Ways into Reality

The search for ways into reality is a vital concern in art. But what exactly constitutes reality?

I would like to illustrate my own attempts at approaching reality with the help of three of my own projects. As a result of several years which I spent in New York City, some of them as the assistant to Andy Warhol, I embarked on a serious debate with my own  European  culture, an act which would prove to be pivotal in the years to come. While, in a conscious act, Andy Warhol preferred to depict the surface of things, I am trying to show what eludes words and definitions and what is hidden behind that which is visible. My works do not have »things« in them because they tell of a reality on the other side of what can be experienced physically.

My first project devoted to working with space was designed between 1984 and 1986 and, in fact, brought me from New York back to Germany. For Hamburg s main church Sankt Katharinen I designed the cycle of images »Weg ins Licht« (Way Into the Light). This church is a gothic basilica built in brick in the 15th century. For the blind windows of clerestory of the nave, I worked on a cycle of images which would make the original way the light took in the clerestory visible once again and direct the gaze of the parishioners upwards. The cycle refers to Isaiah 60:1, »Arise, shine, for thy light is come!«

The paintings point to a pathway  from the church entrance towards the chancel, from darkness into the light, from matter to transcendence. Towards the west of the church at the beginning of this pathway, the paintings feel dense and heavy, with tumultuous colors, oriented towards this side of existence. Towards the east of the church the paintings are clearing up until there is only pure gold left in the apse, a color that is the symbol of heavenly light, of divine transcendence. I used the special language of forms and symbolism of colors in this cycle in an attempt to point to the wordliness of this side and the reality of God:The circle stands for perpetual motion, for the circle of creation and transitoriness of all that is worldly; without a beginning and with no end, the circle is a reminder of this side of the world. The triangle is a symbol for the Holy Trinity, pouring transcendental gold into the space. Red is the coat of God, the love of God which we found anew, the sensual, the physical, simply everything on this side of the world, the life-force, the fiery and blood. Blue is the color of the firmament and of air which gives life, of water, of space, of tranquility. In Christian Iconography, yellow and white are the colors of redemption and of the miracle at Easter. Leaf gold which is applied to complete surfaces is bearing all colors. It embodies the divine light which is the bearer of all existence. Like in medieval iconography, the golden base is testament to the omnipresence of

The Polish composer Augustyn Bloch used this cycle of images as inspiration for his spiritual oratorium »Denn Dein Licht kommt« (And Your Light Cometh) which premiered in 1988 as part of the Schleswig Holstein Musik Festival performed by the orchestra of the regional broadcaster NDR in Hamburg church Sankt Katharinen.

My second major project I would like to introduce to you was completed between 1989 and 1992.

The cooperation with Augustyn Bloch brought me and my husband to Poland several times, also to Auschwitz. This visit created a feeling of such utter consternation in both of us, one I had never felt before. When visiting the grave of the priest Jerzy Popieluszko who was killed by the Polish secret police in 1984, we decided to attempt a requiem. The result was a »Requiem für die Hoffnung« (requiem for hope) which is based on the victory of love, on the sinfulness of killing and the freedom which the love of God for mankind means. It was entitled »Du sollst nicht töten« (Thou shalt not kill). To quote from a sermon Popieluszko held in September of 1982: »The death and the redemption of Christ turned the symbol of shame and humiliation into a symbol of courage, strength, relief, and brotherhood. Today, the symbol of the Cross is therefore the image of what is most beautiful and precious in man. The Cross leads to redemption.« These words inspired me to create a meditation on the Cross, parallel to the music of Augustyn Bloch, a room installation of twelve wooden crosses, standing 3 by 4 meters tall, with color borders. The number twelve refers to the twelve tribes of Israel, God s chosen people, to the twelve disciples of Christ and therefore to the successorship of Christ. Viewers are greeted in the church room by twelve black crosses which bear no name and are intimidating: the whole room is ruled by fear of death and desperation. A single cross at the beginning is blue and symbolizes the firstmovement of Bloch s composition: a meditation on the consciousness of danger, about the willing acceptance of one s own cross to bear.The ten black crosses symbolize the second and third movements about death and the lamentation about death, the Lamentoso. In the chancel stands a cross of the same height, in gold. It is the cross of redemption and refers to the Jubilate in Domino, the fourth movement of Augustyn Bloch s meditation. Looking around after the Hallelujah which one just heard, the lifeless black color of the crosses has given way to a transcending blue. Death is overcome. The thugs of hate and violence did not carry the day. The order of the crosses is intentional: It recalls the martyrdom of Christ. The arrangement of the crosses in the chancel reflects those on Mount Golgotha.

