my work, I examine and compare the signs used in abstract
communication systems. These come from areas such as history,
ethnology, writing system research, religion or the natural sciences
and cover a period dating from prehistoric rock drawings up to
modern-day computer flow charts. It is the graphical qualities of
these signs, which is most important for me and not the philosophical
content or scientific significance.
part of my exhibition project "Gleimi et Amicorum" for
Kunstforum Halberstadt consisted of 31 works for timber-frame
ornamentation. When the exhibition was over I applied with my
and the photos from the exhibition at public art institutions in
towns on the "German Timber-Frame Road" (Deutsche
Fachwerkstrasse). The director of the regional museum
(Landschaftsmuseum) in Seligenstadt then invited me to carry
out my exhibition project. After visiting the museum and viewing the
exhibition spaces available to me, I realised that I would have to
modify my exhibition project for this place.
begins at a Roman fort on the course of the Limes. It was erected in
about 90 AD under the Emperor Domitian and continued for some 200
years. In 828 Einhard, the biographer of Charlemagne, founded a
convent for the clergy, which he headed in person as a lay abbot. He
provided the convent with a basilica, where the relics of the martyrs
Marcellinus and Petrus were preserved. The convent gave rise to the
later Benedictine monastery which had the function of an imperial
abbey. After this first height and the decline of the abbey in the
Thirty Years War, the second heyday came about 1700. The baroque
buildings and the monastery garden give witness to that even today.
Around the monastery a civil community gradually formed, and this was
granted city rights by the Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa in 1175.
my exhibition project in Seligenstadt I want to take up three themes
from the history of the monastery and the city:
first theme relates to religion.
Benedictine monastery of Seligenstadt was secularised in 1803 after
existing for almost 1000 years. Today the monastery in its baroque
form is a museum. In addition to the abbot’s apartment with guest
rooms and a library, one can view the monastery apothecary, the
summer refectory and the rooms of the Regional Museum. In the museum
atmosphere of the former monastery only a few exhibits evoke the
religious life of the monks which was lived out here in earlier
times. That is why, for my first theme, I have chosen the five main
symbols of the five great world religions. Each of the five world
religions has its own signs. These symbolise the religion and its
ideas. Under these signs, followers gather worldwide.
One of the most
sacred Hindu signs is a linguistic sign: the syllable OM. This stands
for Brahma – that which cannot be spoken. The syllable represents
the primeval cry of the creation, the light of wisdom and the
realisation of that which has not been created and eternity. It forms
a link between that which is revered and the worshiper.
The WHEEL is
one of the original signs of Buddhism. It comes from the
non-iconographic period of Buddhism and represents the teachings of
Buddha. His first words set the "wheel of teaching" in
motion. The wheel, with neither beginning nor end, represents the
perfection and completeness of Buddha’s teachings. Nevertheless,
is also the sign of existence and the eternal circle of life, which
can be overcome through the teachings.
The MENORAH is the oldest and
most important sign of Judaism, the seven-branched candelabrum. Its
origin is the tree of life of the ancient orient. The candelabrum
symbolises the eternal light of God in the universe. Its seven
branches denote the seven planets known at the time. It symbolises
the word of God made man and divine wisdom.
Christianity has been
symbolised by various CRUCIFIX signs since the 4th
century. They represent Christ's sacrifice and world domination. They
are signs for the resurrection, triumph over death, divine presence
and the hope of everlasting life.
The HALF-MOON is the best-known
sign of Islam. From the 16th century, this
was the sign
for the Islamic world in the Western world. At the end of the 18th
century the half-moon became the official sign of the Ottoman Empire
and thus for the Islamic world. The crescent of the new moon
symbolises the Islamic faith and indicates the end of the fasting
period. Venus, the morning star, faces the open side of the crescent.
The five points represent the five columns of Islam.
second theme relates to botany.
good third of the total area of the abbey is occupied by the former
monastic kitchen garden. The Rule of St. Benedict, which were
essential to occidental monastic culture from the sixth century,
prescribes that everything used for everyday needs must be produced
and stored within the monastery walls. This demand also necessitated
laying out gardens in monasteries. In addition to a vegetable garden
(hortus) there was a garden for medical herbs (herbularius). As for
secular gardens, the designs changed following the fashions of the
time. In the 17th century the French Baroque
garden become dominant. Now many monastery gardens gradually acquired
splendid forms, similar to the court gardens. But orchards and the
growing of vegetable still had an important role. The Seligenstadt
monastery garden is an example of this, with its baroque landing
scattered with useful plants. From 1983/86 it was gradually
reconstructed in terms of structure and plants on the basis of
documents and excavations. The 8000 square metre area was subdivided
into eight beds. They are surrounded by boxwood hedges and 350 fruit
trees. In addition to 8000 flower bulbs they carry 35,000 spring and
summer flowers as well as salad plants, vegetables and herbs. That is
why I have chosen the symbols of botany as the second theme. They are
used for the planting plans when gardens or parks are in planning.
