Primo Janson interviews Emily Kocken on Landmarking

July—September 2011
C&H art space

Landmarking is an ongoing project researching undercurrent energies of landscapes to reappear. It explores historical influences on the underworld of nature. How guilty or sacred can we consider a site (landscape) to be? Can the presence of those once there alter the character of a place? After wars, forces of nature, climatological scarring and positive events is it fair to ask if restoring the psycho-geographical veins of earth’s underworld can be done without serious consequences.

Is there a special reason you are adding the Landmarking project to your webspace?
Well, not an urgent one. I did not just come back with a load of images, taken on a new trip, nor did I revisit Walden, which I intended to do a year ago.

What was your intention at that time?
To go back to Walden and do proper research. I did revisit the place, three or four times in the last ten years. But it was always just for one day. I would like to become more a part of the environment, and stay there for a while, live in one of the abandoned houses in Concord, make walks with people in the neighborhood around the pond, and such. I might do it some day, but right now there’s no time.

Why is that? If you’re dedicated to a project, how can you abandon it?
I got caught up in something else. I started to write a novel. But the fragmentated character of the method I use to develop the Landmarking project is constructive in a way. There is a lot of planning involved, next to the actually being there, at the place itself.

Can you tell us when Landmarking started? Is there a specific moment that you were aware of your sensitivity to the energy of places?
I am not that sensitive to places per se, I mean, aren’t we all then? I can say that I am susceptible to the idea of secrets of outdoor spaces, be it hidden or just washed away, organically or deliberate, as the traces of a crime scene. I prefer quiet spaces to the overread ones.

Does a project like this fit any kind of tradition in art or photography?
I am glad you make the distinction between the two, although we could get into a pagelong discussion right now. I mean, photography has long evolved into its own place in the artworld, don’t you think? But if you refer to the American tradition of landschape photography, I feel I come short of years of experience and the full time dedication that others have donated to the documentation or even the preservation of the American landscape, to name just one topic that benefits the most (maybe) from this temporary technical distinction.

When did you feel that the Landmarking project officially started?
It is hard to say when the project started. I think my first Landmarking action was a series of photographs I took from an iceskating rink in a Dutch village called Oosthuysen in 2004. I was working in another city on a project about floods and lost landschapes, and sitting in the train I noticed this strange meadow with small string with lights dangling over it. It took me days to find the place, and I had to climb over a gate to get in, since the meadow belonged to this ice shating club. I took the photographs in the summer, needless to say.

Can you tell me more about the verb Landmarking? I know what a landmark is, but I have never heard of the verb before.
It doesn’t exist as a verb. As a phenomenon it is well-known, people refer to a landmark as a thing that stands out in a landscape, it is an object one can hold on to, visually, there is a clear historical context, a meaning, easy to be read. In a way one could say that a landmark is some kind of ready-made, waiting for an artist to be picked up mentally and replaced into another context so it can be read again by a new, fresh audience.

Are the landschapes that you photograph landmarks? Is there a shift in meaning, when you focus on the landscape, devoid of an object? The landscapes you show in the Landmarking project are always empty, lacking people, houses. Nature shown as nature seems to be the focus.
In a way this is correct. The Landmarking landscapes are empty, but full of themselves at the same time. There are mostful filled of what happened there in the past. I don’t want to confuse them with war sites, or area’s filled with ruins and other spaces traced or even wrecked by humans. An area draws my attention, especially when nothing specific seems to be going on, on first sight. By revisiting the place, by performing long walks, fed by stories I hear about the location I try to sense the soul of a place. Did I just say ‘soul’? Yes, I did. I believe that is a word robbed from its meaning more that any other word in the world.

Primo Janson is a fictive freelance art critic. He started his life as a novel character in Emily’s novel ‘De Bonsai Jungle’ as a young boy who runs away from home. The novel was never finished nor published. Primo popped up as an art critic for the first time in 2008 as an interviewer, a text that was part of the installation ‘Bread’, in the exhibition Echtenstein in momentum in Imagine IC, Amsterdam. In Emily’s new novel ‘Witte Vlag’ Primo appears in the sideline as a notorious art critic, in his fifties even.