Selected texts.

Esther van Rosmalen

AgriValley – an odyssey into the hidden Dutch landscape

A barred container sails upon a grey sea. The flapping plastic plays with the illusion of breaking waves. It is the earth itself that is being wrapped. To the left, gleaming silver-grey lanes stretch the length of the field, while the right side is lit with a warm, suffuse pink light. The framework of the flower greenhouse stands out in relief. The green residents are forever change place, yet they leave the spaces reserved in the middle empty.

In her clusterwork AgriValley, video artist Mirte van Duppen celebrates the complexity of the landscape as a social product. Van Duppen’s memory of entering a tomato greenhouse for the first time, at the age of seven, was the impetus for her reflections on the meaning of this place from her memory in relation to her now adult self. Years of visual research have manifested in a wide array of cinematographic representations, such as collages, installations and sound, video and photo works. The landscape, which is ever present, takes on new meaning in van Duppen’s contemplations of it as an object, a social construct and, above all, as a living environment for people.

Landscape as image

Moving rapid fire between two locations, the all-seeing satellite zooms down to the earth before retreating back on high. To the left: low, high, to the right: low, high. Moving back and forth with unerring precision. These images are familiar to us as harbingers of destruction, science fiction and war footage, recorded by tech companies that display the surface of the earth in high resolution. It is the camera which is travelling on the robot, documenting the very moment that the green waste is transformed into a living organism. On the other side, the ground is being selectively but mercilessly tilled. Sparing the crop while churning the earth for new life.

The landscape as an image is that which we can observe of the natural processes happening around us. Processes that are less and less self-evident, where abundance alternates with exhaustion. Climates are controlled in minor kingdoms of steel and glass. Technological paradises that can do everything but create life itself. The Dutch agrisector is balancing, ever more quickly and radically, between utopian possibilities and production obligations. As a human, Van Duppen is well aware of the shortcomings of the food system. Aware of how the earth appears to be undergoing a reverse evolution. Technology is relieving the earth of its function while the world is losing the natural order of flora and fauna. As an artist, however, she also sees beauty in the absurdity of this reality. This is a long underway transformation. For centuries, the domestication of the earth has been a contest of wills between scientific innovation and the ‘natural course of things’ that cannot always be changed. In this sense, the Netherlands is a testing ground teeming with advanced activities and methods that presage agriculture in the twenty-second century. With the disappearance of biodiversity, the land is becoming less colourful even though this hidden landscape is bursting with colour. They are the landscapes of the future which exist now, in our present.

Landscape as a system

The hands binding the greenery are firm and efficient, clearly accustomed to brisk work. Working with the utmost caution, the other set of hands use tweezers to pluck only the essentials from small tufts of greenery. This is followed by harvested crops; tomatoes and tulips are sorted before disappearing once more into a set of hands. Young plants are placed in cups of earth, perhaps by the same hands?

The landscape as a system is the interaction between nature, both living and non-living. The modern farming landscape is one of upscaling. The role of people changes once the landscape is geared towards production. The work of their hands has become estranged from the weather, from the rhythm of the seasons and from the outdoors. Hands no longer touch animals, but rather the buttons of machines. The hands themselves do not steer; they lead the machine. Only specialist work remains. Or is it just a matter of time before technology takes over? Van Duppen records the interaction between man, animal and machine without passing judgement on it. The ambiguous relationship is far more complex than outsiders can imagine. As part of her preparations, Van Duppen conducted numerous interviews with all those involved. This mutual process of reflection became the foundation for her story. During these conversations, she noticed a certain affection between the farmer and his machine, comparable to the affection for an animal. To her surprise, the machine was not considered lifeless, but as a being that would 'work harder if you stand next to it'.

Landscape as a region

It looks playful, the way the gripper moves from one side to another without a fixed pattern. With angular, sure-footed movements, the robot resolutely selects the right one from a tangle of cuttings. What is the decisive factor in their selection? No criteria for approval can be deduced, except that the leaf can be taken. In the meantime, the orchids rotate in their beautiful circles, balancing and parading.

