Choosing between framing and focusing. From Texel to Białowieża

 

A quest, from nothing to nothing: from a bare, treeless island polder, reclaimed from the sea by human hands, to a primeval forest without people where all we can see is savage nature.

A journey from Texel to Białowieża, with the history of garden design to guide us. Choosing between framing and focusing.

Three different approaches to a personal quest for the true genesis of nature in Europe.

 

Stijn Cole creates drawings, painting and installations. They are his personalised geographical, physical rendering of observed nature. The initial idea for this project is the route, a 1600 km line on the map, between Texel and Białowieża. Each stopping place and location can be determined precisely by its coordinates, in the work and in the text. The choice of stopping places and the images of course remain subjective, but, aware of this, the artist deliberately opts to view each image from a different angle, two steps sideways, so that in each case the same image suddenly appears different, seen differently through his frame, but with the same content. In this way the artist tries to question the boundaries and the subjective elements in the choice of image, and also to playfully caricature them, creating two views of the same image.

This duality also appears in the text, but based on the reflection and vision of the art historian and landscape architect in confrontation with his fellow traveller, the artist; two visions of the same image, of the same locations, in a quest that goes from nothing to nothing. Two views, the same image, a changing frame with the same content, playful illusion or dangerous reality.

 

Background to the project:

 

We all have that Robinson Crusoe feeling, sometimes somewhere very deep and far off; it’s the urge, or the fantasy of being able, to survive in the midst of unbridled nature, to live with nothing, in paradise.

In this project, the artist Stijn Cole goes in search of a contemporary and deeper representation of this paradise, savage nature.

In an era dominated by digital photography, the internet and GPS coordinates, an era when, to our way of thinking, everything has to be depicted precisely and should also be visually accessible, Stijn Cole is looking for a deeper dimension of paradise.

Every day, the media and internet deluge our retina with paradisiacal images, illusions that often seem more than tangibly close. This surfeit of idealised images trivialises our historically evolved notion of paradise, an image that has grown up over several millennia, having originated in the book of Genesis. The trivialisation of this notion means that for many people this idyll has never been so remote. It has lost its attraction and challenge. It has been robbed of any form of imagination, longing and dream.

 

As a contemporary artist, Stijn Cole makes use of technical aids; he too tries to create a rendering of the idyll. But it has to be said that his aim remains creation, not a lapse into our trivialised image: a hard and even more than perfect photographically stylised idyll from which unpredictability, duality and surprise have evaporated.

So, as an artist, Cole’s aim is to transcend the idyll that has been stylised to death by photography, and to return to it a deeper dimension, in which longing and fantasy are set free once again and can be given new substance.

 

Every powerful myth and story needs dualities, contrasts, confrontations. This project will try to give contemporary form to the basic myth of our culture: the quest for paradise. So we are engaged in a deliberate search for confrontations and dualities. This journey explores, penetrates and experiences various routes across the European continent; lines which each bear within them a confrontation or duality. They are embedded in the route, our impressions, the art historian’s stories, the artist’s choice of images, and the map the visitor receives for the exhibition.

 

The first route or line is the visual one on the map, a clearly traceable route from coordinate A to coordinate B.

The artist deliberately starts out from one extreme of the European continent: Texel, one of the Wadden Islands in the North Sea, an island which at low tide is still linked to the old continent by mud flats. His destination is Białowieża, the last piece of primeval European forest, where Europe borders Belarus and gradually dissolves into a monotonous taiga.

 

The second line is the visual confrontation of these extremes and the landscapes that lie between them. It is contained in the invitation to the Façades exhibition at Be-Part, two images, two coordinates. The line from nothing to nothing, from infinite to infinite.

The Wadden Island of Texel in the North Sea was reclaimed from the sea entirely by human toil, and is a dune with a clay polder, which lies in the sea and has to be constantly protected.

The final destination in Białowieża is an immeasurably densely vegetated forest on which man has not yet had any impact or, rather, must not have any impact. Two experiences of nothing: nothing on an inhospitable flat landscape, the slightly brackish clay polder on an island, a place where no tree can grow because of a ceaseless, raw, salty sea wind. The other confrontation with nothing is that of the absence of human impact. The dark, densely grown primeval forest which, through a lack of points of reference and depth also creates a sense of endlessness. The confrontation between the conditioned landscape created by man and the utterly arbitrary play of nature in the primeval forest. Several sites and parks prominent in the history of European garden design lie on this visual line between Texel and Białowieża. Each of them frames and fits in with an image of a time, a vision of nature and notion(s) of paradise.

 

The third line is through time, through the history of garden design. On this route we deliberately stop at several of the most striking historical parks and sites, markers in the European history of garden design and urban planning. Nowadays, each of these green highlights, creations of the human brain, is a representation, which we have sublimated and at the same time conditioned, of this (these) paradise idyll(s).

So each of the parks visited simulates this (these) basic myth(s) of our culture in its own way, in keeping with its own period and world-view.

 

The fourth and fifth lines are those of the academic, man and artist.

The fourth line is that of the art historian, the perceiver. This line is written down in this text, which describes the experience of this journey both as an academic and as a perceiver. The purpose of the text is to give a counterweight to the visitor who experiences the exhibition. This text provides an external framework as part of the experience of the artist’s work and should initiate a possible duality, a confrontation of the sort every myth must have. So on the one hand the text will provide a basis for reading reality through Stijn Cole’s eyes, and on the other it is also an academic interpretation through the eyes of an art historian, into which is incorporated the experience through the eyes of an external observer, a perceiver who is not the artist.

The fifth line is the visual result, the work that Stijn Cole shows in the ‘Façades’ exhibition at Be-Part. It will be a synthesis of the preceding lines, with the aim of giving a different, contemporary dimension to the paradise myth.

 

 

Thoughts and paradoxes

 

Several conclusions, questions, thoughts and paradoxes cross the path of an art historian and garden designer, and play a direct or indirect role in the development of this project:

 

Paradox 1

We hear reports of so many environmental incidents, global warming, cancers caused by the use of herbicides, mass mortality among bees, fine particles and smog alarms, all sorts of negatively-charged environmental reports that keep the international and/or Flemish press occupied for days, sometimes weeks, so that we all agree whole-heartedly that in future we shall have to think and act more ecologically, because it can’t go on the way it is.

The traditional solutions suggested for such disasters and findings are more ecology, more green, more woods, more trees, only native plants, more pure nature controlled only by the power of nature and so on and so on.

In sharp contrast with the idea of true nature, when we visit the majority of these instant media-ecologists’ own gardens we find we are looking at rigidly patterned clean surroundings in which every free impulse on the part of a hedge or tree is expertly reduced to its designed volume using a motorised hedge-trimmer or pruning hook. It is striking that in Flemish gardens every free impulse is as a rule skilfully curbed. Is this an inborn fear of nature, a fear that in this limited space nature would immediately go off the rails, that it would dominate we dominant humans?

Dolomite, a pale yellow limestone gravel, is the perfect place for a great many pioneer plant species to germinate. Yet every year they are effectively sprayed to destruction by the gardening contractor, with a disdainful and hypocritical look, for people with ecological aspirations, preferably when we are not at home so we are not emotionally troubled by the thought of herbicides and pesticides. This is the hypocrisy of the over-cultivated farmers that we all are. With the mind of a farmer we enthuse about terms involving freedom and nature, but we no longer know their true import anymore; this is the paradox of our green vision.

 

Paradox 2

In the narrative of the movement towards a more ecological society, the would-be media ecologists take an almost fascist approach to the struggle with non-native plants and exotic species. According to them, the preachers of the new ecological religion, it is precisely these plants that undermine our environment and its exceedingly important insect world.

So why is it that it is precisely in the countryside, where the number of non-native plants is smallest, that the mortality of bees and the decline of butterflies and other pollinating insects is at its highest? Conversely, we observe that in Paris and Ghent, which, like all cities, are sources of pollution, the purest and finest honey is obtained and the bees are doing fairly well compared to their fellows in the countryside. The fact that these urban bee populations are flourishing will certainly not be due to fine particles, but to a large number and a rich variety of flowering plants almost all year round. A great many of these plants that produce honey in the summer and autumn are coincidentally exotics. The bees do not appear to have any problem with this floral diversity.

This last point raises a question: if a plant is found here as a fossil even though it has been eradicated from Europe by the ice ages, can one still call it an exotic? And doesn’t a garden in the Spanish style in which mainly native plant species grow look more exotic, because of its ornaments and Mediterranean stone additions, than a garden or park where a lot of shrubs and trees grow that originate from other regions? If we extend this reasoning, we come to the question of what makes nature the genuine, true nature, what is ‘primeval nature’, what is a primeval forest? What happens when a migrating bird’s droppings contain an exotic seed that appears to flourish here? It is eradicated by primeval nature?

 

Paradox 3

Until now there has been a strange divisive element in the notion of paradise.

When we talk about a paradisiacal atmosphere in a garden, for some people this will immediately evoke images of a romantic park with old trees, while others will think of formal parterres with trimmed hedges and a great many different plants. The notion of paradise clearly has two different exponents: a conditioned and a wild form. Sometimes they appear to go together, but they are often diametrically opposed. Depending on our mood or the situation, we as individuals use these completely different atmospheres to call something paradisiacal.

