Anthropocene. In conversation with Marcel Rickli


01.“Mockup” — AEON, 2019


02.“Longyangxia Dam Solar Park” — AMBIVALENT, 2018



ITA


Mattia: Ciao Marcel, come stai? Per cominciare, vuoi gentilmente introdurti in breve?

Marcel: Ciao Mattia, grazie per avermi contattato. Sto bene ed ho la sensazione che il blu pandemico stia diventando nuovamente motivazione. Mi presento. Mi chiamo Marcel Rickli (1986*) e sono un fotografo svizzero con sede a Zurigo. Da più di dieci anni, il mio lavoro tratta la necessità di energia dell’umanità ed il suo consumo di risorse. In particolare i miei progetti di ricerca visiva si sono focalizzati sui problemi causati dall’uomo e le conseguenze sul pianeta.



03. “Welzow Süd” — LAUSITZER BRAUNKOHLEREVIER, 2015


Mattia: Sicuramente la tua ricerca artistica si concentra sull’Antropocene - tema di forte attualità - e non si limita ad un panorama continentale. Come nasce questo interesse e come lo hai sviluppato negli anni dal punto di vista visivo e non?

Marcel: Posso dire che tutto iniziò dopo il disastro di Fukushima e quando i governi di Svizzera e Germania hanno annunciato l’eliminazione graduale del nucleare. Mi stavo domandando quali fossero o potessero esserne le alternative. Il primo progetto che ho realizzato su questo tema fu sulla costruzione di una centrale idroelettrica nel lago di Bienne (HAGNECK 2011 – 2015), considerata una delle ultime possibili centrali elettriche ad acqua fluente in Svizzera. Anche se era in realtà la sostituzione di una già esistente, ho trovato impressionante lo sforzo che è stato fatto per fare un piccolissimo step verso la transizione energetica. Allo stesso tempo in Germania, l’eliminazione graduale del nucleare ha portato ad un rilancio dell’energia della lignite, che è responsabile di massivi sacrifici di terreni, fiume inquinati e pesanti emissioni di anidride carbonica CO2 emissions (LAUSITZER BRAUNKOHLEREVIER 2015). Più mi confronto con questo tema, più trovo assurdo il comportamento umano. L’Antropocene è diventato il filo generale del mio lavoro.


Dal punto di vista visivo, il mio lavoro si sta spostando sempre di più dal classico documentarismo o fotografia di paesaggio verso un linguaggio visivo più sperimentale. Per il mio ultimo progetto AEON (2018 – ONGOING) sto sperimentando tante diverse tecniche come il rendering 3D, la stampa 3D e la scultura. Questo mi permette di esprimermi più liberamente di come mi fosse stato possibile in precedenza con una fotografia più ordinaria.


04. “ISO-361” — AEON, 2019


05. “Burried Room” — AEON, 2020


Mattia: Osservando i tuoi scatti, sembra che si crei una relazione tra paesaggio e uomo in cui prevale un sentimento contrastante: si intuisce il maestoso potenziale umano sul pianeta, nonostante in scala la figura umana sia piccolissima rispetto ad esso. A questo proposito risulta quasi incredibile che l’azione umana possa avere grandi conseguenze dal punto di vista ambientale. Trovo questo concetto affascinante, che cosa ne pensi tu?

Marcel: L’uomo è un essere dubbioso: capace di creare cose bellissime e così distruttivo allo stesso tempo. Ricordo che durante il mio progetto sull’aria inquinata in Cina (AMBIVALENT 2017 – 2018), per avere una vista dall’alto siamo saliti sul tetto di un grattacielo vicino ad una centrale elettrica a carbone. Immagina di riuscire a vedere faticosamente il sole che splende attraverso lo smog e che l’aria puzzava di carta bruciata, causando mal di gola se non si indossava una mascherina. Allo stesso tempo, però, questo scenario era da un certo punto di vista così romantico e poetico che ti potevi quasi scordare che quella nebbia era una produzione umana.

L’anno scorso ho provato un sentimento simile. Per AEON stavo catturando un paesaggio di mare apparentemente calmo, presso La Manica. Le onde si stavano scontrando sulla costa, portando con loro alcuni isotopi radioattivi dei 28.000 barili di scorie nucleari sdraiati e arrugginiti sul fondo di Hurd Deep, a pochi chilometri dalla costa di Alderney. “The solution to pollution is dilution?!”


