Miriam Sentler      

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Fish tank, Replica of a fossilized fish found in lignite site ‘Future-West’, water from the Blausteinsee.

The Blausteinsee in North-Rhine Westphalia, covering the former excavation-site Zukunft West (Future-West). Photo Credits: Peter Tritthart, 2015.

The work was shown at Nieuw Dakota Amsterdam (NL), as part of the group exhibition ‘Ecotones - Bodies in Tension’ in June 2020. The show was curated by Mariana Lanari. Thanks to Uli Lieven, Elena Khurtova, Montei Di Matteo, Miriam van Rijsingen, Mona Steinhauesser, Albath Goldschmiede Aachen, family Draaisma, Syver Petersen and Sadie Hale.

Descent into the Future (2020)

In collaboration with Wouter Osterholt. Installation (fishtank, maps, picture) 185x50x50 cm (fishtank),
60x80x75 cm (map), 20x30 cm (print)

The installation focuses on a discovery of a unique fossil from the "Zukunft-West" (Future-West) lignite quarry in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. During excavations in this quarry a 12 million years old fish fossil from the Miocene era was found. The discovery represents the only fossil of a fish found in the wider area, and symbolizes the sacrifice of living ecosystems for fossil fuel, a natural product created through the dying of ancient ecosystems. In the Anthropogenic era in which it surfaces, the fossil gives a unique insight into a non-human time period when this landscape was still covered with a prehistoric sea; and thus closes a cycle, since the quarry was again filled with water after the excavations, turning it into the ‘Blausteinsee’.

In North-Rhine Westphalia, a border region in the west of Germany, large landscapes are being excavated for lignite, a brown coal used to produce electricity. The practice leads to the largest excavation site in the world, therefore also unearthing many archaeological objects which are being archived in national musea. A popular method of dealing with the industrial excavation pits left in the landscape is to simply fill them with water, creating a tabula rasa within this landscape. Due to the fact that there is no local museum for the excavated land and villages, the landscape looses its natural and cultural characteristics, causing a sense of groundlessness amongst the local inhabitants. This feeling was witnessed by Miriam, who remembers the longing of her grandfather to his excavated birthplace, manifesting in the quote: ’I was born inside a lake’.

Our aim is to return a sense of memory and deep-time belonging to the erased landscape and its inhabitants by retracing the finding places of archaeological objects within the landscape and returning them to the original locations during artistic inventions. The installation Descent into the Future (2020) shows the first steps in a plan to return the fish fossil to the original location in the lake, in the form of a set-up for a temporary underwater museum for divers. For this installation, the finding place of the fossil was retraced on old maps of the quarry, and the original fish fossil was replicated using 3D-scan technology and clay, making it again fit for life underwater. In order to acquire a sense of place, the contemporary geographical and diver map of the Blausteinsee were merged with historical maps of the ‘old’ landscape, creating an historical overlap wherein the fish-fossil location was shown using a pin. The map and water tanks are enlightened, hinting to the electricity which is produced by the lignite industry. In the installation, the fish fossil is united with the Round Goby, the fish which ascended from the fossil, and the water of the Blausteinsee. By bringing the fish together with the current chemical composition of the water from the lake (a chemistry which is influenced by industrial remnants within the water) an exchange between the past and the present of the landscape is being established, visible to the visitors of the exhibition.

The work is one of the outcomes of a two-year long artistic research project, undertaken within the framework of the rMA Artistic Research at the University of Amsterdam. To read the academic outcome, please click this link.

              Exhibition view ‘Ecotones - Bodies in Tension’ at Nieuw Dakota, Amsterdam (NL)

Exhibition view ‘Ecotones - Bodies in Tension’ at Nieuw Dakota, Amsterdam (NL)

    .                   Map of previous landscape (1904) and new diving map of the recultivated landscape (Blausteinsee).

            Finding location of the original fish-fossil on the diver map Blausteinsee, underneath a map of the excavated landscape with the original settlements.

                    Finder of the Fish fossil, photograph taken by Uli Lieven.

                    Visitors during ‘Ecotones - Bodies in Tension’, Nieuw Dakota, Amsterdam(NL)

                   Detail ‘Descent into the Future’: Round Goby fish (ascended from fossilized fish species).