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EXHIBITION PROJECT


CURA ANIMA CURA CORPORIS

REGIONAL MUSEUM SELIGENSTADT



In 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.

One 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 exposé 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.

Seligenstadt 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.

For my exhibition project in Seligenstadt I want to take up three themes from the history of the monastery and the city:

The first theme relates to religion.

The 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, it 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.

The second theme relates to botany.

A 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 style of 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.

The third theme relates to the ornamentation of timber-frame buildings.

In 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.

I 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 painter Settegast.

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.

Johannes Senf                                                                                                                                                                                         Cologne 2007

                                                                                                                    translation from German by the translation office Denzig Cologne
ZEICHEN DER WELTRELIGIONEN
WORLD RELIGIONS
1999; Kremepigments, acrylic, Archespaper; 5 parts, each 27 3/4 in.
BOTANISCHE ZEICHEN - GARTENBAU
BOTANY – HORTICULTURE
2008; Kremepigments, acrylic, Cansonpaper; 68 parts, each 11 3/4 in.
FACHWERKEICHEN
HALF-TIMBERING ORNAMENTS
2003; Kremepigments, acrylic, Cansonpaper; 31 parts, each 19 3/4 in.
"cura anima – cura corporis"



Johannes 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 Seligenstadt)                                                                                             Seligenstadt 2009

                                                                                                                     translation from German by the translation office Denzig Cologne
AUSTELLUNG LANDSCHAFTSMUSEUM SELIGENSTADT RAUM 1
AUSTELLUNG LANDSCHAFTS MUSEUM SELIGENSTADT RAUM 2
AUSTELLUNG LANDSCHAFTSMUSEUM SELIGENSTADT RAUM 2 DETAIL
AUSTELLUNG LANDSCHAFTSMUSEUM SELIGENSTADT RAUM 3
NACH OBEN