Between the 13th and 15th day of confinement, I was able to make a small fragment of forest without depth and out of perspective.
This image is simply reduced to a heap of details without it being possible to assign it a place in a particular context. Here the forest is rather composed of an inextricable vegetal labyrinth that prevents any possibility of penetrating it.
Only GPS coordinates can identify the forest and assign it a physical reality (51°16’44 “N 12°19’46 “E).
Beyond this image, in France, we are still under confinement and time seems to have stopped. It is no longer possible in this “time” to wander in the forest and enjoy the spring, so this “time” can be beneficial to test other plastic paths and to try out new visual narratives.
It is also a time for me to look forward to the continuation of my journey in Germany as soon as the borders have reopened and to see Europe united once again, in solidarity and without borders.
I still have half of the way to go to the Baltic Sea. This second part of the route I plan to complete as a cyclist, taking advantage of the panoramic views of Northern Germany! It’s going to be great!
A few hours before the closing of the borders between France and Germany, I still had the chance to see, visit and make a small retrospective of my drawings in the Botanical Garden of the University of Leipzig.
This last day in Germany was dedicated to visit the Botanical Garden of the University of Leipzig. It is the oldest botanical garden in Germany and one of the oldest in the world, dating back at least to 1542. The garden is home to about 7,000 species, 3,000 of which are scattered in about ten collections. The garden includes departments from Eastern Europe and Asia, Northern Hemisphere forests, meadows, Eastern North America, as well as wetland plants with regional flora.
The climate was becoming more and more uncertain concerning Covid19 and there had been talk for a few hours now, unfortunately, about the closing of the borders between European countries. The closure of public spaces, museums, and the cancellation of the links between France and Germany made me decide to put this project of discovering European primary forests and neo-formed landscapes on hold.
No one knows how long this health crisis will last, but I am excited about the idea of reopening Europe’s internal and external borders! The project can then be continued to the north of Germany and to the Baltic Sea!
I also had the chance to meet people throughout this first part of the journey who presented their vision of Germany and Europe to me. They introduced me to their towns and forests, but above all they offered me a warm and welcoming environment at every stage of the journey. THANK YOU !
I am now back in Mulhouse with my pencils and my notebooks, where I continue to document the forests…
Until the borders reopen, let’s stay healthy and live intensely !
The last stage before the arrival of Covid19 was Leipzig! Several reasons led me to come to Saxony!
The first especially was to see an example of renaturation, or restoration of an old open-cast brown coal mine. Here, there are no more lunar landscapes, nor huge craters in the ground, but rather an artificial lake dedicated to sports and tourism. And which despite everything is made pleasant and beautiful. There is even a marina…
Lake Cospuden, or “Cossi“, was nevertheless an open-pit lignite mine between 1974 and 1990 and allowed the excavation and mining of 87 million tonnes of lignite. Subsequently, a group of 10,000 citizens (Stoppt Cospuden) allowed the definitive cessation of mining and the renaturation of the site.
At the sight of this “serene” space, it is difficult to imagine a traumatised space beforehand. It is, however, a totally artificial site that is organized by humans. Constructed and anthropic. To this space is assigned a second nature. What does the “wild” or “first” state of nature now mean in a natural space entirely reorganized by man? What do we see? What is different? What is our relationship with the natural environment? Artificial?
The idea of nature, widely questioned over the centuries by artists, is today being reinterpreted again in contact with political, social, industrial or ecological changes. How can we currently account for this work, here of renaturation, of a return to an alleged “purity” or to a state qualified as “wild”?
This landscape here in Heringen in the state of Hesse is unusual, as it was completely built by man in the 20th century. It is a mountain, the highest in Europe (439 meters), which is not of natural origin. It is the largest and highest slag heap resulting from the exploitation of potash. Its dimensions reach 450 meters high, 1,100 meters long and 700 meters wide for a surface area of 55 hectares, representing an estimated mass of 150 million tons.
In my artistic practice where the notion of landscape is an important component, it seems necessary to me to cross this new anthropic landscape. Industry has undoubtedly generated new landscapes, sometimes in opposition to romantic conceptions.
After having visited some of the still existing and living primary forests, I was impressed to see this neo-formed landscape inherited from the industry and which reminds me of my home region with its potash mines. In Alsace as well as here in Hesse, this industry not only created new landscapes, but also contributed to the social and economic development of a whole region.
This slag heap is situated between the states of Hesse and Thuringia, which for more than 40 years were separated by the GDR and the FRG. Unfortunately, the galleries were never able to cross the borders.
Apocalyptic landscape here in Garzweiler in North Rhine-Westphalia. This is the largest open-cast mine in Germany. It devours the landscape all around. It has now become a 200-metre-deep hole over more than 50 square kilometres, where vegetation has become almost non-existent. This Mad Max-like landscape is created by the baggers, giant excavators weighing 15,000 tonnes, 200 metres long and 100 metres high.
It has also and above all become a human drama for many inhabitants and is synonymous with the destruction of their villages, forests and farmland.
The forest of Hambach is about 50 km away and the contrast is unfortunately striking between on the one hand a forest over 12,000 years old, rich in biodiversity and on the other hand a lunar setting in Garzweiler II!