The landscape as a region has always been determined by humankind. In this sense, a landscape need not be about nature. Like Silicon Valley is a ‘natural environment’ for technology, that is how people and functions gather, and how this shapes the environment. It is precisely this interaction between human and natural factors that is crucial in determining character. This is logical, but it can also cause confusion; appearances can be deceptive. The overwhelming architecture of today's agriculture and cattle breeding practices seem inaccessible, abandoned by humans and futuristic with the unnatural colour schemes and unexpected mechanical workers. Yet all of this has been conceived by man and for man. The constant astonishment Van Duppen experienced in her explorations has been translated into multiple layers. First and foremost, in the work process itself; her method of ‘going native’ to transform from an outsider to an insider. Next is the processing of the material, which is a collaborative process with others. From the very beginning, as a script, to the concluding perfection in the sound design. Nothing is coincidental. That layering is translated into multiple works that, in turn, add yet another layer to the whole by engaging multiple senses through light, sound, moving images and even smell.

Landscape as a painting

The post-it reads 'clean green string'. An important message, but there is no telling what it is or why it is even necessary. The small screen with the note does not reveal much anyway, except for a line that undulates exuberantly. The larger screens on the right are more modern, displaying steady, unmoving columns. The sound of the ticking and rattling machines appears to leave them unmoved.

The landscape as the sum of paint and canvas is the residue of the imagination that has represented the longing for nature over the past centuries. The patina of interpretation has worn off the sharp edges of the silent revolutions in this genre. Who among us can relate to the nineteenth-century disapproval of the painter Jean-Francois Millet? The outrage people felt when he gave the peasant a prominent place in the landscape, ugly and unpleasant, while it is precisely the peasant who is the creator of the widely admired greenery. The experience of beauty is never absolute. It is subject as much to the zeitgeist as it is to the changing understanding of how to depict it. Many artists have followed in Millet’s footsteps, linking the pure folk and honest labour with unspoilt nature. Van Duppen refers to these romantic views by depicting the landscape in its most aesthetic form. At the same time, by giving technology the leading role, she does not shy away from the new reality. In that respect, her work is indebted to the filmmaker Dziga Vertov. Vertov’s masterpiece, Man with a Movie Camera (set in Moscow, Kiev and Odessa during the 1920s) is an ode to modern life. The promise, outrun by time, spoke of the inhabitants’ life, work and play made possible by machines. Van Duppen is no stranger to his ingenious pioneering work in cinematic storytelling, as evidenced by her use of visual rhyme, camera angles and editing decisions. New memories have been added to her original ones, which have been immortalised in the unknown, but no longer unloved, evolving Dutch landscape.

Esther van Rosmalen, May 2022

Floris Alkemade

'Even as a spectator you become complicit, you share responsibility, you can’t not know things if you don’t like them. That’s why I think it’s very valuable to use your position as an outsider for as long as possible, because then you see things that they can’t see anymore.'
– Floris Alkemade

Alkemade, Floris (10.2022) Floris Alkemade about Mirte van Duppen in conversation publication AgriValley

Tamar Shafrir

In her practice, Mirte van Duppen models a new understanding of the role a graphic designer can perform in today's society. During her studies in graphic design at ArtEZ and Sandberg's Design department, she cultivated an interest in collective environments. How do individuals perceive and behave within them? What does freedom mean in public squares in the Netherlands? What is the meaning of transparency in modern buildings?

Mirte is particularly preoccupied with the Dutch landscape, at various scales, and the ways in which it has been shaped by politicians, industrialists, and architects, as well as eccentric individuals with a captivating vision. Her film 'The Dutch Mountain', for instance, departs from Dutch cyclist Thijs Zonneveld's dream to build a 2,000-metre-high mountain in the Netherlands, and imagines it in concrete detail through seamlessly edited footage from different locations in the Dutch landscape. A voiceover describes the mountain as a 'fait accompli', quoting expert scientists that she consulted about the environmental implications of the project. Through split screen composition, she confronts idealistic visions with banal necessities, like bike lanes or pedestrian paths, and overt artifice, like zoos or amusement parks.