This paradox links up partly with the first, but it sheds light on the topic of the garden from a cultural history angle. The word garden in Dutch (‘tuin’) originally meant ‘enclosure’ – ‘tun’ in Proto-German, still clear to see in the present Frisian word ‘tùn’, which also means ‘enclosure’. This bounded area around the house, the grounds, was for centuries associated with the notion of paradise. An idyllic transitional zone between the most intimate place, our own home, and the incomprehensible outer world of savage nature. The word ‘garden’ can also be seen as the ultimate fusion of two different notions of paradise that define our whole Western culture. On the one hand the patterned and structured Christian collective paradise where every plant in the world has its place, and, on the other, the magical and unpredictable Germanic notion of the primeval wood. This is a notion to which every royal dynasty appeals, and by extension every European population group, to provide the foundations for the myth of its origins. It is not without reason that the oak, the most characteristic tree of Northern European woods, is the undisputed tree of kings. In addition to the laurel wreath, oak leaves, sometimes accompanied by acorns, are ubiquitous in the decoration of noble and royal palaces precisely in order to emphasise this magical connection.

 

One of the finest early examples in art that illustrates the notion of garden symbolism just mentioned is possibly a mediaeval Flemish tapestry in the series called ‘The Lady and the Unicorn’ (c. 1485-1500), which is currently held by the Musée de Cluny in Paris. A courtly lady is standing under a canvas canopy on a lawn full of spring flowers, surrounded by a garden. In her small garden stands a mighty oak, a date palm, an orange tree and a mulberry tree. The sturdy oak, the German tree of kings, is a reference to the forest. Apart from its high-quality wood, this tree had little domestic use. The collection of flowers and fruit trees is clearly associated with the Christian notion of paradise.

 This tapestry is a depiction of the late mediaeval ideal of paradise, just as our image of the tropical jungle could be for us, with a hammock slung between two palm trees in the distance, over a beach of snow-white sand. The power of primeval nature, the jungle, is here nicely stylised into this single tree, while a rampant abundance of small plants that human hands can control populates the background of the tapestry.

 As from the late 15th century, we see in art – both tapestry and painting – an interest in the forest and the magic it radiates, but in the North it was almost another two hundred years before man, in his gardens, dared to abandon the safely-bounded urban setting and expose himself completely to the forest. On the route of our journey it is perhaps the gardens at Het Loo that are the most explicit example of this. In the course of the 18th century the German notion of paradise gained increasing weight precisely because of the lack of woods, which resulted in the idea of romanticism and the development of the landscape style. The Christian notion of paradise was never entirely supplanted, but was safely stored away within the bounds of the walled kitchen garden.

 In the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, the endeavour in the paradisiacal kitchen garden was increasingly to grow flawless fruit and vegetables. The result and the cost factor soon came to take precedence over ecology and the methods used. Today, this originally Christian myth of paradise has for many people been reduced and abstracted to the stacks of perfect fruit and vegetables in the supermarket, and they do not realise how and where they are produced. During the same period the myth of the primeval wood also continued to develop. Man explored more and more of the world and its nature, so that the image of savage nature became increasingly stylised until it ultimately assumed its present form as the island with its white beaches and coconut palms.

 Whereas in the 18th and 19th centuries the aim was to fuse these two lines of paradise, today we observe that in our daily lives they have been stylised to death and are once again perfectly separate from each other. Our confrontation with the Christian myth is our weekly trip to the supermarket, where the ever-identical, perfectly formed, gleaming fruit and vegetables beam at us, while we remain unaware of where they come from and in which season they are harvested. To satisfy our need for the German primeval myth, we have to content ourselves with the annual holidays to the ski resorts and tropical holiday paradises that are perfectly stylised to suit our wishes.

 

For this project, this journey, we shall be focusing specifically on primeval nature, the primeval wood, in other words the German legend of paradise. Nowadays we can ask ourselves whether, in our visual language, the most explicit expression of our thoughts, we can still actually have any affinity with true mother nature. Do we find in the primeval wood recognisable points that offer us something solid to hold onto in the visual cultural history archive of our memory, or in elements from the man-made nature around us? Or, as a consequence of the successive images of paradise, has our image of this wild nature been so embroidered upon and transformed, and made self-sufficient, by our Western cultural history that it has lost all visual links with the true primeval wood? A primeval wood where man actually plays an absent part, set counter to our cultural history image of paradise, in which we are the prime usurper.

 These two extremes are also the two extremes of our journey. Our quest for places where we civilised people can still find points of contact in this truly wild nature, now a reserve, the biosphere of Białowieża, 1600 km from here.

 

 

Seven stops to paradise

 

The journey was made early in the year, the moment when spring has just made its appearance and the first small spring flowers have appeared, but the trees are still bare and nature is not yet leading and seducing us with its overwhelming summer exuberance.

 The seven stops to the true paradise were Texel, Het Loo, the Hermannsdenkmal (near Detmold), Wörtlitz, Branitz, Eisenhüttenstadt and Białowieża. These stops on our 1600 km route are described below. Where possible, the location is set against its art history background and any existing links are made to the abovementioned paradoxes and questions.

 

 

Stop 1: Texel

 

Our starting point is the island of Texel, reclaimed entirely from the wind and the sea by man. A flat polder whose fields are slightly convex to ease drainage. A place without trees, moulded according to the laws of nature, and with an unrelenting salty sea wind that mercilessly parches any tree or shrub. Since the 1950s, characteristic wild plants have been cultivated in an almost industrial manner on this inhospitable landscape dominated by human cultivation, where you have to search for traces of spontaneous nature with a magnifying glass. Ecologists consider most of these plants as indicators of old woodland vegetation, which is, more than most, exceptionally sensitive to over-fertilisation and aggressive cultivation measures. The photo above shows how snowdrops are cultivated in their millions in rows and then, once uprooted, are sold to projects where the aim is precisely a more ecological interaction between management and nature, projects where nature should be able to develop (more) spontaneously. Projects in places where these wild plants may once have occurred but have been effectively eradicated by over-fertilisation and overly aggressive management measures.

 The conditioned cultivation of these wild bulbs or ‘Stinzen’ flora on Texel arose after the Second World War, when the laws of economics came increasingly to dominate life. The supply of fertilisers and the transport of the traditional agricultural products from and to the island made traditional agriculture on the rather small island fields unprofitable. One illustrious farmer went to France to dig up snowdrops along the Loire and to plant and reproduce them and offer them in large numbers to those involved in ecology, an advancing new trend.

 Even today, in February and March we find fields on Texel covered in mown reeds from the drainage channels between which white, yellow and blue rows mark the convex fields. These are spring flowers such as botanical crocuses, snowdrops and wild narcissi. In this place, shaped entirely by human hand, man has succeeded in cultivating wild nature in rows and, one it has been uprooted, selling it either to replace the spontaneous, organically grown natural vegetation that now no longer occurs, or simply to simulate it. Where does nature begin and culture end? Or, how culture is now used to simulate nature – a paradox that is not actually new and which will form a thread throughout this story.

 

Stop 2: The formal baroque gardens at the palace of Het Loo

 

In the middle of the royal hunting park of Het Loo, a long way from the capital, Willem III of Orange (1650-1702) and Mary Stuart (1662-1694) had the original small hunting lodge converted and expanded in about 1693. They also had a sunken baroque parterre laid out. This is the first point along our route where the Biblical idea of paradise combines with the German, at whose heart is the magic of the royal forest. We cannot yet say they fuse together, but the two lines here run parallel.

 In a sunken garden, protected by high earthen ramparts, rectangular parterres are filled with decorative patterns in box. Like abstract arabesques which, seen from above, form a sort of illegible verse, prayer or supplication, or which seem to be asking permission from a supreme being. An appeal to be allowed to set this gigantic construction down here, deep in the magical forest, far from the inhabited world. Amidst the box arabesques we find just about every known special plant and flower planted individually, a visualisation of the traditional Biblical paradise.

 But what is exceptional here is that the background to the earthen rampart is a dense forest of mighty old oaks. The royal oak as the symbol of the historical, age-old roots of the Orange-Nassau dynasty. The setting of mighty trees that frames the patronising entreaty of box arabesques gives this showpiece of Dutch garden art an appeal beyond the monumental that is rarely encountered in formal gardens.

 Whereas the magic of the forest had already made a full entry into painting two hundred years previously, it was not until the eve of the 18th century that man dared to venture into the forest in reality and view, admire and, a few decades later, to even fully imitate the beauty of ‘savage nature’ there.

 

 

Stop 3: The Hermannsdenkmal near Detmold

 

The Hermannsdenkmal stands large and solid near Detmold in the middle of the Teutoburger Wald – a beech wood. Legend has it that in 9 BC, Varus, a Roman governor, and his men were on the journey back to Rome when they received a report of a rebellion in a remote province near the River Weser. Varus therefore decided to take another route that led to the Weser. But what he did not know was that this was precisely what the Germans had hoped. They had chosen this route because it was extremely densely wooded and enclosed by hills and marshes. Varus and his men would never be able to take up their battle formation here. Varus had his men, merchants, supply wagons and baggage form an elongated column. This turned out to be perfect for the Germans.

 The attack lasted for three long days. The Germans also enjoyed the support of bad weather. On the second day Varus saw no way out and committed suicide. At the end of the third day, the last remaining Romans were also defeated by the main body of Germans. The Denkmal (monument) was created to honour the hero Arminius (Hermann in German). Arminius was an Aryan ruler of the Cherusci, a Germanic tribe that symbolises everyone with Germanic roots. Tradition has it that Hermann drew Varus into an ambush and defeated him. Even today, every European royal family takes its legitimacy from its remote connections with this romanticised, celebrated mythical leader.

