Producing Landscape – Producing Identity

A graphical overview of the structure of the research project
Design: Nadja Zimmermann with Boisseau Westermeyer


“Baden Württemberg looks oddly similar to my native region in Osorno, Chile”

Bernardo Oyarzùn, Chilean artist, Stuttgart, Germany 2009

In our video work we regularly confront images created by language with visual images. Katrin Mundt states: “Boisseau and Westermeyer’s video works trace the performative power of language.”1 In our works in public space we deal with manifestations of ideological postulates. The initial remark made by Bernardo Oyarzùn, who was at that time together with us as artist in residence at Akademie Schloß Solitude, immediately aroused our attention. At that moment we were working on a video project about German immigration and colonization of the south. It was exactly in Bernardo’s native area and he told us that the successful settlement of the Germans ran parallel to the decline of the native Mapuche. Showing each other our art production, we recognized that we work with a very similar concept of identity construction. Speaking about landscape, Bernardo was talking about the loss of a territory – in contrast to the sense landscape representations have for Europeans, for whom they mark a land to be civilized.

“And with longing, they hoped for the ships which were to take the new brothers to their coasts.” 2

Alexander Simon, German painter, Stuttgart, Germany 1848

Simon’s manifesto for a socialist German colony in southern Chile avoids the subject of potential conflict between the native Mapuche people and the new colonizers by insisting on their friendship and brotherhood. Convinced that immigration was the only possible answer to the failing European revolutions, he searched the literature for a region with a maximum of climatic resemblance to Germany and – as a painter – imagined the rest. A leftwing artist at the origin of colonization of the south of Chile, Simon became the key figure of the project.

The aim of our research project was to investigate the function of images and the role of landscape in the colonial process in southern Chile from the 19th century until today’s territorial conflicts. Therefore we formed a Chilean-European interdisciplinary research team. Since we as artists initiated the research project, it is the performativity of landscape which is at the forefront of each contribution. This exposition combines artistic image research with postcolonial questions. For a better understanding of how the research project’s different contributions relate to each other we conceived the diagram seen on the right.

The research project Producing Landscape – Producing Identity

As Ricarda Musser shows in her text “The last corner of the world: The Chilean Landscape for Emigrants,” there is little likelihood that the look of the Chilean landscape was a significant reason for German migrants coming to Chile.

But why did landscape descriptions take such an important place in literature for immigrants? The function of their extensive use can be experienced in our video “The Generation to Come” (Das künftige Geschlecht). Through the performance of Simon’s original text as a lecture one can follow the legitimation for the colonization of the areas in the south. The subtle mixture of a familiar climate with abundant vegetation in Simon’s text makes this place become a praised land.

Sabine Kradolfer shows in “Valdivia and its region as a destination for German immigration: the utopian project of Carl Alexander Simon” that rather than the aesthetic value of the landscape descriptions it was their ability to serve as an indicator for the consistency of ground and climate that made people move from Germany to Chile, attracted by the fertility of the land. Kradolfer presents Simon’s view of the emigrant as a plant whose health must be protected and which should receive nutrition similar to what it enjoyed in its homeland.

Simon is not only part of the initiative to colonize Chile, he was the first to represent the landscapes of the south in beautiful oil-sketches and drawings which he realized from 1850 until 1852, the year of his sudden death. Our video work “New Brothers” shows that these images became part of the Chilean history of colonization under someone else’s name. The signature and annotations of Carl Alexander Simon have been erased and replaced by the signature of Vicente Perez Rosales, one of the mythic founding fathers of the Republic. For Perez Rosales – governor in charge of immigration – there must have been a use for pictures of the territories which were to be seized. The video “New Brothers” puts the drawings by Carl Alexander Simon, the stories told by the descendants of the colonialists about their implementation, and the actual landscapes into visual relations to each other.

Researching on the same areas and their Mapuche populations, Fabien Le Bonniec comes to the conclusion that the systematic “distancing of nature” led to an ecocide. Bonniec recalls the Mapuche tradition of identifying specific geographic and botanic constellations from a dynamic point of view and relating them to supernatural entities. The Mapuche – after deprivation of their lands – suffer for a second time. The Europeanization and homogenization of the landscape mean a massive reduction of the vernacular of all genres for the Mapuche: language, people, cultural skills etc. Fabien Le Bonniec: “What is a Landscape for the Mapuche? Controversies around the representations of the landscapes of Southern Chile (19th-20th Centuries).”

The seven accounts of paranormal and fantastic events which make up Bernardo Oyarzún’s video work “Flying Heads” presents landscape as the tangible dimension of Mapuche spirituality. In his empathetic essay “Earthmoving” Oyarzùn writes from a personal point of view about the suffering of the native Mapuche caused by the German settlers and their descendants.

In her contribution “Residue and Resource: Landscape as Value in Chilean Contemporary Art,” Katrin Mundt discusses the use by the Chilean post dictatorship government of a unifying panorama of a national landscape while maintaining a policy that allows massive destruction of natural resources. The Chilean contemporary artists’ works that she analyses counter the strategies of neo-liberal value creation through their use of residue-landscapes, the mobilization of places or the re-staging of invisible landscapes and repressed cultural practices.

From an artistic point of view, the treatment of landscape as a main character in “New Brothers” is an important step in further exploring the significance of places in film and video – instead of serving as a setting with an only supporting function. “New Brothers” uses two forms of argumentation. The landscapes depicted in this video are not illustrating a discourse, they form in themselves a presentational argument, commenting on the foregoing image and commented on by the following image. Instead of a superior “voice over”, we juxtapose, confront and cross opposed cultural and political postulates. In combination with the interviews of the different local and official actors, which form the discursive argument, the spectator can read more and more from the landscapes. The montage helps to emerge the ambivalences and shifts in connotation that are characteristic of the post-colonial space.

The especially exciting feature of this research project is that, despite the antagonistic course of history between German colonizers and native Mapuche, a similar capacity of both people to semanticize the space could be discovered.

Sylvie Boisseau and Frank Westermeyer, october 2013