Essential Amsterdammers: Laser 3.14
Essential Amsterdammers every expat should know: Who is Laser 3.14?
Renovation: a recurring sight around Amsterdam’s streets. And where there is renovation, invariably there is a tag in anonymous street artist Laser 3.14’s familiar sprayed script. His work has become a part of the architecture and landscape of Amsterdam.
While researching my last book, I wanted to talk with Laser about his view of Amsterdam. So how do you get in contact with someone whose identity? I tracked him down over the Internet and after a brief, cryptic email exchange, sat outside our designated meeting place wondering whether each passer-by was the artist himself.
Colourful, junkie-like hippy? No. Rapper hoody? Think again. Cute girl in the yellow T-shirt with "Screw Wilders" on it? Definitely not.
Finally, a cool-looking figure locks his bike nearby, strolls towards me and raises his eyebrows (unbeknown to me, he has seen me before). With the slightest nod of the head, he indicates I should go inside. We sit at the back of the café, and I am face-to-face with my anonymous Amsterdam hero.
"I do want to taste the essence of other cities and maybe live in London for a year, New York for a few months, but Amsterdam is really my city.
It is the carefree style and the openness; I really like the freedom we have. The best part is that there are lots of different cultures living together - seemingly without problems. Well, that is changing a bit, but when I grew up there was hardly any racism. My friends were Italian, Surinamese, Yugoslavian, and we were not concerned about this colour or that colour, this country or that country - we were just names and people, nothing beyond that.
This city is my canvas! Every day I develop new ideas for pieces and find new locations for my work - we live in a renovation city.
Part of the appeal of what I do is the element of surprise. You are on your way to work and walk around the corner to find my piece - and the next day it could be gone. Sometimes I get posterised very quickly, but I like the "here today, gone tomorrow" effect. It is part of the ever-changing, ever-evolving city and is a fundamental aspect of the art. It is nice to know my work is there for a fixed period, but that period could be a day, two days, a week.
Then again, sometimes I turn a corner and find something I wrote five years ago, and think, That is cool! It is still around. I know that those words on the board have travelled to different renovations around the city, gone through some hard winters, and the art has lasted.
There are so many elements around you while you are looking at street art; light, wind, sound, temperature, passers-by. All the senses are involved and you cannot replicate that in a gallery, which naturally is quiet and static.
Street art is universal, because anyone can see it as they walk around Amsterdam. They do not have to go to a gallery; they can see my work on their way to the office or shops.
My tags always come as one complete piece and I do not try to adjust or edit them too much in case I change the original feeling of the writing. It is very important for me that the emotions are pure and the work exactly reflects how I feel at that very moment.
I have this huge pile of notes that has developed over time, because when I get an idea, I need to scribble it down before it is gone. Sometimes an idea lies in the pile for years and now and again I go through the notes to see if anything becomes relevant.
It is hard not to be political as an artist in Amsterdam. I feel we have been terrorised by political correctness in the past 15 years, which can have serious consequences for the city. There are a few conservative individuals in power who want to close down the Red Light District and the coffee shops. That might look better cosmetically, but the original reasons for allowing prostitution and soft drugs were about bringing these social issues out from the shadows and enabling a certain amount of regulation.
It is good to use street art to share a different point of view - because it is so open to everyone and you can provoke people into thinking about wider issues.
There is a danger of us being too tolerant of intolerance. I love the city and feel I have to make a statement when I see things going in a direction against our history. Rembrandt is buried here, Spinoza was really important for Amsterdam - does not that tell us something about honouring a legacy of creativity and freethinking?
I have seen some artists sitting next to their pieces, being photographed and talking about them, almost like used car salesmen! For me, that takes the power away, because often they over-explain. I chose anonymity because of my art. I want to be in the background and let the work speak for itself. Mystery has always been special for me.
The 3.14 part of my pseudonym is a reference to… Well, you will have to hunt a bit further for that! Search hard enough on the web and the answer is out there..
Laser 3.14 has published a book of his art called "Are You Reading Me?"
Cover photo by Joost van Manen