06. “Shijiazhuang” — AMBIVALENT, 2017


07. “Gleisrücker” — LAUSITZER BRAUNKOHLEREVIER, 2015


Mattia: Permettimi un’analisi personale, correggimi se sbaglio. Alcuni dei tuoi scatti riportano alla mente il Viandante sul mare di nebbia di Friedrich, in generale quei paesaggi romantici e quel concetto di limite, anche se con una chiave di lettura contemporanea. A questo proposito, quali sono i tuoi riferimenti fotografici e non circa l’immagine?

Marcel: Questa è una connessione interessante. Non ho referenze fotografiche specifiche, ma ho una completa collezione di libri fotografici. Da qui la mia ispirazione. Nei miei scatti la composizione e l’estetica sono essenziali. Sono molto paziente nel trovare il mood che sto cercando. Non è raro che mi ritrovo ad aspettare per molto tempo la luce giusta ed il tempo atmosferico. Posso ritornare sullo stesso posto molte volte. Controllo l’output dell’immagine il più possibile. Da questi aspetti, i miei scatti sono simili alle pitture dei romantici. Specialmente per il progetto AEON, che tratta una minaccia invisibile, era fondamentale per me riuscire a raggiungere un sentimento oppressivo per dare il giusto senso del contenuto.


08. “Wet Deposition Sampling Plot” — AEON, 2020


Mattia: La tua ricerca, oltre ad una composizione impeccabile dell’immagine, presenta sicuramente un impegno sociale importante. Che cosa ti auguri che scaturisca la tua arte in uno spettatore?

Marcel: Cerco sempre di mantenere il mio lavoro il più oggettivo possibile, mostrando la storia da vari punti di vista. Non mi piace forzare le persone con una certa opinione. Spero che il mio lavoro faccia pensare le persone e faccia creare loro un’opinione personale. Dipende dallo spettatore il che cosa si vede nelle mie immagini. Probabilmente qualche persona troverà il paesaggio bellissimo ed altre troveranno che il contenuto sia assurdo o shockante. Per me l’importante è che ogni immagine abbia la sua storia e mi piace quando non è visibile al primo sguardo.

Dopo questi anni, ho lentamente realizzato come tutto sia complesso e connesso. Qualche volta non so nemmeno io cosa dovrei pensare circa questo intero tema. Risulta difficile credere che le auto elettriche saranno il futuro quando vai nel posto dove vengono prodotte le loro componenti tecnologiche. Quando capisci quale impatto ambientale ha la loro produzione.


09. “Pylon” — AMBIVALENT, 2018


10. “Autonomous Solar-Powered Street Light System” — AMBIVALENT, 2018


Mattia: Per concludere, una domanda fantasiosa. Se dovessi immaginare una tua fotografia del distante futuro, sarebbe distopica o utopica rispetto il tema ambientale? Che cosa vedremmo raffigurato ed in quale parte del mondo?

Marcel: In generale sono una persona ottimista e voglio credere che possiamo fare questo cambiamento. Specialmente prima della pandemia, sentivo che la gente iniziava a realizzare che il cambiamento climatico è davvero un problema reale. Ora, però, non ne sono più così sicuro. Sento che la pandemia ha reso tutti stanchi attraverso le nuove restrizioni. Per fare un vero cambiamento c’è bisogno di una limitazione di un certo stile di vita e questo arriva anche tramite privazioni e costi. Il cambiamento climatico è la maggiore minaccia del nostro secolo e la gente tende a pensare che il progresso tecnologico risolverà il problema. La tecnologia, però, lo rallenterà solamente. Non stiamo distruggendo il nostro pianeta ma effettivamente siamo lì per distruggere le nostre basi di vita. Tuttavia, finché non troveremo un modo per rovinare il campo magnetico terrestre, che mantiene l’atmosfera in posizione, la natura si rigenererà di sicuro. Pertanto posso ipotizzare che una mia fotografia del distante futuro mostrerà un paesaggio bello e vivido, non importerà veramente dove sarà stato scattato. (Mentre stavo rispondendo a questa domanda, una pesante tempesta è arrivata su Zurigo e ha lasciato tracce di devastazione. In questo momento, in altre parti del paese e nell’Europa occidentale si stanno verificando estreme inondazioni. Gli esperti avvertono costantemente riguardo condizioni meteorologiche più gravi su questa scala a causa del cambiamento climatico. Si presume che l’impatto già registrato durerà diverse centinaia di anni e noi stiamo ancora emettendo anidride carbonica. Come posso essere ottimista in questo momento…)


