for the Gleim Year, Halberstadt


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 electronically data processing. It is the graphical qualities of these signs, which is most important for me and not the philosophical content or scientific significance.

In 2003 the "Gleim Jubilee" is being held in Halberstadt to commemorate the 200th death anniversary of Johann Wilhelm Gleim. During his lifetime, Gleim was seen as one of the public personalities of Germany's literary life. He had a large circle of friends that included many significant literary figures of the time, such as Lessing, Wieland, Herder, Kleist, Schlegel, Klopstock and others. More than 10,000 letters have been preserved from these friendships. Throughout his life Gleim was a supporter of the "fine arts", helping young writers by financing their printing costs or letting them work undisturbed in his house. But he also wrote his own literary texts and essays on literary works. If people wanted to have something preserved they would send it to him. In this way a big archive grew, with letters, manuscripts, hand-written testimonials, autobiographical writings and official documents. In addition, he collected second-hand and new books. His large library was open to the public during his lifetime and has remained so since his death.

The literary influence of Gleim is to be the topic of my exhibition project for the Gleim Year in Halberstadt. His ideas, thoughts, judgements and contacts have been preserved for us to this day in writings, texts and books. Written documents, and particularly books are therefore the link between his creative spirit and the reader. Consequently the book is the basis of my exhibition project. One of the steps in book production is of special interest to me. Once the manuscript has been set and a proof pulled, the next step is proofreading. This is often done by the author in person. Proofreaders use an international sign system: proofreader's marks. It has been in use more or less since the 16th century. Until the 19th century there were various systems differing slightly from each other. At the end of the 19th century standardisation was carried out to create the present form. This means that proofreader's marks stand between the manuscript, the original thoughts of the author, and the book, the final product.

For my exhibition project in Halberstadt I have selected 35 signs from the system of proofreader's marks. The signs have been interpreted by me, re-designed and transferred to a single paper size of 11 3/4 in. The processed signs are in red on a white background. Red stands for the proofreader's corrections, usually which are made in red, and white for the paper of the book. As the heading for the exhibition I have taken a stroke of the pen from Gleim's bookplate "GLEIMII ET AMICORUM" ([Book collection] of Gleim and [his] Friends). It can be found in the books in his library.

As a collector and patron Gleim not only left a wide-ranging library but also financed the printing of books. An important part of his life's work was, therefore, preserving and passing on thoughts and ideas. With my exhibition project, "GLEIMII ET AMICORUM" in the Kunstforum Halberstadt I want to remind people of this aspect of Gleim. This gives another accent to the Gleim Jubilee of 2003 in Halberstadt. As a result, visitors to the jubilee have the opportunity to find a visual approach to Gleim's influence in addition to the conventional philological approaches.

Johannes Senf                                                                                                                                                                                         Cologne 2002

                                                                                                                     translation from German by the translation office Denzig Cologne
2001; Kremepigments, acrylic, Cansonpaper; 35 parts, each 11 3/4 in.


  An exhibition for the "Gleim Jubilee" in Halberstadt, 2003

There was great interest in autumn last year when a committee member of the Kunstforum Halberstadt made a presentation in the Gleimhaus: the writer, Gleim, had inspired a modern artist to create a new work of art! It is taken for granted that scholars are concerned with him and that people from Halberstadt with an interest in culture are perfectly familiar with him, that more and more visitors to our city discover him and that he can also be made interesting to children and young people – but finding our poet and collector being a source of inspiration for a visual artist is not an everyday experience.

Johannes Senf, the artist who was born in Thüringen in 1961 and now lives in Cologne, did not, in fact, begin with the collection but rather his first approach was to Gleim himself as a personality. For this reason, the poet's biography should be very briefly sketched at this point. Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Gleim was born in Ermsleben in 1719; he studied law in Halle – but even there was already more interested in literature – and after a few professional positions, he was appointed Cathedral Secretary in Halberstadt in 1747. Provided with a fixed income, he was able to make his passion for collection and vision of friendship come real. Over the years, pictures, books and letters came together in great numbers in the house behind the cathedral, and, at the same time, his contacts and friendships also grew. In the end, Gleim had maintained correspondence with more than 500 persons during his lifetime. He lived and collected for the sake of friendship, which is also clearly expressed by his bookplate, or ex libris : "Gleimii et amicorum" can be read there, and in the spirit of the Enlightenment, the books were to be of service to Gleim and his friends. Since the poet himself had no children, posterity was to benefit from his treasures, so that today one of the oldest literary museums in Germany can be visited and used in Halberstadt. In 1862, not quite 60 years after Gleim's death in 1803, it opened its doors for the first visitors.

