Cas Spoelstra // Colonial Heritage: a Speculation


Reinterpretation of historical aerial photographs

Amy Whittle and I were invited to the diverse depository of museum Bronbeek and were asked to research an aspect of the depository, to reinterpret this aspect into an artistic fashion. Bronbeek is both a museum that reflects back on the colonial history, specifically concerning the Dutch East Indies. In addition to being a museum it also houses veterans from the KNIL(Royal Netherlands East Indies Army).

Overview of the installation

A large portion of Bronbeek's depository consists of aerial photgraphs taken between 1940's and 1960's. These photographs where taken for multiple purposes such as cartography, military reconnaissance and natural resource discovery. With the collection spanning over 400.000 physical photographs we questioned the application of storing these photographs that require a specific (costly) climate to preserve correctly, especially since a considerable amount of photographs consist of empty plots of lands and empty stretches of water.

An original photo

To explore a function of what this archive could hold in this current age where this colonial heritage is increasingly fading away Amy and I created a socially critical installation to investigate forms of power through technology.
The routes airplanes had traveled to capture these aerial photographs where documented on so-called runmaps. These runmaps depicted paths of flight that were drawn on an already detailed map of the landscape. This struck us as odd, why photograph the land to create maps, when the tools you are using to create the map exists of the very thing you are trying to create?

An artifact which is either a patch of forest or a stain

We took the position of a colonial Dutch where we extrapolated that even in a cartographic fashion we could excert power over the East Indies. We colonial Dutch had the superior technology; airplanes, cameras. Surely with our superior technology and knowledge could we create a superior map?

Sometimes however, elements captured on the photograph are unrecognizable, up to a point where it's uncertain if it's part of the photograph itself or part of reality. It could be a tear or a river, a stain or a lake, a cloud or a hill.
We wondered how the landscape would transform if these artifacts would be taken as 'true' and transform the landscape.
The objects are displayed isolated from the landscape on reflective pedestals as exotic oddities.

Detail of the pedestal and runmap
The pedestals rest on an enlarged redesigned runmap