 

Romantic ideas burgeoned during the 18th century and in Germany reached a remarkable peak at the start of the 19th century. The mystically charged paintings of Caspar David Friedrich (1744-1843) are perhaps the most pronounced artistic expression of this. Old, declining oaks often form the backdrop to his compositions: unfathomable images that appear to be set in both a distant past and a remote future. The Hermann legend was dusted off once again in this quest for the sense of heimat. What could sound better than a story in which Germans, wandering through a magical oak forest, are able to defeat an imperial army that was thought to be invincible? However, during its search for the location of this victory, the new German nationalist movement came to realise that nothing remained of the mythical oak forests that once covered Germany. At the start of the 19th century, the once mighty oaks in an impenetrable forest had already been replaced centuries earlier by rather uninspiring spruce plantations. This fast-growing conifer was intended to meet the ever-increasing, unceasing demand for wood.

 To compensate for the cheerlessness of the spruce forests and to give the heroic location a worthy reminder for eternity, it was decided to build a gigantic monument. Construction of the Hermannsdenkmal started in 1841. It was a hard road; the monument was only completed in the unified German nation under Bismarck, in 1875. Due to a lack of oaks in the forest, the water spouts that have to carry the water away from the path around it were decorated with monumental sculpted oak foliage with colossal acorns standing out in its midst.

 The Denkmal stands on a high ridge of hills and is visible from miles away. It is the most effective symbol of the 19th-century romantic sense of German nationality. This feeling was a major stimulus to the unification of Germany in 1871, but on the other hand this idealised way of thinking also has an exceptionally sour side to it. At the start of the 20th century, as a result of an over-extreme and one-sided view of the romantic endeavour, it evolved into the mere experience of Aryan feeling and the culture that went with it. A few decades later this was to lead to the sectarian slaughter that took place under Nazism.

 Even now the mythical Teutoburger Wald still has very few oaks. The wood and the road to the imposing monument are now filled with beech trees… ‘Ein Buchenwald für Hermann?’ Right up until today, no German can hear this sentence with neutral feelings.

 Again and again I wonder whether this beech forest, barely sixty years old, was deliberately planted as a harsh reminder for all Germans and, by extension, everyone. As a reminder of the dangers of unbridled one-sided fantasies, too narrowly-framed images which seem in origin to derive from a quite innocent romanticism.

 As part of this quest, the Hermannsdenkmal is an important stop, one that warns of the dangers of too sharp and too one-sided framing of visions, passions and concepts. However passionate a story may sound, however fine an image may be, we always have to be able to step aside, shift our viewpoint and take another perspective, a different direction.

 These variations appear clearly at the start and finish of our journey, but the artist also incorporates them literally into his work: when you look at each pair of images you experience the alienation and variation of images by moving from your fixed position.

 

Stop 4: Worlitz

 

Starting in 1769, Leopold II Frederick Franz, Duke of Anhalt-Dessau (1740-1817) had grounds in the English style laid out around his new castle in the village of Wörlitz on a former arm of the River Elbe. It was one of the first great landscape gardens on the Continent. In this park, the Christian notion of paradise fuses for the first time with the German myth of the forest with quasi perfect harmony to form a theatrical Arcadian entity.

 The visitor is led along paths and over water to various framed scenes. They refer to the cultural history of Europe, to science and various faiths. They are in each case framed by bosquets in which old, gnarled oaks play a prominent part. And gnarled oaks also grow around the circular path that links these tableaux together. They are weathered trees that immediately evoke the atmosphere of Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings, but also refer to the myth of the origin of the Germanic people in the magical oak forest. The design of the park landscape was based on the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the aesthetic views of Johann Joachim Winckelmann and Johann Georg Sulzer. Rousseau considered agriculture and a life amidst nature to be the proper foundation of daily life and pointed out the educational role of the natural landscape, meaning the idea of allowing the two myths of origin to exist alongside one another.

 Wörlitz is an almost perfect romantic setting. The only thing one can criticise it for is the rather static composition of the scenes and the lack of dynamism and variation in the approach to their staging. The sightlines are conceived with such a driving, sometimes almost naïve positivism that, even when one shifts one’s position one hardly notices any change of frame in the same image. Here, the ominous realisation of ultimate finiteness, which together with the concept of Arcadia, becomes a permanent part of the notion of paradise, is unwittingly embraced by a sort of naïve theatrical reality. In the framework of the history of garden design, the conceptual world of Wörlitz more than anywhere else a rendering of the transition between the static, restricted thinking of the ancient regime and the dynamic thinking that increasingly dominated the world as from the late 18th century.

 

Stop 5: Branitzer Park

 

Branitzer Park, near Cottbus, is the life’s work, final work and masterpiece of the eccentric garden designer Hermann Fürst von Pückler-Muskau (1785-1871). He started laying out Branitz in 1846, after having to sell the work of his youth, the Muskau family domain, because of financial problems.

 What makes Branitz fascinating to us geographically is that it is precisely halfway through our journey, 800 km from Texel, our starting point, and 800 km from Białowieża, our final destination. Viewed from this halfway point, we can look back at what is behind us and, with these images in our mind, we can fantasise about what is to come. In this way we plan the future using selectively framed images from the past, but the more we frame, the broader the variation in the planning of the future.

 This observation, made halfway through our journey, is perhaps the best point from which to enter Fürst Pückler’s world. Nowhere are the myths experienced so genuinely as at Branitz. It is as if we have to choose between the uncertain existence of a hero in the mythical forest and the simple certainty of the Biblical paradise, the sumptuous, varied collection of plants in the kitchen garden.

 Branitz and Wörlitz are both landscaped parks, and both merge perfectly into their surroundings and are grand as experiences. They are striking for the absence of boundaries, barriers or frames that separate the public from the private, but as far as atmosphere and experience are concerned, these two parks are worlds apart. Branitz has none of the operatic staging of Wörlitz that always appears at the end of the axes, which guide the eye so that they draw the visitor towards them in a straight line. At Wörlitz the visitor is overwhelmed with vistas from the ring-road around the edge of the domain, each of which traverses the centre of the park where the bucolic fields and also the arm of the river are. By contrast, Branitz is subtle and discrete. Here there is no surfeit of follies or buildings to showcase an overall world-view, no sequence of knowledge and wonder; at Branitz the aim is to offer the visitor an intimate confrontation with himself.

 Unlike Wörlitz, a slightly sunken path winds through the centre of the domain and continually leads the eye to the horizon. The viewer’s gaze constantly has to probe, frame and reframe changing boundaries. This constant reframing of the same images leads to uncertainty. Depending on the individual, this varying confrontation of atmospheres will determine the extent to which the visitor is still in equilibrium when he arrives at the castle. At Branitz, the unsuspecting viewer plays a game with himself; his gaze is thrown back and forth between the two sorts of paradise and he has to find an answer to the questions ‘Who am I?’, ‘What am I?’ and ‘What do I see?’

 The dynamic established by the constant confrontation with the two separate atmospheres is boosted by the continuous confrontation with a narcissistic self-reflection in the water that accompanies every part of the visit. Water that elusively reflects the landscape and the visitor, but also emphatically draws attention to his presence. It is as if, by means of this rapid succession of changing images, Pückler wanted to raise the question ‘What do I want to be in this landscape: a shadow, a narcissistic reflection or an active participant?’

 When it comes to form at Branitz, Pückler aimed for an intimate, almost perfect subtle symbiosis between the two ideals. A winding path leads from one open space to another, giving the visitor constantly changing views of one of the two paradisiacal emotions. Either he gets a view framed by the only partly walled kitchen garden in the background, or else there are the vistas that take in a dense, impenetrable forest. On entering, the foreground to the vistas through to the impenetrable depths is provided by a monumental floating grassy pyramid, which itself is endlessly reflected in a black lake. This image makes it immediately obvious that the hero who wishes to seek out the impenetrable depths of existence has to live with the awareness of the finite. This confrontation with the finite is barely present in the vistas towards the kitchen garden, a man-made garden with a greenhouse, where the purpose is to sow, strike cuttings, propagate, extend life, produce and collect over and over again. In no other park is the visitor so subtly and superbly swung back and forth between the two basic emotions and at the same time continuously faced with his own mirror-image.

 After this journey of self-confrontation, the castle comes into view as one passes the middle point. In this instance Pückler simply utterly reverses the prevailing traditional experience of a garden; he creates a totally new setting for the entrance that is still very peculiar today. In the traditional way a garden is organised, when the visitor arrives at the forecourt he also immediately sees the house at the same time. It is only after entering the house that the visitor is able to descend into the garden through the garden door; this garden is the landowner's personal Arcadia. However boundless this garden Arcadia may be, entry into it remains narrowly confined, and one's rank and status determine whether one enters the garden through the big garden door, a side door of the outbuildings or not at all.

 At Branitz there is no sign of this traditional narrative. Each visitor first undergoes these strange, personal confrontations with themselves and their deeper emotions. Once they have arrived at the castle, the landowner can assess his public purely on their personal self image and the balance they have with their inner frame. There is no other park in which the traditional frames are so radically jettisoned and the concepts of the two paradise myths so intimately fused together, but from the central point, the visitor experiences this intimate combination of the two atmospheres completely differently. The ever-changing perspectives compel him to choose the context in which he feels most at home: the safe, but rather unambitious secure sanctuary of the Christian paradise, or the deep, unfathomable forests in which one can put together a solitary and aspirational existence. Pückler indicates that, conceptually speaking, one can let the two paradise myths fuse closely with each other, but that each individual has a preference for one of the two, however finely they have been combined. Pückler succeeds better than anyone in leading us to paradox number 2: the acceptance of a divisive element in the notion of paradise.

 

Stop 6: Eisenhüttenstadt

 

Eisenhüttenstadt, in the German state of Brandenburg, was the pride of DDR communism and is now a languishing, still living utopian relic of the red ideal. This is our last stop before the magical wood.

