The ambiguous landscape recreated in Baumgarten’s audiovisual installation draws attention to the constructed oppositions of nature and culture, wilderness and civilisation.
I Prefer it Here Better than in Westphalia, Eldorado (Candide, Voltaire) consists of a slowly changing sequence of photographs taken in 1968-76 on the banks of the river Rhine, accompanied by an atmospheric soundtrack evoking associations with an imagined exotic elsewhere.
Here Baumgarten focuses on incidental details of what is in fact a swampy industrial wasteland, depicting its flora and fauna alongside residues, rubbish and ephemeral sculptures he created in situ, blurring the distinctions between manufactured or industrial detritus and the natural environment.
Begun in 1968 when Baumgarten was a student in Karlsruhe, this work reflects processes of careful observation and analysis of nature which the artist learned from his anthropologist father. In the following years, whilst at theDüsseldorf Art Academy, Baumgarten read the writings of Elizabethan explorer Sir Walter Raleigh, who claimed to have found the golden city of El Dorado in the Amazon forest, as well as the writings of many anthropologists and ethnographers.
The work’s title refers to the words of Candide, the hero of Voltaire’s satire Candide: or, Optimism (1759), who declared on arriving in the fictional El Dorado that he preferred Westphalia to it, contrasting a promised land of freedom and plenitude with the repressive regime of eighteenth-centuryPrussia. Baumgarten’s inversion of Candide’s words draws a parallel between contemporary idealisations of the natural world and stereotypical notions of exoticism.
This slide installation precedes Baumgarten’s visits to the Amazon, where he lived for sustained periods between 1978 and 1983, and anticipates many of the themes he subsequently explored, including the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and the erasure of the area’s indigenous cultures by the European settlers.
Lothar Baumgarten was born in Rheinsberg, Germany in 1944. He lives and works in New York and Berlin.