grain and the rocky water below. The mills were made of wood so that they could be dismantled in desperate times. Most of them were replaced by stone versions, and almost all have disappeared today. The only mill still to be found in Amsterdam is De Gooyer, an old tower mill. Since 1925, after being displaced several times, it found its home next to Brouwerij ‘t IJ on the Singelgracht. It achieved its goal, which was to raise the city to great economic heights. Only a plaque remains where once the De Bloem mill stood on the Marnixstraat.
The artist, Lelieveld, had originally considered the figures dancing with their mills and flying their kites to be a little too stiff for his designs. He blew life into them by creating holes in half-round forms through which the children gained a momentum of sorts, as though they’re actually being pushed by the wind by their wind-blown clothing. The sails are hung on tight lines, creating an additional dimension in the Hortus. It is a simple but impressive monument for the wind. A wind that you don’t want against you when biking along a traditional Dutch dike, but that has occasionally blown the Netherlands in the right direction.