The Van Ons (Ours) project started with a signet ring, said to have been made with scraps of gun-steel from the famous Dutch gunboat Kannonneerboot No. 2. The ring commemorated naval lieutenant Jan van Speyk, who blew up the ship, along with himself and almost his entire crew, in the port of Antwerp in 1831 to keep the Dutch flag out of the hands of Belgian revolutionaries. It’s a tale of nineteenth-century heroism, but also of tragic and perhaps senseless sacrifice. Out of 70,000 historical objects in the collection of the Amsterdam Museum, designer Ted Noten chose this particular, unspectacular ring as the focal point around which to build the project Van Ons.
Notens contemporary reinterpretation of the ring, printed in yellow plastic, was specially made for the new Collection Centre of the museum in Amsterdam-Noord. By transforming the ring from a unique historical artefact, carefully protected by curators and climate control systems, to a mass-produced plastic product that could stand up to real-world conditions, Noten was responding to the fundamental idea behind the new storage facility: the collection kept there belongs to all the people of Amsterdam. That is the message of Van Ons.
Some of the plastic rings are on display as an installation in the visitor centre, where they can be taken home as souvenirs. The Van Speyk ring has left the museum and gone out into the world on the fingers of many Amsterdam residents – not only official guests and museum volunteers. Around the time of the opening, a special museum van drove to all corners of the city to inform the public about the museum’s upcoming activities. The Van Speyk ring was handed out as a gift. Like a friendly virus, 10,000 rings have found their way to the true owners of the museum collection: the people of Amsterdam, who in turn have naturally become ambassadors of the Amsterdam Museum.