A landscape made for me, art is for my sake? Report from the Emscher Park Radweg

Die US-Autorin/Lyrikerin Katherine Thorpe verarbeitet Erfahrungen und Wahrnehmungen, die sie während ihres einjährigen Aufenthalts im Ruhrgebiet gemacht hat in experimenteller Lyrik. Auf 2010LAB.tv erzählt sie von ihren Ausflügen in postindustrielle Landschaften, und ihren damit verbunden Reflektionen zu den Themen Wandel und Kunst.


What is a museum? How is it made?

Recently I decided to explore the new route along the Emscher by bike, starting at the Castrop-Rauxel Hauptbahnhof. I was hoping in particular to see art: I’d read about the Emscherkunst project of the European Capital of Culture 2010, which exhibited site-specific art installations along the developing Emscher river, and even though I’d missed the temporary displays that were up last summer I had read that there are still a few permanent exhibitions to be seen.

I planned my visit. I had my two different maps to chart the bike routes along the Emscher and Rhein-Herne Canal (at around Castrop Rauxel, where I began, between these canals a piece of land is formed called the “Emscher Island,” a kind of historically industrial no-man’s-land just beginning to be developed with foot and bike paths). There are bridges to connect paths on different sides of the canals.


The maps look clean and straightforward. The routes move east-west in an approximately straight line (like the water itself)

But just as the maps of other metropolitan cities cannot possibly take in the awe, beauty, of the baroque, gothic, neoclassical buildings (take Rome or Paris or Vienna), so these cannot fathom the messiness of a landscape in the process of being made (or re-made, or unmade, or re-natured, cleaned).

For like a city or a museum the Emscherkunst also exists on a completely constructed, human-made space—the region has sunk significantly, which shows to what extent industry has affected even its basic compositional plane, and the Emscher itself has been straightened—so that such renaturalization (but in relation to human beings—take the paths and artworks existing alongside) becomes a complex project indeed.


Yet it is important to remember that it was initially a constructed space in which people were not meant to be. A strangely inexhaustible space in a different way than the Louvre or the Uffizi. I see three things and am exhausted for a week. Get maybe half way. Endless lists of additional things to see. One seems to lead to fifteen. We are not on a floor, this is not a ceiling. Even after so many months of expeditions it feels heavy, exhausting.

It is partly the current state of construction: The torn-up banks, the trees that end and lanes sometimes suddenly fenced off only later to begin again--I suppose that’s why I constantly check my map even though I could not get lost exactly (there is no change of direction) but I could evidently be on the wrong path. But add to that the complication of the heat: the day I chose turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year in the Ruhrgebiet. I wanted to be on the shady side of the canal—nothing more brutal than biking on a gravel path in this sun (so that I have never been so grateful for newly-planted trees).

The Emscher area feels odd, uncomfortable, inhospitable to me. But also meant to be experienced (why?): with benches running alongside, under bridges and trees.


Art surely changes its environment—art affects how we see—but art is also changed by its position. Looking at art in palaces in Vienna for instance I was reminded constantly that this art was collected: that the collectors themselves (nobles, dukes, royalty, important families?) are part of the art displayed as are the palaces that they made—the intractable history of art in relation to aristocracy? It felt heavy to me as I waded through painting after painting, room of marble sculptural façades. Yet it was meant to make an impression, to mean something, even if we don’t now like this meaning (power, supremacy, class, status, taste) but to be absorbed ultimately—it is a “picture gallery,” these are pictures that we see—certainly not to be taken in in a single day but yes, to be taken in ultimately, to be seen

by princes, kings                     and guests of kings.


The straightening of the Emscher, this industrial landscape, was not originally meant to be perceived, to be the object of attention for its own sake—unlike other industrial buildings, such as the monumental, symmetrical layout of the World Heritage Monument Zeche Zollverein in which certain buildings were extended purely for the sake of symmetry rather than for specific functionality.

And I wonder how art allows perception of the Emscher—in the very midst of construction—now? As if habitation begins with sight, and can exist alongside nature, a kind of vision, the ability to have a perception, to make an image, a depiction. Which is false, which is alien?

Or to signal: this exists? To cut into the region (separate this from this)? Or to make it whole again—connect, to bridge?

To be continued...

Text & Fotos: Katherine Thorpe

Katherine Thorpe studierte an der Universität von Iowa kreatives Schreiben und residierte von September 2010 bis Juli 2011 im Ruhrgebiet, um im Rahmen eines Stipendiums an der TU Dortmund postindustrielle Architektur und Räume und ihre Beziehung zur Kunst zu untersuchen. Sie führte Interviews und besichtigte die alten Industriestätten, um herauszufinden, „wie Kunst und Kultur diese postindustriellen Orte verwandeln.“

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Mi, 27.07.2011 0

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