 Where the moribund Eisenhüttenstadt is now found, there used to be a very small town: Fürstenberg. It had already been known since 1250 and lived off fishing on the River Oder and some small-scale shipping. The number of inhabitants was always around 1500 to 2000. It was only in the beginning of the 20th century that this small town grew as a result of the glass-blowing works. But then the DDR appeared. The leaders of the DDR saw with envy how the West German town of Wolfsburg, a brand-new town, was enormously successful. The flourishing Volkswagen factories had grown up there after the Second World War. Just like West Germany, the DDR needed a new ideal town to show off the splendour of the regime to the outside world. Because of its name, Fürstenberg –Fürst was a reminder of the wicked Prussia – was a thorn in the side of the DDR bosses. In 1950 it was decided to construct a new megalopolis right next to Fürstenberg, the DDR's version of Wolfsburg. Given the presence of good water-based transport links, the DDR regime decided to set up blast furnaces there. Why blast furnaces? Was iron ore or coal for energy to be found there? Was there so much demand for work there on that desolate, barren sandy ground of Brandenburg? No, not at all! So iron ore was brought in on a massive scale and special ovens that used a huge amount of energy were developed to run on the locally excavated brown coal in order to melt the ore. This town was initially called Stalinstadt; later, when the town continued to grow as a result of compelling propaganda, it was merged with the insignificant Fürstenberg. Since at that time Stalin was no longer so popular, the resulting town was given the name Eisenhüttenstadt (Eisenhütte is the German word for an iron foundry). By the time the DDR was abolished (1989) the town had 53,000 inhabitants. After the unification of Germany a great many inhabitants returned to their original place of residence or went to the West. This ideal town full of Communist blocks of flats is now languishing and has only 35,000 inhabitants. A lot of the blocks are empty or are being demolished.

 In contrast to the uniform blocks of flats, the variation in the public greenery is quite striking. If you imagine the scene without the blocks of flats (see photo on the left-hand page), what remains is a fairly varied, natural looking landscape, with varied bosquets that lack the boundaries formed by a small kitchen garden or private garden. Here too, the oak is a prominent presence and the whole thing is highly reminiscent of the landscape ideals we find in part in Branitz. It looks as if the DDR regime had wanted to create the idyll of the ideal wood around its hard-working model housing blocks for the steelworkers, to create a sense of freedom in an environment dominated by high-rise and the smoking steel factory. Nowadays, this town, which is gradually emptying out, gives one a very odd experience. For the first time on our journey it raises questions about fantasising on the freedom of the wood, the force of nature, and so on. A confrontational final stop before the long journey to Białowieża.

 

Stop 7: Białowieża

 

One does not immediately notice any immeasurably dense primeval forest in the surroundings of Białowieża. At first we drive through dense pine plantations standing in neat rows and then come to a varied, rather open area, a landscape in which small, enclosed farms appear – the most primitive form of the agrarian paradise myth. A somewhat closed village community, in which all eyes and all doors are oriented towards an open centre. The Christian paradise myth is not yet a certainty here. It is an annual struggle, an aspiration, to hold a harvest festival and to produce sufficient food to survive through the winter. It is as if on our journey we have never been so far from the romantic notion that has accompanied us up to now, the quest for the solitary Robinson Crusoe, our quest for the primeval feeling in oneself.

 It was only further on in the village, some distance beyond the last small farms, that we see a deep, dark mass of trees rising up in the distance. Until a few decades ago, the dark forest, just as in the fairytales, must have started immediately beyond the fences of the last farms, but now, as a result of the depopulation of this region on the edge of Europe and the rather poor soil there, the farmsteads on the outskirts of the village have been abandoned. Between the last farms and the forest there is a strip of slightly less than a kilometre where brushwood is gradually developing: a combination of high grasses and such basic trees as the birch and pine, between which grow a few remaining fruit trees. As a result of European legislation, which aims to expand the area of woodland, wild nature here has the opportunity to gradually occupy more and more former cultivated land. Even though there is currently a broad grey zone in which young wood is in the midst of developing, there is a still exceptionally confrontational division between the structured village community with its clearly bounded plots, pruned fruit trees and houses oriented towards the centre on the one hand, and on the other the dark wood where the eye sees no perspective or depth. The two communities live with their backs turned towards each other; nowhere else do the two paradise myths come so close and yet remain so diametrically opposed to each other.

 Or is there a paradise myth here at all? After a few dozen metres the individual merges entirely into the dark mass of trees. Even the most faithful companion, one's personal shadow, the proof of one's individual existence, is swallowed up by the grey, the black nothingness of the forest. When I thrust my chest forward and stretch my shoulders back to utter a triumphal forest cry just like Tarzan, I am overcome by a feeling of extreme vulnerability, an ominous danger from the invisible in this monotonous, grey interplay of trunks without any reference point. The idea of the heroic Hermann, Lord of the Forest, beating his chest in celebration of his victory over Varus, strikes me as quite impossible in this situation. To survive here you have to be able to efface yourself entirely as an individual. There is no longer any possibility of framing here, you have to abandon any idea of being human, you have to let yourself become one with the tree trunks and hope that no one sees you and that in this grey, surging sea of trunks you yourself can suddenly focus on an unsuspecting opponent, a prey, a point of reference. A point of reference that you have to creep up on invisibly and inaudibly and in total silence, and without any form of honour or heraldry, must outmanoeuvre to sustain as long as possible the guarantee of one's own survival.

 The fear is simultaneously accompanied by the thought: 'where do they come from, those stories of the solitary heroic warrior in the forest, the Tarzan, lord of the animals and of nature, whereas the only chance of surviving here is to totally efface yourself, to let yourself emerge entirely into the grey nothingness, the infinitely surging sea of tree trunks. Any form of self-consciousness, or manifesting oneself as a master, means literally undermining your existence.

 This myth, the magical sphere of the Lord of the Forest, can only arise in a context of security: the safe boundaries of the village with its small farmhouses surrounded by gardens. At the inn at night, next to the open fire, one can fantasise freely about the ominous forest outside the back door, a forest which one may once have hoped to overcome so that, without additional concerns, one could devote oneself fully to collecting and cultivating paradisiacal plants, finally fully achieve or at least optimise the agrarian paradise. A forest myth that was probably distilled from the stories of the solitary hunter who, when he came to the village inn to sell illicitly the furs he had shot, overcome by the light and a surfeit of points of reference, has to manifest, position and frame himself in a landscape. The man who is used to living like a shadow survives by effacing himself into nothingness. He creates an ego for himself, a mask, a heroic frame to protect himself from the mass of little egos in the farming community which, among his stock of furs, is looking for the finest so as to distinguish themselves better from their neighbour.

 The experience of this forest becomes the discovery of the illusion of the magical hero, the Hermann. It is an experience of the self-conscious man that one only survives here by letting go of all self-consciousness, by effacing oneself as insignificantly as possible, letting oneself dissolve, losing oneself in the black nothingness of the graphite.

 

Conclusion

 

Starting from our everyday, over-structured and morbidly conditioned environment, which –  as described in the paradoxes in the introduction – gives us the feeling it has few if any relevant frames to offer, the artist and the art historian went in search of a space where impulses that derive from nature are once again given a place. A quest for more naturalness, so that there is again more inner peace with which to frame, distance oneself from things and not immediately have to have an opinion ready regarding various actions and events around us. The ultimate aim of our quest was to experience the heroic paradise myth, whereby man, liberated from routine, can live in idyllic nature, a primeval wood. In the course of this journey the two travellers visit, experience and examine several human creations that try to place and visualise the paradisiacal creations on the basis of their own temporal context. By travelling like this we hope that once we are in the primeval wood we shall briefly be able to enjoy to the full the idyll of wild nature.

 With our experiences at the back of our minds, Białowieża becomes a strange experience that is paradoxically contrary to our expectations. Just as in the bleak polder on Texel, a setting created by human hands, and the starting point for our journey, in the primeval wood we experience the insignificance of nothingness, the lack of any form of reference that allows us to frame things. It turns into a quest for an open space in the wood. The only points of focus in the dense forest of upright trunks turns out to be the rather unheroic remains of what had once been alive, life wasting away, the remains of a cadaver. We have to conclude that the idyll of the heroic woodland German is an artificial frame just like Texel, created by sedentary man, the farmer who has long abandoned the wood. It is an imaginary frame, a façade in which his desire is for a hereditary link with the threatening black forest outside his back door.

 On the other hand, we have to conclude that our entire society is framed by the imitation of the paradise myths, the interplay of nature and culture that has been created by our narcissism. We have to conclude that we have experienced our culturally determined paradise stories very changeably during our quest for the true nature, a journey through time.

 

Just like this piece of writing, the artist’s work is what results from these experiences. For this purpose he has chosen three images and is showing them more than life-size, each in a double frame. Each of his three selected points of focus has been fixed exactly by its coordinates; they are precisely defined, but are also shown for a second time on the basis of another frame, two steps to the side.

 In this way the pairs of images may prompt the visitor to move, to transcend the static frame. So that he himself, within the boundaries of the exhibition, and through the eyes of the artist, can enter nature, and frame and personalise nature in his mind, thus forming the start of his own myth. This personal game of movement results in a distancing, surveying, closing in and focusing on a detail in the work, or going even further and letting the gaze be absorbed entirely by the nuances between black graphite and the white sheet, changing frames in the time of one and the same image, the same location.

 

Stefan Vidts, August 2012-11-14

 

Stefan Vidts is a garden and landscape architect and a Master in Art Studies.

