T e k s t  &  V e r b e e l d i n g
 O v e r   k u n s t,   c u l t u u r   e n   n a t u u r 


A wake up call and a slap in the face

Museum Belvedère


Once we bought a big house with a huge garden. This garden was actually a kind of park, where the previous occupant had been trying to create a French-style garden. With an upper terrace behind the house from which you can look out over this landscape. At the end a large pond and even further behind a bush, where nature could take its course.

Grown up in an apartment and a three - under - one roof- house, having a home where you could walk around was one of my dreams. This dream came true with this sale. Walking to the pond in the back garden, turn around, look at your home further up and thinking at he fact that this is al yours  gives a feeling of superiority. I am honest and admit. Nothing human is alien to me.

That feeling of euphoria, which this 'feeling superior' is as well, is quickly put into perspective. Because in no time there are people at your door with all sorts of advises with which they can fill their wallets. The garden must be winterized and they are happy tot do that for you. The grass should be scarified three times and fertilized twice a year. The green should be sprayed off the tiles, the monumental chestnut trees, which you enjoy throughout the year (it is raining flowers at this moment) should be pruned every year ... and the soil must be black. This was something new for us. It means that there is no weed and other discomfort among the shrubs and trees. Therefore professional weeding is needed everywhere week which makes the garden a moneymaker. Not for us. For the gardener of course. 

We started panicking a bit. How to manage this and should we manage it anyway?

Several years and thousands of euros later we finally made up our minds: "Down with the gardener." We leave the garden as it is. Okay, then there will be weeds and bare trees and we have to watch out for falling branches - life is simply full of risks. Then there will be lots of moss in the grass. We don't care.

Look what happened! Flowers bloomed like never before and the birds came back. You could say that we gradually - now 20 years later - found a way in dealing with the incomprehensible nature around us. When it bothers us too much, we push a bit here and there and then nature pushes back. And so it goes. Of course mother nature will win after all. She lasts much longer than we as people and will be there when the man is long gone. And that's when the anthropocene, the current phase in the history of the earth, in which people are present and where the landscape program of the Noorderlicht Photography Foundation is about, has been closed.


The same slight panic that came over us at the beginning of our garden adventure, maybe stroke the medieval poet Petrarca as well when he climbed the Mont Ventoux and - which is said - discovered the landscape as a phenomenon. But the story continued after his climbing, which is not always mentioned in texts about Petrarca. In the book The landscape philosophy, which Ton Lemaire wrote in the seventies of the last century, he tells us what happened with the poet after he was stroke by the huge panorama where he was looking at. Actually Petrarca's conclusion was that mankind is not able to handle this vast and complex phenomenon. That should be left to the Almighty in his view. That's why he went meekly down from the mountain to devote the rest of his life to God.

Modesty, power and stewardship

This attitude is an expression of humility, which lacks in the modern human behavior towards the environment. Since the Middle Ages a lot has changed in the way people see nature and landscape. The mainstream idea at the moment is that man has full control over the environment. Nature is actually still a poorly understood phenomenon, that somehow always has the last word.

Some biologists see man as the most successful species that has occurred so far in evolution. When this is related to the ability of thinking and creating it may be true. Others claim that dolphins are smarter than humans. Thus, they seem to communicate in a very inventive way with each other. But I've never seen a dolphin driving in a car or accomplish a technical invention. Let's assume that the biologists are right claiming that men are the most succesful animale. Well, that position gives us them great responsibility, which is not always taken seriously.

From the series 'Ether' Matthieu Gafsou

In religious environments this leading role of man in nature is called 'stewardship'. God gave so to speak man the task to take care of nature. Stewardship-thinkers believe people being 'good' in the first place, whatever that may be. I have my doubts. After all, power corrupts. And above all: you can not be permanently in charge. Seeing yourself exalted far above all the rest maken this even more dangerous. This is definitely going to get out of control. Self-interest, the personal gain reaches the top while the interest and love for the company - the earth in the context of this story - disappears. You can rea the examples in the newspapers everyday. Man should consider himself as part of a greater whole and, even being the Chief Executive Officer of a company, can not be seen separated from it.

So do I see the lines in the pictures of Matthieu Gafsou: everything is interconnected.


Geologist Sol Kronenberg reflects in his book "The human dimension" the minor role humans play in the life of the earth. He is right. In the timescale of our planet humanity is, after all, just a millisecond. But I think you should nog bagattalize. Because for us this millisecond is an almost 'forever'. This eternity can be severely ruined by thoughtless actions in our area.

Of course, the man is capable of realizing inspiring creations that are also visible in the landscape. They are the result of a delicate interplay with the nature in all its possibilities. Thus the stories of past creations are visible and can an astonishing part of a wonderful cultural landscape in the future, as there is at least no dike reinforcement or straightened channel or in some cases natural reconstruction gone over it.

From 'Reading the landscape', Olaf Otto Becker

This readable landscape needs protection. This will, I may hope, be discussed in the continuation of this cycle of Noorderlicht. Not the 'Reading the landscape' by Olaf Otto Becker, as is visible in this apocalyptic first episode, but readable landscape for which poet and author Willem van Toorn gives a plea.

Call and a slap in the face

This event is a call to show up to those who have understood the interaction with nature. It is not something that can be explained in rational language. You have 'to have a feel' for it. Perhaps it is the attitude that you get after years of dabbling in a large garden. Perhaps the modesty of Petrarch, who came down from the mountain, maybe shaking his head. With man as a moderate force, rather than a power-hungry tyrant, we get a landscape that is special. Where you can be proud of.

There is work to do. Quote the responses that you often get in a passionate and emotional speech: "It is in human nature!" "We should run the economy." Not to mention the condescending "Be realistic!" For me these reactions show a 'laissez-faire'-attitude, a genuflection, a giving up. The new Noorderlicht manifestation 'Arena' gives everybody who adopts this attitude a firm slap in the face.

Thus Noorderlicht is authentic. Contrariness. Against the mainstream. The Noorderlicht Photography Foundation should be cherished.

May 23d, 2016