Bart Michiels, The Hindenburg Line 1918, The Knoll, 2003
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The Course of History by Bart Michiels
At the dawn of the new millennium I had lived for more than a decade in the US since leaving Belgium and during this new political climate, I wanted to reconnect with my European roots. What experience was so European and not American?
For centuries, from Caesar’s legions to the armies of the Nazis, my native country saw war with all its faces : invasion, occupation, terror, chaos, hunger, atrocities, destruction and collapse (of industries). After two world wars, those experiences have shaped what Europe thinks today, still affecting the generations and civilian life in modern Europe.
The photographs in The Course Of History are landscapes of the worst killing fields of Europe, of battles that were turning points in our history, defining our future. My approach to the subject comes from the loss of innocence in nature and the dichotomy of it : beauty and evil. And war is the loss of innocence of men. Though they all have a violent history in common, our perception of these landscapes can be peaceful and serene. So, is our sense of place associated with memory and history and is our understanding of the landscape fraught with misreading?
With little or no evidence of battle left on the land, I tried bringing back reference to it by finding happenstance traces and features on the land that refer metaphorically to combat, such as tractor tracks cleaving through a field of crops like tanks once did (Verdun, Le Mort Homme). At Waterloo, I found in a grass field a patch that was flattened. It was also where Napoleon’s elite troops and cavalry fell on the ridge, sealing the fate of the emperor.
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