No Man's Land
Photographs by Bonnell Robinson & Dana Mueller
January 23 - February 20, 2010
Rick Wester Fine Art is pleased to present an exhibition by Bonnell Robinson and Dana Mueller, two photographers working on related independent projects that combine personal motives with European and American landscapes linked to the two World Wars. The exhibition includes Robinson's black and white photographs of WWI sites, and Mueller's color images of German Prisoner-of-War sites in the United States during WWII. At first glance, the images appear peaceful and bucolic, objective landscapes of quiet rural corners. Once the viewer has the opportunity to take in the details, other layers begin to emerge.
T.L. Robinson, Bonnell Robinson's grandfather, served in the Red Cross from 1917-1919 during the Great War (1914-1918). Inspired by the discovery of her grandfather's journal, Robinson set out to vicariously experience a point in history that remains largely overshadowed by WWII. Following his journal, she traveled sites along the Western Front in France and Belgium, the Southern Front in Italy, Austria and Slovenia, and was overwhelmed by the expanse of land and visible remnants of battle. She found fields thinly layered with new growth but scarred and rippled from filled trenches. She encountered undetonated shells piled in corners of fields by farmers for disposal, and even an excavation of a British soldier, bringing to life the reality of the war and how it still exists in many people's lives. Through these quiet images, Robinson reflects on the vastness of a war that claimed a total of 9.7 million people. She hopes these images will encourage dialogue into "why nations engage in war, tolerate it, endure it, and fail to commit to other solutions."
As an East German immigrant, Dana Mueller addresses German history and the relationship between the landscape and the shaping of national identity. By looking at the WWII German Prisoner-of-War experience in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, she investigates the irony of German foot soldiers and high-ranking Nazi officers nurturing American soil versus the destruction they caused in Eastern Europe led by Hitler. Mueller's images of fields and pastures relate to the period of Romanticism in literature and the arts in the mid 19th Century, and earlier, that illustrated a longing to return to a pristine, beautiful experience of nature, as an expression of the divine. This ideal was later appropriated by the Nazis and German Fascists, tied to German identity and used as propaganda, relating to the German military policy of Lebensraum. Through visiting and photographing sites that Germans inhabited, Mueller confronts the complex human experience of emotional separation and war.
While the centenary of the First World War is half a decade away and World War II has become an event in the popular imagination mined for inspiration, our current era is also being defined by the horrors of war. Robinson and Mueller's photographs, far removed from the living action that occurred at the sites, are poignant reminders of what is left after the fighting is done. Far more than the spirit photographs of the 19th Century, their images record the ghosts that continue to haunt, to roam the fields of collective memories and humanity.
Bonnell Robinson is Professor of Art History and Photography at the Art Institute of Boston where she is also the Director of Exhibitions. After having taken a long hiatus from photography to pursue teaching and curatorial work, she began to photograph again in Russia (2003), Central Europe (2004), and Scotland (2005), concentrating on sites associated with critical moments in history. She intends to continue her current project, documenting fronts of the Great War, with travels to Gallipoli (Turkey) and the Middle East over the next two years.
Dana Mueller is an Adjunct Professor in photography and art history at the Art Institute of Boston. She received her MFA in Photography from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Her work has consistently addressed German identity, memory, history and landscape, inspired by Caspar David Friedrich, Anselm Kiefer and W.G. Sebald. In addition to sites already photographed in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, Mueller intents to extend the project into Texas, Louisiana and New Mexico.