Ideal Accounts of Wood and Wilderness

Alexander Lembke

Already in the age of Friedrich Schillers Robbers (1782), the woods had been pervaded by the law and had hence become a forest: A zone where natural, political and economical histories are tangled like undergrowth. There are few other places where the want for a romantic notion of untamed wilderness can coexist with the need for economic exploitation and political regulation. Behind the closed and harmonic tree rows that serve as a facade of tourist trails, many visible and invisible lines of zoning, forestry, as well as animal territories cut through and divide the forest landscape. Alexander Lembke’s task has been to find and define the crossroads of seemingly natural and artificial structures. The high resolution and fine-crafted geometry of Lembke’s photographs does not choose a side but rather superimposes natural and man-made (dis)order with yet another visual structure that eventually makes it possible to relate the two orders at all and show how they interfere and correspond. The cleanliness of the bitumen roads surgically cutting through the forest ground’s veins makes the soil of the wood seem like an unfinished construction site – rather than the other way round. Moreover, this impression is contrasted by the strict vertical order of the trees that complicate the question of where order and chaos really reside. The road signs and markings found on many of the photographs do not only seem like quite an absurd attempt to execute the law in the most remote place, but their orthogonality, and similarly the parallel railway tracks, also give evidence about how our vision itself, and hence our perception of nature is bound to a certain optical regime. Since our cognition favours right angles over odd ones, we are bound to feel and behave better in a visually ordered world. But luckily, the want for wilderness resides.