11. “Hurd Deep” — AEON, 2020


12. “Father & Son” — AMBIVALENT, 2017


Mattia: Mi dispiace molto per questo avvenimento. Dovremmo veramente impegnarci tutti quanti affinché non ne capitino ancora. Il tuo punto di vista è molto interessante. Mi hai dato definitivamente una nuova prospettiva. Grazie per il contributo, Marcel! Buon lavoro!

Marcel: Grazie mille!


13. “Relic” — AEON, 2020


https://marcelrickli.com/

@marcel.rickli


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ENG


Mattia: Hi Marcel, how are you? Just to start, could you briefly introduce yourself, please?

Marcel: Hi Mattia, thank you for getting in touch with me. I’m fine and it feels like the pandemic blues is finally shifting into motivation again. I’ll introduce myself. My name is Marcel Rickli (1986*) and I’m a Swiss photographer based in Zurich. Since more than 10 years, my work deals with humanity energy needs and its resources consumption. In particular, my visual research projects focused on man-made issues and their consequences on the planet.


Mattia: Surely your artistic research focuses on the Anthropocene - a highly topical theme - and is not limited to a continental panorama. How did this interest arise and how did you develop it over the years from a visual and non-visual point of view?

Marcel: I can say everything started right after Fukushima disaster and when the governments of Switzerland and Germany announced the nuclear phase-out. I was wondering about what will or can be the alternatives. The first project I did on this topic was about the construction of an hydroelectric power plant on the lake of Biel (HAGNECK 2011 – 2015). It’s considered to be one of the last possible run-of-the river power stations in Switzerland. Although it was actually a replacement of an existing one, I found impressive the effort that is being made to get a tiny step closer to the energy transition. At the same time in Germany, the nuclear phase-out led to a revival of brown coal energy, which is responsible of massive land sacrifices, polluted rivers and heavy CO2 emissions (LAUSITZER BRAUNKOHLEREVIER 2015). The more I confronted with this topic, the more I found human behavior absurd. The Anthropocene became the common thread of my work.


On the visual, my work is shifting more and more from classical documentary or landscape photography to a more experimental visual language. For my latest project AEON (2018 – ONGOING) I’m trying a lot of different techniques like 3D-rendering, 3D-printing and sculpting. This allows me to express myself more freely than it would be possible with ordinary photography.


Mattia: Observing your shots, it seems that a relationship is created between landscape and man in which a contrasting feeling prevails: you can sense the majestic human potential on the planet, despite the fact that the human figure is very small in scale compared to it. In this regard, it is almost unbelievable that human action can have great consequences from an environmental point of view. I find this concept fascinating, what do you think about it?

Marcel: Man is a doubtful being: capable of creating the most beautiful things and so destructive at the same time. I remember during my project on air pollution in China (AMBIVALENT 2017 – 2018), to get an overview we climbed on the rooftop of a skyscraper next to a coal power plant. Imagine you can barely see the sun shining through the smog and the air smelled like burning paper causing sore throat when not wearing a mask. But at the same time this scenery was in its own way so romantic and poetic that you could almost forget that this “fog” was man-made.

Last year I had a similar feeling. For AEON I was capturing this seemingly calm seascape of the English Channel. The waves were punching against the coast line, carrying with them most likely some radioactive isotopes from the 28’000 barrels of nuclear waste lying and rusting on the bottom of Hurd Deep, a few kilometers from the coast of Alderney. “The solution to pollution is dilution?!”


Mattia: Allow me a personal analysis, correct me if I'm wrong. Some of your shots bring to mind Friedrich's Wanderer above the Sea of ​​Fog, in general those romantic landscapes and that concept of limit, of course with a contemporary interpretation. In this regard, what are your photographic references and not about the image?

