Michele Spagnolo

2015 - Ongoing


During the Great War the area called Ypres Salient was theater of a terrible massacre. Almost half a million people died in the trenches and in No Man's Land between 1914 and 1918. In Ypres were used for the first time gas (the mustard gas is also call Yperite) and flamethrowers. Walking along the paths, trough the small woods of birches, following the curvy lines of the hills, the landscape nowadays so quiet and relaxing, reveals his tremendous past.

The soil regurgitates hundreds of metal's fragments: pieces of bombs, slivers of projectiles, rusty shrapnels. I used these splinters like bearings, to help me to find my way in this research.

Thanks to these particular compasses I was able to lift the veil and to cast a glance on the depht of the abyss.

To borrow the American earth artist Robert Smithson’s words: "each landscape, no matter how calm and lovely, conceals a substrata of disaster." And that terrible disaster is still visible in the countryside around Ypres; not only in the white graveyards or in the grey monuments but maybe more in the incessant combination between a quiet present and a so dreadful past. Country houses are builded on the no man's land, the hedges around the fields chase the lines of the trenches, the pond where the frogs croak is actually a bomb crater.

That landscape is a place of correspondence, of call and answer where visual resemblances of color, relief and texture abound. The line of an horse's back echoes the curvature of the fosses and also the trajectories of the bullets, lichens on a wall recall an aerial photograph of the battlefield. Everything link unexpectedly with each other, and so different times and worlds can be joined.

The german's writer Ernst Jünger have described these places as places where: "Nature seemed to be pleasantly intact, and yet the war had given it a suggestion of heroism and melancholy."

This project is my personal essay to reveal how a landscape can speak, while still remains mute, about the past.

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    Bellewaerde Ridge

    "Each landscape, no matter how calm and lovely, always conceals a substrata of disaster"
    (Robert Smithson)

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    "The Bluff" crater.

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    / Sint-Elooi /
    Herbert Randall, 12th East Surrey Regiment. Reported missing on 3rd may 1917 but probably killed on the 20th april 1917 at St. Eloi.

    Trenches: St Eloi
    (Abbreviated from the Conversation of Mr TEH)
    Over the flat slopes of St Eloi
    A wide wall of sand bags.
    In the silence desultory men
    Pottering over small fires, cleaning their mess- tins:
    To and fro, from the lines,
    Men walk as on Piccadilly,
    Making paths in the dark,
    Through scattered dead horses,
    Over a dead Belgian's belly.
    The Germans have rockets. The English have no rockets.
    Behind the line, cannon, hidden, lying back miles.
    Beyond the line, chaos:
    My mind is a corridor. The minds about me are corridors.
    Nothing suggests itself. There is nothing to do but keep on.
    ( T.E. Hulme )

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    / Essex Farm - John MacCrae bunker /
    "a nightmare [...] For seventeen days and seventeen nights none of us have had our clothes off, nor our boots even, except occasionally. In all that time while I was awake, gunfire and rifle fire never ceased for sixty seconds.... And behind it all was the constant background of the sights of the dead, the wounded, the maimed, and a terrible anxiety lest the line should give way.”
    ( John MacCrae )

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    / Memorial column to the 49th division /

    From a small piece of papier founded near this spot :

    " Private Benjamin Rogers 6938
    1st Battalion
    King Shropshire Light Infantry
    Died somewhere on this canal bank
    on the 10th august 1915
    Gladys Ivy Rogers (Scally) daughter
    02.06.1914 – 2001
    In our thoughts 10th august 2015
    Brian Scally (grandson)
    Lloyd Scally (great grandson)
    Autumn Scally (great great granddaughter)"

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    / Frezemberg Ridge /
    "It was like being in hell!" - Sergeant J H Moody

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    / Voormezele /
    "...To die will be an awfully big adventure."
    (Peter Pan)

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    / Near Langemarck /

    " Moi d'abord la campagne, faut que le dis tout de suite, j'ai jamais pu le sentir, je l'ai toujours trouvée triste, avec ses bourbiers qui n'en finissent pas, ses maison où les gens n'y sont jamais et ses chemins qui vont nulle part. Mais quand on y ajoute la guerre en plus, c'est à pas y tenir. Le vent s'était levé, brutal, de chaque côté des talus, les peupliers mêlaient leurs rafaes de feuilles aux petits bruits secs qui venaient de là-bas sur nous. Ces soldats inconnus nous rataient sans cesse, mais tout en nous entourant de mille morts, on s'en trouvait comme habillés."
    ( L.F.Céline )

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    / Bayernwald /

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    / Hill 60 /

    “If a rough sea, in all it's turbulence, could be solidified, the result would bear a marked resemblance to Hill 60 today. The ground is one mass of hummocks and holes over which in summer, Nature, as though a little ashamed of the sight, throws a rough cover of grass and weeds.”
    ( Capt. H.A. Taylor )

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    / Tranchée du Novice /

    “Au-dessus de nos têtes, à deux millimètres, à un millimètre peut-être des tempes, venaient vibrer l'un derrière l'autre ces longs fils d'acier tentants que tracent les balles qui veulent vous tuer, dans l'air chaud d'été. Jamais ne m'étais senti aussi inutile parmi toutes ces balles et la lumière de ce soleil. Une immense, universelle moquerie.”

    ( L.F. Céline )

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    / Passendale - Passchendaele /

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    "Nature seemed to be pleasantly intact, and yet the war had given it a suggestion
    of heroism and melancholy."
    ( Ernst Jünger )

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    / Croonaert Wood /

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    / Hoge Crater /

    “Trench Raid Near Hooge”
    Through the black reached strange long rosy fingers
    All at one aim
    Pretending and bending: down they swept,
    Successions of similars after leapt
    And bore red flame

    To one small ground of the eastern distance,
    And thunderous touched;
    East then and west false dawns fan-flashed
    And shut, and gaped; false thunders clashed.
    ( E. Blunden )

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    / Near Wieltje /

    "(The gas) came up and went over the trenches and it stayed, not as high as a person, all the way across,"
    ( Lester Stevens )

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    / Voormezele /

    P.te J. Dawson

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    / Crest Farm /

    " We can stand up and see the round of the horizon.  It is like being on the sea, but our sea is a sea of mud.  There is not a blade of grass nor a spot of colour anywhere.  Only the least undulations tend to relieve the monotony of complete flatness.  In the middle distance there is something which might by exaggeration be called a 'hill'.  We imagine that this must be the celebrated Passchendaele Ridge."
    ( A. M. Burrage )

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    / Menin Gate, Ypres-Ieper /

    On Passing the New Menin Gate

    " Who will remember, passing through this Gate,
    the unheroic dead who fed the guns?
    Who shall absolve the foulness of their fate,-
    Those doomed, conscripted, unvictorious ones?

    Crudely renewed, the Salient holds its own.
    Paid are its dim defenders by this pomp;
    Paid, with a pile of peace-complacent stone,
    The armies who endured that sullen swamp.

    Here was the world's worst wound. And here with pride
    'Their name liveth for ever', the Gateway claims.
    Was ever an immolation so belied
    as these intolerably nameless names?
    Well might the Dead who struggled in the slime
    Rise and deride this sepulchre of crime. "
    ( S. Sassoon )

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    / Passendale - Passchendaele /