Antoinette de Jong and Robert Knoth
Tree and Soil (2011–2018)
Tree and Soil addresses the relationship between humans and nature. Robert Knoth and Antoinette de Jong undertook multiple trips to Japan following the tsunami and nuclear disaster of 2011. In the deserted landscape around Fukushima, at times they felt like archaeologists from the future: trying to understand what happened in a distant past when a mysterious force resulted in the evacuation of villages, buildings, fields, and forests, and only a residue of human presence was left behind.
Two centuries earlier, the medical doctor, scientist, and naturalist Franz Philip von Siebold gathered artefacts, plant and animal specimens, block print images, and paintings in Japan. His collection illustrates how Japanese culture is deeply rooted in and inspired by nature. Siebold’s work is exemplary of the “Age of Exploration” in which explorers travelled the globe to discover and uncover the secrets of the natural world and all its treasures for the use and benefit of humankind.
This age can be seen as a prequel to “the Anthropocene”, starting roughly in the mid-20th century, during which Planet Earth has been profoundly changed by human activity: plastic pollution, radioactive contamination, rising CO2 emissions, deforestation, and mass extinction of animal and plant species.
Distinctly present in Japanese visual storytelling is the recurring theme of natural disasters like tsunamis, proving time and again that nature’s forces are all powerful, despite human attempts to tame them. In Fukushima the story comes full circle: here the impact of a natural force is exacerbated by the uncontrollable forces created by humans: nuclear power. The ties between humans and nature are severed, and a vast area where generations raised their families has become inaccessible.
Tree and Soil (2018)
Two-channel video installation, stereo sound, loop, duration 22’00’’
For this video work, Robert Knoth and Antoinette de Jong documented evacuated farmhouses, gardens, agricultural grounds, and the surrounding nature covered with forests as well as the mountains in the close vicinity of the Fukushima nuclear plant, They also held lengthy conversations with former inhabitants of the area.
In a juxtaposition of two video screens, long static shots reflect the ongoing process of slow and minuscule changes in the landscape: water running downhill in little streams, drops rolling from leaves, and flowers blossoming in springtime. Audio recordings of crickets awakening in the early morning, birds singing in the empty fields, and trees rustling in the wind make up a rich and almost tangible soundscape.
Editors: Thomas Roebers and Peter Claassen
Tree and Soil (2019)
Dummy of the forthcoming book
In their publication, Antoinette de Jong and Robert Knoth combine their landscape photography with drawings of plants, seeds, and animals from Siebold’s collection held in the Netherlands. When Siebold was on a Dutch trading mission at Deshima island off the coast of Nagasaki in the early 19th century, he had the chance to travel throughout the country and to take home not only a vast quantities of artefacts but also a true treasure throve of woodblock prints.
In addition, de Jong and Knoth insert images in the book of scanned leaves, fruits, and branches from plants collected by Siebold which are still growing and flourishing in the Hortus botanicus of Leiden.
For this specific exhibition, the artists selected objects, artefacts, drawings, and woodblock prints from the collections of Manggha and the National Museum in Kraków.
Text and photography: Antoinette de Jong and Robert Knoth
Essay: Erik de Jong, Professor of Culture, Landscape and Nature (University of Amsterdam)
Graphic design: Kummer & Hermann
Antoinette de Jong and Robert Knoth
The work of Antoinette de Jong (b. 1964, NL) and Robert Knoth (b. 1963, NL) is characterised by an autonomous, modern approach with a focus on long-term documentaries that attempt to uncover the complexity of various socioeconomic or political topics and their impact on the lives of “ordinary” individuals. In the resulting work, Knoth and de Jong seek ways to merge the hyperrealism of documentary with the abstract qualities of art and literature.
For two decades, De Jong and Knoth have covered numerous conflicts through background stories and reportages for various international media. Their projects have been exhibited worldwide; they have published a number of books and received awards from World Press Photo and the Deutscher Fotobuchpreis.