Elisabeth Tonnard

Terra Nullius


This visual essay is about writing on top of the landscape – treating the landscape as a blank slate of which you can take possession by leaving signs and traces.

The book quotes historical texts that deal with acts of possession by the European discoverers of ‘The New World’. The discoverers wanted to claim the lands they found as their possession, but didn’t yet have a fixed method of doing so. Every nation would create a different set of symbolic acts of possession. Some of these acts are akin to theatrical performances, others are more sculptural. In Terra Nullius these texts are connected to photos made in England, Holland and the US. The photos are not illustrations of the actual, historical signs of possession that the texts speak about, but visualize the act of making inscriptions on the landscape in a broader way.

The historic acts that the texts speak about, are signs of acts and ceremonies still being performed everyday. Moreover, every artist does what these discoverers did: leaving traces in the world as signs for others to see. And the motivation underneath might even be similar: to stake out a territory, to make the world yours. The layout of the essay is meant to reflect the static, repetitive nature of the ceremonies that the texts speak about, and to give a sense of nature being cut up into pieces.

Full color digital print, Rochester, NY 2006. 20 pages. See more images.

The book is included in the collections of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Bodleian Library (special collections at Weston Library), Jan Michalski Foundation for Writing and Literature, John M. Flaxman Library at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago (Joan Flasch collection), Kunstbibliothek (Berlin), Kunst- und Museumsbibliothek Köln (Museum Ludwig), National Library of The Netherlands (Koninklijke Bibliotheek), University of the Arts London (Chelsea College of Art and Design), Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte (Munich).

This book is sold out.

Written by Elisabeth Tonnard

March 17, 2008 at 9:05 pm