 

 

   Stijn Cole

 

WORKS    EXPO'S   TEXTS     PRESS    BIO    CONTACT

 

Choosing between framing and focusing. From Texel to Białowieża

 

A quest, from nothing to nothing: from a bare, treeless island polder, reclaimed from the sea by human hands, to a primeval forest without people where all we can see is savage nature.

A journey from Texel to Białowieża, with the history of garden design to guide us. Choosing between framing and focusing.

Three different approaches to a personal quest for the true genesis of nature in Europe.

 

Stijn Cole creates drawings, painting and installations. They are his personalised geographical, physical rendering of observed nature. The initial idea for this project is the route, a 1600 km line on the map, between Texel and Białowieża. Each stopping place and location can be determined precisely by its coordinates, in the work and in the text. The choice of stopping places and the images of course remain subjective, but, aware of this, the artist deliberately opts to view each image from a different angle, two steps sideways, so that in each case the same image suddenly appears different, seen differently through his frame, but with the same content. In this way the artist tries to question the boundaries and the subjective elements in the choice of image, and also to playfully caricature them, creating two views of the same image.

This duality also appears in the text, but based on the reflection and vision of the art historian and landscape architect in confrontation with his fellow traveller, the artist; two visions of the same image, of the same locations, in a quest that goes from nothing to nothing. Two views, the same image, a changing frame with the same content, playful illusion or dangerous reality.

 

Background to the project:

 

We all have that Robinson Crusoe feeling, sometimes somewhere very deep and far off; it’s the urge, or the fantasy of being able, to survive in the midst of unbridled nature, to live with nothing, in paradise.

In this project, the artist Stijn Cole goes in search of a contemporary and deeper representation of this paradise, savage nature.

In an era dominated by digital photography, the internet and GPS coordinates, an era when, to our way of thinking, everything has to be depicted precisely and should also be visually accessible, Stijn Cole is looking for a deeper dimension of paradise.

Every day, the media and internet deluge our retina with paradisiacal images, illusions that often seem more than tangibly close. This surfeit of idealised images trivialises our historically evolved notion of paradise, an image that has grown up over several millennia, having originated in the book of Genesis. The trivialisation of this notion means that for many people this idyll has never been so remote. It has lost its attraction and challenge. It has been robbed of any form of imagination, longing and dream.

 

As a contemporary artist, Stijn Cole makes use of technical aids; he too tries to create a rendering of the idyll. But it has to be said that his aim remains creation, not a lapse into our trivialised image: a hard and even more than perfect photographically stylised idyll from which unpredictability, duality and surprise have evaporated.

So, as an artist, Cole’s aim is to transcend the idyll that has been stylised to death by photography, and to return to it a deeper dimension, in which longing and fantasy are set free once again and can be given new substance.

 

Every powerful myth and story needs dualities, contrasts, confrontations. This project will try to give contemporary form to the basic myth of our culture: the quest for paradise. So we are engaged in a deliberate search for confrontations and dualities. This journey explores, penetrates and experiences various routes across the European continent; lines which each bear within them a confrontation or duality. They are embedded in the route, our impressions, the art historian’s stories, the artist’s choice of images, and the map the visitor receives for the exhibition.

 

The first route or line is the visual one on the map, a clearly traceable route from coordinate A to coordinate B.

The artist deliberately starts out from one extreme of the European continent: Texel, one of the Wadden Islands in the North Sea, an island which at low tide is still linked to the old continent by mud flats. His destination is Białowieża, the last piece of primeval European forest, where Europe borders Belarus and gradually dissolves into a monotonous taiga.

 

The second line is the visual confrontation of these extremes and the landscapes that lie between them. It is contained in the invitation to the Façades exhibition at Be-Part, two images, two coordinates. The line from nothing to nothing, from infinite to infinite.

The Wadden Island of Texel in the North Sea was reclaimed from the sea entirely by human toil, and is a dune with a clay polder, which lies in the sea and has to be constantly protected.

The final destination in Białowieża is an immeasurably densely vegetated forest on which man has not yet had any impact or, rather, must not have any impact. Two experiences of nothing: nothing on an inhospitable flat landscape, the slightly brackish clay polder on an island, a place where no tree can grow because of a ceaseless, raw, salty sea wind. The other confrontation with nothing is that of the absence of human impact. The dark, densely grown primeval forest which, through a lack of points of reference and depth also creates a sense of endlessness. The confrontation between the conditioned landscape created by man and the utterly arbitrary play of nature in the primeval forest. Several sites and parks prominent in the history of European garden design lie on this visual line between Texel and Białowieża. Each of them frames and fits in with an image of a time, a vision of nature and notion(s) of paradise.

 

The third line is through time, through the history of garden design. On this route we deliberately stop at several of the most striking historical parks and sites, markers in the European history of garden design and urban planning. Nowadays, each of these green highlights, creations of the human brain, is a representation, which we have sublimated and at the same time conditioned, of this (these) paradise idyll(s).

So each of the parks visited simulates this (these) basic myth(s) of our culture in its own way, in keeping with its own period and world-view.

 

The fourth and fifth lines are those of the academic, man and artist.

The fourth line is that of the art historian, the perceiver. This line is written down in this text, which describes the experience of this journey both as an academic and as a perceiver. The purpose of the text is to give a counterweight to the visitor who experiences the exhibition. This text provides an external framework as part of the experience of the artist’s work and should initiate a possible duality, a confrontation of the sort every myth must have. So on the one hand the text will provide a basis for reading reality through Stijn Cole’s eyes, and on the other it is also an academic interpretation through the eyes of an art historian, into which is incorporated the experience through the eyes of an external observer, a perceiver who is not the artist.

The fifth line is the visual result, the work that Stijn Cole shows in the ‘Façades’ exhibition at Be-Part. It will be a synthesis of the preceding lines, with the aim of giving a different, contemporary dimension to the paradise myth.

 

 

Thoughts and paradoxes

 

Several conclusions, questions, thoughts and paradoxes cross the path of an art historian and garden designer, and play a direct or indirect role in the development of this project:

 

Paradox 1

We hear reports of so many environmental incidents, global warming, cancers caused by the use of herbicides, mass mortality among bees, fine particles and smog alarms, all sorts of negatively-charged environmental reports that keep the international and/or Flemish press occupied for days, sometimes weeks, so that we all agree whole-heartedly that in future we shall have to think and act more ecologically, because it can’t go on the way it is.

The traditional solutions suggested for such disasters and findings are more ecology, more green, more woods, more trees, only native plants, more pure nature controlled only by the power of nature and so on and so on.

In sharp contrast with the idea of true nature, when we visit the majority of these instant media-ecologists’ own gardens we find we are looking at rigidly patterned clean surroundings in which every free impulse on the part of a hedge or tree is expertly reduced to its designed volume using a motorised hedge-trimmer or pruning hook. It is striking that in Flemish gardens every free impulse is as a rule skilfully curbed. Is this an inborn fear of nature, a fear that in this limited space nature would immediately go off the rails, that it would dominate we dominant humans?

Dolomite, a pale yellow limestone gravel, is the perfect place for a great many pioneer plant species to germinate. Yet every year they are effectively sprayed to destruction by the gardening contractor, with a disdainful and hypocritical look, for people with ecological aspirations, preferably when we are not at home so we are not emotionally troubled by the thought of herbicides and pesticides. This is the hypocrisy of the over-cultivated farmers that we all are. With the mind of a farmer we enthuse about terms involving freedom and nature, but we no longer know their true import anymore; this is the paradox of our green vision.

 

Paradox 2

In the narrative of the movement towards a more ecological society, the would-be media ecologists take an almost fascist approach to the struggle with non-native plants and exotic species. According to them, the preachers of the new ecological religion, it is precisely these plants that undermine our environment and its exceedingly important insect world.

So why is it that it is precisely in the countryside, where the number of non-native plants is smallest, that the mortality of bees and the decline of butterflies and other pollinating insects is at its highest? Conversely, we observe that in Paris and Ghent, which, like all cities, are sources of pollution, the purest and finest honey is obtained and the bees are doing fairly well compared to their fellows in the countryside. The fact that these urban bee populations are flourishing will certainly not be due to fine particles, but to a large number and a rich variety of flowering plants almost all year round. A great many of these plants that produce honey in the summer and autumn are coincidentally exotics. The bees do not appear to have any problem with this floral diversity.

This last point raises a question: if a plant is found here as a fossil even though it has been eradicated from Europe by the ice ages, can one still call it an exotic? And doesn’t a garden in the Spanish style in which mainly native plant species grow look more exotic, because of its ornaments and Mediterranean stone additions, than a garden or park where a lot of shrubs and trees grow that originate from other regions? If we extend this reasoning, we come to the question of what makes nature the genuine, true nature, what is ‘primeval nature’, what is a primeval forest? What happens when a migrating bird’s droppings contain an exotic seed that appears to flourish here? It is eradicated by primeval nature?

 

Paradox 3

Until now there has been a strange divisive element in the notion of paradise.

When we talk about a paradisiacal atmosphere in a garden, for some people this will immediately evoke images of a romantic park with old trees, while others will think of formal parterres with trimmed hedges and a great many different plants. The notion of paradise clearly has two different exponents: a conditioned and a wild form. Sometimes they appear to go together, but they are often diametrically opposed. Depending on our mood or the situation, we as individuals use these completely different atmospheres to call something paradisiacal.

