Water is Leven, by Henk Hofstra (2007)
The ongoing interplay between man and nature occasionally throws up an oddity. In the usual course of things, cities and farmlands spread inexorably, fundamentally distorting (where not destroying outright) the ecosystems they encounter. Far less frequently, it is mankind who retreats – leaving concrete bunkers behind after a war, for example, which soon enough become overgrown and inhabited by wild cats and bats (see my post on Germany’s Westwall here).
What man hardly ever does, however, is memorialize the nature he has displaced. This is one of the objectives of Dutch artist Henk Hofstra’s “blue road” in Drachten (thanks to Torontoist for featuring the project and several pictures of it), which runs for 1000 metres exactly and sports eight-metre-high letters that say (in Dutch) “WATER IS LIFE”: the city road that Hofstra painted vivid blue runs along the course of a former waterway.
The idea of building memorials to vanquished nature is an appealing one. Imagine our cities with multi-block areas painted deep green to symbolize the woods that were cut down to make way for buildings, or yellowy-brown to represent the fields bulldozed under. Perhaps we could even paint shadow animals — like the silhouettes we sometimes paint to represent the real or potential human victims of nuclear bombs — here a moose, there a porcupine, that scattering of shapes on the next block representing a flock of passenger pigeons we netted for meat and stuffed into boxcars.
But could we live with such images pointing their accusing wings and paws at us while we shop for designer clothing and eat in fine restaurants? No, which is why we do not mention these ghosts, nor build memorials to them. Far better to forget.