third theme relates to the ornamentation of timber-frame buildings.
many of the towns situated on the great pilgrim, trade and military
roads of the Middle Ages handicrafts and trades flourished and the
market was busy. The resulting prosperity of the merchants and
tradesmen persuaded them to build representative residential and
trading houses, guildhalls and Town halls. In Seligenstadt many
richly designed timber-framed houses still bear witness to that. The
basic structure of these houses is from the Franconian region. In
addition to their structural and stylistic features, timber-frame
buildings have a large variety of signs, masks, symbols, markings,
proverbs and Bible quotations. The heathen symbolism of the signs
masks and markings originated in ancient Germanic nature religions.
On the one hand, knowledge of this was widespread among the people
and, on the other hand, the carpentry trade preserved it. The master
carpenters designed the timber-frame structures and arrangements of
beams in the form of runes. The favoured place for them was around
the main door, the wall including the main door, the gable or the
four corner posts. Moreover, the runes were not made by the master
carpenter without detailed orders, which were discussed by him with
the house-owner. After all, in addition to their function as letters
of an alphabet the runes were also meaningful as salvation, rogation
and lucky signs for the fertility of crops, animals and humans, for
well being and the conservation of the family property. However, they
were not used on timber frames with their meaning as letters or
syllables. I want to take up the runes in my work in their meanings
as signs of salvation and good fortune. Today we know of 31
timber-frame ornaments with their meanings. They can be found in a
number of variants on timber-frame buildings.
assign each of the three themes to an exhibition room. In the first
room hangs the "Pieta" painted in 1882 by Anton Settegast.
In this room I show theme of religion with five signs. The signs are
on a white background in the colours sacred to each of the five
religions. The colour white has a central role to play in all
religions as a symbol of divine light. Through all the windows in the
three exhibition rooms the baroque monastic garden of the abbey can
be seen. There I show the theme of botany with its 68 signs. The
signs are coloured green (for the chlorophyll of the plants) on a
brown background (for "mother Earth"). Thirty-one
timber-frame signs with their meanings as bringers of salvation and
good fortune are still known to us today. In various forms they can
be found on all timber-frame buildings in Seligenstadt. The signs are
coloured brown (for the timber-frame wood painted brown) on a chalky
white background (for the whitened wall). All signs have been
interpreted by me for my project, re-shaped and transferred to a
uniform, square paper format. They are hung in rows or blocks in the
various rooms. The works of each theme are accompanied by exhibits
from the museum's stock, such as timber-frame items from the Middle
Ages, botanical display tables and the "Pieta" of the
title of my exhibition project, "CURA ANIMA – CURA CORPORIS"
(caring for the soul – caring for the body) is the fundamental
principle of the Rule of St. Benedict. The monks in the isolation of
the former monastery of Seligenstadt lived according to this Rule. In
addition to working on the welfare of their souls, their life also
included safeguarding of the creation for working on their physical
well-being. These form the sequence of the three themes of my
exhibition project in their spatial distribution at the exhibition
site: religion, botany and timber-frame building ornamentation. I
hope to take the visitors to my exhibition along this path with me.
translation from German by the translation office Denzig
1999; Kremepigments, acrylic, Archespaper; 5 parts, each 27 3/4 in.
2008; Kremepigments, acrylic, Cansonpaper; 68 parts, each 11 3/4 in.
2003; Kremepigments, acrylic, Cansonpaper; 31 parts, each 19 3/4 in.
anima – cura corporis"
Senf from Cologne, with "cura anima – cura corporis" calls for
thoughtfulness to discover the "signs" he has interpreted.
"Care for the soul is also care for the body": Johannes Senf takes up
this concern of St. Benedict with his exhibition, specifically designed
for Seligenstadt. In the rooms of the convent building of the former
Benedictine abbey, the artist pays tribute to distinctive features of
cultural history with high quality graphics and an extremely careful
selection of materials.
We see signs, and this makes one thoughtful in a time of increasing
illiteracy! Signs of the great world religions on a luminous white
background; botanical signs in life-giving green on warm, earthy brown:
the Benedictines are considered to be the gardeners of Europe for good
reason, as a look from the windows of the exhibition rooms can testify.
There are also timber-frame signs in black and white, which ask to be
interpreted as one wanders around the town.
Achim Zöller (director of the regional museum
translation from German by the translation office Denzig