This paradox links up partly with the first, but it sheds light on the topic of the garden from a cultural history angle. The word garden in Dutch (‘tuin’) originally meant ‘enclosure’ – ‘tun’ in Proto-German, still clear to see in the present Frisian word ‘tùn’, which also means ‘enclosure’. This bounded area around the house, the grounds, was for centuries associated with the notion of paradise. An idyllic transitional zone between the most intimate place, our own home, and the incomprehensible outer world of savage nature. The word ‘garden’ can also be seen as the ultimate fusion of two different notions of paradise that define our whole Western culture. On the one hand the patterned and structured Christian collective paradise where every plant in the world has its place, and, on the other, the magical and unpredictable Germanic notion of the primeval wood. This is a notion to which every royal dynasty appeals, and by extension every European population group, to provide the foundations for the myth of its origins. It is not without reason that the oak, the most characteristic tree of Northern European woods, is the undisputed tree of kings. In addition to the laurel wreath, oak leaves, sometimes accompanied by acorns, are ubiquitous in the decoration of noble and royal palaces precisely in order to emphasise this magical connection.

 

One of the finest early examples in art that illustrates the notion of garden symbolism just mentioned is possibly a mediaeval Flemish tapestry in the series called ‘The Lady and the Unicorn’ (c. 1485-1500), which is currently held by the Musée de Cluny in Paris. A courtly lady is standing under a canvas canopy on a lawn full of spring flowers, surrounded by a garden. In her small garden stands a mighty oak, a date palm, an orange tree and a mulberry tree. The sturdy oak, the German tree of kings, is a reference to the forest. Apart from its high-quality wood, this tree had little domestic use. The collection of flowers and fruit trees is clearly associated with the Christian notion of paradise.

 This tapestry is a depiction of the late mediaeval ideal of paradise, just as our image of the tropical jungle could be for us, with a hammock slung between two palm trees in the distance, over a beach of snow-white sand. The power of primeval nature, the jungle, is here nicely stylised into this single tree, while a rampant abundance of small plants that human hands can control populates the background of the tapestry.

 As from the late 15th century, we see in art – both tapestry and painting – an interest in the forest and the magic it radiates, but in the North it was almost another two hundred years before man, in his gardens, dared to abandon the safely-bounded urban setting and expose himself completely to the forest. On the route of our journey it is perhaps the gardens at Het Loo that are the most explicit example of this. In the course of the 18th century the German notion of paradise gained increasing weight precisely because of the lack of woods, which resulted in the idea of romanticism and the development of the landscape style. The Christian notion of paradise was never entirely supplanted, but was safely stored away within the bounds of the walled kitchen garden.

 In the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, the endeavour in the paradisiacal kitchen garden was increasingly to grow flawless fruit and vegetables. The result and the cost factor soon came to take precedence over ecology and the methods used. Today, this originally Christian myth of paradise has for many people been reduced and abstracted to the stacks of perfect fruit and vegetables in the supermarket, and they do not realise how and where they are produced. During the same period the myth of the primeval wood also continued to develop. Man explored more and more of the world and its nature, so that the image of savage nature became increasingly stylised until it ultimately assumed its present form as the island with its white beaches and coconut palms.

 Whereas in the 18th and 19th centuries the aim was to fuse these two lines of paradise, today we observe that in our daily lives they have been stylised to death and are once again perfectly separate from each other. Our confrontation with the Christian myth is our weekly trip to the supermarket, where the ever-identical, perfectly formed, gleaming fruit and vegetables beam at us, while we remain unaware of where they come from and in which season they are harvested. To satisfy our need for the German primeval myth, we have to content ourselves with the annual holidays to the ski resorts and tropical holiday paradises that are perfectly stylised to suit our wishes.

 

For this project, this journey, we shall be focusing specifically on primeval nature, the primeval wood, in other words the German legend of paradise. Nowadays we can ask ourselves whether, in our visual language, the most explicit expression of our thoughts, we can still actually have any affinity with true mother nature. Do we find in the primeval wood recognisable points that offer us something solid to hold onto in the visual cultural history archive of our memory, or in elements from the man-made nature around us? Or, as a consequence of the successive images of paradise, has our image of this wild nature been so embroidered upon and transformed, and made self-sufficient, by our Western cultural history that it has lost all visual links with the true primeval wood? A primeval wood where man actually plays an absent part, set counter to our cultural history image of paradise, in which we are the prime usurper.

 These two extremes are also the two extremes of our journey. Our quest for places where we civilised people can still find points of contact in this truly wild nature, now a reserve, the biosphere of Białowieża, 1600 km from here.

 

 

Seven stops to paradise

 

The journey was made early in the year, the moment when spring has just made its appearance and the first small spring flowers have appeared, but the trees are still bare and nature is not yet leading and seducing us with its overwhelming summer exuberance.

 The seven stops to the true paradise were Texel, Het Loo, the Hermannsdenkmal (near Detmold), Wörtlitz, Branitz, Eisenhüttenstadt and Białowieża. These stops on our 1600 km route are described below. Where possible, the location is set against its art history background and any existing links are made to the abovementioned paradoxes and questions.

 

 

Stop 1: Texel

 

Our starting point is the island of Texel, reclaimed entirely from the wind and the sea by man. A flat polder whose fields are slightly convex to ease drainage. A place without trees, moulded according to the laws of nature, and with an unrelenting salty sea wind that mercilessly parches any tree or shrub. Since the 1950s, characteristic wild plants have been cultivated in an almost industrial manner on this inhospitable landscape dominated by human cultivation, where you have to search for traces of spontaneous nature with a magnifying glass. Ecologists consider most of these plants as indicators of old woodland vegetation, which is, more than most, exceptionally sensitive to over-fertilisation and aggressive cultivation measures. The photo above shows how snowdrops are cultivated in their millions in rows and then, once uprooted, are sold to projects where the aim is precisely a more ecological interaction between management and nature, projects where nature should be able to develop (more) spontaneously. Projects in places where these wild plants may once have occurred but have been effectively eradicated by over-fertilisation and overly aggressive management measures.

 The conditioned cultivation of these wild bulbs or ‘Stinzen’ flora on Texel arose after the Second World War, when the laws of economics came increasingly to dominate life. The supply of fertilisers and the transport of the traditional agricultural products from and to the island made traditional agriculture on the rather small island fields unprofitable. One illustrious farmer went to France to dig up snowdrops along the Loire and to plant and reproduce them and offer them in large numbers to those involved in ecology, an advancing new trend.

 Even today, in February and March we find fields on Texel covered in mown reeds from the drainage channels between which white, yellow and blue rows mark the convex fields. These are spring flowers such as botanical crocuses, snowdrops and wild narcissi. In this place, shaped entirely by human hand, man has succeeded in cultivating wild nature in rows and, one it has been uprooted, selling it either to replace the spontaneous, organically grown natural vegetation that now no longer occurs, or simply to simulate it. Where does nature begin and culture end? Or, how culture is now used to simulate nature – a paradox that is not actually new and which will form a thread throughout this story.

 

Stop 2: The formal baroque gardens at the palace of Het Loo

 

In the middle of the royal hunting park of Het Loo, a long way from the capital, Willem III of Orange (1650-1702) and Mary Stuart (1662-1694) had the original small hunting lodge converted and expanded in about 1693. They also had a sunken baroque parterre laid out. This is the first point along our route where the Biblical idea of paradise combines with the German, at whose heart is the magic of the royal forest. We cannot yet say they fuse together, but the two lines here run parallel.

 In a sunken garden, protected by high earthen ramparts, rectangular parterres are filled with decorative patterns in box. Like abstract arabesques which, seen from above, form a sort of illegible verse, prayer or supplication, or which seem to be asking permission from a supreme being. An appeal to be allowed to set this gigantic construction down here, deep in the magical forest, far from the inhabited world. Amidst the box arabesques we find just about every known special plant and flower planted individually, a visualisation of the traditional Biblical paradise.

 But what is exceptional here is that the background to the earthen rampart is a dense forest of mighty old oaks. The royal oak as the symbol of the historical, age-old roots of the Orange-Nassau dynasty. The setting of mighty trees that frames the patronising entreaty of box arabesques gives this showpiece of Dutch garden art an appeal beyond the monumental that is rarely encountered in formal gardens.

 Whereas the magic of the forest had already made a full entry into painting two hundred years previously, it was not until the eve of the 18th century that man dared to venture into the forest in reality and view, admire and, a few decades later, to even fully imitate the beauty of ‘savage nature’ there.

 

 

Stop 3: The Hermannsdenkmal near Detmold

 

The Hermannsdenkmal stands large and solid near Detmold in the middle of the Teutoburger Wald – a beech wood. Legend has it that in 9 BC, Varus, a Roman governor, and his men were on the journey back to Rome when they received a report of a rebellion in a remote province near the River Weser. Varus therefore decided to take another route that led to the Weser. But what he did not know was that this was precisely what the Germans had hoped. They had chosen this route because it was extremely densely wooded and enclosed by hills and marshes. Varus and his men would never be able to take up their battle formation here. Varus had his men, merchants, supply wagons and baggage form an elongated column. This turned out to be perfect for the Germans.

 The attack lasted for three long days. The Germans also enjoyed the support of bad weather. On the second day Varus saw no way out and committed suicide. At the end of the third day, the last remaining Romans were also defeated by the main body of Germans. The Denkmal (monument) was created to honour the hero Arminius (Hermann in German). Arminius was an Aryan ruler of the Cherusci, a Germanic tribe that symbolises everyone with Germanic roots. Tradition has it that Hermann drew Varus into an ambush and defeated him. Even today, every European royal family takes its legitimacy from its remote connections with this romanticised, celebrated mythical leader.

