Bart Michiels

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The Course of History

The title of the series admits to diverse possible readings: the unfolding development and repeating of history, the teaching of history or history’s playing field. I do not choose a single reading, but let the title open up further space for interpretation.

For The Course of History, I set out to portray the once blood soaked sites of Europe’s former battlefields from Troy until the end of the Second World War, not by showing the obvious scars (if any), monuments, memorials and war cemeteries but by portraying happenstance marks or subtle features that allude to a violent past or evoke collective memory within the sublime and pastoral character of landscape.
The natural world is both one of beauty and of violence or cruelty, both always there and existing in each other’s shadows; or, to borrow the American earth artist Robert Smithson’s words: ‘each landscape, no matter how calm and lovely, conceals a substrata of disaster.’

“Michiels’ images produce a tension between the ideal of perfection found in these vistas and the violence once committed there”, Sarah Stanley writes in Afterimage (2005).
“Picturing the abiding state of nature reveals the gulf that will always remain between the earth’s ecology and the ecology of war. Collapsing time and triggering memory, the images from The Course of History call our attention to the ways that landscapes speak of, and remain mute about, the past.”