Dutch artistic duo Robert Knoth (b. 1963) and Antoinette de Jong (1964) made several trips to Fukushima in Japan shortly after a tsunami had caused a nuclear disaster there on 11 March 2011. They wanted to see with their own eyes what impact this event had had on the region and talk to people who lived there. The photographs, film footage and audio recordings they made during these visits bear witness to the complex relationship between humans and nature. Their book Tree and Soil illustrates this very poignantly. Knoth and De Jong have created an exhibition related to the project at The Hague Museum of Photography, featuring photographs and an audiovisual installation.
“In our efforts to rid ourselves of the threats posed by nature, humans have created uncontrollable forces that can be just as devastating as nature itself”, Knoth and De Jong point out. “Technology comes right back at us like a boomerang.” In the villages, fields and woods of Fukushima they documented the transformations in the landscape. Plants and animals move into the abandoned spaces, but the traces left by humans are still very much present. “It sometimes felt like we were archaeologists, somewhere in the distant future, trying to work out what happened.”
Past and present
In Tree and Soil, the book they made after their visits to Japan, Knoth and De Jong combine the landscapes they photographed and filmed with objects from Naturalis Biodiversity Center’s Siebold Collection. Physician and explorer Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866) was based at the Dutch trading post on the island of Deshima, off the coast at Nagasaki. During his time there he was able to take several trips round Japan, which was still largely closed to foreigners at the time. He collected a huge quantity of plants, animals, paintings and other artefacts of great cultural and historical value. His collection provided the foundation for Naturalis, the Museum of Ethnography and Hortus Botanicus in Leiden. The Siebold Collection shows in great detail how Japanese culture emerged from and is inspired by nature. It also reflects an age in which scientists and explorers were attempting to fathom the secrets of nature. Linking the Siebold Collection with their own photography, Knoth and De Jong connect past and present.
‘Fukei’, Japans concept of landscape
Knoth and De Jong drew inspiration for their show at The Hague Museum of Photography from the Japanese concept of landscape,‘fukei’, a combination of the characters for wind and shadow that captures the continuous changes in the landscape. In static video footage they show minute changes occurring in the abandoned region around Fukushima. Drops of water roll along leaves, trees rustle in the wind. The Japanese nightingale, or bush warbler, repeats its doleful song, and the crickets chirp at the crack of dawn.