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Bergbau, Tagebau, Umbau: The Post-Industrial Landscape Aesthetics of Repurposed Coal Mines in Germany

By Calder Fong


This dissertation examines the development of what I call “post-industrial landscape aesthetics” in the transformation of German coal mines into sites for walking tours, architectural landmarks, land art installations, public parks, and exhibitions. Between 1989 and 1999, the International Building Exhibition Emscher Park in the Ruhr Valley and the Industrial Garden Realm in Saxony-Anhalt commissioned artists and architects to design new spaces and artworks in these post-industrial landscapes. I argue that the aesthetics of these projects engage visitors and create experiences that complicate conventional understandings of the relationship between nature and industry, and that temper critical contemplation of local mining history with playful recreation in the present and optimism for post-coal futures. I build this argument by analyzing case studies of major projects at former coal mines. I begin by introducing the concept of Industrienatur (“Industrial nature”) that Karl Ganser and Jörg Dettmar developed at the beginning of the IBA Emscher Park. In conjunction with art, this idea prompts visitors to explore repurposed sites of industry, and to discover the beauty and ecological value of the post-industrial landscape through firsthand experience. I illustrate this in the case studies of art installations by Detlef Kelbassa and Corinna Kuhn at Landscape Park Duisburg North, and by Ulrich Rückriem at Zeche Zollverein in Essen. I thus establish Industrienatur as a leitmotif for my subsequent analyses of post-industrial landscape aesthetics. In the second chapter, I explore theatrical, guided walking tours and land art gardens that Bertram Weisshaar created in the Golpa North strip mine (now Lake Gremmin) near Dessau. Weisshaar incorporated theories of the sublime, eighteenth-century garden art, and Robert Smithson’s land art into playful, physically and intellectually engaging activities. Through these minimal artistic interventions, visitors encountered a landscape full of spontaneous flora and fauna, and experienced a brief moment in the site’s history between the cessation of mining and the flooding of the resulting pit. In the third chapter, I examine how architecture by Wolfgang Christ and land art by Herman Prigann each engage with the two coal mining landscapes that I study in the dissertation, namely the western Ruhr, which features mountainous piles of waste from anthracite mining, and Saxony-Anhalt to the east, where flooded lignite strip mines resemble an artificial lake district. By analyzing Christ’s and Prigann’s projects in dialogue with theories of nature aesthetics by Gernot and Hartmut Böhme, I delve into the phenomenology of post-industrial landscape aesthetics. Furthermore, the connections that I identify among these creators, artworks, and theories help to bridge the geographic and disciplinary boundaries that separate my case studies throughout the dissertation. In the final chapter, I analyze the 1997 Bundesgartenschau (“Federal Garden Show”) at the Zeche Nordstern coal mine in Gelsenkirchen, as well as the resulting Nordsternpark (“North Star Park”), through the lens of Charles Jencks’ post-modern architectural theory. The garden show foregrounded the renovation of the mine into a public park, and highlighted this transformation with original works by Heino, Dani Karavan, Hans-Ulrich Humpert; since then, Markus Lüpertz has contributed an additional sculpture to the site’s landmark status. I argue that the various tensions at work in these projects illustrate what Jencks calls “double-coding.” Here, visitors can experience an intensive intervention into the post-industrial landscape that holds opposites such as new and old, popular and avant-garde, and natural and industrial in dynamic tension.PHDGermanic Languages & LiteraturesUniversity of Michigan, Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies

Topics: post-industrial landscape aesthetics, coal mine remediation, land art, Germany, International Building Exhibition Emscher Park, Industrial Garden Realm, Germanic Languages and Literature, Humanities
Year: 2019
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