 

Romantic ideas burgeoned during the 18th century and in Germany reached a remarkable peak at the start of the 19th century. The mystically charged paintings of Caspar David Friedrich (1744-1843) are perhaps the most pronounced artistic expression of this. Old, declining oaks often form the backdrop to his compositions: unfathomable images that appear to be set in both a distant past and a remote future. The Hermann legend was dusted off once again in this quest for the sense of heimat. What could sound better than a story in which Germans, wandering through a magical oak forest, are able to defeat an imperial army that was thought to be invincible? However, during its search for the location of this victory, the new German nationalist movement came to realise that nothing remained of the mythical oak forests that once covered Germany. At the start of the 19th century, the once mighty oaks in an impenetrable forest had already been replaced centuries earlier by rather uninspiring spruce plantations. This fast-growing conifer was intended to meet the ever-increasing, unceasing demand for wood.

 To compensate for the cheerlessness of the spruce forests and to give the heroic location a worthy reminder for eternity, it was decided to build a gigantic monument. Construction of the Hermannsdenkmal started in 1841. It was a hard road; the monument was only completed in the unified German nation under Bismarck, in 1875. Due to a lack of oaks in the forest, the water spouts that have to carry the water away from the path around it were decorated with monumental sculpted oak foliage with colossal acorns standing out in its midst.

 The Denkmal stands on a high ridge of hills and is visible from miles away. It is the most effective symbol of the 19th-century romantic sense of German nationality. This feeling was a major stimulus to the unification of Germany in 1871, but on the other hand this idealised way of thinking also has an exceptionally sour side to it. At the start of the 20th century, as a result of an over-extreme and one-sided view of the romantic endeavour, it evolved into the mere experience of Aryan feeling and the culture that went with it. A few decades later this was to lead to the sectarian slaughter that took place under Nazism.

 Even now the mythical Teutoburger Wald still has very few oaks. The wood and the road to the imposing monument are now filled with beech trees… ‘Ein Buchenwald für Hermann?’ Right up until today, no German can hear this sentence with neutral feelings.

 Again and again I wonder whether this beech forest, barely sixty years old, was deliberately planted as a harsh reminder for all Germans and, by extension, everyone. As a reminder of the dangers of unbridled one-sided fantasies, too narrowly-framed images which seem in origin to derive from a quite innocent romanticism.

 As part of this quest, the Hermannsdenkmal is an important stop, one that warns of the dangers of too sharp and too one-sided framing of visions, passions and concepts. However passionate a story may sound, however fine an image may be, we always have to be able to step aside, shift our viewpoint and take another perspective, a different direction.

 These variations appear clearly at the start and finish of our journey, but the artist also incorporates them literally into his work: when you look at each pair of images you experience the alienation and variation of images by moving from your fixed position.

 

Stop 4: Worlitz

 

Starting in 1769, Leopold II Frederick Franz, Duke of Anhalt-Dessau (1740-1817) had grounds in the English style laid out around his new castle in the village of Wörlitz on a former arm of the River Elbe. It was one of the first great landscape gardens on the Continent. In this park, the Christian notion of paradise fuses for the first time with the German myth of the forest with quasi perfect harmony to form a theatrical Arcadian entity.

 The visitor is led along paths and over water to various framed scenes. They refer to the cultural history of Europe, to science and various faiths. They are in each case framed by bosquets in which old, gnarled oaks play a prominent part. And gnarled oaks also grow around the circular path that links these tableaux together. They are weathered trees that immediately evoke the atmosphere of Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings, but also refer to the myth of the origin of the Germanic people in the magical oak forest. The design of the park landscape was based on the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the aesthetic views of Johann Joachim Winckelmann and Johann Georg Sulzer. Rousseau considered agriculture and a life amidst nature to be the proper foundation of daily life and pointed out the educational role of the natural landscape, meaning the idea of allowing the two myths of origin to exist alongside one another.

 Wörlitz is an almost perfect romantic setting. The only thing one can criticise it for is the rather static composition of the scenes and the lack of dynamism and variation in the approach to their staging. The sightlines are conceived with such a driving, sometimes almost naïve positivism that, even when one shifts one’s position one hardly notices any change of frame in the same image. Here, the ominous realisation of ultimate finiteness, which together with the concept of Arcadia, becomes a permanent part of the notion of paradise, is unwittingly embraced by a sort of naïve theatrical reality. In the framework of the history of garden design, the conceptual world of Wörlitz more than anywhere else a rendering of the transition between the static, restricted thinking of the ancient regime and the dynamic thinking that increasingly dominated the world as from the late 18th century.

 

Stop 5: Branitzer Park

 

Branitzer Park, near Cottbus, is the life’s work, final work and masterpiece of the eccentric garden designer Hermann Fürst von Pückler-Muskau (1785-1871). He started laying out Branitz in 1846, after having to sell the work of his youth, the Muskau family domain, because of financial problems.

 What makes Branitz fascinating to us geographically is that it is precisely halfway through our journey, 800 km from Texel, our starting point, and 800 km from Białowieża, our final destination. Viewed from this halfway point, we can look back at what is behind us and, with these images in our mind, we can fantasise about what is to come. In this way we plan the future using selectively framed images from the past, but the more we frame, the broader the variation in the planning of the future.

 This observation, made halfway through our journey, is perhaps the best point from which to enter Fürst Pückler’s world. Nowhere are the myths experienced so genuinely as at Branitz. It is as if we have to choose between the uncertain existence of a hero in the mythical forest and the simple certainty of the Biblical paradise, the sumptuous, varied collection of plants in the kitchen garden.

 Branitz and Wörlitz are both landscaped parks, and both merge perfectly into their surroundings and are grand as experiences. They are striking for the absence of boundaries, barriers or frames that separate the public from the private, but as far as atmosphere and experience are concerned, these two parks are worlds apart. Branitz has none of the operatic staging of Wörlitz that always appears at the end of the axes, which guide the eye so that they draw the visitor towards them in a straight line. At Wörlitz the visitor is overwhelmed with vistas from the ring-road around the edge of the domain, each of which traverses the centre of the park where the bucolic fields and also the arm of the river are. By contrast, Branitz is subtle and discrete. Here there is no surfeit of follies or buildings to showcase an overall world-view, no sequence of knowledge and wonder; at Branitz the aim is to offer the visitor an intimate confrontation with himself.

 Unlike Wörlitz, a slightly sunken path winds through the centre of the domain and continually leads the eye to the horizon. The viewer’s gaze constantly has to probe, frame and reframe changing boundaries. This constant reframing of the same images leads to uncertainty. Depending on the individual, this varying confrontation of atmospheres will determine the extent to which the visitor is still in equilibrium when he arrives at the castle. At Branitz, the unsuspecting viewer plays a game with himself; his gaze is thrown back and forth between the two sorts of paradise and he has to find an answer to the questions ‘Who am I?’, ‘What am I?’ and ‘What do I see?’

 The dynamic established by the constant confrontation with the two separate atmospheres is boosted by the continuous confrontation with a narcissistic self-reflection in the water that accompanies every part of the visit. Water that elusively reflects the landscape and the visitor, but also emphatically draws attention to his presence. It is as if, by means of this rapid succession of changing images, Pückler wanted to raise the question ‘What do I want to be in this landscape: a shadow, a narcissistic reflection or an active participant?’

 When it comes to form at Branitz, Pückler aimed for an intimate, almost perfect subtle symbiosis between the two ideals. A winding path leads from one open space to another, giving the visitor constantly changing views of one of the two paradisiacal emotions. Either he gets a view framed by the only partly walled kitchen garden in the background, or else there are the vistas that take in a dense, impenetrable forest. On entering, the foreground to the vistas through to the impenetrable depths is provided by a monumental floating grassy pyramid, which itself is endlessly reflected in a black lake. This image makes it immediately obvious that the hero who wishes to seek out the impenetrable depths of existence has to live with the awareness of the finite. This confrontation with the finite is barely present in the vistas towards the kitchen garden, a man-made garden with a greenhouse, where the purpose is to sow, strike cuttings, propagate, extend life, produce and collect over and over again. In no other park is the visitor so subtly and superbly swung back and forth between the two basic emotions and at the same time continuously faced with his own mirror-image.

 After this journey of self-confrontation, the castle comes into view as one passes the middle point. In this instance Pückler simply utterly reverses the prevailing traditional experience of a garden; he creates a totally new setting for the entrance that is still very peculiar today. In the traditional way a garden is organised, when the visitor arrives at the forecourt he also immediately sees the house at the same time. It is only after entering the house that the visitor is able to descend into the garden through the garden door; this garden is the landowner's personal Arcadia. However boundless this garden Arcadia may be, entry into it remains narrowly confined, and one's rank and status determine whether one enters the garden through the big garden door, a side door of the outbuildings or not at all.

 At Branitz there is no sign of this traditional narrative. Each visitor first undergoes these strange, personal confrontations with themselves and their deeper emotions. Once they have arrived at the castle, the landowner can assess his public purely on their personal self image and the balance they have with their inner frame. There is no other park in which the traditional frames are so radically jettisoned and the concepts of the two paradise myths so intimately fused together, but from the central point, the visitor experiences this intimate combination of the two atmospheres completely differently. The ever-changing perspectives compel him to choose the context in which he feels most at home: the safe, but rather unambitious secure sanctuary of the Christian paradise, or the deep, unfathomable forests in which one can put together a solitary and aspirational existence. Pückler indicates that, conceptually speaking, one can let the two paradise myths fuse closely with each other, but that each individual has a preference for one of the two, however finely they have been combined. Pückler succeeds better than anyone in leading us to paradox number 2: the acceptance of a divisive element in the notion of paradise.

 

Stop 6: Eisenhüttenstadt

 

Eisenhüttenstadt, in the German state of Brandenburg, was the pride of DDR communism and is now a languishing, still living utopian relic of the red ideal. This is our last stop before the magical wood.

