Between the Lines

Forêt d’exception, Zone Rouge (Exceptional Forest, Red Zone), Verdun, FR

Ongoing since 2021: Individual Research

The research project ‘Between the Lines’ focuses on the catastrophic effects of drought and climate change in the forests of the Zone Rouge in the North East of France. It relates to the ongoing struggle to deal with the aftermath and remnants of the First World War within the global climate crisis, which impacted this particular landscape on a monumental scale.

As post-war restitution, spruces were donated by Germany to reforest the thousands of hectares of polluted landscape in the Zone Rouge in France. They planted many mono-cropped Norway spruces in straight rows, following the scientific production forest management that was invented in Germany. These dense forests aimed to protect people from entering, creating a ‘Living Sarcophagus.’

In the scorching summer of 2018 and 2019, a hundred years after WWI ended, the bark beetle Ips Typographus invaded these monoculture forests. The National Forestry Agency (ONF) has by now cleared most of the infected areas. This is important to avoid forest fires, which is a dangerous and slow process with approx. 10-15 pieces of unexploded ordnance are present in the soil every square meter. The sanitized, barren, and re-opened landscape is symbolic of the consequences of the war, the industrialization of forest management, and the impact of the current climate crisis.

Context: Climate Change in The Red Zone (Zone Rouge):
After the First World War, nine villages and surroundings in the zone were sealed off completely, rendered death traps by unexploded ordnance, and contaminated beyond habitation by the arsenic, chlorine, and phosgene the opposing armies aimed at each other. There are also still over 16.000 bodies in the ground that were never recovered. 

There are estimations that about 12 million unexploded shells still reside in the soil and that this de-mining process will last another 300 to 700 years. The most feared are corroded artillery shells containing chemical warfare agents such as mustard gas. 

French farmers constantly find unexploded ordnance and shrapnel when ploughing their fields located on former battlefields, a process that is called the ‘iron harvest’. The de-mining services in the North of France recover over a hundred thousand tons of unexploded ordnance each year.

This research project is currently developed in partnership with V2_Lab for the Unstable Media (Rotterdam, NL); Vent des Forêts (Lorraine, FR); ONF Verdun (French National Forestry Agency)

Research material, combination of LiDAR images of trenches in Verdun and trunk wtih galleries created by the bark beetle, Marjolijn Dijkman, 2023
Barren landscape in Verdun on former battlefields, photo Marjolijn Dijkman, 2023
Map indicating the Zone Rouge in the North of France