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planned landscapes

Exploring "the effect our culture has on landscape," Ger Dekkers' photo book 'Planned Landscapes: 25 Horizons' (1977) shows the Dutch polder landscape at its starkest, abstract extreme.

If, as the saying goes, God created the world but the Dutch created Holland, then these photos reveal the Dutch as obsessive-compulsive planners, designing and executing their environment with a ruler, dividing manmade land and domesticated water, laying out straight asphalt roads and planting functional windbreaking lines of trees.

Ger Dekkers - Planned Landscapes - single image

The book consists of 25 landscapes, each consisting of a series of seven square images performing a formal operation on what are already rigidly formal compositions. Cinematographically speaking, Dekkers uses tracking shots - usually parallel, sometimes perpendicular - and occasional panning shots to create slightly different perspectives of the same landscape. His mathematically executed operations further heighten the landscapes' artificiality, resulting in minimalistic, graphical compositions that remind of Mondrian's paintings except for the pale palette of greens, browns and blues.

In many instances the landscapes become purely abstract compositions of lines and planes, with the horizon as a constant, always in the same place in the middle of the square. As Dekkers explains:

The horizon acts as a middle line in the square pictures; this gives a continuous line that runs throughout the series, and thus the whole project.

The continuous horizon line is repeated in horizontal lines of tree shadows, and juxtaposed by vertical lines of trees and canals, occasional diagonal lines of dikes, and sometimes, very playfully, the curve of a road. Even the frivolous patterns of clouds, which in 17th century Dutch painting often dominated low-horizoned landscapes to emphasize nature's majesty, are here subjugated to the middle line of the planned horizon.

Ultimately, as Dekkers' approach shows, and as other modern Dutch artists have also realized, only by taking its plannedness to its graphic extreme is the Dutch landscape's beauty revealed.

Here is one complete series, titled 'Wood near Biddinghuizen 2' (provisionally cobbled together from a battered copy, just to show the idea).

Ger Dekkers - Planned Landscapes - Wood near Biddinghuizen 2

The book, from 1977, dates from the era when planning was at its modernist height, with Le Corbusian thinking looming large over both city and landscape planning. To create these kinds of images today would still be possible in some parts of the Netherlands (Flevoland, Friesland, Zeeland perhaps), but it would probably be much harder to find such pristinely empty horizons. The new era of neoliberal planning would be unavoidably visible somewhere on the horizon in an industry zone of distribution center boxes or a newly erected suburb that advertises authentic living in the country.

In our information age it would also be difficult to find any landscapes unadorned by signs - road signs, warning signs, property signs, billboards, recreational signs for boating, bicycling, walking with or without dogs, and explanatory signs at each of the tiny patches of newly introduced wilderness picturing which species have been designated to thrive there.

In a strange way, Dekkers' planned landscapes are a thing of the past, replaced by micro-managed landscapes whose horizon is constantly broken by clutter and nudging - abstraction replaced by distraction.


the philosophy of landscape

A very different exhibition in Brussels this summer is the BOZAR's ' Sense of Place - European Landscape Photography ', which shows a range of creative strategies of photographers trying to steer clear of the cliches of landscape photog… Read the full post »

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