Poster announcing the liquidation of the Provo movement (1967),
designed by Rob Stolk.
Provo was an Amsterdam anarchist movement that existed for just two years (1965-1967), although its existence resonated for years to come, in the Netherlands and abroad. Through conceptual (so-called ‘ludiek’) activism and speculative political proposals (the ‘white plans’), the Provo movement captured the imagination of a generation, and forever shaped the Dutch political and cultural landscape. Part art movement and part political party, Provo was a loose collective, consisting of individuals with very different ambitions: subversive agendas, artistic motives, utopian ideas, concrete plans. Between 1965 and 1967, these motives and agendas briefly overlapped, and created a unique movement. A movement that liquidated itself in 1967, in a self-declared act of ‘auto-provocation’.
One of the founding members of Provo was Rob Stolk (1946-2001). Coming from a socialist working class background, Stolk was involved in activism from a very early age, and published the anarchist magazine Barst (‘Crack’), of which only one issue appeared. In 1965, he co-founded Provo, together with Roel van Duyn and a handful of others. Other eminent Provo figures included Sara Duys-Stolk, Robert Jasper Grootveld, Loe van Nimwegen, Luud Schimmelpennink, Peter Bronkhorst and Hans Tuynman. Rob Stolk’s involvement in Provo forced him to become a printer; since mainstream printers refused to handle the subversive and sometimes illegal Provo material, he had no other option than to print these publications himself. Reflecting on this situation, Stolk often quoted American journalist A. J. Liebling: “Freedom of the press is for those who own one”.
After the liquidation of Provo, Rob Stolk continued to play an important role in the early squaters’ movement: in 1969, he founded Koöperatief Woningburo ‘De Kraker’, and published a manual for squatters. Later that year, he was involved in the occupation of Het Maagdenhuis, operating a printing press from within the occupied building. In the early 1970s, Stolk played an crucial role in Aktiegroep Nieuwmarkt, the successful insurrection against the large-scale demolition of the Amsterdam Nieuwmarkt area. Throughout the ’70s, Stolk published ‘De Tand des Tijds’, a historical magazine featuring critical and satirical reflections on subjects ranging from the Dutch monarchy to the Second World War.
During the ’70s, Rob Stolk focused more and more on his practice as a printer, gradually transforming himself from an activist printer to a professional printer, shifting his attention from political causes to cultural matters. He became one of the most prolific cultural printers in Amsterdam. In 2001, he died of a heart attack, 55 years old.
In December 2010, Tim Voss, the director of Amsterdam art space W139, approached Marieke Stolk, Rob’s oldest daughter, in an attempt to learn more about Provo. Marieke Stolk also happens to be one of the three members of Experimental Jetset, a small, independent graphic design studio situated in Amsterdam. During this meeting, plans were being made to present, in W139, an installation revolving around the theme of Provo. A small, personal (and ultimately incomplete) archive, displaying graphic documentation related to the Provotarian movement, accompanied by some film screenings, and a couple of (yet-to-be-confirmed) lectures. Through this impromptu installation, Experimental Jetset will not only attempt to interpret (in a subjective way) the history of Provo, but will also focus on the role of Rob Stolk herein, and will try to reflect on the archetype of the printer as a ‘practical utopist’, or, to quote the French writer Régis Debray, the printer as “the quintessential worker intellectual or intellectual worker”.
As we’re writing this, we’re right in the middle of our research. It’s too early to thank everybody who’ve helped us, as we know this list will grow over the course of the following weeks. But for now, we just want to mention the following people:Antiquariaat Boek en Glas, Pieter Boersma, Femke Dekker, Jan Donkers, Henk & Veronica van den Dungen, Rob de Groot, Hugo van Heijningen (RLR), the IISG, Suzanna Jacobs-Stolk, Cor Jaring, Orpheu de Jong (RLR), Ad Leeflang, Anna Leeflang, Loe van Nimwegen, Niek Pas, Jan Pen, Huub Prickaerts, Otto Schuurman, Johannes Schwartz, Sara Jansje Stolk-Duijs, Swip Stolk, Reina Stolk, Tjebbe van Tijen, Flora Valkenduuk, Tim Voss, W139 crew and Gerard van den Berg (+), Willem Breuker (+), Steef Davidson (+), Tine Hofman (+), Jaap de Jong (+), Rob Stolk (+).
The Wikipedia article on Provo contains a compact list of links to various websites. More about Rob Stolk can be read here (in Dutch) and here (in German). The most complete archive about Provo can be found at the International Institute of Social History; they present a small selection of images here. A chronology of the Provo movement can be seen here, another online archive can be found here. Artist/activist Tjebbe van Tijen (of the Imaginary Museum) has been a noteworthy archivist of Provo as well. And there even exists a complete online archive of De Tand des Tijds.
Recent books on the subject of Provo include Richard Kempton’s ‘Provo: Amsterdam’s Anarchist Revolt’ (Autonomedia, 2007) and Niek Pas’ ‘Imaazje: De Verbeelding van Provo’ (Wereldbibliotheek, 2003). Both books are definitely worth checking out.
The Régis Debray quote that was used in the above press release (“the printer as the quintessential worker intellectual or intellectual worker”) comes from his 2007 essay ‘Socialism and Print’. The website of W139 can be found here, while Experimental Jetset can be found here. More links will follow.