In Trespassing, Nathalie Grenzhaeuser introduces the viewer to two diametrically opposed landscape areas: the Arctic island of Spitsbergen, situated at the northern tip of Europe, and the desert-like expanses 'down under' in South and Western Australia. In both cases, she focuses on changes in the landscape that have occurred as a result of human intervention, whereby she concentrates on the restricted areas of mining centres, scientific research stations and nature reserves. Grenzhaeuser's artistic research also explores the historical background to the occupation and utilisation of the respective regions. The majority of the photographs in this book were taken in places that are not accessible to tourists or other 'normal' visitors, and where entering the sites - even with permission - is subject to strict controls. As a deliberate reversal of the more commonly used phrase: "No Trespassing", the title Trespassing evokes a complex array of meanings, the scope of which only becomes fully apparent as a result of this inversion.

(No) Trespassing

In connection with the notion of owning land (and the legal right to do so), upon which the global presence of this prohibition sign is founded, the act of deliberately ignoring and crossing a territorial boundary becomes a criminal offence. At the same time, the sense of danger and promise attached to the idea of gaining 'illegal entry' can be a temptation in itself. Crossing the line thus leads to a transformation of the space beyond. The site is reduced to a path along which the trespasser proceeds, heart pounding - either because of the dangers associated with the location or due to the threat of legal repercussions.

With respect to man's treatment of his landscape environment, Grenzhaeuser's photographs also allude to (colonial) historical events that occurred when European culture 'trespassed' into unknown territories, both habited and uninhabited.

Architecture and landscape are recurring motifs in Grenzhaeuser's photographic excursions into the past and present of different geographical domains. Her image-making process involves modifying the dimensions of and relationship between (mechanical) architectural structures, the landscape surroundings and the sky above. On the part of documentary photography, which addresses similar topographically anchored themes, the issue of crossing borders without permission could also be raised.

Yet just as the history of photography is inconceivable without its parallel universe of image retouching, so the history of landscape is inseparable from its invention as an aesthetic and economic construct.

Grenzhaeuser's Trespassing takes the viewer into a multi-dimensional space of meaning and possible interpretation. Irrespective of whether her photographic images are viewed from a visual, virtual, metaphorical or historical perspective: there is no predetermined path to be followed when entering and exploring them. And what is the objective of these escapades into the realm of the 'uncanny' (das Unheimliche) if it does not even appear certain that they will lead to some form of reward?

Non-identical twins

Leaving aside the obvious climatic and geographical differences between Australia and Spitsbergen, Trespassing reveals the surprising fact that these antipodal locations have shared qualities that make them appear like non-identical twins.

To this day, the geographical remoteness of the polar regions and the Australian interior, in combination with their extreme climates and inherent risks, lend these regions a mysterious or even mystical quality. The reasons for this lie in their association with both utopian and dystopian scenarios and, preceding these, in their capacity to act as a medium or blank screen: first of all as white spots on the map, and later as seemingly dysfunctional, empty landscapes.

An expanse of emptiness, like that we encounter when we wander through a deserted, desolate area, has always functioned as a screen onto which we project experiential worlds, where the imaginary line between inside and outside, the subject and his environment gradually become blurred. In this respect it is not surprising that both the (Ant)arctic and the Australian interior have often provided the setting for science fiction or horror films, the best-known example being perhaps the post-nuclear wasteland of the Mad Max film trilogy, directed by George Miller. 1 At the same time, an interesting parallel between these antipodean locations is that, despite possessing many qualities of a hostile environment, the vision of a paradisiacal land existing in both regions persisted into the twentieth century - whether in the form of myths surrounding the territories of the Hyperboreans "beyond the north wind" 2 or of enthusiastic attempts to locate an inland sea within the Australian desert 3.

Illuminating whiteness

At the time when polar historiography began, the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard (of which Spitsbergen is the largest island) was an unpopulated territory. There was neither an indigenous population nor any trace of prehistoric settlement, and the archipelago was considered a no-man's land until it was placed under Norwegian administration in 1920.

