Provo

The Dutch Provo movement of the mid 1960s recognised that boredom and alienation (feelings of powerlessness and not belonging) were powerful energies. For the Vorticists this energy, generated by violent boredom, had symbolic, poetic and artistic power. For the Provos it was a real force that could be harnessed for social change. Provos used provocative direct action ('pranks' and 'happenings') to arouse society from political and social indifference.

The first issue of PROVO magazine contained a diagram, reproduced from the 19th century English journal Practical Anarchist, which showed how to make a pineapple bomb. Although the instructions were useless, the editors were arrested for inciting violence and later released without charge.

Provo fused three countercultural elements: an emerging group of angry, alienated young people; the provocative methods of the performance artist Robert Jasper Grootveld; and the revolutionary ideas of philosophy student Roel Van Duyn.

Grootveld staged weekly 'happenings' in the centre of Amsterdam. He performed new rituals designed to reawaken the addicts of consumer culture. He targeted the cigarette cult which he felt to be the worst of society's addictions. He made public protests against the tobacco industry and defaced cigarette advertisements on billboards with the word 'cancer' written in black tar. Grootveld created an 'Anti-Smoking Temple' in a studio given to him by an eccentric patron and began to call himself an 'Anti-Smoke Sorcerer'. He staged his ritual happenings at the 'temple' until, spectacularly, he burned it down in the middle of a happening. In 1964 the weekly happenings moved to a new site at the statue of a child, which had been funded by the tobacco industry, in nearby Spui Square.

At one of these happenings in May 1965 Roel Van Duyn handed out the first Provo leaflets, declaring the movement's intention to annoy and provoke this society to its depths'. Grootvelt and Van Duyn joined forces.

Provo used pranks to provoke the police into action - and usually overreaction. In fact Provo considered the police to be an essential element of a happening; the happening would provoke the police and the police's response would fire the crowd's resentment which would eventually erupt into revolt. The media were also central players and could fuel a provocation with outrage and panic. Despite the flippancy of some of their methods Provo's direct actions usually had a serious motivation. Their 'White Plans' are a particularly good example of provocation for public good.

The White Bicycle Plan was announced to the press in late July 1965. It proposed that cars be banned from the city centre to be replaced by twenty thousand free bicycles provided by the city. These would be painted white and always left unlocked. Provo provided the first fifty bicycles, which were immediately confiscated by the police in case they encouraged theft.

The White Victim Plan proposed that anyone who caused death by driving be made to carve their victim's outline at the site of the accident and fill it with white cement thus creating a permanent warning to dangerous drivers.

The White Chimney Plan proposed that air polluters be taxed and the chimneys of serious polluters painted white.

The White Housing Plan proposed that the city legalise and sponsor squatting: the revolutionary solution to the housing problem.

The White Wives Plan proposed a network of women's sexual health and family planning centres and sex education in schools.

The White Kids Plan proposed shared parenting in groups of 5 couples who would take it in turns to care for the group's children on a different day of each week.

The White Chicken Plan was a statement against increasingly violent police responses to happenings and demonstrations. It proposed that the police force (then known in Amsterdam as blue chickens) changed its image by disarming, riding white bicycles and handing out free first aid, fried chicken and contraceptives.

In 1965 the Dutch royal family, already unpopular in Holland, announced Princess Beatrix's plans to marry a former member of a Nazi youth organization. Provo opened a bank account was opened to collect donations for an anti-wedding present and the 'White Rumour Plan' was set into action. Wild stories began to circulate; that Provo was preparing to drug the city water supply; that they were building a giant paint-gun to use on the wedding party; that they were collecting manure to spread along the procession route; that the royal horses would be drugged. In the event 'Provo' disrupted the wedding with a smoke bomb which caused no immediate harm but provoked a violent street battle with the police.

Left wing student groups began to unite with Provo to protest against the war in Vietnam. Demonstrations were banned and grew in size and popularity as a direct result. The police responded with increasing force. By the middle of 1966 hundreds of people were being arrested every week. The public began to condemn the police and express sympathy for the Provos and anti-war demonstrators. An official investigation into the crisis was opened in August 1966 and the police commissioner, and eventually the mayor, were fired as a result of its findings.

Provo began to be embraced by the mainstream culture. A White Plan for a children's playground was enthusiastically accepted by the council and a Provo representative won a seat in the municipal elections. Uncomfortable with this acceptability, Provo made the decision to liquidate only several days after the mayor was fired. They staged a funeral for the movement in May 1967.