Field Trip "Art and Soil" part I and II
September 20th / 21st
October 4th / 5th
Soil is a habitat and resource in equal measure. Its functionality in particular determines the value we attach to it, for example as a water reservoir and filter, as agricultural land, as building land or a supplier of fossil fuels and building materials. In the assumption that the soil was freely available to us, mineral resources have been extracted for centuries without considering regeneration measures or problematising the finiteness of resources. Today, we are confronted with the consequences: whether droughts and floods as a result of advancing global warming; landscapes destroyed by mining; or contaminated and infertile soils - more than ever we understand the impacts of extensive land use. And so, for some years now, private individuals, environmental associations and the international community have been striving to preserve soil quality. In the process, we must fundamentally change the way we live and do business - a major transformation is on the horizon.
The Borderlands lie in the heart of Europe. Here, people are engaged in structural change and are looking for ways to a sustainable future and a respectful treatment of the soil. The Borderlanders met some of them.
Art and Soil part I, 20 and 21 September 2023
Borderlanders visit Kranenburg and Nijmegen
On 20 and 21 September the Borderlanders met for their first field trip. The destination of the joint trip was Kranenburg. At first glance, the small border town between Kleve and Nijmegen doesn't look it, but it was a venue in recent art history that still echoes today. In 1953, Joseph Beuys held his first solo exhibition on the farm of the brothers Hans and Franz Joseph van der Grinten. In the course of the 1950s, the artist, who was plagued by depression, found shelter here. The brothers, who were themselves active as artists and collectors, had a decisive influence on the art scene in the Lower Rhine region - especially in the nucleus between Kranenburg, Kleve and Bedburg-Hau - in the second half of the 20th century. The close connection to peasant patronage is typical of many art careers in the Lower Rhine and the tradition continues today: The Borderland Residency in Kranenburg is curated by the Katharinenhof Museum and the project space in the former van-der-Grinten-Hof, but the artist apartment of scholarship holder David Hahlbrock (and Alicia Kremser before him) is located on the Richtersgut farm, an organic farm in the middle of Kranenburg. After a visit to the Kranenburg cultural venues and the residence studio, the Borderlanders stopped there. According to the principles of organic farming, the couple Marie-Thres Nissing and Godehard Schnütgen keep both chickens and cows here, but the farm also includes orchards, a small berry plantation and pastureland. Here, the focus is on lower yields and more manual labour in favour of care and preservation of the soil. And yet the Richtersgut farm is a solitaire in the region, which is dominated by agriculture. Most farms in the area focus on mass instead of quality and demand more yield from the land than the soil naturally produces. Thus, especially in the Netherlands, the soil has been cultivated beyond the limits of natural rehabilitation, a practice that most recently resulted in the nitrate crisis and threatens to divide the country politically.
Not only in Germany, but also in the Netherlands, new models of agriculture are increasingly being sought. Some are focusing primarily on innovation - new technologies that think of agriculture as a closed system from which nitrogenous substances should no longer escape unfiltered. Others are trying to re-establish a biodynamic balance on their farms, an approach that can also help regenerate over-managed land. The "Bodemzicht" initiative just outside Nijmegen shows how this can be done.
After the Borderland group has explored the art history of Kranenburg and learned about the workings of the Richtersgut farm, they continue the next day to Nijmegen to the farm community "Bodemzicht". Bodemzicht means as much as "soil perspective" or "from the perspective of the soil". On the Grootstal estate near Nijmegen, the initiative for regenerative cultivation was founded in 2020 and has since become a place of learning for like-minded people. According to the motto "climate farmers for life", they not only want to produce healthy food, but also create healthy landscapes. Biodiversity and the interplay of nature, agriculture and community are at the forefront of the approach with which the initiative has recultivated a former agricultural land that had been eroded by the cultivation of a monoculture. In collaboration with Platform DIS, a collective of scientists and artists, they seek new parameters for the "value" of the land in an interdisciplinary exchange. Former Borderland Residencies scholarship holder Sanne Vaassen is part of Platform DIS and together with Wouter Engelbart, director of Platform DIS, soil researcher Rosa Boone and Helen Weres from the Bodemzicht team, welcomed the group to Landgoet Grootstal and presented their work.
The area between North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony and the Netherlands is one of the most intensively farmed areas in Europe. In 2019, the Netherlands exported more agricultural products than any other country in the world after the USA (closely followed by Germany in third place, by the way). For a long time now, the soil of the Borderlands has not only fed the local people, but has played an important role in the global food system. But this extensive use has its price and more and more the planet is showing its natural limits. Last but not least, it is always a question of economic return, which determines the value of the land. But in the small border area between Kleve, Kranenburg and Nijmegen, two farm communities are showing how things can be different: one in farming structures that have evolved over centuries, the other as a young initiative of gardeners, artists and scientists. Together they advocate a new, respectful way of dealing with the soil and the treasures it gives us. But even their approach is not the last word in wisdom. The second field trip "Art and Soil part II" will show how contested the soil in our region is - always connected with the question: Who owns the land?
