Denis Deprez, TAGEBAU GARZWEILER, video, 19'40", 2020 / Pour voir la version française veuillez cliquer
Since more than 4 years, I have been visiting the Tagebau Garzweiler open pit mine area, between Aachen and Düsseldorf, a two hour drive from Brussels. This is where I started my investigation and exploratory research. This is also the place which helped me develop a new relationship with photography and video for documentary purposes. I quickly became interested in how the mine affects the spatial organization of the region. To paraphrase the German photographer Armin Link1, I had before me the story-board of a narrative: that of a bomb-impact mine whose waves radiated on urban infrastructures, industrial structures, agricultural space, road transportation and housing in general.
To frame the location, I focused on several sites, the mine being both the starting point and the link between them: the Skywalk, a tourist scenic viewpoint installed by the RWE2 to observe the extraction zone and its engineering, Immerath, a village currently being destroyed in order to make room for the extension of the mine, Neu-Immerath, a new city built for the relocation of the "displaced" inhabitants of the destroyed villages, the city of Niederaussem and its power plant, the site of the Neurath power plant and finally the small town of Kaster. If we join each of these points on a map, we get the outline of a spiral. And this spiral expresses the industrial impact on the structure of urban and peri-urban space in the region.
The last time I was in the area to film and take photos of the Neurath power plant, 10 km east of the Garzweiler mine, an RWE security officer came to check what I was doing. He spoke neither English nor French, while I do not speak German. We communicated via gestures but also with the help of the agent’s smartphone translation app. The man was quite nice, he just wanted to inform me that I was standing on RWE property, that is on a private site. Therefore, I could not film the power plant from that point of view, especially not without authorization. If I really wanted to continue, I had to cross the road, stay on the other side, which was outside RWE land. From that point of view, I could film the power plant as much as I wanted. We left each other very friendly on a handshake. Returning to his SUV topped with a rotating beacon, the man kindly waved me goodbye.
While working on this project, a lot of energy went into the successive rejection of a least ten different approaches of doing it. I went through a long period of doubts, I did not stop asking myself questions on my very presence over there. I did not clearly know what to say what and how to do it. During the fieldwork, I like to use relatively light equipment: a tripod, a microphone and a reflex camera. This allows me to be in direct contact with the site where I take my shots and record sounds3.
In this logic of investigation and fieldwork, the documentary form proved to be the most useful and the closest to what I actually had in mind. Finally, the project on the mine in Germany is the conjunction of several moves: that of my own migration from still images to animated images, the transition to documentary form as well as the crossing of the border of a country whose language I do not understand.
Brussels, March 2020
1 Armin Link, Accatone, n° 5, March 2018, p.96: "It is about trying to look at architecture as a kind of screenplay, or a storyboard for a spatial choreography.”
2 RWE: acronym of the German energy group whose production activities cover nuclear energy, fossil resources (lignite) and eolian energy. RWE owns and manages the region's mines (Hambach, Tagebau Garzweiler) as well as a network of thermal power plants (Niederaussem, Neurath and Frimmersdorf)
3 Field-recording artists such as Peter Cuzack or Justin Bennett have proven to be important landmarks for my own work.