Essay by Guido van Hengel
195 × 290 mm
‘Shaky Ground’ originates from a childhood memory associated with the First World War. When one of my cousins tried to dismantle an unexploded shell, he was badly injured and died that same evening in the hospital.
Driving along the curve of the Ypres Front Line now, 38 years later, it’s nearly impossible to imagine that one of the most horrific wars of all time was waged here one hundred years ago. The traces of the Great War have been almost completely erased from the landscape, at least above ground. After the war, thousands of Chinese workers spent a year cleaning and restoring the landscape as much as possible. Over the course of decades, hundreds of bunkers were removed; the cleanup process continued for generations. To this very day, human remains and projectiles are still found every time someone sticks a spade into the soil. Somewhere beneath the sod, tens of thousands of missing soldiers are presumed to lie undiscovered, along with hundreds of thousands of unexploded shells. An estimated thirty per cent of the 1.5 billion projectiles fired during the First World War never went off. Some of the people who live in the area have developed a sixth sense for this hidden history: where tens of thousands of tourists and travellers pass by unknowing, the locals know that the slightest raise or dip in the road could be an indication that war remnants still lie uneasy beneath the earth.
For centuries, Europe was a divided continent with countless wars and infinite redefinitions of shared borders. It briefly seemed as though the First World War would be the very last, the ‘war to end all wars’. Ultimately, however, those years planted the first seeds of the Second World War. Long-lasting peace, prosperity and progress did not come to Europe until after 1945. The establishment of the European Community was envisioned as an affirmation of permanent peace in Europe. With the recent developments towards Brexit and the current political dynamics on the European continent, it seems that the awareness of the importance of unity stands on shaky ground again. The traces of a history of war seem to be fading rapidly from memory.
About the Artist
Peter Dekens is a documentary photographer with a keen interest in socially sensitive subjects and issues investigated from an alternative perspective.
These projects are part of a broader investigation Dekens has been pursuing. In recent years Dekens covered in ‘Touch’ about the social consequences of blindness; in ‘(Un)expected‘ about the coping process of surviving relatives of suicides, and in ‘Shaky Ground’ about the urgency of the past (First World War) in the perspective of a sustainably united Europe.
About the Publisher
The Eriskay Connection is a Dutch studio for book design and an independent publisher. We focus on contemporary storytelling at the intersection of photography, research and writing. In close collaboration with authors we make books as autonomous bodies of work that provide us with new and necessary insights into the world around us. The key for us is to convey the essence of their work through high quality editing, design and production. Our editions are mainly offset printed and bound in The Netherlands and we strive to work with local producers and sustainable materials as much as possible.