In her research, Mirte contemplates the tension between humanity's power to sculpt the terrain to its will, on one hand, and its affinity for romantic or technoutopian concepts of nature, on the other. 'Territory of the Beings', a recent commission from KAAN Architecten, could be described as a nature documentary about the modern office worker in their open-plan habitat. Her film analyses the strategies (both surreal and cynical) used in contemporary architecture to foster impressions of freedom, wellbeing, and personal space in their human occupants. At the same time, it borrows the aesthetics of architectural photography to emphasise the challenge of adjusting to the airbrushed, optimised utopia of the modern workplace.

Her latest project, meanwhile, takes on the working landscape of industrial agriculture in the Netherlands. Interviewing farmers, she is rethinking the iconography of futurism in light of the anecdotes she has collected, including machine hacking, flower high-rises, artificial lighting, and robot gardeners and asparagus growers. While she embraces fiction and poetic license as creative tools, Mirte van Duppen is still conscious of her rhetorical influence as a designer and editor. She seeks out the individuals with direct knowledge about urgent topics and gives space to their perspectives, which often have little resemblance to the grotesque fantasies popularised in the mainstream media. She is equally critical towards humanity's hubristic manipulation of nature as towards fatalistic or alarmist narratives as dramatic devices, and reveals the complete technological saturation of every element of our society, no matter how "natural" it may appear. Her practice aims to inspire fascination, contemplation, and informed action in her audience.

Text: Tamar Shafrir

Vincent Focquet

Mirte van Duppen (°1990) is zowel videokunstenaar als grafisch vormgever. In haar videowerk ontleedt ze op een even nauwgezette als gestileerde manier de locaties die ze bezoekt. Een gesprek over herkenning en de magie van plekken en hun inwoners.

VINCENT FOCQUET: Een dorpje in IJsland, ‘t Eilandje in Antwerpen of de Nederlandse polder: plaatsen lijken in je videowerk centraal te staan. Vertrek je voor een video van een bepaalde locatie?

MIRTE VAN DUPPEN: Ik hoef niet altijd vanuit een plek te vertrekken. Het gaat vaak eerder om een bepaalde ontwikkeling. Bijvoorbeeld in VIEW of the/from the WATERSIDE, een werk over de gentrificatie van de Antwerpse buurt ‘t Eilandje, gaat het voor mij om het aankaarten van een tendens. Ik vind het interessant om bijvoorbeeld die gentrificatie te bespreken vanuit een heel erg specifieke plek. Eerder dan op zoek te gaan naar de specificiteit van een locatie zoek ik dus naar patronen. Wat die patronen lijkt te verbinden, is de manier waarop mensen zich tot hun omgeving verhouden.

Welke vragen stel je je over die verhouding? Wanneer ik een plek onderzoek vraag ik mezelf vooral af hoe mensen de ruimte gebruiken of hoe andere mensen willen dat de ruimte gebruikt wordt. Ik ben niet alleen op zoek naar hoe wij als mens de ruimte rondom ons vormgeven, maar ook naar hoe deze vormgeving de mensen stuurt in hun gedrag.

Kan je schetsen hoe zo’n videowerk tot stand komt? Aan het filmen gaat een onderzoeksproces vooraf. Voor ik begin te registreren, probeer ik een plek echt te begrijpen. Wat is de geschiedenis van deze locatie? Welke partijen zijn hier betrokken? Daarna doe ik veldwerk waarbij ik ook meteen film. Dan loopt plots alles door elkaar. Ik bezoek plekken en heb er gesprekken. Wanneer iemand mij dan bijvoorbeeld vertelt waar ze altijd gaat zitten om haar boterhammen op te eten, dan zoek ik die plek op om er te filmen. In de laatste fase print ik alle stills uit en maak ik aan een grote tafel een samenstelling die mij een beeld geeft van hoe ik de beelden zal monteren.

