Axel Braun - work and projects



Archival Reference

1 Duit, copper coins, Zelandia, 18th century

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A case study for DISTURBED HARMONIES [Anthropocene Landscapes]

LUCTOR ET EMERGO delves into the history of land reclamation in the Netherlands. Inspired by papers of sociologist Wiebe E. Bijker ¹ and art historian Ann Jensen Adams ², the project aims to reflect on the political, economic and socio-cultural dimensions of the Netherland’s struggle to protect their territory against nature and, thus, “to keep the water out”.

How do related technological, economic and political activities appear in the history of landscape painting? Are they recognisable in the contemporary appearance of related territories? Adams e.g. illustrates how the rising interest in landscape painting was historically related to the first efforts for reclaiming land from the sea. Furthermore, the demand for pictured landscapes particularly blossomed during the fights for independence from Austria and Spain and even more when colonial trade and early capitalist enterprises – such as commercial land reclamation projects – became popular investment opportunities. The more landscapes became sources of economic and political power, the more it became necessary to find visual representations for these new assets.

The project is closely related to the preceding case study NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE IN A PLACE WHERE DREAMS BECOME REALITY (2012-13). Both case studies deal with land reclamation projects and both titles derive from programmatic claims related to these endeavours.

Zeeland’s motto LUCTOR ET EMERGO (to fight and to rise) dates back to reclamation activities after medieval storm floods and, thus, acknowledges nature as a powerful opponent. On the contrary, NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE IN A PLACE WHERE DREAMS BECOME REALITY (the claim of a South Korean construction corporation in 2007) understands natural resources as modelling clay serving the fulfilment of human desires.

While the former can be seen as representative for most pre-modern societies’ relation to nature, the latter describes the contemporary ‘anything goes’ that finds continuation in various proposals to tackle climate change by means of “geo-engineering”.

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Parts of the research project were realised with a GO / RETURN travel grant by Kunstvereine Ruhr in 2016.

Excerpts of the case study were exhibited at Künstlerhaus Dortmund in 2016, Raum?Station Zürich in 2017 and Kunstverein Bochum in 2018.

Special thanks to Marjolein Zeilstra, Willy van der Most and Caroline Hoek (Nieuwland Erfgoed Museum, Lelystad) and Margriet Talstra (Gemeente Enkhuizen).

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¹ Wiebe E. Bijker, The Politics of Water: A Dutch Thing to Keep the Water Out or Not, in: Bruno Latour, Peter Weibel (Hrsg.), Making Things Public: Athmospheres of Democracy, MIT Press, Cambridge, 2005

² Ann Jensen Adams, Competing Communities in the “Great Bog of Europe” – Identity and Seventeenth-Centrury Dutch Landscape Painting, in: W.J.T. Mitchell, Landscape and Power (Second Edition),
The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2002; p. 35ff