Panopticum (Berlin IX)

The Designpanopticum is a small but densely packed museum in Berlin’s Nikolaiviertel.

Vlad Korneev has been collecting technical relics for decades and arranged them to make them even more bizarre, as if this was necessary.

If there ever was meaning, we can be certain that it is gone now.

This place is the exact opposite of a tabula rasa; it’s what I expect to find in my own brain, if I had the ability to climb into it and have a look.

Still, and non unlike the tabula rasa, this overloaded chaos gives us the opportunity to commence again, to consider this as fertile ground instead of as a mess.

Following the loop, stairs up and down, we find new ways to see, to make sense again, in an entirely new way.

Lost function becomes purposed beauty. Maybe this is not for everyone to see. It’s my brain, after all…

Remains to be Seen (Berlin VIII)

Mona Hatoum’s impressive installation of this name was shown in the Diversity United exhibit in Berlin this year, and the catalogue speculates that what we see here are the ghost-like fragments of a house.

I saw these hanging concrete pieces as probes into space, an attempt to make visible what has disappeared.

In this reconstruction, I am using PoVRay to probe textured space. A texture in PoVRay is function of the three spatial coordinates whose values is used in a color map to determines the color value of an object at the point given by the three coordinates. Above the function is sqrt(x2+y2+z2), and the color map a simple grayscale gradient, so that spheres centered at the origin have the same color value. Objects placed into the scene appear to be carved out of this space.

Above is a more complete reconstruction of Haroum’s installation, using the same spatula texture with added reflection. And below are the same probes, using an entirely different texture based on the function sin(x)+sin(y)+sin(z).

Dark Matter (Berlin VI)

Dark Matter is a light-sound installation by Christopher Bauder, distributed over seven rooms. Abstract shapes move in space, change color to sound, a concept not unlike the ballets Wassily Kandinsky designed a hundred years ago.

While the aspect of motion gets lost in the static images here, I didn’t find the first few rooms compelling, the shapes are too simple, the action to little.

What really was missing, however, became clear in the Polygon Playground, where an artificial hill could be climbed and interacted with, providing the visitors with a bath in light.

From then on I became more fascinated by the reaction of the visitors to the art than by the art itself.

Or maybe I had just misunderstood before, maybe all the installations are just a canvas on which the actual art is happening.

This became even clearer in Grid, where dozens of light tubes move to an epic electronic composition by Robert Henke (Monolake), transfixing the audience.

Interaction has become art.

Borders to Canvasses (Devil’s Mountain III)

The interior of the four-story building that supports the domes of the former Cold War listening station on the Devil’s Mountain in Berlin is accessible only through two (new) exterior stairwells. Each has a long corridor (without any doors!), and open spaces separated by walls.

Most of the walls are decorated with the most wonderful graffiti in bright colors.

The entire building has become a piece of art.

Views through the ‘windows’ show more building-sized graffitis.

So in a miraculous way, one of the most secretive and locked up places from Cold War Berlin has become an organic landscape of open art.

If only we all could deal with our own borders like this.

Otherness (Sanssouci I)

Frederick the Great’s summer residence Sanssouci features a vast park with all kinds of interesting buildings and sculptures.

Uncommon plants, angels, truncated heads, fauns – all in some form of isolation, for individual contemplation, and all with a sense of esthetic that is not quite our own anymore – suggest that Frederick consciously made an attempt to deal with the Other, the unfamiliar, the strange and alien.

The Chinese Pavilion appears to give an idea of the sophistication of other cultures, using a sense of beauty that was his — not necessarily theirs.

Then a rondel with six busts, a Roman emperor, a philosopher — and four Africans, in white dresses and awkward postures.

Is this how Frederick wanted to see them, and us to see them, too? Then something strange and dangerous has happened here. Esthetic ideals themselves are being colonized.

If our sense of beauty is that fragile, if it allows that imposition so easily, shouldn’t we learn to become more aware of it, and to resist?


When looking itself has become an aggression, isn’t it necessary to see even the familiar differently, to unlearn our sense of beauty, and to begin again, by offering presence?

Light

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Darkness is for us humans not just the lack of light. We fear it as an abstraction, as a general absence, as death. 

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And so we have to come to adore light as that what eradicates darkness, that makes us see, and allows us to live.

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Nothing more seems to celebrate light better than illuminated glass sculptures like the ones here, by Dale Chihuly.

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Having lost its purpose to illuminate something else, light has become the object, an abstraction of its purpose.

