Art Project Frames Landmines as Tools of Preservation

I'm fascinated by this art project. Via BldgBlog:

Los Angeles-based photographer Brett Van Ort looks at the ironic effects of landmines on the preservation of natural landscapes, placing woods, meadows, and even remote country roads off-limits, fatally tainted terrains given back to animals and vegetation.

Landmines are one of man's most horrific inventions, which is why I find something wonderfully warped about them operating as tools of preservation. Van Ort explains his thinking behind the project:

The consequences of war on a landscape inflict a trauma that is felt for decades after the conflict subsides. Nature does its part to regenerate and conceal the craters, mass graves and trenches that are created by man during the fighting. With the help of man and our ingenious ability to create killing machines, nature temporarily reclaims that which is hers in the aftermath of a conflict. However, underneath hides a most hideous, brutal and random killer - the landmine.

Focusing on Bosnia, which has an estimated 3.5% of its land area still contaminated with landmines left over from the war in the mid-90's, Van Ort presents a series of tranquil landscapes alongside the various types of landmines that have been removed from each area. Van Ort explains the sad affect landmines have had on the local population:

The viewers of these photographs should ask themselves which of these landscapes would they feel comfortable walking into? All of the landscapes depicted here were all on the former front lines of the war. Some are considered "safe" at this point, while others are not.

These landscapes depict the unknown. The terror or horror that lies beneath the surface that we cannot readily see. One would be taking a chance by walking into every landscape here. In going to these places, I was told by numerous people the safest place to be is in a car or on the tarmac. Some people told me not to walk into nature at all.

"Some people told me not to walk into nature at all."

Damn. Right? That's one of the saddest things I've ever heard. Surely the survivors of the Bosnian War experienced some horrific things, but I find this sentiment of being forever scarred and fearful of nature hitting me in a new way.

As an American and a fan of hiking and camping, the idea of being fearful to walk into nature because of landmines is foreign and depressing. Camping here in the Ozarks, Colorado or Northern California, I've grown used to being playfully cautious about snakes, cougars or bears, but with a wild animal, one at least has the chance to fight back. Landmines offer no such warning. It is this designed ability to kill indiscriminately that has led most of the world to agree to a ban.

But in a perhaps bizarre example of seeking the silver lining in a dark situation, Van Ort concludes his statement by framing this caution and fear of nature as a form of land preservation.

I see the idea of hand-placed landmines protecting the natural setting and allowing the environment to regenerate itself as an ironic twist on our inability to conserve and see into the future.

Ah! Quick aside: While I in no way endorse the idea of using landmines as tools of land conservation, I find this concept wonderful as a thought experiment. Doesn't this sound like an idea taken from a dark, futuristic eco-thriller? Imagine a world where forested land is so scarce humans have taken to militaristic means to protect these last bits of nature from exploitation. There is a poetic irony to weaponizing nature to protect it from ourselves. Landmines seem like the absolute worst and yet highly effective way to keep people from spoiling a piece of land.

But back in reality, this piece inspired me to refresh myself on the US landmine policy. Despite the international ban, according to the UN via Wikipedia, landmines continue to kill 20,000 people annually.

In 2009, the State Department announced it was continuing the Bush policy on landmines, including the refusal to sign on to the international ban. Jody Williams, who is the founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, put our policy into context at the time:

Today, 156 nations are party to the treaty -- including Afghanistan, Australia, Indonesia, Japan, all of Europe except Finland (Poland has signed but not yet ratified), all of sub-Saharan Africa except Somalia, almost half of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa (including Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait and Algeria), and the entire Western Hemisphere, except for the United States and Cuba.

As of 2011, that number is 158.

Perhaps one reason this idea of weaponizing nature sticks with me so much is how it's already happening in certain areas. For example, marijuana grow ops in the mountainous forests of Northern California are ecologically destructive and have been found to be protected by booby traps. Because of the players involved and the potential for violence, the raids to destroy these hidden pot fields resemble military operations.

Ecstasy manufacturers are harming the jungles of Cambodia, as detailed in this great documentary on Current.

Anti-logging activists turning up dead in the Amazon rainforest is a regular occurrence.

Poaching has led to many deaths, as well.

And these are just a couple examples off the top of my head.

In less violent, but still heated legal battles land conservationists in the US and other countries are in a daily struggle trying to protect land for and from a society that often doesn't appreciate what is there to protect. From oil drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Reserve to natural gas fracking dangerously close to our water supply to logging our few remaining old growth forests or uranium mining in the Grand Canyon, our precious natural resources are under constant assault from private interests, often with help from paid-off politicians supposedly operating on the public's behalf. And these are but a tiny fraction of the countless battles for land and resource preservation being waged in every country on the planet.

I liked the title BldgBlog chose to accompany their post on this piece: The Limits of Preservation. Art can serve to reminds us of where the boundaries are and as a piece of art, I think Minescape serves to highlight the extreme possibilities of land preservation.

What does this all make you feel or think about?

View more photos of beautiful landscapes and landmines on Van Ort's website. The video below includes more information about the inspiration behind the project.

Minescape from Brett Van Ort on Vimeo.

Art Project Frames Landmines as Tools of Preservation
Decades after war, parts of Bosnia have been preserved due, in part, to our failed attempts to violently kill one another.

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