For his series Punishment (2011-2012), Julius von Bismarck traveled to the mountains of Switzerland, Brazil and the United States to battle against natural elements by whipping specific landscapes—a simultaneously enraged and meditative action which he captured in photographs and films. The settings in the Punishment series call to mind the landscape depictions of Romanticism: craggy mountains, deep gorges, the sea, and mountain lakes. These are large-format, classical motifs of nature, in which we see a young man energetically whipping a small piece of the majestic landscape to the point of physical exhaustion. The artist and his whip are dwarfed by the powerful background.
The idea for the Punishment series is based on a story from 480 BC, when the Persian king Xerxes had two pontoon bridges built to enable his army to cross the Hellespont. However, the bridges, which were held by ropes of papyrus and flax, were destroyed in a storm. Xerxes ordered the two constructors to be beheaded, but, still not satisfied, he also had the sea itself, representative for Poseidon, the god of the sea, whipped with three hundred lashes as punishment. It is a futile notion to think that one can control or influence nature. Von Bismarck takes this up in his video work Punishment I showing a young man flogging the sea with a several-meter-long bullwhip made of plaited strips of leather.