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PLACE – Ruhr

2000 Dortmund, Germany

Software: Adolf Matthias
Hardware: Huib Nelissen

The Ruhr Valley is renowned for its industrial history, originally based around coal mining and steel production, and during WWII housed Germany’s central weapons factory. But by the 1970s the coal mines had become exhausted, and Germany’s steel industry went into economic decline, leading to high unemployment and industrial diversification into service industries and high technology. Recently many of the old industrial ruins have been converted into cultural venues.

PLACE - Ruhr is an art installation that parses this profound arena of human transaction. It presents a virtual landscape in which performers infiltrate the past, present and future transmutations of the Ruhr Valley’s geographical, industrial and social legacies.

PLACE - Ruhr uses an innovatively designed visualization and interaction environment to articulate the viewer’s co-presence in a narrative reformulation of the Ruhr Valley’s psychogeography. It is based on the artistic paradigm developed in PLACE - a user's manual (1995). Using a motorized platform, viewers can rotate the projected image within an immersive 9-meter diameter, 360-degree screen, and thereby explore a set of cinematic panoramas.

PLACE - Ruhr presents a virtual landscape containing eleven cinematic panoramas that actualize selected exigent sites in the Ruhr area. The viewer interactively navigates this three-dimensional space, and on entering each of these panoramas is confronted by a surrounding cinematic contingency—a staged performance that is conjoined with an environmental scenography that is both documentary and fictional. These artistic interpositions unfold an underlying narrative, a psychogeographical disjunction that is latent within the collective memory of each of these locations.

The terrain of this landscape is inscribed with a diagram of the Hebraic ‘Tree of Life’; it creates a figurative and conceptual set of relations to the eleven Ruhr site cylinders, which are situated at its nodal points. This diagram is overlaid with a map of the Dortmund area’s underground mining tunnels, whose diggings have so deeply transformed the Ruhr Valley’s history and appearance.

The following are brief descriptions of the eleven panoramic filmic sequences:

1: Two different locations merge. A West Lights poster showing a man offering a cigarette to a suspended female window cleaner hangs on a brick wall. Opposite, thick red smoke comes out of an old tower.

2: On one side, fires burn along the two parallel rows of furnace covers. On the other side a worker in grey overalls pours grey liquid sealant onto one of these covers, producing a lot of smoke.

3: White computer-generated birds fly down and settle for a while on gravestones and the surrounding grass, then they fly off again. These are the gravestones of miners killed in a major mine accident.

4: A well-known Dortmund footballer walks around a bicycle stadium inside a 3-metre diameter transparent inflatable football. Black-and-white patterned flags fly from the poles at the entrance.

5: The vegetable garden in a social-housing estate is full of ripe watermelons. The owner takes one out of the ground and proudly cuts it open.

6: A group of blithe young Muslim women walk along the pavement in an industrial area. On the other side of the road a mechanical grappler is lifting scrap metal.

7: A golfer stands opposite a large Richard Serra sculpture, and drives a golf ball that hits it.

8: Sitting on the grass lawn in front of the Krupp family villa, groups of very elderly men and women are having a picnic. Their picnic clothes are patterned in black and white. A child plays with a football. 

9: An in-line skater shows off his skills. He has the latest wearable computer, and a T-shirt that has the words ‘GOD’S BACK’ on its rear side, and on the front the image of the female window cleaner from the West Lights poster used in the first panorama.

10: A 1939-model black BMW limousine is parked in an alleyway between houses, facing the road with its lights on. The whole area is deserted. An old woman, completely naked, rides past on a yellow bicycle.

11: A group of German shepherd dogs forage about between the rails and trees of a desolate and overgrown old coal-processing plant.

Exhibition Record

2000/5/14 - 8/20:  Vision Ruhr, Westfälisches Industriemuseum, Dortmund, Germany

2000/11/20 - 12/10:  Meridian 17, [email protected], Wroclaw University Museum, Wroclaw, Poland

2002/3/15 - 3/23:  Les Cinémas du Futur, VIA Festival, Espace Sculfort, Maubeuge, France

2002/3/15 - 3/31:  Les Cinémas du Futur, VIA Festival, Le Pass, Frameries, Belgium

2002/8/11 - 10/13:  Emoção Art.Ficial, Itaú Cultural, São Paulo, Brazil

2002/12/19 - 2003/1/12:  Future Cinema, ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany

2003/10/30 - 11/15:  Microwave 2003, Hong Kong City Hall, Hong Kong, China

2009:  Museum in Bewegung, Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund, Germany

2009/10/10 - 2011/5/8:  IMAGINING [email protected], ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany

2014/5/9 - 5/29:  Jeffrey Shaw and Hu Jieming Twofold Exhibition, Chronus Art Center, Shanghai, China