Who Owns the Land?

From September 8th until January 28th Rijksmuseum Twenthe will organize a large manifestation regarding the question ‘Van wie is het (platte)land?’ The manfestation consists of three different exhibitions and a extensive public program. In addition to that, the museum has invited four artists to explore and develop new perspectives on dilemmas affecting the rural environment of Twente. One of them is Jonas Staal. The starting point of Staal’s research is the famous utopian project New Babylon by Constant.


Ger Dekkers, Reed Land and Ditch, photo, 1978, Collectie Gemeente Enschede


Ger Dekkers, Reed Land and Ditch, photo, 1978, Collectie Gemeente Enschede

Follow this project on the website of Rijksmuseum Twenthe.

The great challenges of our time 

The population of the Netherlands is expected to be around 19 million in 2035. We need to build more than a million homes over the next ten years, and achieve a 55 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030. We must also fill our fields with solar panels, farm less intensively, and create more space for nature.

The ways in which we make use of scarce land are creating tensions. Many of the biggest issues of our time affect the areas outside big cities: the climate crisis, nitrogen emissions, drought, biodiversity loss, sustainable food production, the transition to green energy, and resource extraction. All of these have consequences and pose dilemmas primarily in the rural environment.

The future of the rural space

What does this mean for the countryside? What does its future look like, and what should our priorities be? Should we build, farm, or give land back to nature? Or are these objectives more easily reconcilable than we might think, and can we approach then in a creative, integrated manner?

Who does the land belong to?

But we must also beware of adopting a utilitarian approach, using the land as a tool to solve our problems. Shouldn’t we begin by looking at the bigger picture, and try to understand how all these problems occurred in the first place? Isn’t it our anthropocentric view of land and the natural environment that has created climate change, nitrogen emissions and soil pollution? Why have we been acting in this way for centuries, as though the land belongs to us? Who does it really belong to?


With the manifestation Terra Libera (‘free land’) Rijksmuseum Twenthe wants to explore the questions that are mentioned above. In the main exhibition this means zooming out. With a selection of artworks from the late Middle Ages until now, we show how we have looked at the land through the ages, how we have made this land our own and how we cultivated it. The second exhibition, focusing on media art, deals with the specific issue of resource extraction. The third exhibition is a collaboration with the Fotomanifestatie Enschede, and will show two photo series that depict resource extraction and the food industry.

With an extensive public program and the artistic research of the four artists we will bring the bigger, overall questions from the exhibitions back to the here and now. Which specific themes and developments do we recognize here in Twente? And what do these challenges mean in the rural area for the people that live there? How do they see the future ?

More information about the individual projects will follow soon.

Artistic Research

Within the framework of ‘Terra Libera’, Rijksmuseum Twenthe, in collaboration with The Theory in the Arts professorship of ArtEZ University of the Arts, has invited four artists to carry out artistic research in the rural areas of the eastern Netherlands. The starting points for this research are the dilemmas that manifest themselves in the region: where different interests cause friction and where our landscape is the outcome of these frictions. The four participating artists are Tanja Engelberts, Wapke Feenstra, Jonas Staal and Budhaditya Chattopadhyay.

Eastern Netherlands as case study

For a number of months, these four artists will conduct ‘field research’ in the countryside in and around Twente. This may consist of investigating certain special or controversial places, human (e.g. industrial) activities and socially special situations; conducting interviews with residents, farmers or representatives of institutions is part of it. Through the research we want to make local-global issues part of the Terra Libera-project, as well as involve and give a voice to local communities.

New connections

The added value of artistic research compared to ‘ordinary’ research lies, among other things, in the fact that artists often do not immediately think in quick solutions (‘this is the question and this is our solution’), but rather in reformulating the problem: Can we also look at it differently? Through their relatively independent gaze, artists can come up with other visions and, through their imagination, also challenge the audience to look again or differently at a situation. Thus, artistic research is primarily not about solving a problem, but about making new connections through imagination. The four artists are briefly introduced below.

Tanja Engelberts - The petrochemical landscape

Tanja Engelberts (b. 1987) works primarily with photography and video, and her work is concerned with the fossil industry and its impact on the landscape. For Terra Libera, Engelberts will focus on north-east Twente, where waste water from oil extraction is stored in the soil, and on an area near Oldenzaal where a gas plant once stood. In these landscapes, processes have been initiated whose consequences do not manifest themselves until many years later. Engelberts wants to investigate the traces that the fossil industry has left behind in the landscape of Twente by visiting specific locations, doing archival research and conducting interviews with various stakeholders (residents, scientists, NAM representatives, etc.) With her research, she wants to make the past, present and future of the landscape visible.

Wapke Feenstra — Cow and Landscape

Many of Wapke Feenstra’s (b. 1959) projects take place in rural areas in different parts of the world, where she frequently collaborates with local residents. With the project Cow and Landscape Feenstra wants to explore, in co-creation with different generations of farmers, how the appearance of the cow and — related to this — the landscape around the cow have changed in recent years. Our view of cows and farming is constantly evolving. What did a cow look like fifty years ago and what does it look like now? And what influences and (changing) values underlie these changes? Based on the realization that change in livestock farming is necessary, Feenstra wants to explore with farmers from Twente with diverse backgrounds what we can learn from the past and how we could shape a more sustainable future.

Jonas Staal — New New Babylon

The work of Jonas Staal (b. 1981) deals with the relationship between art, propaganda and democracy. He sees an important role for artists in creating new imaginaries of the future. The starting point of Staal’s research is the famous utopian project New Babylon by artist Constant Nieuwenhuys (1920-2005): a new post-urban structure consisting of a vast network of different sectors built on pillars that stretch across the earth. If the Netherlands will be ravaged by flooding in a few decades due to climate change, New Babylon is a realistic alternative, Staal said. For his research he renamed this alternative New New Babylon: a new society based on coexistence with the earth, built on the ruins of flats, church towers, oil rigs and wind turbines. What might this new society look like? This is what Staal discusses with various experts by experience from the eastern Netherlands.

Budhaditya Chattopadhyay — Rituals for Situated Sonic Reverence

Budhaditya Chattopadhyay is interested in the relationship between sound and a particular place. Sound can help uncover historical, social and geological layers of a landscape, to outline stories and histories of the places in question. For his work, Chattopadhyay uses field recordings, making recordings not only of sounds above the ground, but also of sounds below the ground. In Twente, he will explore different landscapes where significant transformations have taken place in the past or are currently in transition. Chattopadhyay describes himself as a ‘nomadic listener’ who does not ‘take’ from the land, but ‘observes’ the land. The question he thereby asks himself is ‘Can we owe a land rather than owning it?’


For the artistic research component, we are collaborating with a variety of parties who provide practical support for the project or make their knowledge available. Landschap Overijssel, Province of Overijssel, University of Twente, AKI Academy of Art & Design, Drawing Centre Diepenheim, Droste’s in Twente, Erfgoed Bossem.