The Hambach Forest, which is located between Cologne and Aachen in North Rhine-Westphalia, is one of the oldest and last primary forests in Central Europe. It has been in existence for 12,000 years, which is exceptional. At one time the forest was 5,500 ha in size. Now there are only 1,100 ha left, the rest having been destroyed by the RWE (Reinisch-Westfälisches Elektrizitätswerk) and by opencast lignite mining. For activists living in the forest, it is not just a question of protecting the forest, it is also a question of climate change, health, relocation, expropriation and who makes the decisions.
I was able to visit this forest from February 12 to 22, 2020, and if we go into this forest, if we relax, if we stroll through it, if we draw it, or if we defend it, we will see it in a different way than in terms of numbers, lignite resources, or data. One discovers another perception than the utilitarian one of the territory. Another relationship to the world can then be built, made up of wooded areas, with large trees, or small groves, fir trees, and several networks of habitats as close as possible to nature. What struck me on my first visit was its verticality. This is perhaps first of all what a forest is and what we want to defend in it: a vertical element but also something that, against the absurdity of the administered world, can unfold and invite new relationships with oneself, with others, and with the world.
It is not so much a question of what we commonly imagine a forest to be as much as the uses of and links with forests. It is about how we are a part of it. The Hambach forest is not so much this piece of wilderness as a certain singular composition of links, living beings, and ways of thinking about the world. This forest is above all a sensitive reality, a singular way of inhabiting the world, of thinking about it outside of any form of domination, of imagining it, and of becoming attached to it. Those who live in this forest are fighting for climate justice, which is also a fight for a world without leaders and free of capitalist forces. It is a struggle against a system of domination, destruction and hierarchy. In any case, and this is what makes this forest special in my opinion and makes me want to draw it, it offers a space of individual emancipation for everyone. This forest, along with others such as Notre-Dame-des-Landes, Bure, Gorleben, etc., above all allows the imagination to intensify.
Replacing the drawn forests in the natural elements that make them up and trying to find a scenography is perhaps the end of the process?
These drawings of nature must also be understood as the traces of a passage or a transfer from the register of the photographic image to the sensual register of pure drawing where only the density of the layer of Indian ink varies. It is a transposition of the photographic image (each drawing is the product of a photograph identifying a forest, either in France or in Germany) towards a new generation of drawn images. And it is perhaps the purpose of the process to replace these drawn images within the natural elements that inspired them and where we can distinguish vegetation, expanses, reliefs and watercourses.
This relationship of transcription of a natural landscape, by means of the graphic line, makes visible but also legible what would otherwise remain chaotic. Landscape drawing is then a way of getting to know the terrain, of identifying the lines of force that structure it and of understanding the history from which it originates.
This photographic exploration of the forests is done in winter, which allows a better understanding of the structuring of trees and lines of force. A quote from David Hockney illustrates this idea: “Those who believe that winter is a time when the world is dead are mistaken. Trees are never as alive as they are in this season. You can practically see their life force. The branches are stretching out in pain toward the light.”
Through these drawings, it is also and above all a way to bring out the atmosphere and the archaic and organic links that we share with the living. The relationship we have with nature currently obliges us to rethink our being to the world as an interiority, and an intimacy to be shared with all living beings. An existential link to nature.
The photos were taken by a photographer friend of mine (Oliver Kramer) whose photographic work is in line with the concerns around nature and landscape. You can follow his abundant work here: https://visualdiary.li/
All pictures were taken in Kandel in the Black Forest.
A tree usually creates 600,000 leaves per season! In this way, it produces the amount of oxygen necessary for 10 people a day. It is therefore essential to our environment and to our balance.
While working on this drawing, I tried to approach two directions which seem important to me in the continuation of my plastic work:
the notion of ALL OVER, which consists in distributing the graphic elements more or less uniformly over the entire surface of the table; this seems to extend beyond the edges, which eliminates the problem of the field.
the abolition of the notion of horizon in this landscape, which in my practice is similar to an idea of symbolic order. There is no longer any top or bottom, no sky or earth, no near or far. Nature is just present and immersive. The notion of horizon is an anthropological structure of human perception and in trying to abolish this horizon, I try to take my gaze towards my immediate environment, towards a finite whole. By trying to abolish this notion in the representation of this landscape, I try at the same time to abandon an anthropocentric vision of the universe.
Here the central role is assigned to nature. Man is no longer in a hierarchical position in relation to other species.
From the first sketches of the drawing to the final result, more than 2,600 km² of primary forests have disappeared in the world …
For this first drawing of 2020, I am trying to introduce and gradually move closer to the notion of ALL OVER in the representation of the natural landscape by trying to cover the entire surface without a hierarchy of plans.
Maybe to get closer to an immersive experience in nature?
While making this drawing, I listened to Kel Assouf’s album “Tin Hinane” (2011). The fifth piece of this album particularly touched me: “Akaline“.
In Tamasheck, the language of the Tuaregs, “Akaline” means “My Country“. Anana, the singer talks about travel, uprooting and the heartbreaking beauty of a landscape abandoned to desolation. The country sung by Anana is not only her country, but also ours.
I am back in Mulhouse for a few days where I had the chance to present simultaneously my “primary forests of tomorrow” on both sides of the Rhine for two exhibitions! The first one in Freiburg im Breisgau at the Kunstscheune and the second one in Mulhouse at the Noumatrouff!
So it is also very symbolic for me to have been able to present my work in these two countries, with two very different cultures and where the environmental approach is not perceived in the same way. It is also a time that I have been given to work on the photographic material accumulated during these first two months in Germany and to make a first step!
My journey will start again at the beginning of January 2020 with a visit to the Hambach forest in North Rhine-Westphalia.