Transformation of a landscape

Press release from 4th June 2016

Dortmund / Ruhr, 4th June 2016. From 4th June to 18th September 2016, the international exhibition Emscherkunst 2016 is showing contemporary art positions in nature and cities in the heart of the Ruhr. Here the focus is on the landscape between Holzwickede, Dortmund, Castrop-Rauxel, Recklinghausen and Herne – connected by a 50-kilometre long parcours along the Emscher. Artists, including from Germany, France, Switzerland, Canada and the Netherlands are showing their view of a landscape undergoing change: the transformation of the former “cloaca maxima” Emscher into a near-natural river one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Europe. An enticing projection field for the artists invited to Emscherkunst 2016, such as atelier le balto, Benjamin Bergmann, Massimo Bartolini, Henrik Håkansson, Studio Orta, Roman Signer, Superflex and Tobias Zielony. Thirty students from the Münster Academy of Fine Arts again bear witness to the involvement of the young art scene.

Since the first Emscherkunst in 2010, the motif of destruction and transformation of the former industrial landscape along the Emscher has formed a key theme in the concept drawn up by Curator Prof. Dr. Florian Matzner. The guiding principal of the RUHR.2010 Capital of Culture Festival – “Change through Culture – Culture through Change” – was also an ideal assignment for the first Emscherkunst exhibition. For the second edition in 2013, Curator Matzner set the tone with the themes “Ecology and Climate Change” while focussing on areas fraught with social tensions, such as Duisburg-Marxloh.

The changing exhibition areas along the Emscher have shifted in their west/east alignment within the Ruhr. This, moreover, has been associated with a change of accentuation. The slogan for Emscherkunst 2016 is “Discover the art – Experience the change.” The artists invited by Florian Matzner together with the Co-Curators Katja Aßmann (Artistic Director of Urbane Künste Ruhr) and Dr. Simone Timmerhaus (Emschergenossenschaft) have created a dialogue with the newly emerging Ruhr.

Transforming, changing, unsettling

24 current positions of contemporary art can be experienced for a total of 100 days in natural settings and urban spaces along the Emscher: Alongside nine works carried over from 2010 and 2013 – albeit partly set in a new context, there are 15 new works to interpret the transformation of the landscape. They follow partly in the tradition of Land Art (such as the almost brutalistically appearing installation “Wavebreaker” by Nevin Aladağ), or are surprising landscape interventions (“Dramatic Pause” by atelier le balto, and “For a Short Spell” by raumlabor).

Several play with time-honoured traditions (in a tongue-in-cheek manner such as Benjamin Bergmann’s “Chiosco”, or fatalistically such as Massimo Bartolini’s “Black Circle Square” – a reminiscence, incidentally, of Kasimir Malevitch’s “Black Circle”). Or, alternatively, they address socio-cultural developments of radically changing habitats (Henrik Håkansson’s “The Insect Societies (Part 1)”, Erik van Lieshout’s “The Island”). For the German photographer and filmmaker Tobias Zielony too, it is a question of capturing the “casual form of social issues”  in his film about a Tamil football team.

The Studio Orta pursues a participative approach with its three-part series of sculptures “Spirits of the Emscher Valley“, which relies on the involvement of residents for the source for its ideas. Clea Stracke and Verena Seibt also realise their work “ARCA” with the participation of visitors, when they picturesquely (amongst other ways) document breaks in the landscape. Natalie Jeremijenko looks into the future with her “Urban Space Station”, with which she sketches scenarios of future sustainable living accommodation in a spaceship.

Other artists taking part in Emscherkunst 2016

The Danish group Superflex are installing a wastewater fountain in the middle of the Emscher, the Swiss concept artist Roman Signer – at 78 the most experienced participant – uses his installation “Analysis” at the Emscher in Recklinghausen/Herne to comment on the composition of the wastewater on a daily basis. Janet Cardiff’s and Georg Bures Miller’s sound installation “Forest (for a thousand years)” is the only work that was not explicitly created for Emscherkunst, having already been on display once (at dOCUMENTA (13) 2012 in Kassel). It has been adapted by the artist duo to the landscape along the Emscher.

A young scene – a fresh perspective

Under the supervision of Prof. Ferdinand Ullrich, 30 students from the  Münster Art Academy are realising performances and interventions in the area of the Unionviertel district in Dortmund. With “CITY – SPACE – MOVEMENT“, the students are creating interventions in the urban space for the duration of the exhibition in order to achieve a change of awareness in the residents and visitors alike. This includes along the densely populated Rheinische Straße in the Unionviertel district of Dortmund. Münster Art Academy and Prof. Ullrich had already been involved in Emscherkunst 2010: a group of artistically designed site trailers, arranged into a “Golden Village” in Recklinghausen, became a meeting place for young creative people.

The “Dirty Space” of the landscape against the “White Cube” of the museum

The hidden treasure chambers of public spaces are inconspicuous and concealed – and sometimes even provided with barbed-wire fences and prohibition signs. These so-called no-go areas have become important venues for art. For Emscherkunst, these are in the form of former sewage treatment plants, abandoned wasteland or an overgrown hazel grove along the cycle track: this is where the observer stumbles across the art, is confronted by it and challenged into a discussion. The artwork is only completed by their participation. As a result, a public space is created as a narrative space for the artists. As a venue of art, this dirty space of the city/landscape confronts the venue of the museum (White Cube). Artists, the work and the public thus enter into a new relationship – and a new situation, which is not always foreseeable. This is precisely the intention of Emscherkunst – to provide artistic impulses to shape the future of an entire region undergoing change.


Since the RUHR.2010 Capital of Culture Year Festival, the international exhibition in the form of a triennial exhibition series has been accompanying one of the largest renaturation projects in Europe – the transformation of the Emscher River wastewater channel back into a natural river landscape. In its first edition as part of the RUHR.2010 European Capital of Culture Year, Emscherkunst with 200,000 visitors was the biggest art project in public spaces in the Ruhr. In 2013, a total of 255,000 visitors came to see the temporary works of the Chinese Artist Ai Weiwei, the Dane Tue Greenfort, the Swede Elin Wikström and the Belgian Hans Op de Beeck.

Emschergenossenschaft, Urbane Künste Ruhr and Regionalverband Ruhr are again cooperating as the organisers. As was the case in 2010 and 2013, the North Rhine-Westphalia State Ministry for Families, Children, Youth, Culture and Sport is supporting the exhibition in public spaces along the Emscher.

In 2013, Emscherkunst was acclaimed by the United Nations for its commitment in conveying the sustainability concept and – together with the Emscher Renaturalisation Generation Project – selected as a “contribution to the UN decade of education for sustainable development”.