Vast Land 2018/2019
The German word Weite (expanse, vastness, breadth) suggests freedom and thus the absence of boundaries. In Nawpyitaw, however, it is precisely there – at a boundary – that freedom repeatedly comes to an end, and often much earlier. Usually there are fences or mobile barriers that prevent further progress, sometimes tightly woven barbed wire enclosing buildings like a net, barring access, and often also insight. And then there are the invisible watchers, who appear unexpectedly, as if out of nowhere, forbidding the curious to see and photograph what should not be seen and certainly not be photographed.
Weite becomes emptiness, nothingness. Enormously wide streets, often with flower strewn median strips, which seem to lead nowhere, deserted, without vehicles, apparently meaningless and useless, built into a torn-up landscape. From this landscape, which is neither untouched nor developed, protrude here and there the skeletons of buildings, bare and unfinished, a few settlements with well-kept villas, others with simple homes from which the tropical rain has long since washed away all colour, and then – again and again – oddly designed hotels, inanimate, towering like downed UFOs in the middle of nowhere. In between, emptiness – for kilometres – strictly secured military areas hidden behind flowering bushes, then a shopping centre and indeed a few people, who are shopping or just enjoying the cooled air in the building before they drive through greened emptiness back to the office, the Ministry, or to what they call home.
The photographer searches exasperatedly for what normally defines cities, whether in the West or the East. He looks for people, concentrations, buildings and squares, although he knows that they do not exist, and then loses himself in the cobweb of streets and the surrounding nothingness and photographs the absurd emptiness of a city that may not even want to be one.
Vast land is the 2. part of a trilogy that deals with the 3 most important cities in Myanmar.
Xaver Augustin, Director Goethe Institut / Yangon