Having previously been used mainly for fur trapping and whaling, as well as being the starting point for numerous expeditions to the North Pole, the discovery of rich deposits of coal on Svalbard around 1900 led to the construction of the first mines. From the 1950s onwards, research stations and a rocket launch site (SvalRak) were built, and in 1975 Svalbard Airport was opened. Spitsbergen is still only sparsely populated; all buildings erected before 1945 are listed, and access to the designated nature reserves is strictly controlled. As coal mining activities have steadily declined, the economic involvement of man in the region has been reduced to Arctic research and the development of 'sustainable' tourism. In Grenzhaeuser's photographs, this politely detached attitude of people towards the Spitsbergen landscape is reflected by the fact that nature and natural phenomena are the principal location and main subject.

The photographs of this Arctic region thus present a world that still appears curiously independent despite all anthropogenic intervention, and whose homelessness engenders a sense of threat that puts man in his place as an intruder. One quality that is shared by the pioneers' log cabins nestled into the countryside, the dazzling shipping containers in the port of Kapp Amsterdam and the futuristic buildings of the research stations is that they are all quasi-sealed containers in which something is being preserved for the future or from the past.

This time-capsule quality is intensified by particular lighting or atmospheric conditions that seem to black out or relinquish all traces of man. In the attempt to identify this uncanny or threatening element, the viewer's gaze drifts through cloud vortices and across shadowy horizons. There is no means of access, no path, nothing to hold on to and no colours to free the image from the suspicion of unreality.

Uncanny Australia

In his book The Fatal Shore Robert Hughes refers to Australia as the "geographical unconscious", 4 in relation to its role as an antipode to the order of the European world. 5 Similar to Freud's concept of the unconscious, Australia was codified in the imagination of the British Empire as a world that was to equal extents unfathomable, unpredictable and untamed. 6 Unconscious and uninhabitable, unimaginably far away: two centuries later, British culture has established itself in Australia and has done so in a way that has caused the 'uncanny' element to change sides, as it appears from Nathalie Grenzhaeuser's photographs. This 'uncanniness', regardless of whether one regards it as a buzzword of the later Romantic period or as a literal designation, manifests itself differently in the landscape of Australia than it does on Spitsbergen.

In connection with the concept of trespassing, Great Britain's plan to get rid of disruptive elements in its society by shipping these 'human dregs' off to the southern tip of the known world reveals an absurd and disturbing coincidence.

With the establishment of the penal colony in New South Wales, Australia became the destination of those who had broken the law of property. They were, therefore, transported to a territory which in the same breath was being taken away from those who traditionally eschewed these very notions of land ownership, property and the sense of 'own' - the Australian Aborigines. The dysfunctionality of the continent in terms of climatic and cultural parameters fostered among the colonists a particular attitude towards the landscape surroundings that was to pave the way for a translation of 'land' into 'landscape', a process often accompanied by violence. 7 Both the seizure of land and the exploitation of resources represented an attempt to transform a dystopic, 'useless' land into a functionalised and newly aestheticised landscape.

Grenzhaeuser's trespass into the mining areas of "Olympic Dam" and "Newman" shows the Australian element of the uncanny inscribed above all within the architecture and machinery, as well as on their relics and residual traces. Little has been modified in these photographs, in fact, as the dimensions of the landscape and the industrial architecture already exceed 'normal standards'.

These images of Australian industrial mines mainly depict mechanical devices and equipment: gigantic cranes, conveyer belts, labyrinthine pipes and cables, wheels and tracks. The landscape is marked by ditches, hollows, holes and craters that call to mind the scene of a massive explosion. Our gaze drifts along never-ending steel joists and is overwhelmed by the sheer size of the machines. Nature appears either impenetrable and blurred or stripped to its bare bones. And while ancient historiographers and geographers assumed that the counterpart to the whirlpool at the North Pole would have to be either the fountain in the Garden of Eden or a discharging vortex in the antipodal southern hemisphere, 8 the remains of the snake on an Australian highway with a tree in the background suggest that the only thing we can speculate on is a paradise of disillusion.


