This website forms the ongoing archive of Deep Time Agency and is always under construction.

Deep Time Agency is an artistic research initiative that recontextualizes archaeological and other historical objects in industrially changed landscapes. By highlighting objects exposed by industrial excavations, we seek to develop a sense of belonging in the disrupted landscapes themselves and in the Anthropocene era.

Alexander von Humboldt - Ideen zu einer Geographie der Pflanzen. Tübingen 1807, reimagined
as quarry.


In 2020, visual artists Miriam Sentler (1994, DE/NL) and Wouter Osterholt (NL/DE, 1979, NL/DE) set up an interdisciplinary research initiative: Deep Time Agency. DTA is designed as a multi-year research project that recontextualizes archaeological objects in industrially changed landscapes, in collaboration with local residents, stakeholders and institutions. The initiative merges different historical time layers of places to form a material voice for the present and future of the disrupted landscapes, working in an activist and poetic manner with the symbolics of the objects. By highlighting objects exposed by industrial excavations, we seek to develop a sense of belonging in the disrupted landscapes themselves and on a larger scale in the Anthropocene era. 

Why? Industrial landscapes are often completely transformed after resources are mined, developing them into new “natural areas”, wherein all traces and scars of the past are erased. This is often based on the desire to 'return' the used landscapes, thereby creating new recreational areas. Due to prevailing archiving methods, the archaeological objects found during the industrial process are often placed in national collections, and thus no longer maintain any relationship with the landscape where they were found. Local inhabitants lose their houses, nature and local culture, causing what Bruno Latour coins “groundlessness”. This in turn forms the origins of what ecosopher Glenn Albrecht named “solastalgia”.

How? It is our mission to bring back a form of memory to the “erased” landscapes by temporarily relocating the archaeological objects on their original finding locations. This results in absurd and poetic installations and performances, whereby objects are relocated in the air (Ancestors Rising 2022) or underwater (Descent into the Future 2020). By doing so, we expose the thorough changing of the original landscape and merge different historical layers. In our project, the archaeological objects are seen as New Materialist agents from deep time, whose meanings and symbolism provide important input to contemporary debates about climate change and dealing with post-industrial landscapes. 

DTA will consist of several cases, which will highlight a series of changing landscapes and bring them together in an overarching artistic project.


01.    Descent into the Future (2020-2021)
Blausteinsee, North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany

Installation (fishtank, maps, picture) 185x50x50 cm (fishtank), 60x80x75 cm (map), 20x30 cm (print), video (18m30s, HD)

Thanks to Uli Lieven, Elena Khurtova, Montei Di Matteo, Miriam van Rijsingen, Mona Steinhauesser, Albath Goldschmiede Aachen, family Draaisma, Syver Petersen, Sadie Hale 

Team: Erik Linden (camera & diver) & Wiely Goorden (diver)

In North-Rhine Westphalia, a border region in the west of Germany, large landscapes are being excavated for lignite, a brown coal used to produce electricity. The practice leads to the largest excavation site in the world, unearthing many archaeological objects which are being archived in national musea. A popular method of dealing with the industrial excavation pits left in the landscape is to simply fill them with water, creating a tabula rasa within this landscape. Due to the fact that there is no local museum for the excavated land and villages, the landscape looses its natural and cultural characteristics, causing a sense of groundlessness amongst the local inhabitants. This feeling was witnessed in my own family history,  manifesting in the quote: ’I was born inside a lake’.

The installation focuses on the discovery of a unique fossil from the "Zukunft-West" (Future-West) lignite quarry in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. During excavations in this quarry a 12 million years old fish fossil from the Miocene era was found. The discovery represents the only fossil of a fish found in the wider area, and symbolizes the sacrifice of living ecosystems for fossil fuel, a natural product created through the dying of ancient ecosystems. In the Anthropogenic era in which it surfaces, the fossil gives a unique insight into a non-human time period when this landscape was still covered with a prehistoric sea; and thus closes a cycle, since the quarry was again filled with water after the excavations, turning it into the ‘Blausteinsee’. 

The installation Descent into the Future I (2020) shows a set-up for a temporary underwater museum for divers, from whereon a diving expedition into the lake could develop. For this installation, the finding place of the fossil was retraced on old maps of the quarry, and the original fish fossil was replicated using 3D-scan technology and clay, making it again fit for life underwater. In order to acquire a sense of place, the contemporary geographical and diver map of the Blausteinsee were merged with historical maps of the ‘old’ landscape, creating an historical overlap wherein the fish-fossil location was shown using a pin. The map and water tanks are enlightened, hinting to the electricity which is produced by the lignite industry. In the installation, the fish fossil is united with the Round Goby, the fish which ascended from the fossil, and the water of the Blausteinsee. By bringing the fish together with the current chemical composition of the water from the lake (a chemistry which is influenced by industrial remnants within the water) an exchange between the past and the present of the landscape is being established, visible to the visitors of the exhibition.

Exactly one year after the fish-fossil was replicated, it was replaced on its original finding spot within the Blausteinsee. The journey was filmed, resulting in a video. By doing so, we performed a ritual which closed the material cycle of this landscape by returning an archaeological object to its thoroughly changed finding place. Carried by two local divers, the fossil was brought 40 meter down inside the lake. To our immense surprise, the only fish caught on film by the divers were Round Goby’s - the exact fish species which used to live in this landscape during the Pliocene and which ascended from the fossilized fish preserved in the archaeological find we were returning. On its way down, the divers filmed this fish species and the industrial remnants of the underwatermuseum which was once placed here by the lignite industry, illustrating the idle hope to make this place into a new, bustling diving hotspot and showing how the water itself reacted throughout time to the industrial changes within the landscape, causing an unbearable ecological scenario underneath the water surface. Amongst ambivalent objects like sunken car tires, Christmas trees and toilet seats, the fish fossil now stays in the depth as a valuable and meaningful object, showing the site-specific history and changing of this landscape to the divers visiting the perished underwatermuseum.

