Although life without copper is hard to imagine, the metal in our cars, energy cables, airplanes and mobile phones remains invisible. This is not the case for the devastating effects copper mining has on the landscape – for every tonne of copper around a hundred tonnes of chemical waste is left in the landscape. In COPPER GEOGRAPHIES, Ignacio Acosta examines the impact of copper mining on the landscape in Chile, a country that produces more than a third of the world’s copper, and the flow of copper export worldwide. Acosta explores various landscapes in the Atacama Desert with a historical connection to copper mining and shows the transformation of copper ore into capital. He consequently links the mines in Chile to London, the global centre of investments in the mining industry, and challenges the viewer to look behind the seemingly idyllic landscapes, at the hard impact of capitalism.
Mandy Barker strives to raise awareness about the effects the mountain of plastic waste in the oceans has on marine life and ultimately on our own health. For her series SOUP, she collected items from this gigantic floating rubbish dump which were washed up on beaches around the world. With her photographs, she makes the death of marine animals trying to eat the plastic and the distribution of plastic in the food chain tangible. The plastic objects in the series HONG KONG SOUP: 1826 derive from thirty beaches in Hong Kong - where 1826 tonnes of plastic is sent to landfill every day. The objects depicted relate to Hong Kong’s culture and traditions. For the series PENALTY, Barker was sent 992 footballs, after an appeal on social media, in the space of four months that were found either in the sea or on the coastline. Barker’s mosaics of arranged waste evoke an emotional response; her photographs’ aesthetic appeal grates with the knowledge of this large-scale environmental pollution.
Olaf Otto Becker
In his book project READING THE LANDSCAPE, Olaf Otto Becker brings the global deforestation of primeval forests and the current reassessment of our understanding of nature up for debate. Becker shows the three states of nature in the jungles of Indonesia and Malaysia: intact, destroyed, and artificial. Within the space of a few decades man has destroyed jungles that have existed for millions of years, replacing them with monocultures, and creating an imaginary nature in megacities. Combined, Becker believes they form an unavoidable fatal ecological and economic process. The photographs of READING THE LANDSCAPE are testament to the changing landscapes that result from overpopulation and the uncontrolled deployment of the earth’s natural resources.
Aside from being a vast nature and recreation area, Meijendel, situated near The Hague, is a water catchment area for the city. To enhance the natural character and the biodiversity of the terrain, the top layer of soil has been removed in the more remote parts of this area, comprising woods, dunes, and small lakes. This has resulted in the return of the wandering dunes of yesteryear, which Theo Bos believes only makes the landscape more attractive. Critics, however, say that Meijendel is now not only an area for the production of drinking water but also for artificial nature.
Carole Condé & Karl Beveridge
In MULTIPLE EXPOSURES, Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge depict the same location in Canada over a period of six hundred years. Starting with a pre-colonial forest, the eight photographs portray the economic history and with it the corresponding impact on the landscape and the environment. Via the fur trade, the near extinction of the beaver, a chemical factory from the Sixties, and modern industrial environmental pollution, the viewer ends up at an office block, the ‘financialization’ of the earth’s economy and global warming. Each photograph depicts two workers: one represents the price workers pay in the form of injury, illness, and unemployment; the other represents forms of resistance against the employers, who are also depicted.
In his series ETHER, Matthieu Gafsou shows the structures with which human civilisation has colonised the sky above. The fine lines and delicate forms appeal to a sense of unity. The images are reminiscent of a structure of a higher order and evoke associations with scientific classification systems and physical laws, with the poetic structure of nature itself. ETHER is the prologue to a running series in which Gafsou explores the limits of science in relation to the human body.
Hiroshi Imai regularly visited a quarry, a seemingly devastated area of land he first witnessed from an airplane. The fields and mountains were excavated for many years to produce sand and stone. The effects of the weather further eroded what remained. The combination of human behaviour and nature has resulted in a chaotic landscape that appeared to come from another planet. In 2014 this alien landscape, however, underwent a dramatic transformation. The quarry was extensively prepared for the storage of nuclear waste from Fukushima. Elsewhere, solar panels were installed on the excavated areas of land. For Imai this course of action is typical of man, who acts according to his wishes without fearing the consequences for nature.
