August 30, 2012

Keep It Moving. Rüdiger Preisler, Joseph Beuys, and Dirk Wauters

Görlitzer Park

I kind of took a break this August, at least from staring at a computer screen. Unfortunately, I did not use the free time to have plenty of exciting adventures in exciting places that I could now write about. It was a summer so comfortably monotonous, alternating between ice-creams and cappuccinos, that in the end it brought out the unknown in the familiar. Walking with a friend one night a sculpture in the park caught our attention. Görlitzer Park has always been one of my favorite parks in Berlin. Not so much to chill and lay down on the grass, therefore it is either too dry or too littered with cigarette butts. It is the strange landscape of the park that fascinates me. In the middle of Görlitzer Park there is an enormous pit. I always thought it was the result of World War II bombing. But the only battle that took place in this natural arena were the snow ball battles between the adjoining neighborhoods Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain. The park was set up in the early 1990s and the ruins in the middle of the arena are the remainders of a former railway tunnel. It is quite exhilarating to drive your bike down the pit. Yet the most fitting recreation I ever saw in the pit was in 2007 when I was living across the park: on daily basis a few people under the influence and clearly without working obligations, played the luxury game of golf in the pit. Indeed, if one gives it a thought, golf takes up way too much leisure time than a business man can really afford.

Rüdiger Preisler, Schreitender Mensch

Görlitzer Park's pit has an out-of-space quality. This is especially due to the intriguing sculpture that hovers at its entrance. It is made out of steel. The huge poles curiously waver into one direction and make a zigzag on the top. Staring at the structure rising up against the night sky my friend and I imagined an undecipherable cosmic connection or a reference to an astrological constellation. Later I found out that we were not so wrong in our guessing. The sculpture does have a universal message. It was made by the German artist Rüdiger Preisler and is titled Schreitender Mensch (Striding Man). These steel poles are thus the longs legs of a person striding forward. Art historically Alberto Giacometti's sculpture L'Homme qui marche may come to mind, depicting a lone man in mid stride with his arms hanging at his side. L'Homme qui marche is seen as the incarnation of 20th century solitary man striding ahead in a godless universe. Rüdiger Preisler's version just shows these long legs in a balanced stride, The torso is left out, and thus also the head with its rational thinking. For Joseph Beuys the torso was an image for mankind, waiting for its completion, its transformation. Rüdiger Preisler's focus on the legs gives another dimension – no hopeful message here of future transformation, but the existential issue of mankind's walking on earth, yet to what purpose? As B.B. King put it: “Better not look down, if you want to keep on flying. Put the hammer down, keep it full speed ahead. Better not look back, or you might just wind up crying. You can keep it moving, if you don't look down.”

The advice not to look down reminds me of my visit to my parental home in the Belgian country at the beginning of this summer. My father took me along visiting an artist in our village Kapellen. Dirk Wauters' farm house is on the other side of the cemetery. Such an outlook must do something to a person, I guess. Birth and death are like the front- and backside of life, Beuys said - a positive tension he wanted to bring back to our industrial society that desperately tries to ignore the latter. Yet for Dirk Wauters death not only keeps him awake while looking out of the front window, it also took over the backyard where he installed a Cimetière Imaginaire. Living between two cemeteries, a real and an imaginary one, the flow of life is condensed in the artist's studio, which spreads out through the whole house. Here Dirk Wauters registers the passing of time in a meticulous way: every day the artist makes a photograph, a drawing, some notes, and a composition. With death luring on both sides the resulting art pieces don't really get out of the house. Anyhow, they are not made with the purpose to be shown in exhibitions. One might feel the temptation to tell Dirk Wauters “to go out and get a life”, yet his daily endeavor is actually all about being utmost alive: it entails the courage to look down in the mud and fall over and over again.

Dirk Wauters' steel sculptures in the barn 

The art made in the studio does find its way to the backyard. Based on his daily work in the studio Dirk Wauters makes sculptures out of steel, especially in the form of sarcophagi. These sculptures are also used as sound installations, played upon by the artist. Like in Rüdiger Preisler's Schreitender Mensch the rusting steel is part of the work. The sarcophagi are kept simple, without inscriptions or decorations. The curves of the body are integrated in the pieces, or a small cut is made, like a lookout , allowing the person inside to see outside, yet without opening the lid. Put together in the garden the sarcophagi are part of an imaginary cemetery. Why imagining a cemetery with sarcophagi? Maybe Dirk Wauters is trying to finish rather than being interrupted by death on the real cemetery. That brings us back to the striding man on earth, where there are things to be done and games to be won. A last advice, now from Dr. Seuss: “Always be dexterous and deft, and never mix up your right foot with your left.” 

Sound sculpture by Dirk Wauters