Marcel: This is an interesting comparison. I don’t have specific photographic references, but I’ve got a comprehensive collection of photo-books. They are my inspiration. In my photographs, composition and aesthetics are essential. I’m also very patient to get the mood I’m looking for. It’s not rare that I wait a long time for the right light and weather. I can go back to the same places over and over again. I try to control the outcome as much as possible. In this regard, my photographs are maybe similar to romantic paintings. Especially for the AEON project, which deals with an invisible threat, it was important to me to achieve a certain oppressive feeling in order to get a sense of the content.


Mattia: Your research, in addition to an impeccable composition of the image, certainly presents an important social theme. What do you hope your art to spring into a spectator?

Marcel: I always try to keep my work as objective as I can, showing the story from different angles. I don’t like forcing people to a certain opinion. I hope that my work will make people think and come up with their own thoughts. It’s up to the spectators view what they see in my images. Maybe some people will find the landscapes beautiful and other might find the content absurd or even shocking. To me it’s always important that every image has its own story and I like when its not always visible at a first glance.

But after those years, I slowly begin to realize how complex and connected everything is. Sometimes I don’t even know what I should think about the whole topic anymore. It’s difficult to believe that electric cars will be the future when you go to the place where the components for its technology are coming from. When you know what environmental impact their production has.


Mattia: Finally, an imaginative question. If you had to imagine one of your photographs of the distant future, would it be dystopian or utopian with respect to the environmental theme? What would we see depicted and in what part of the world?

Marcel: In general, I’m an optimistic person and I want to believe that we can make the change. Especially before the pandemic, I felt that people finally began to realize that climate change is for real an existing problem. But now I am not sure anymore. It feels like the pandemic made everyone tired of additional restrictions again. To make a real change it needs a limitation of a certain lifestyle and it also comes with deprivations and costs. Climate change is the main threat of our century and people tend to think that progress in technology will solve the problem. But technology will only delay it. We are not destroying our planet but in fact we’re about to destroy our basis of life. But as long we don’t find a way to ruin earths magnetic field, which holds the atmosphere in place, nature will regenerate itself for sure. So therefore, I assume that a photograph of mine in the distant future would show a beautiful and vivid landscape and it doesn’t really matter where it is taken. (When I was answering this question, a heavy storm went over Zurich and left traces of devastation. In other parts of the country and in Western Europe extreme floods are happening right now. Experts constantly warn of more severe weather in that scale due to climate change. The impact we already made is assumed to last several hundred years and we’re still emitting carbon dioxide. How can I be optimistic at the moment…)


Mattia: I’m so sorry about this fact. We’ll really work hard, if we want it can’t happened again. Your opinion is very very interesting. You give me definitively a new perspective. Thanks for the contribution, Marcel! Good job!

Marcel: Thank you very much!


https://marcelrickli.com/

@marcel.rickli





NOTES: 01. Mockup | This model created by the Czech Radioactive Waste Repository Authority (Surao) in Prague demonstrates how a multiple barrier system can prevent nuclear waste from escaping. The first barrier for the final disposal of high-level fuel rods is a steel (or copper) container with a wall thickness of around 15 cm.

According to current research, it is capable of encasing radioactive material for up to 10,000 years before the cask completely breaks down due to corrosion. Then, the second barrier comes into effect. It consists of a bentonite filling, a granulate similar to cat litter, which can absorb and store moisture. The host rock forms the third and final barrier. 02. Longyangxia Dam Solar Park I The Longyangxia Dam Solar Park was back then the largest of its kind. With a total capacity of 850 MW it is still listed amongst the top 10 of biggest solar parks world wide. 03. Welzow Süd I Spoil pile of the lignite open pit mine Welzow Süd. In this dump are already 17, mostly Sorbian, villages buried.

