two channel video installation
HD 9:43 min, 3:22 min

When Landscape Becomes Environment (2011)

The term landscape stands for a specific geographic area which is bound by visible parameters. A landscape can be identified by geographic features like its geology, but also by its climate, light and elements of human usage such as buildings and structures. 

The geographic definition of landscape is relatively new and a phenomenon belonging to the epoch of Modernity. The definition of landscape as the sum of its characteristics is attributed to Alexander von Humboldt. He expanded the former understanding of landscape as a simple organizational entity. Landscape has been understood since as a visible part of the earth’s surface and also symbolizes the modern individual who defines his/her subjectivity by bringing to mind the emblematic meanings of space.

Today this concept seems to have become obsolete. The digital revolution has changed the perception of space. The idea of a landscape is now influenced by digital visibility, networked communications, commercial interests and the fact that our economy is based on the exploitation of resources. 

The term landscape is vanishing from common language use to be replaced by the highly-loaded term environment. Describing a geographical space as an environment embraces the already mentioned connotations of landscape as well as the notion of something as endangered and in need of protection. 

A boat journey on the Elbe river

The video installation by Gaby Steiner and Henrik Mayer was made in the summer 2011 on a two day journey on a cargo ship on the river Elbe between Dresden and Magdeburg. In the framework of the festival ÜBER LEBENSKUNST, aspects of sustainable mobility were to be explored during the boat trip. The freight of the carrier was the rotor blades of wind energy plants. At the same time, the transport took a route through an area whose appearance is strongly shaped by wind energy plants. In this way the visual explorations of Steiner and Mayer were influenced by the use of the landscape for energy production and their work became a research project in the transformation of landscape into environment. The project explores social space in addition to geographic space. It incorporates the opinions of the ship crew and their distinct cultural identity. In this way, the project reveals non-visible phenomena of the boat trip which become most apparent in the narrations of the boat workers and their comments on mobility, time and speed.    

As part of the framework of this film project, a kind of visual land measurement experiment was carried out. A time lapse camera at the bow of the ship photographed in minute intervals the landscape which lay before its advancing passage. The reason to capture these time-lapse images was to visualize the various functions of the areas on the ship´s passage. There could be found nature, agriculture, settlements and post-industrial zones, i.e. wind energy farms. The camera explores the area before the ship and captures images of the diversified landscape. These images do not embody the view of a photographer but that of an anthropological eye. The image sequence also grasps the political, social and ecological aspects of the landscape and environment. The time lapse view reverses the effects of the slowed down perception of a passenger on the ship which usually on this voyage maintained an unusually slow speed of  10km/h.

The synthesis of the two film sequences and their content is left to the viewer. Gaby Steiner’s and Henrik Mayer’s work prompts one to think about the new configurations of human identity which have emerged in the age of globalized ecology -  a process which is highly shaped by a new relation between Geography and environmental as well as energy policies.