Art and Soil part II, 04 and 05 October 2023
Kies in Borderlands
Wesel, Hamminkeln and Diepenheim were the destinations of the second Borderlands field trip. While the first field trip highlighted the value of soil for local agriculture, "Art and Soil II" led right into the middle of an emotional debate: gravel mining in the Lower Rhine region. Gravel mining is a form of mining that is carried out in the region for a wide variety of rocks, for example lignite and hard coal or (in former times) peat. The mining of gravel - meaning stones in a wide variety of grain sizes up to sand - has been practised in the region for more than a hundred years, with the expansion taking on ever greater proportions since the second half of the 20th century. Gravel is mainly used in the construction industry, for which it is an important raw material, primarily in the production of concrete. But its extraction is controversial: The extraction of gravel eats up land and destroys nature and agricultural land in the process. After the end of gravel extraction at a site, the areas are recultivated, but their natural state cannot be restored. Moreover, mining alters the natural groundwater levels and requires human intervention even beyond the end of extraction. The carbon footprint of concrete, for the production of which gravel is mainly extracted, is also serious.
This complex situation is the background for an emotional political debate in the district of Wesel. In cooperation with the municipality, the LVR-Niederrheinmuseum has now tackled the issue and curated an exhibition on gravel extraction. From the history to the materiality of the rock to the protests and alternative building materials, the exhibition "Kleine Steine - Große Wirkung!?" provides insights into the facets of open-cast mining. The bureaucracy is not left unmentioned either - the many years of approval procedures, legal regulations, the multitude of offices involved: the incredible administrative effort behind a dredge hole is another unknown fascination that the exhibition uncovers. In addition to the district of Wesel, the museum worked with actors from all spectrums of the debate, such as gravel companies, environmentalists, affected residents and scientists. They also created a broad accompanying programme that included excursions to gravel pits, nature reserves and recultivated dredging holes, discussion rounds and expert conferences on topics such as concrete recycling and new building materials. In this way, an all-round view has been created that aims to be a neutral platform of exchange in a debate in which many doors have already been slammed shut. In this way, the team of the LVR-Niederrheinmuseum around director Corinna Endlich makes a proposal as to what role museums can play in society. The LVR-Niederrheinmuseum has taken a first step on this path and sees itself as a neutral place where facts, opinions and emotions can come together and meet anew, even in muddled situations. The museum intends to continue along this path in the future and to redevelop its profile as a family museum in cooperation with citizens and citizen scientists.
After visiting the exhibition and talking to museum director Corinna Endlich, the Borderland Group visited the gravel plant "Milchplatz" of the Hülskens company in Rheinberg. There they came very close to the impetus of the trouble: huge excavators that eat their way into the earth in tributaries of the Rhine and extract up to two million tonnes of gravel every year. By the way, not all gravel is the same here; the grain sizes differ by the millimetre and are transported to different silos by a gigantic sorting machine. In any case, everything happens at the same time at the Milchplatz quarry: here the gravel is conveyed, washed by machine, sorted and stored, and assembled into the grain size desired by the customer. Afterwards, the stones are loaded directly onto cargo ships via conveyor belts, which then ship the goods across the Rhine to destinations all over the world. At the Milchplatz gravel plant, two steps in the gravel extraction process also meet at the same time: on the one hand, extraction is still taking place here, while some areas have already been recultivated. The recultivated areas were bought and looked after by NABU. Although they cannot restore the original state of the natural area before gravel extraction began, new habitats are specifically tailored to the needs of threatened species here.
After a day full of impressions, the Borderlanders spent the night in Hamminkeln-Ringenberg. The residence Schloss Ringenberg and its scholarship holders welcomed them with a home-cooked stew of regional organic vegetables, wine and liqueur by candlelight.
The next morning - and after apple picking in the castle garden - the group set off for Diepenheim in the Netherlands, where the team from the local Drawing Centre was already waiting for them. Diepenheim is a small municipality in the Provincie Overijssel. The small town is proud of its Drawing Centre Diepenheim, which brings international guest artists to the town for residencies and exhibitions. Diepenheim is surrounded by extensive heath and meadows, some of which are used as agricultural land. Together with area researcher Kirsten van de Meeberg from Bureauzaaigoed, the Borderland Group walked along the Regge stream, which exemplifies human intervention in nature. Over centuries, the course of the stream was diverted to ensure a better water supply for the agricultural use of the land. During renaturation measures, the river was redirected in sections to its supposedly original form and now flows again along the valley that ice-age melt water from glaciers created in Diepenheim millions of years ago. Using various maps, Kirsten van de Meeberg and artist and landscape architect Wouter Sibum were able to show the course the stream took over the millennia - and recognised that the one, supposedly "natural" movement of the river does not exist at all, but changes with time and the demands of human and animal use.
As on the previous day, water became a central focus of the soil considerations. Whether the course of the Rhine was shaped for gravel mining or the Regge stream was relocated in favour of agricultural use: water is elementally connected to our soil and, along with gravel, stones and nutrients, is one of the most important resources of our region. But how we deal with our resources always remains a coordination process that must be navigated between different interests. Cultural institutions and artistic research can help to find new approaches to the issues, but also to the people, in heated debates. Sometimes we slip unchecked into dilemmas - when issues are not black and white, but complex and interwoven regionally, but also globally. In the last field trip of the Borderland Residencies 2023, "Art and Dilemma" on 25 and 26 October, we will explore how we nevertheless manage to find a common path in situations of dilemma.