Antoinette De Jong & Robert Knoth
Mori, het Japanse woord voor bos, bestaat uit twee karakters, die los van elkaar boom en bodem betekenen. De bladeren die elk jaar van de bomen vallen, worden opgenomen in de bodem, waaruit nieuwe bomen kunnen groeien. Het water dat door de bossen op de heuvels wordt vastgehouden, is van belang voor de rijstvelden in de dalen. Met zijn reinigende en krachtgevende vermogen symboliseert het bos vernieuwing. Sinds de kernramp in Fukushima in 2011 zijn de bossen echter besmet met radioactieve deeltjes die hier zijn neergeslagen en ook in het grondwater zijn terechtgekomen. Daarmee vormt de kernramp een breuk met de traditionele Japanse waarden en het shintoïsme, die het behoud van natuurlijke en cultuurlandschappen hoog in het vaandel hebben staan.
In her work in progress THE CROSSING, Katrin Koenning focuses on the ‘wounded’ Australian ecology, in which man’s impact is plainly gouged out in everything we have touched: land, water and sky. The series reflects on nature in the Anthropocene – the geological era in which the climate and atmosphere are subjected to the effects of human activity. As a result, nature finds itself in various states of disappearance, adaptation and change.
In THE FALL, David Maisel documents parts of the landscape between Madrid and Toledo, situated seventy kilometres further south. From the air this region appears to accommodate landscapes that have been excessively eroded, both ecologically and aesthetically, by the impact of man. From abandoned post-crisis construction sites in the Madrid district of Vicálvaro, alien-looking agriculture and the opencast mining of minerals in Borox, to the shaded fields of the industrial plantations in Fuensalida: Maisel’s compositions evoke a philosophical and existential dual reaction. Simultaneously intriguing, daunting and confusing. More than simply images clarifying the impact of human activity, they form a poetic view of the human psyche that has created these misshapen landscapes.
Much of the fear for land mines is grounded in their invisibility. A forgotten land mine can result in victims long after armed conflict has ceased. A former battlefield where there are still known to be land mines scares people even more – an impact far greater than that of the land mine as weapon. In Israel, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and France, Simon Menner photographed existing minefields and areas still littered with unexploded mines from past conflicts. Although the threat is not visible, the landscapes lose their innocence because of it.
In October 2014, Simon Norfolk spent eighteen days in a Kenyan mountain hut at a height of almost five thousand metres. His aim was to capture the melting away of the Lewis Glacier. Thanks to periodic measurements taken of the glacier since 1934, Norfolk was able to chart the ice mass’s past borders on the present-day mountain. At night, Norfolk dragged an improvised torch over the ice mass’s outlines from previous moments in history. In doing so, he reveals the merciless melting, on a mountain that was once a volcano, by means of a fire fuelled by the same materials that harm the climate. In this work Norfolk mourns the rapid disappearance of a beauty that has existed for millennia whilst simultaneously bridging the gap between the human sense of time and the glacier’s timescale.
Up to now the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl in 1986 has been the largest nuclear power plant catastrophe in history. Due to the contamination of the area surrounding the disaster, the Soviet authorities established a ‘forbidden zone’, an area with a range of thirty kilometres around the exploded power plant from which all people were evacuated. This included the fifty thousand people who were living in the city of Pripyat at the time. Countless researches since the disaster indicate that the animal populations in the area have flourished as a consequence of the rigorous reduction of human activities. Paradoxically, thanks to a terrible human error a nuclear wasteland has thus been created that turns out to be a safe zone for nature. In this spontaneously created nature park, flora and fauna are gradually recapturing their natural habitat from man.
Robert Zhao Renhui
In the Indian Ocean, 350 kilometres south of Java, lies the Australian Christmas Island. It is unique because of its large amount of endemic flora and fauna. Many species of plants and animals only appear on this island, including a large population of red crabs. During the nearly 150 years that people have inhabited the island, however, foreign species of plants and animals have also been introduced, which have disturbed the natural ecology. As part of the 3rd Christmas Island Conservation Plan all communities were evacuated to the Australian mainland, whereby the island is now a strict nature reserve. In CHRISTMAS ISLAND, Zhao Renhui documented the extinction of several indigenous and rare animals species, and the attempt of conservators to combat foreign species.
