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's crust, a supra-stratum of the Lithosphere. It contains the worldwide man-made landscapes: the artificial mountains of Germany, the “blooming deserts” of Israel, the military coral reefs of China and the United States, and other similar constructions around the world that resulted from, or still serving, conflict and war.

"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.

Their models are 50x50 cm, which is the size of one pixel in satellite imagery made available to the public, a size at which the human presence is only detectable as an environmental imprint. This precise scaling brings us again to Eyal Weizman’s observations, who defines the “threshold of detectability” and analyses the importance of media representations and forensics as an image-based practice.
The scale models of Benera and Estefan, cast onto archaeological layers indicate the long-term imprint of the Debrisphere onto the other strata of the Earth and the need to look at it also from a geological perspective. The artists project themselves into “archaeologists of the present” who excavate the military-generated landscapes and expose their constructed “natural” character.

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, excerpts from "Counter-Landscapes. Where have all the ruins gone?" in Natural Histories. Traces of the Political, exhibition catalog, MUMOK, Vienna, 2017)

Produced by MUMOK, Vienna | photos by Klaus Pichler