Descent into the Future from Deep Time Agency on Vimeo.

02.    Ancestors Rising (2022)
Location: Alte Garzweiler Grube bei Frimmersdorf, North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany

Video installation, drone flight over Garzweiler lignite pit, North-Rhine Westphalia (DE) 

Thanks to archaeologists Martin Street and Marcus Wild, the LVR Landesmuseum Bonn, Monrepos, Museum for Archaeology  and Human Behavioural Evolution, Guido Steffen, Robin Peters, Frank Moseler

Team: Casper Brink (camera), KIWI Aerial Shots (drone operations), Frank Broos en Susanne van der Steen (3D scan & print)

Generously funded by BBK-Projektbüro NEUSTART, Berlin (DE)

Ancestors Rising will be a site-specific intervention at the Garzweiler lignite mine in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. As a consequence of the large-scale excavation, many archeological sites have been unearthed, providing insights into different layers of human history that would otherwise be kept unseen. Nevertheless, the majority of the artefacts and monuments get demolished before they are even discovered and archaeologists are working in a race against the clock to save as much as possible from the devastating claws of the excavators.

In 1987, archaeologists made a unique discovery in the middle of the Garzweiler mine when they found two 10.000-year-old antler frontlets. These extremely rare objects were most likely part of a shamanic garb, worn during important ceremonies in the Stone Age. According to the scientists who studied the objects, the antlers may have symbolised a connection with the wider universe, reaching out into the cosmos from the top of the head like antennae. The Mesolithic shaman created change in the physical world from the visions he received from the universe, affecting health, fertility, crops and hunt. 

Next to equipping us with the technical information about the age of this cultural landscape, the antler headdress’ symbolical meaning might be of an even stronger, potentially activistic quality. It reconnects us back to a time when humans still saw themselves as part of the wider environment. Rituals of sacrifice and worship were meant to keep the gods satisfied, it kept humans in check with the forces of nature,contributing to a holistic balance with their surroundings. In the Anthropocene, this balance has been disturbed. At the same time, the Stone Age can be seen as the turning point in human history. The cultivation of fire and the start of agriculture might have been the first indications of the nature-culture dichotomy.

Ancestors Rising aims to revisit this point of departure in order to rethink the role of humans in this particular environment and to envision ways to reconnect with the intrinsic nature of the land. The work will reactivate the antler artefact through a ritualistic intervention on site by temporarily bringing the archeological object back to its exact find place. Nowadays, the geographical coordinates point towards a location in the sky, since all surrounding earth has been excavated. Therefore, a drone will be used to fly the object to its original location. To make this possible, a replica is printed from a 3D scan of one of the original antlers. This new object is then redesigned to form a new instrument together with the drone, merging the ancient with the contemporary. The ritualistic replacement will be open to the public and organised together with an event for which we will invite guest speakers (local archeologists, geologists and activists) who will further contextualise the work. The intervention will be documented from the drone itself and exhibited at a later stage.

Ancestors Rising from Deep Time Agency on Vimeo.

06.    Floating Fathers (2024-in progress)
Location: Freiburg im Breisgau, DE, Budapest, HU, Belgrade, RS

The project is commissioned by DELPHI Art Space, Art Quarter Budapest, and U10 Art Space Belgrade.

Deep Time Agency has been selected as one of the participating artists in the Your Water Our Water exhibition cycle, taking place throughout 2024 in three art spaces along the Donau river. For the project, Deep Time Agency has been concerned with the critical rethinking of objects used in the “renaturalisation” of the Danube river.

We are especially interested in the idea of using so-called “Raubäume;’’ dead trees that are artificially introduced to the river. Our idea is to merge the industrial “founding fathers” of the modern Danube with the material entity of the Raubäume, transforming them into “floating fathers”, fixed with cement blocks in different places in the river. The exhibition shows several maquette prototypes that will form the basis for the future sculptures in public space, that will be developed in and next to the Danube river.

As a mighty body of water, the Danube flows through large parts of Europe. On its way from its source in the Black Forest to its mouth in the Black Sea, it crosses numerous borders. This makes it a connecting element between diverse national identities and breaks up the rigid order of the mainland.

The title of the traveling exhibition “YOUR WATER OUR WATER” alludes to the interconnectedness of all water systems and the adjoining cultural spaces. It signifies a clear perspective on the overt and covert relationships and dependencies among various local actors in the Danube region. The Danube has always been a canvas for artistic explorations that are not the least based on the inspirational power of the element of water. Every country it flows through has its own myths and stories.

As part of the trinational project, a traveling exhibition is being created that connects three young art spaces in Germany, Hungary, and Serbia along the Danube. After its opening at DELPHI_space in Freiburg on April 27, 2024, the exhibition will move to the cultural center aqb Budapest and then to U10 Belgrade. (...) In addition to painting, photography, video art, installations and performances, the exhibition includes a diverse program with film screenings, workshops and lectures.

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© Deep Time Agency, 2022