Landscape, battle and territory, Translation of original text by Trine Rytter Andersen.
Morten Barker is interested in what happens in the military exercise areas found all over Danish nature. Over several years, he has developed his relationship with the Danish Armed Forces and gained access to film and photograph these special natural resorts, both when they are left in peace, and when they act as the stage for military troops’ exercises with loaded weapons and heavy artillery. His focus on the drama that unfolds in the Danish military shooting grounds is unusual and his gaze is characterised by unbiased curiosity conducive to the nuances and the depth which his art reflects.
Morten Barker's art is generally about the landscape: how we experience it. What it looks like. How it is changed by the destructive power of warfare. On another level, it is about territory: The relationship between nature's long and tough struggle for survival on the one side, and the encounter with the recurrent brutality of projectiles, grenades and explosives on the other. Both sides are examined in a way that enables the activation and connection of both external physical conditions and internal mental states in works consisting of photography, video, installation, objects, light and sound.
Confronted with the pieces, we witness an extreme adaptation during which nature is constantly restoring itself, refusing to yield and during which it maintains its territory as biotope and habitat, despite the brutal circumstances. In Barker's portrayal, both animals and tanks become a kind of nature that co-exists in parallel and sometimes mirrors in each other's brutal and fatal behaviour. Even the lark song that we love and associate with peace and harmony is an expression of aggression: an attempt to maintain a territory and keep rivals at bay. Opposite the territorial behaviour of the lark and the stag and their battles during the mating season, the destructive military forces are portrayed so as to resemble nature - be nature.
This approach, which naturalizes man as a killing machine, is so gently executed that you hardly notice the criticism, and as the landscape rests in a seductive tranquillity with deer and heather, which by the observer is interpreted as was it as beautiful as the Golden Age painting, one can easily be led to believe that this curious world maintains a strange harmony without consequences or importance for nature and the surrounding society.
Morten Barker examines both the visible and the invisible wounds, and as such, it also becomes about the underlying psychological landscape emerging within us, and which appears on a much more subtle and unconscious manner, by virtue of the ideas and thoughts that arise within us when we are confronted with the contradictory elements of the landscape as a stage orchestrating this unique area of Danish military practice.
One the surface, the encounter between nature and war culture looks frictionless, but Morten Barker also demonstrates how military presence causes wounds and leaves tracks in nature. We are confronted with both the hard and the soft; in the same spots where tanks push forward on wide caterpillar tracks, we see elegant red deer leap forward on light hooves. Both leave tracks in the sand, and when they meet, great poetic force emerges. Similarly, when the lark’s cheerful warbles accompany the tank’s monotonous hum, which in turn can be confused with the hoarse bellow of the stag during the rutting season. We discover the battle being fought between red deer and tanks, both demanding their place in this universe.
With X-ray photographs of projectiles and grenade shrapnel in trees, Barker explores the way nature tries to overcome the damage inflicted by the war machines. These invisible wounds detectable by X-ray photography become symbols of how war at all times has inflicted wounds on nature (and humankind) which both nature and human beings subsequently attempt first to survive, then hide and eventually forget. It is this work of finding and exposing the deeper, and at first invisible, wounds that brings about the more ominous, critical potential. Because where and how are wars fought, how close are each of us to the war zone and which battles are we then participating in?
In Barker’s art, a number of elements meet; each of which has strong symbolic power. The evocative landscape, red deer, butterflies and larks opposite military troops and war machines in action. By use of a sharp sampling technique, this meeting is concentrated in Barker’s photographs. It is only when we realise all the intermediate tones that we understand their meaning and are able to discern the connection between the contrasts that Morten Barker shows us a world so full of. He moves our gaze up close and then again far away, and in between are all the details that form the big picture and gives us a deeper understanding of what actually takes place in the nature and the scenario we are observing.
Morten Barker approaches his field without bias and with curiosity. It enables him to treat his topic in a manner that expands our gaze so that we see the landscape, combat exercises and animals with new eyes. We see a world full of beauty, sophistication, roughness, conflict, violence and strong natural forces - symbols and signs. The romantic and gentle opposite the brutal. Harmony opposite disharmony. Lightness and heaviness. Light and darkness. Sharp and blurry. Barker’s art leaves the observer with an open gash in his or her consciousness; something has been ripped open, as if you have been hit by the shrapnel shells that wreck war zone landscapes. The clashes are powerful! Some things are emphasised and other things have been changed, raising a number of difficult questions whose answers are ultimately the responsibility of the observer.