Located in Germany, just one and a half hour drive from Joanie Lemercier’s Brussels studio, the Hambach forest is the last remnant of an ancient woodland ecosystem that has occupied this part of the Rhine River plain since the end of the last ice age. Today, this natural treasure is a tenth of its original size. The rest has been cleared to make room for the Hambach open-pit coalmine, the largest of its kind in Europe.
After discovering its existence in 2019, Joanie Lemercier went on to create The Hambach Forest and the Technological Sublime, an immersive audiovisual installation that plunges the viewer into the heart of the gigantic extraction shaft and a natural environment in the throes of destruction. Based on the Romantics’ view of nature in the 19th century, the Sublime (or the “beautiful mingled with fear”, Kant) becomes technological. In a completely industrialised world, the term then applies to an over-exploited nature scarred by relentless human action.
In Hambach, the biggest man-made machines on Earth embody the concept of “slow violence” described by Professor Rob Nixon. They slowly but incessantly scrape the earth and rip away all resources from the ground, but all this happens far away from the eyes of the world, so those who do not want to see it can easily ignore the destruction, which is taking place.
While condemning climate injustice and the annihilation of the original beauty of the site, The Hambach Forest and the Technological Sublime also highlights how each one of us has the power to do something and urges us to take action.