Mystic Land reflects on our environment and the way humanity uses and manipulates its surroundings. Through our landscape we see how ‘man’ has manipulated, confiscated, violated or forced himself upon mother earth. It illustrates the cultural and social choices of western society. It’s a cruel depiction of our sorry state, silver lined by a classical approach to landscape photography. The series of middle format color negatives on 60x70cm prints is part of a bigger project, that presents a complex story of historical research and wanderings through the country.
The series originated from a research into the whereabouts of my great-grandfather, a soldier and a painter during WWI. A hundred years later, I wanted to document the landscape just as he was doing as part of the Artistic Section of the Belgian army. The research selected the places I needed to go in France, England and Belgium. It defined the routes and places to go and during those trips two kinds of images were shot: the historical and the contemporary view. They were combined in one exhibition, with historical and contemporary topographical maps used as a timeline, the abstract guides to a narrative storyline. That narrative would have been a film, if the finances would have followed the plans…
But there’s an extra layer in the whole project, when taking in account the significance of that great-grandfather, Joe English. This son of an Irish immigrant in Bruges, took part as an artist and graphic designer in the Flemish cultural movement before WWI, as he was closely connected to the student life in Antwerp and Leuven, where that catholic emancipation movement rooted. During the war he picked up that work again, when he eventually got saved from hard bricklaying labour. One of the main characters in that movement behind the trenches, Dr. Daels offered him a job in his gas mask laboratory and after hours Joe made lots of drawings to support the movement addressing injustice and language issues. That movement harshened as censorship and persecutions followed suit and eventually the foundations were laid for a social and political movement that lasts up until today. Joe English, who died of an appendicitis two months before the armistice, became a pivotal figure in the iconography of that movement, using his work as well as his life story for the propaganda of Flemish nationalism during the interbellum and way beyond the second world war.
Although I tried to completely ignore that historical significance of his persona during my travels, I cannot deny the connotations; I’m obliged to address it. So yes, of course I do relate to and comment on that nationalist movement just as much as I would like to pretend I do for all kinds of -ism’s in politics and society, by critically pointing out the state of our environment. But to my opinion, the Mystic Land series surpassed that merely local aspect and presents more universal issues, we as humanity, albeit from a western point of view, should address.
The project was originally conceived for the WWI commemorations and was presented at the 'Museum aan de IJzer', the tower that was the landmark and gathering place for the movement. Check the exhibition views and the research blog on this (dutch) page.