Persijn Broersen & Margit Lukács
Forest On Location
In their video, animation, and graphic works, Amsterdam-based artists Persijn Broersen and Margit Lukács consider the intertwined relationships between reality, media, and fiction. In this, their first solo exhibition in Canada, they ruminate on the ways that European romanticism and cinematic language influence the particularity of iconic locations and their ever-present threats. Bringing together two works that take nature as their subject matter, Broersen and Lukács unhinge hegemonic ways of looking at landscape.
In the video installation, Forest on Location (2018) the animated figure of Iranian opera singer Shahram Yazdani walks through a forest that appears to be uprooted and floating in darkness. To create this piece, Broersen and Lukács travelled to the Białowieża Forest in Poland—one of the last parts of the primeval forest that once covered much of Central Europe—and generated a three-dimensional digital rendering from multiple photographs. Throughout its history, the area has been viewed as both a cultural and historical construct and as a fought-over economic resource. Despite its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site, its continued existence, until recently, was threatened by extensive logging. Unlike regulated forests in much of Europe, Białowieża was allowed to remain wild because of the mythology of untamed wilderness that was part of local hunting rituals. The land is tied to old-Germanic nostalgia and reminiscent of the sinister Brothers Grimm fairy tales.
The avatar of Yazdani sings Nat King Cole’s 1948 hit song, “Nature Boy.” The song is typically credited to American Eden Ahbez, although the melody has been claimed by Herman Yablokoff, a Yiddish composer from the area of the Białowieża Forest. The song, which is about magic, fairytales, and love, has been performed by many, including David Bowie and Lady Gaga. Selecting this song, which has disputed origins and has been translated widely, illustrates how influence is multidirectional. Claims to origin, influence, and credit are complex, as the source of wilderness, inspiration, and magic cannot simply be attributed to one place or time.
Mastering Bambi (2010) is a remake of the 1942 Disney animated film. The camera pans and settles on tree branches where one would expect to see birds and adorable woodland creatures, yet in the artists’ version the forest is empty of figures and the land itself becomes the focus. The soundtrack, in which upbeat choruses give way to frenzied and brooding strings, suggests a dramatic narrative that does not materialize. Instead of a narrative arc, the video draws attention to the fantasy of a pristine wilderness and the related constructed notion of terra nullius: land deemed empty and considered free to take and colonize. The video asserts the role of lens-based media in shaping utopian narratives of conquest.
The socially constructed and highly politicized ways of viewing landscape and nature are complicated. Disney’s Bambi and the Białowieża Forest hold influential places in our collective imagination, as two sources in the intertextual collage of the fantasy of seeing and understanding our ecosystem. The current moment of climate crisis creates urgency in finding strategies for interrogating people’s fictions and assumptions around land, nature, origins, and our place in all of it.
Curated by Vicky Moufawad-Paul
With support from the Mondriaan Fund