"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
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
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
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.
translation from German by Michael Tighe
1999; Kremepigments, acrylic, Archespaper; 5 parts, each 27 3/4 in.
TRANSFORMATION OF SIGNS INTO PICTURES
for the exhibition "DISPUTATIO" by Johannes Senf
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
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
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
translation from German by Michael Tighe