 Where the moribund Eisenhüttenstadt is now found, there used to be a very small town: Fürstenberg. It had already been known since 1250 and lived off fishing on the River Oder and some small-scale shipping. The number of inhabitants was always around 1500 to 2000. It was only in the beginning of the 20th century that this small town grew as a result of the glass-blowing works. But then the DDR appeared. The leaders of the DDR saw with envy how the West German town of Wolfsburg, a brand-new town, was enormously successful. The flourishing Volkswagen factories had grown up there after the Second World War. Just like West Germany, the DDR needed a new ideal town to show off the splendour of the regime to the outside world. Because of its name, Fürstenberg –Fürst was a reminder of the wicked Prussia – was a thorn in the side of the DDR bosses. In 1950 it was decided to construct a new megalopolis right next to Fürstenberg, the DDR's version of Wolfsburg. Given the presence of good water-based transport links, the DDR regime decided to set up blast furnaces there. Why blast furnaces? Was iron ore or coal for energy to be found there? Was there so much demand for work there on that desolate, barren sandy ground of Brandenburg? No, not at all! So iron ore was brought in on a massive scale and special ovens that used a huge amount of energy were developed to run on the locally excavated brown coal in order to melt the ore. This town was initially called Stalinstadt; later, when the town continued to grow as a result of compelling propaganda, it was merged with the insignificant Fürstenberg. Since at that time Stalin was no longer so popular, the resulting town was given the name Eisenhüttenstadt (Eisenhütte is the German word for an iron foundry). By the time the DDR was abolished (1989) the town had 53,000 inhabitants. After the unification of Germany a great many inhabitants returned to their original place of residence or went to the West. This ideal town full of Communist blocks of flats is now languishing and has only 35,000 inhabitants. A lot of the blocks are empty or are being demolished.

 In contrast to the uniform blocks of flats, the variation in the public greenery is quite striking. If you imagine the scene without the blocks of flats (see photo on the left-hand page), what remains is a fairly varied, natural looking landscape, with varied bosquets that lack the boundaries formed by a small kitchen garden or private garden. Here too, the oak is a prominent presence and the whole thing is highly reminiscent of the landscape ideals we find in part in Branitz. It looks as if the DDR regime had wanted to create the idyll of the ideal wood around its hard-working model housing blocks for the steelworkers, to create a sense of freedom in an environment dominated by high-rise and the smoking steel factory. Nowadays, this town, which is gradually emptying out, gives one a very odd experience. For the first time on our journey it raises questions about fantasising on the freedom of the wood, the force of nature, and so on. A confrontational final stop before the long journey to Białowieża.

 

Stop 7: Białowieża

 

One does not immediately notice any immeasurably dense primeval forest in the surroundings of Białowieża. At first we drive through dense pine plantations standing in neat rows and then come to a varied, rather open area, a landscape in which small, enclosed farms appear – the most primitive form of the agrarian paradise myth. A somewhat closed village community, in which all eyes and all doors are oriented towards an open centre. The Christian paradise myth is not yet a certainty here. It is an annual struggle, an aspiration, to hold a harvest festival and to produce sufficient food to survive through the winter. It is as if on our journey we have never been so far from the romantic notion that has accompanied us up to now, the quest for the solitary Robinson Crusoe, our quest for the primeval feeling in oneself.

 It was only further on in the village, some distance beyond the last small farms, that we see a deep, dark mass of trees rising up in the distance. Until a few decades ago, the dark forest, just as in the fairytales, must have started immediately beyond the fences of the last farms, but now, as a result of the depopulation of this region on the edge of Europe and the rather poor soil there, the farmsteads on the outskirts of the village have been abandoned. Between the last farms and the forest there is a strip of slightly less than a kilometre where brushwood is gradually developing: a combination of high grasses and such basic trees as the birch and pine, between which grow a few remaining fruit trees. As a result of European legislation, which aims to expand the area of woodland, wild nature here has the opportunity to gradually occupy more and more former cultivated land. Even though there is currently a broad grey zone in which young wood is in the midst of developing, there is a still exceptionally confrontational division between the structured village community with its clearly bounded plots, pruned fruit trees and houses oriented towards the centre on the one hand, and on the other the dark wood where the eye sees no perspective or depth. The two communities live with their backs turned towards each other; nowhere else do the two paradise myths come so close and yet remain so diametrically opposed to each other.

 Or is there a paradise myth here at all? After a few dozen metres the individual merges entirely into the dark mass of trees. Even the most faithful companion, one's personal shadow, the proof of one's individual existence, is swallowed up by the grey, the black nothingness of the forest. When I thrust my chest forward and stretch my shoulders back to utter a triumphal forest cry just like Tarzan, I am overcome by a feeling of extreme vulnerability, an ominous danger from the invisible in this monotonous, grey interplay of trunks without any reference point. The idea of the heroic Hermann, Lord of the Forest, beating his chest in celebration of his victory over Varus, strikes me as quite impossible in this situation. To survive here you have to be able to efface yourself entirely as an individual. There is no longer any possibility of framing here, you have to abandon any idea of being human, you have to let yourself become one with the tree trunks and hope that no one sees you and that in this grey, surging sea of trunks you yourself can suddenly focus on an unsuspecting opponent, a prey, a point of reference. A point of reference that you have to creep up on invisibly and inaudibly and in total silence, and without any form of honour or heraldry, must outmanoeuvre to sustain as long as possible the guarantee of one's own survival.

 The fear is simultaneously accompanied by the thought: 'where do they come from, those stories of the solitary heroic warrior in the forest, the Tarzan, lord of the animals and of nature, whereas the only chance of surviving here is to totally efface yourself, to let yourself emerge entirely into the grey nothingness, the infinitely surging sea of tree trunks. Any form of self-consciousness, or manifesting oneself as a master, means literally undermining your existence.

 This myth, the magical sphere of the Lord of the Forest, can only arise in a context of security: the safe boundaries of the village with its small farmhouses surrounded by gardens. At the inn at night, next to the open fire, one can fantasise freely about the ominous forest outside the back door, a forest which one may once have hoped to overcome so that, without additional concerns, one could devote oneself fully to collecting and cultivating paradisiacal plants, finally fully achieve or at least optimise the agrarian paradise. A forest myth that was probably distilled from the stories of the solitary hunter who, when he came to the village inn to sell illicitly the furs he had shot, overcome by the light and a surfeit of points of reference, has to manifest, position and frame himself in a landscape. The man who is used to living like a shadow survives by effacing himself into nothingness. He creates an ego for himself, a mask, a heroic frame to protect himself from the mass of little egos in the farming community which, among his stock of furs, is looking for the finest so as to distinguish themselves better from their neighbour.

 The experience of this forest becomes the discovery of the illusion of the magical hero, the Hermann. It is an experience of the self-conscious man that one only survives here by letting go of all self-consciousness, by effacing oneself as insignificantly as possible, letting oneself dissolve, losing oneself in the black nothingness of the graphite.

 

Conclusion

 

Starting from our everyday, over-structured and morbidly conditioned environment, which –  as described in the paradoxes in the introduction – gives us the feeling it has few if any relevant frames to offer, the artist and the art historian went in search of a space where impulses that derive from nature are once again given a place. A quest for more naturalness, so that there is again more inner peace with which to frame, distance oneself from things and not immediately have to have an opinion ready regarding various actions and events around us. The ultimate aim of our quest was to experience the heroic paradise myth, whereby man, liberated from routine, can live in idyllic nature, a primeval wood. In the course of this journey the two travellers visit, experience and examine several human creations that try to place and visualise the paradisiacal creations on the basis of their own temporal context. By travelling like this we hope that once we are in the primeval wood we shall briefly be able to enjoy to the full the idyll of wild nature.

 With our experiences at the back of our minds, Białowieża becomes a strange experience that is paradoxically contrary to our expectations. Just as in the bleak polder on Texel, a setting created by human hands, and the starting point for our journey, in the primeval wood we experience the insignificance of nothingness, the lack of any form of reference that allows us to frame things. It turns into a quest for an open space in the wood. The only points of focus in the dense forest of upright trunks turns out to be the rather unheroic remains of what had once been alive, life wasting away, the remains of a cadaver. We have to conclude that the idyll of the heroic woodland German is an artificial frame just like Texel, created by sedentary man, the farmer who has long abandoned the wood. It is an imaginary frame, a façade in which his desire is for a hereditary link with the threatening black forest outside his back door.

 On the other hand, we have to conclude that our entire society is framed by the imitation of the paradise myths, the interplay of nature and culture that has been created by our narcissism. We have to conclude that we have experienced our culturally determined paradise stories very changeably during our quest for the true nature, a journey through time.

 

Just like this piece of writing, the artist’s work is what results from these experiences. For this purpose he has chosen three images and is showing them more than life-size, each in a double frame. Each of his three selected points of focus has been fixed exactly by its coordinates; they are precisely defined, but are also shown for a second time on the basis of another frame, two steps to the side.

 In this way the pairs of images may prompt the visitor to move, to transcend the static frame. So that he himself, within the boundaries of the exhibition, and through the eyes of the artist, can enter nature, and frame and personalise nature in his mind, thus forming the start of his own myth. This personal game of movement results in a distancing, surveying, closing in and focusing on a detail in the work, or going even further and letting the gaze be absorbed entirely by the nuances between black graphite and the white sheet, changing frames in the time of one and the same image, the same location.

 

Stefan Vidts, August 2012-11-14

 

Stefan Vidts is a garden and landscape architect and a Master in Art Studies.