Denise Laura Lobont

Denise Lobont

Growing Diaspora
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At first glance, the three mounds of earth heaped up in the exhibition area are reminiscent of spatial exhibitions of the Arte Povera movement, whose artists experimented with everyday materials such as glass, wood and earth in the late 1960s and 1970s. However, it quickly becomes clear that Denise Laura Lobont´s artistic work is not exclusively about an experiment with materials, but about a thematic discussion about seasonal harvest workers in Germany. Romanian harvest workers received a lot of media attention in the spring of 2020 during the first lockdown in Germany, which brought their otherwise off-the-books activity and the associated working conditions during their temporary stay, into the open.

Pictures of countless people waiting at airports were circulating, with anxious reports of what would happen to German asparagus if the pickers harvesting it were not granted entry permits due to the measures to contain the pandemic.

For Lobont, these were key events for the first stages of her project. She began on the one side to question the reasons behind the worker’s displacement and on the other, the employer’s demands. During her stay in Germany, due to the fact that the pickers are not on the fields during winter, the photographer was interested more in what impact their absence from their Romanian homeland had on those migrant workers and how their working life in Germany between March and June affected their private lives and relationships with their family members in Romania. Lobont was also interested in what was left of the harvest helpers in the asparagus region of Beelitz, which is mainly responsible for supplying Berlin with the vegetables, and what people think about them when they return home at the end of the season. In the course of her research, the photographer came across posts by the harvest workers on social media. It was particularly noticeable that during the working season in Germany, many private photographs, for example, of family celebration in Romania and pictures of children, were uploaded and shared. In other words, pictures of a life of which the harvest workers could not be a part. Lobont took screenshots of these pictures, especially those posted on Facebook. In turn, she printed these screen shots in a blueprint process on handmade paper with the aim of providing the images with a uniqueness and restoring them to a state of authenticity. 

The shade of blue also bears a similarity to the blue on the EU flag and thus builds a bridge to the EU-specific labour migration regulations following Romania´s accession. The photographs are displayed on the wall and also on the aforementioned mounds of earth, which are reminiscent of asparagus fields and also evoke the association of homeland soil. For a detailed study of the photographs and Facebook chat conversations, visitors are therefore forced to bend down to the height of the seed beds, just like the asparagus pickers. The posts shared on the ground are related to the longing for the family back home, a feeling that unites the harvest workers.

The motivation for a seasonal work assignment is most frequently the possibility of earning money quickly and thus being able to realise ideas such as starting up their own farm in Romania. However, the conversation also reveals the dilemma of a harvest worker who has fallen in love with Germany, wants to remain in Germany and now is giving the equipment he has bought for the farm to his father in Romania. In another conversation, a harvest worker writes about the 70 days of exhausting asparagus harvesting which he performs without a day off. He has been doing it for five years because the job pays more than working in Romania.  Unlike asparagus, which grows underground, the exposure of cyanotypes, also known as iron blue prints, requires direct sunlight. For her work on Romanian asparagus harvest workers in Germany, Lobont used this photographic technique from the 19th century. In portraits of individual asparagus spears placed around an asparagus field in Beelitz, the vegetable becomes an icon. A large-format photo in a blue tone print of an asparagus root, as well as photos of asparagus flowers, shows us the cult status of the vegetable in Germany.  Using the different media approaches, the artistic work shows two sides of the same coin; on the one hand, the glorification of the seasonal vegetable and, on the other hand, the resulting working conditions and changes in the private lives of the Romanian harvest workers.

Text: Dr. Silke Förschler

About Denise Laura Lobont

Denise Lobont (b. 1995, Deva, Romania) graduated National University of Arts in Bucharest with a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts (2017). During this academic period, she received a scholarship from a partner university in France and after graduation completed an internship in Paris for 5 months. Recently she completed a Master’s degree in Photography at the same university. Currently she works as an artist taking special interest in fine art documentary photography focusing on gender identity and migration.