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EXHIBITION PROJECT


DISPUTATIO

  
18th "KEMPEN ART ROOM", KRAMER-MUSEUM of the CITY COUNCIL, KEMPEN



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.

I would like to realise the following exhibition project in the former Franciscan monastery in Kempen. The monastery was founded in 1627 during the counterreformation and was dissolved in 1802. Today it serves as the city museum and museum for Sacred Art of the Lower Rhine Region. The museum rooms also include an exhibition room for contemporary art – "the Kempen Art Room". The function of today’s Art Room in the former monastery was that of a Parlatorium – an interview room for visitors.

Representatives of the five great world religions have been in dialogue with each other for a number of years. I would like this to be the subject of my project which is entitled DISPUTATIO (scientific discussion).

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.

I have prepared all five signs for my project and transferred them to a standard paper format of 27 3/4 in. Each of the signs is in the sacred colour associated with that religion on a white background. The colour white plays a leading role in each of the religions as a sign for divine light.

I have chosen a primary sign from each of the five world religions for my project DISPUTATIO. These signs represent each religion and its meaning. By hanging the signs in the Parlatorium of a former monastery, they make contact, as it were, via the viewer and enter into a relationship with each other. This can be compared to a conversation. Communication with an unknown partner can result in coming closer together and bring about an understanding of the "other world". This is a basic necessity for practising tolerance in a world, which is growing ever closer together.

Johannes Senf                                                                                                                                                                                         Cologne 1998

                                                                                                                                                                 translation from German by Michael Tighe
ZEICHEN DER WELTRELIGIONEN
WORLD RELIGIONS
1999; Kremepigments, acrylic, Archespaper; 5 parts, each 27 3/4 in.
THE TRANSFORMATION OF SIGNS INTO PICTURES

  for the exhibition "DISPUTATIO" by Johannes Senf



In the words of the artist himself, Johannes Senf's artistic work concentrates on the "examination and comparison of signs from abstract communication systems". The work, which at first sight puts one in mind of semiotic, scientific research, involves a process, which makes use of graphical painting techniques and can thus be seen primarily as a visually based process of transforming signs into pictures. In his long-term artistic program, which is of almost encyclopaedic proportions, Johannes Senf transforms visual signs from the most varied of cultural, scientific and technical settings into a unified system of images. This process does not only provide a formal explanation of the signs and reduce them to their basic structure but also alters the signs’ status: symbolic qualities assume additional pictorial qualities.

Without the original meaning of the sign being lost, this process of transforming the sign into a picture also reveals purely graphical visual qualities embodied in the individual forms. This aspect takes on a central role when viewing the images due the signs being elevated to a neutral plane of comparison by means of their unified graphical "design" where they differ only in the way their contours run and in their context-based colour qualities. The project "Disputio" which makes use of signs from the five world religions is, in this respect, particularly diverse with regard to form and colour – a diversity, which also emphasises the differences of the religious cultures represented by the various signs.

Despite the conceptual rigidity and systematic approach which spans his work, it is remarkable how Johannes Senf always looks for those elements which are most closely associated with a given exhibition location. This might be by reproducing alchemy signs for the element copper in the former production hall of a wire factory in Cologne or using the special set of signs associated with photography in a photographic laboratory as a starting point.

The special history of the "Kunstraum Kempen" characterised by its sacred associations and located in a former Franciscan monastery inspired Johannes Senf to use the medium of the sign to establish a dialogue between the five world religions with each religion being equally represented. The work picks up on the original communicative function of the room: in day-to-day monastery life, the "Parlatorium" served as a room where visitors could hold conversations.

Using painted signs on large, identically sized square sheets of paper hung equidistant around the room, Johannes Senf is staging an imaginary gathering of the religions of the world. Each sign is the visual formula for an immeasurably large cosmos of religious convictions, customs and traditions. However, the work is made up of more than just religious connotations. Because Senf has reduced the signs to their abstract basic structure, they take on a multiplicity of meanings and can be interpreted in various ways. For example, the Christian crucifix when depicted as a symmetrical form can be read as the symbol for "plus" or as an abstract, geometric composition. Similarly, the Buddhist "wheel of teaching", the Jewish seven-branched candelabrum, the sacred Hindu syllable "Om" and the Islamic half-moon and star can all be detached from their religious meaning and perceived in the abstract.

Because of the special "Genius Loci" of the former Parlatorium, Johannes Senf's sublime and rational symbolic pictures are viewed here not only by human eyes but also, to a certain extent, by higher powers. Above the entrance an "Eye of God" set in the stucco looks down on the gathering redolent of a historical variant of a religious sign, which has been transformed into a picture.

Thomas von Taschitzki                                                                                                                                                          Cologne/Weimar 1999

                                                                                                                                                                 translation from German by Michael Tighe
AUSTELLUNG MUSEUM KEMPEN
AUSTELLUNG MUSEUM KEMPEN

NACH OBEN