Op Kunstenfestival PLAN B toon je Brot af Seyðisfirði / Fragments of Seyðisfjörður dat opgenomen werd in het kleine IJslandse dorpje Sey.isfjör.ur. Hoe kwam je daar terecht? Mijn tante was een grote fan van Björk en is een aantal jaar geleden samen met haar dochter naar IJsland geweest. Hun verhalen en foto’s hebben destijds veel indruk op mij gemaakt, daarom wilde ik er al erg lang eens heen. In 2017 kreeg ik de kans om een residentie van 50 dagen te doen in het kleine havendorpje Seyðisfjörður. Ik wist op voorhand eigenlijk helemaal niets van het dorp. Het bleek een plek te zijn, ingesloten tussen de bergen, waar in het najaar de zon niet meer over de bergtoppen komt. Dat, en het feit dat door de weersomstandigheden – bijvoorbeeld bij hevige sneeuwval – de dorpelingen zich niet meer uit het dorp kunnen verplaatsen, zorgt voor een bijzondere intimiteit. Zoals je in het werk ziet, komen mensen er ook regelmatig samen om muziek te maken. Dat is een setting waaruit een samenhorigheid spreekt die typerend is voor Seyðisfjörður.

Je beschrijft in het werk zelf dat die intimiteit ook verstikkend kan zijn, hoe werkt dat precies? Wanneer ik tijdens mijn onderzoek met mensen ging spreken, wisten ze vaak op voorhand al wat ik zou vragen omdat iemand anders uit het dorp het hen al had verteld. Het is een plek waar iedereen alles van elkaar weet en dat kan beklemmend werken.

De beschrijving van de intieme bubbel in Brot af Seyðisfirði / Fragments of Seyðisfjörður zou ook voor Bekegem kunnen opgaan. Wat hoop je in dat opzicht dat er gebeurt wanneer mensen het werk in die context zien? Ik ben blij dat die verbinding gelegd kan worden. Zo blijken ontwikkelingen die eerst erg specifiek leken veel breder toepasbaar. Ik hoop, net als bij mijn ander werk, dat er op die manier bij de toeschouwer een soort van herkenning kan optreden. Maar net zo goed wil ik dat mijn werk ervoor zorgt dat de toeschouwer zijn omgeving op een andere manier bekijkt. Ik ben er echter van overtuigd dat, om dat te kunnen doen, het essentieel is dat de toeschouwer iets kan herkennen, alsof hij dan een soort toegang krijgt tot het werk. De tijd die mijn beelden vragen, maken die reflectie en de eventuele perspectiefwissel mogelijk. Ik ben benieuwd welke lagen Brot af Seyðisfirði / Fragments of Seyðisfjörður in Bekegem zal krijgen.

see here catalogue Kunstenfestival Plan B 2018

Christin Müller

The urban district of ‘t Eilandje in Antwerp, once part of the port of Antwerp, is the setting for Mirte van Duppen’s three channel film installation VIEW of the / from the WATERSIDE, which reflects on developments and views of the water in the context of the current gentrification of the area. While in the port context water was ascribed primarily functional properties, it now becomes an aesthetic factor in promoting the newly created former port landscape and condominiums that are an integral part of it. As the location develops from an industrial to a postindustrial area, the view onto water becomes an exclusive experience: water’s calmative and relaxing powers, but also expansive, romantic views of water, become marketing strategies. Different aquatic perspectives shape and inform the film to create a comprehensive conspectus of the element with views from the land, from a traveling boat, and from inhabited and uninhabited apartments. In calm images almost devoid of human action, with a narrative voice-over that describes developments and the significance of water, Van Duppen not only questions the new properties ascribed to water but also their appropriation and use in the context of urban planning and business interests.

— Müller, C. (12.2016), curator Basis