Nature as Artifice: New Dutch Landscape in Photography and Video Art
presents us with a sad and startling new environ. The rolling hills of yesteryear have given way to rows of identical houses running across plains of pavement, the flossy clouds of van Ruisdael’s The Jewish Cemetery have been displaced by plumes of industrial smoke pouring hot and heavy from smoke stacks, and the automobile has replaced the once prized Dutch cow as subject. While curator Maartje van den Heuvel describes this new Dutch landscape as having “distinct visual appeal,” it is nearly impossible to see past the destruction that brought about this cold, modern aesthetic. The exhibition largely ignores the nation’s agrarian past and the environmental ramifications of suburbanization. The futuristic beauty of this collection is inhibited because it never acknowledges, let alone attempts to answer, the questions it provokes: what is the true nature of this new landscape? What does it mean for the country’s future?
The works of Jannes Linders
and Gerco de Ruijter
contrast the few organic, undeveloped regions left with the new symmetry of the modern Dutch landscape. Linders was commissioned by the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam to document the changing face of Holland as the nation raced to convert from an agricultural country to a suburban one. Landscape in the Netherlands
(1988-90), a collection of black and white images, is the result. The photographs range from surprising to pedestrian. A wide view of sheep grazing on a narrow strip of grass situated directly across a river from an industrial park effectively communicates the social and physical changes the landscape has undergone. Metal bicycle racks on a cobblestone sidewalk, a view of a highway, or a portrait of a factory, though, have little to say as more than documentation, pure and simple. These photographs could have been taken anywhere in the developed world; nothing differentiates them as Dutch.
De Ruijter’s images, however, have distinctly more appeal due to his unorthodox approach. De Ruijter attaches his camera to a kite that he allows to ascend until the image will appear as an abstract pattern rather than an aerial view. He then takes the photograph via remote control. De Ruijter chooses sites in which undeveloped areas abut developed ones to better highlight the differences between the past and present. Named for the areas he is photographing, the images are a compelling contrast between natural disorder and the angular regularity of civilization.
According to the Aperture Foundation’s current exhibition, the classical Dutch landscape is dead, both literally and in relation to contemporary art.