Gerco de Ruijter
For his hypnotising video Crops, Gerco de Ruijter looked for images on Google Earth taken by aerial cameras. Each selected image is one of the countless fields in the southwest of the United States which are sprayed by means of centre pivot irrigation. De Ruijter cropped the photographs in such a way that the fixed pattern of a circle in a square remained in all of the images. He then placed them in a four-minute-long animation. The colours change with the season and the cultivated crops while the irrigation machine divides the plots into different strips like the hand of a clock. The mesmeric haze of the work, compiled from over a thousand images, is emphasised by the lingering, stuttering electronic music of Michel Banabila.
At the end of the nineteenth century the climbing plant kudzu from Japan was introduced in the United States. The plant was initially popular because of its appearance and was used as ground cover. In the nineteen-thirties the plant was extensively deployed to counteract soil erosion in the states of Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi – kudzu flourishes in many soil types and conditions, and can grow up to thirty centimetres a day. It therefore didn’t take long for the once deemed beautiful and useful plant to be considered a plague. Kudzu covers everything in its path: trees, houses and abandoned cars. Helene Schmitz captured the kudzu in Georgia and Alabama in black and white photographs, which are a cross between documentation and art – beautiful and terrible at once.
Jharia was once a green forest in eastern India. That changed when coal was discovered in the ground in the late eighteenth century, and Jharia quickly became the main area for coal mining in India. Yet raging since 1916 are dozens of inextinguishable underground fires, which increasingly leave their traces above ground. Houses, temples, schools and mosques, places once teeming with life now fall victim to the flames. The heavy output of smoke has resulted in serious health problems for the local population. Plunderers travel around to blow up the mines and rob the coals. Ronny Sen captured the end of human existence in Jharia through the ruins of a community without a future, which nonetheless tries to survive in an apocalyptic landscape.
Stella Polaris* Ulloriarsuaq
In November 2012, the photographers Nomi Baumgartl and Sven Nieder, the filmmaker Yatri N. Niehaus, and the Greenlander guide Laali Lyberth travelled to the west of Greenland. As early as the Sixties, Greenlanders saw the first signs of what would later be known as climate change. An encounter between the photographers and local shamans, who call for a better way of dealing with our nature, formed the seed for STELLA POLARIS. Together with Greenlandic ‘light ambassadors’ who illuminated the icebergs with bright flashlights, the team literally wrote a message in light. Despite the extreme conditions for man and materials, Baumgartl, Nieder and Niehaus returned with unique images of an irreversibly changing landscape.
On the border of land and sea Joni Sternbach reveals the mystery of a forgotten past. For her series ABANDONED, she looked for ruins and other remnants of human activities on the coast. The constructions, which have lost their functionality long ago, now stand as a symbol for a primitive and lost time; for human endeavour that becomes clearly visible through the decay and return to nature. Sternbach develops her photographs – unique ambrotypes and tintypes – on location in a portable darkroom. Working in this old collodion technique, she uses original chemical formulas and lenses from the mid-nineteenth century whilst simultaneously providing her compositions with a contemporary aesthetic. The exhibited works are reproductions of the originals.
With LAND OF UNDEFINED TERRITORY, Munem Wasif calls into question the identity of a country that is bound within the concept of a nation state to a specific political and geographical context. Wasif photographed an undefined area of land on the disputed border between India and Bangladesh. The slow, repetitive image momentarily freezes time, transporting the viewer into another time, another space, that could also be anywhere. The work, which looks like a study, sheds light on the detachment of a seemingly everyday area that in reality is loaded with politics and history. The exhibited part of Wasif’s ghostly series consists of three video channels.
Land of Undefined Territory is supported by the Samdani Art Foundation
Witho Worms photographed slagheaps in Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, and Wales. These black mountains are the visual remnants of the coalmines, and in Europe the symbol of an era that began with the Industrial Revolution. Nowadays, Worms believes that you can view them as burial mounds of an all but bankrupt capitalist system. Taking some coal from each mountain he photographed, Worms turned it into a pigment which he used to print the negatives. The different tints of brown and black illustrate the specific composition of the natural resources used. Thereby melting object and subject, the mountain and the photograph, into a single image of the socio-political reality of the past hundred years.