If, however, any view of a so-called 'landscape' includes its pre-condition as a realm that can be shaped and apprehended by man - as has been maintained since Ruskin's first observations upon the "pathetic fallacy" 9 and continues to be debated by contemporary landscape analysts in the field of art and literary studies 10 - how could one get around this? How could the gaze be guided towards something that reveals the "radical illusion" 11 without making it visible?

Despite Grenzhaeuser's occasional sojourns in the picturesque 'scapes' of science fiction or Romantic painting, the hidden path skirts around these and leads onto a level of 'disillusion' where any forgiveness on the part of nature or towards man is denied. The artist's focus is less on the documentable or 'the real', however, and more on that which resists its familiarity (Heimlichkeit) and appropriation. It is this 'missing' element, this intangible and alienating aspect which, having imploded somewhere beyond the horizon, appears as 'atmospheric precipitation' in the photographic imagery. Grenzhaeuser's photographs make varying reference to human encroachment, reflecting the different circumstances under which European culture trespassed into these remote areas of Norway and Australia.
The fallout from this implosion beyond the horizon oscillates as an intangible, fantastical element in all of the images, whereby it sometimes seems more clearly visible in nature, and at others more apparent in man-made objects and structures.

The embedding of the intangible, the uncanny as an unlocalisable component of the landscape realm may suggest one way out of Ruskin's "pathetic fallacy" 12. Regardless of how one approaches it, however, Grenzhaeuser's Trespassing series can also be seen as an invitation to viewers to stray from the paths of aesthetic reception that have been predetermined by the art system, to enter alien territory and find their own way - heart pounding - into her visual worlds.

Gabi Schaffner

Published in Trespassing, Verlag für Moderne Kunst, 2011.

1 Mary Shelley's Frankenstein opens with an expedition to the North Pole; H. P. Lovecraft's At The Mountains of Madness transports the reader into a universe of subterranean horror in the frozen wastes of Antarctica. Prior to this, Edgar Allan Poe's Arthur Gordon Pym ventured into this region in search of an Arcadian realm, and in John Carpenter's 1982 movie The Thing, an alien spacecraft lands in Antarctica with predictably fatal consequences.
2 Whereby the assumption that a land with a 'warm temperate' climate existed beyond the sea ice limit persisted even into the 1930s.
3 See Paul Carter, About Paradise Parrots And Other Legends of Place and Identity, Haiku Review #3., accessed 28 February 2011.
4 Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore: A History of the Transportation of Convicts to Australia, 1787-1868 (London: Collins Harvill, 1987), p. 43.
5 "The name of this dark continent at the time of 'discovery' was Terra Australis Incognita: the name of the land-without-a-name, and perhaps something in this paradox presaged the sense of the unnameable that belongs to the 'unconscious' which Freud discovered, at about the same time as 'Australia' was coming into being as a
federated, self-governing nation state (...)." Louis Armand, Romantic Ecologies. John Kinsella and the Art of Traumatic Realism', section 3, rhizomes, issue 2, spring 2001., accessed 28 February 2011.
6 [T]his imagined country was perhaps infernal, its landscape that of Hell itself. Within its inscrutable otherness, every fantasy could be contained; it was the geographical unconscious." Hughes, loc. cit.
7 Cf. Armand, loc. cit.
8 Cf. Chet Van Duzer,The Mythics Geography of the Northern Polar Regions: Inventio fortunata and Buddhist Cosmology, Culturas Populares. Revista Electrónica 2 (May-August 2006)., accessed 28 February 2011
9 John Ruskin, Of the Pathetic Fallacy, in Modern Painters, vol. iii, pt. 4, 1856., accessed 28 February 2011.
10 Cf. Manfred Schmeling and Monika Schmitz-Emans (eds.), Das Paradigma der Landschaft in Moderne und Postmoderne / (Post-)Modernist Terrains: Landscapes, Settings, Spaces (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann), 2007.
11 Cf. The Radical Illusion in Jean Baudrillard, The Perfect Crime, trans. Chris Turner (London and New York: Verso Books), 1996, pp. 16-19.
12 Cf. Ludwig Seyfarth, Nina Koidl, Pathetischer Betrug - Pathetic Fallacy (Cologne: Salon Verlag), 2005, p.7/English p. 51