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Objects like these don’t exist in nature. It is, as if we have finally left reality behind and can experience light as pure form.

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It is hard to return.

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He Will Arrive, Because He Said So (Wenckheim VI)

What could possibly go wrong? Baron Wenckheim has returned, and his main desire is to meet the love of his youth, who is eagerly expecting him.

In Photography, we typically expect what’s important to be in focus.

Krasznahorkai’s prose, however, has a shallow depth of field, and often the blurry part is where we should look.

Right at his arrival at the train station, Baron Wenckheim walks right beside her, himself a victim of this looking elsewhere: … he just went beside her like a sleepwalker,…

When Wenckheim finally meets Marika (or Marietta, as he remembers her name), the misfocus becomes extreme: He doesn’t grasp that she has aged, too, and takes her for her mother or aunt: …yes, he thought there is a resemblance there, he wouldn’t say that Marietta had completely inherited the traits of this lady, still, though, there were in her face and in her bearing a few minor characteristics that connected them,

Dialogue between the two becomes impossible, but Wenckheim’s more and more devastating monologue is not without effect: …and she wasn’t trembling, although she knew that soon she would be, but for the time being she was still in that state in which a person simultaneously grasps and refutes what has just happened,…

In photography, the object in front of the lens can be so much out of focus that it becomes part of the optical system through which everything else is perceived. Focus becomes secondary.

Upset about Marika’s absence, Wenckheim talks to her about his deep love to her, and she listens with growing desperation. — he saw no other way than to speak to her, in the most sincere way possible, of his most sacred feelings;… 

… and he reached into the inner pocket of his jacket and pulled out the photograph from an envelope, he handed it to her saying, please have a look, Madame, and see how beautiful she is, and Marika bowed her head and she looked at the photograph, she looked and she looked, then she couldn’t bear to look anymore, …

He Wrote To Me (Wenckheim IV)

Old Baron Wenckheim is returning. Hidden behind the noisy preparations of his home town to welcome him and his expected fortune, the third chapter of Krasznahorkai’s novel includes a more delicate dialogue in form of a letter Wenckheim wrote to Marika, the love of his youth, and her brief but intense reply.

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… she was an old lady, there was no embellishing that, so that what could they expect, she just sat there bent over the postcard, she looked at the three words, and tears came to her eyes, and somehow her back became even more hunched, her two shoulders fell forward,…

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How do we communicate across time? How do we talk to someone whom we have long forgotten, or maybe even never met? I keep quoting Paul Celan, who compared poems to messages in a bottle, sent off with the hope that they will eventually be washed ashore at heartland.

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Marika’s emotional breakdown while responding to Wenckheim is contrasted with the nervous breakdown of the entire city that is afraid of making costly mistakes:

…because that moment, everywhere in the town, had somehow shattered apart, everything came to a halt, from fear, to a dead stop because of the fear which had swept across the city,…

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The dialogue between a town and its visitors is not necessarily doomed. New Harmony manages to talk to the visitors to various works of public art, some immensely popular like its labyrinths or the Roofless Church, others well hidden like the installation of 20 tableaus of writing from the Kcymaerxthaere project, which are slowly eroding away.

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But it’s not enough that words are being written, they also need to be read.

Praise of the Shadow

… and in the pale light of the shadow we put together a house.

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I usually prefer the early hours for taking pictures, and avoid the harsh daylight.

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But light allows to objectify darkness, in form of a shadow.

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Sometimes it’s not so much the question what creates the shadow on the wall, but what lies behind the wall.

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The interior (if there is one) should allow cause and effect to coexist.

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Light and shadow are folded together.

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But the gate is always open, which means that ultimately we have to leave again.

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Absence (10mm II)

Hisham Matar’s autobiographic book The Return talks about his father’s absence.

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The image above show the Voided Void at the end of the Axis of Holocaust in Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin. 

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Matar quotes Aristoteles: The theory that the void exists involves the existence of place: for one would define void as place bereft of body.

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Right now, the museum is being prepared for a new standard exhibition, and hence almost completely void.

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Matar continues to reflect about Aristoteles. He adds: He says nothing of time here, and time is surely part of it all, of how we try to accommodate the absence. […]. Only time can hope to fill the void. The body of my father is gone, but his place is here and occupied by something that cannot just be called memory.

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A second accessible void in the Libeskind building is the Memory Void, containing Menashe Kadishman’s installation Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves).

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Matar concludes this reflection: What is extraordinary is that, given everything that has happened, the natural alignment of the heart remains towards the light.

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