Benera and Estefan
Debrisphere. Landscape as an extension of the military imagination, 2017 - ongoing.
mixed-media installation: works on paper (drawings, pencil on paper, 77x56 cm each; collages on paper, 26.5x17 cm each)
scale models (coral sand, volcanic ash, resin, pigments), variable dimensions

Debrisphere is the yet-unnamed stratum of the Earth crust, a supra-stratum of the Lithosphere —rubble mountains, “blooming deserts”, military coral reefs, and other similar constructions— resulting from or still serving conflict and war around the world.

The case studies included in the research are: maritime natural reserves and coral-reef islands occupied by military bases in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean (Diego Garcia U.S. base); the artificial hill Teufelsberg in Berlin, created from the rubble of World War II bombardments covered today by forest (covering the site of the unfinished military school designed by Albert Speer); the fast-growing trees planted by the JNF in the Negev desert, Israel, covering former Palestinian villages; geoengineered pristine islands in the Pacific to be used as atomic test sites.

"Benera and Estefan’s Debrisphere coincides with a layer that is not only the result of man engineering and transforming nature (an activity on which man’s entire social existence is otherwise based) but also doing so in order to engineer and conceal its own troubled history or present intentions. The artists talk about landscape as camouflage, nature built on top of a nature of a different kind, erased to create another narrative, history re-written through the manipulation of geology, scenery reconfigured according to the needs of strategic military thinking.

The artists propose to use, among others, two formats that, even though they imply artistic skills, have traditionally defined other disciplines: the architectural scale model and the botanical atlas. The objects they thus produce are at the same time accurately realistic and fictional, thus raising questions on the narratives constructed together with the sites taken as models, as well as on the legitimacy of scientific disciplines that are used to enforce those narratives.

Playing with the permeable line of how fiction can become reality once one is in the possession of the proper instruments of persuasion, the artists are adding to the work a series of botanical drawings, in the style of explorers’ atlases, depicting “plants, trees, corals, shellfish, crabs, used as the primary material for the artificial land constructions.” Instead of the Latin names from the historical atlases, the artists use for example the name of the militarized island or operation – thus drawing also the impossible-to-dissociate link between the elements of nature and their use for violence and erasure.
By depicting the man-made reality behind the natural environment, Benera and Estefan’s botanical drawings are no more fictional than the proper atlases of the European explorers to the New World, which, while being based on modern scientific methodologies of observation and recording, were nevertheless embedded in a violent colonial history and ignored other, non-Western, world-views and cosmologies of which the natural objects of their study were part. "

text by Raluca Voinea

comissioned and produced by MUMOK, Vienna
photos by Klaus Pichler, David Biro