04. ISO 361 | Pictographs – simplified pictorial representations of information – have become established as warning signs in order to draw attention to dangers in the most universally understandable way possible. The organisation responsible for standardising these signs worldwide is ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation), based in Geneva. The ISO 361 standard regulates the radiation symbol, which warns of radioactivity or ionising radiation. It was designed by a team of researchers at the University of California at Berkeley. The shape and mass of the symbol are precisely defined. ISO-361 standard is the starting point for thinking about the transmission of information across millennia. How does a message have to be structured in order to be understood by addressees in the future? What understanding do we have today of messages from the past, such as hieroglyphics? The photographer appropriates the radioactivity symbol by printing it as a three-dimensional object together with information on its proportions, photographing it and transforming it into a monumental wall application. 05. Burried Room | The concept of the „Buried Room was originally proposed in the Sandia Report. Essential information about the nearby WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant), as well as basic physical laws such as the periodic table, should be carved in stone and buried in some kind of a bunker. In the recently published RK&M report, the idea of the «time capsule» was taken up again and considered as a solution for the storage of information across generations. (A Visual Depiction of Various Design Options, in: Sandia Report, Expert Judgment on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, 1993, S. 166.) (RK&M Preservation Approaches and Mechanisms, in: Preservation of Records Knowledge and Memory (RK&M) Across Generations, 2019, S.71.)

06. Shijiazhuang I Coal power plant in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province. In early 2017, the Chinese government decided to stop the construction of 100 coal power plants promptly. This year (2018), however, the course has changed again and the construction continues. The government got under pressure to loosen the restrictions due to power shortages in several regions as well as the urge of the electricity companies.


07. Gleisrücker I This machine is moving the rail tracks of the gigantic conveyor bridge F60 in order to allow its onward transport for the mining process.


08. Wet Deposition Sampling Plot I | Measuring stations for monitoring wet deposition during the construction of the ONKALO deep geological repository protrude from the forest floor. Rainwater and snow samples were collected and analyzed at measuring stations on Olkiluoto Island from 2003 to 2013 with the aim of determining whether emissions triggered by blasting and the supply of building materials during the construction phase have a negative impact on the forest. Increased aluminum and iron levels were detected in the spruce and pine needles near the dumping site for the excavated material; according to the final report by Posiva, this is not expected to have any long-term consequences for the Olkiluoto ecosystem.


09. Pylon I Not fully assembled electricity pylon close to Gansu wind-farm. Guazhou, Gansu Province. Because of the wind-farm’s remote location and the local government who still relies on fossil fuels, 39 % of its potential energy is not being used, according to a study by NEA (National Energy Administration of China).


10. Autonomous Solar-Powered Street Light System I Autonomous solar-powered street light system with more than 2000 units. Delingha, Qinghai Province.


11. Hurd Deep I, II | Hurd Deep lies just off the coast of the British Channel Island of Alderney. At 172 meters, this elongated trough is the deepest point in the English Channel. Its use as a nuclear waste disposal site for low-level radioactive waste between 1950 and 1963 has been acknowledged by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). According to the IAEA, more than 17,000 tons of radioactive material in approximately 28,500 barrels have been dumped in Hurd Deep. It was assumed that the barrels would rust through within a very short period of time and that the radioactive material would disperse over a large area in keeping with the motto, “Dilution is the solution to pollution.» This inexpensive approach was practiced on a large scale for decades throughout the world and was first declared illegal in 1993 after spectacular protests by Greenpeace. In 2012, a film team from SWR (a German television station) caused a sensation when it came across two intact barrels at a depth of 124 meters and called the success of this practice into question.


12. Father & Son I Baoding is listed as one of the top 10 most polluted cities in China. Life expectancy is about 5 years shorter than in other cities. People are often not sensitized to the risks of air pollution and protect themselves too little. Unlike in major cities such as Beijing or Shanghai, there are just a few people wearing protective masks in Baoding.


13. Relic | Sampling at an outcrop (place of intersection between the bedrock and the surface of the earth) above the ONKALO deep geological repository. Extensive surveys have been undertaken for the purposes of studying the geology of Olkiluoto since the 1980s. The bedrock of the island consists primarily of migmatic gneiss formed during the Paleoproterozoic era, 1.8-1.9 billion years ago. These artificial relics are likely to survive a number of civilizations and be interpreted as messages from a bygone era. In this respect, the «marking» of the repository has already been set, contrary to the current intention of the operator, Posiva.