The third project I would like to present here is »Raum der Stille« (Room of Silence) which came about as a commission by the Mediale in Hamburg. The Mediale, as the name would suggest, concerned itself primarily with media art and presented works which to a large extent were extremely noisy, full of motion, and veering towards the aggressive. The viewer experienced things fast and furious while remaining passive most of the time.

The design for my »Raum der Stille« intended to be the exact opposite. I wanted to create a place where people would be able to sort themselves out, in a manner of speaking. The room measured 3 x 5 meters and was completely sound-proof. It was also almost completely dark, except for the point opposite the entrance to the room where some light was floating upwards. The ceiling and the floor were jetblack, the walls painted in a deep shade of fluorescent ultramarine. The visitor went from a very noisy, light and rather restless Mediale environment into absolute stillness. It would take him a while to even notice the deep, almost monochromatic blue. Suddenly, he was confronted with himself and experienced himself as a medium of his intellectual experiences. The color blue widened the room and added incredible depth: the actual size of the room was no longer perceptible. The »Blaue Raum« (Blue Room) took on the role of a personal soul room and became individual reality.

Why did I chose such topics for my work? According to the painter and art historian Otto von Simson, »art and death are related like brother and sister. Without death, there would be no art. Because art, whose language always is one of hope, contains our answer to death.« The confrontation with death and how to overcome death is the burning question of my work. All of the above projects revolve around it, around the question of what comes afterwards,what lies beyond,what is the reality beyond the reality which can be experienced materially, through things. The cycle of images in Sankt Katharinen symbolically walks the path of life of every human being. The installation of the crosses »Du sollst nicht töten«, deals with the fate of invididuals in a very abstract form. Music and installation are conceptionally designed as a whole and were created simultaneously.

Both projects point to evolution, to a beginning and an end, to a here which leads to a there.They are related, therefore, to the element of time in music.While music contains the moment when something begins to sound and starts to ebb, these two works have to be walked through and to be experienced throughout. Life, death and resurrection all find their own particular space which can be defined with almost geographic precision.

In the »Blaue Raum«, however, complete and utter silence takes the place of music. The moment of time is therefore non-existent. In this manner of monochromatic painting, there is no evolution, except for the rear wall where the infinity of blue seems to open itself up to a distant light. The process of opening oneself up to the light is similar to the one that the viewer experiences when he discovers the background of the crosses and notices the remaining golden tableaux in the chancel of Sankt Katharinen.The search for the light, for the divine reality, the ultimate reality, is what drives art like a motor would. Never one will discover reality conclusively and definitely. Behind every reality, there is another, deeper one, hiding. Therefore, there is no arrival, there is always only a going further but there is also a convergence, an approximation. Even when Casimir Malevich defined his black square as the ultimate image  ultimate in the sense that all colors are contained in black and all forms supposedly are contained in the square  it was not a conclusive creative act. The urge to search proved stronger. Man is not meant to discover an ultimate, final, definitive answer. Would he be able to do so, this would already have made him part of the divine.

The creative process of painting always reminds me of the work of an explorer.The starting-point is where the previous work finally arrived. From this vantage point and for a brief moment, things appear definitive and true. It is where the new is conceived and, initially, one might even believe to know where it is headed. Then, everything turns out differently, complicated, strange, alien, and the search will start all over again. Every work has its moments of utter forlornness, insecurity, desperation. Only when this deep vale of emotions has been measured through, will the painting suddenly be one s opponent and opposite. Something has changed, almost imperceptibly so. The painting is now demanding, taking on a personality of its own, a free will, one might call it, whom the painter has to submit to. Eventually, the artist will more or less ask the painting where it is heading and which form is most suitable. The painting will answer and testify to a reality which the artist previously had not owned. The artist does not invent, he discovers. This process of discovery cannot be forced, it can be prayed and asked for and be given as a gift.

Ingeborg zu Schleswig-Holstein