In Gleim, Johannes Senf saw, most of all, the writer, who wants to convey his thoughts to his friends through the medium of the book. It was natural that this aspect was of special interest to him, because for some years, as he says himself, his work has aimed at "examining the signs of abstract communication systems and comparing them with each other." For example, inspired by a stay in Hong Kong he studied the sign systems of different times and cultures. Many of these, of course, are kinds of writing – letters – but they might also be signs from other contexts, such as religion or science, signs, in other words, standing in a complex context of meaning, and yet also reducible to their abstract forms. A Chinese written character will have to be seen quite differently in Peking and in Halberstadt. Another example of a sign may be mentioned here: an upright triangle. In the first place, a triangle of this kind is an aesthetic structure and it can be perceived with a variety of associations: for one person this weighted form seems to emanate great peacefulness, for another, due to its sharp point, it may rather suggest danger. A teacher from a classical grammar school might think of the delta, a letter from the Greek alphabet, while a person brought up as a Christian might be reminded of the Trinity. A child may perhaps see a roof in the triangle, and want to add the walls of the house, unless it lives in Egypt, in which case it might recognise a pyramid. For some nations the upright triangle is held to be a symbol of masculinity (while the inverted, downward-pointing variant is, on the contrary, a symbol of femininity); for a Freemason it symbolises the three stages of human development, and – appropriately in the rooms of the Kunstverein, where the Schraube family sold textiles for several generation – this small selection may end with the following example: at the dry cleaners' workers would immediately know what a simple triangle on the materials note means – bleaches may be used!

Now let us return from this trip with the triangle through times and cultures and get back to Gleim. For his work on Gleim from the year 2002, Johannes Senf analysed not the writer's letters but the proofreaders' marks, which are subordinate to the writing. Whether errors have crept in during the printing process or the author has changed his view while re-reading his text and now wants to express the idea differently, these signs are added later. With the sharp perceptions of an artist, Gleim has noted here an important aspect of Gleim's creative work. It was not easy for him as a poet to make a final decision and to say that a work was finished. Again and again, he thought he should change or improve something. With this personal characteristic Gleim did not make life easy for the editors of his work. Therefore, we read in the notes of his great nephew, Wilhelm Körte, who executed his estate and made the first edition of his work:

"Everything found in Gleim’s estate for an edition of his complete works consisted of:
1.) An almost complete collection of all printed poetry, with many hand-written emendations.
2.) A series of seventy-nine little volumes [...] of hand-written poems from the years 1783-1803; diaries in which the poet entered his daily song after the second revision, every day.
3.) An endless number of hand-written drafts , full of emendations [...]
4.) An even greater number of copies , [...] some of them with hand-written emendations.
These materials for an edition lay scattered about everywhere, almost every little poem in three or four manuscripts and copies, sometimes completely crossed out, sometimes corrected and in yet other cases left unchanged."

In the large manuscript collection in the Gleimhaus, there are innumerable examples of such alterations and corrections made by the poet.

Proofreaders' marks developed from the 16th century. In Gleim's time, there were no fixed signs, so that an author could enter corrections quite freely – he only had to consider that his corrections would have to be decoded by other people. Of prime concern in proofreading, of course, is crossing out incorrectly printed items or those to be changed, and the new variant would be written in the margin. In addition, in Gleim's case we find little flowing signs for deletion, from deleatur, meaning that it should be destroyed, thus representing a crossing-out. Proofreaders' marks were standardised at the end of the 19th century – for German, this uniform correction system can be found in the early pages of any "Duden" – and from then on it was used in all official correction processes.

Johannes Senf took 35 of these signs as his starting point. They were detached from their context, analysed as formal values and arranged in a new sequence. Isolated on square sheets of white glazed paper of 11 ¾ in., they seem to hover away from the walls in a strict horizontal row. This arrangement of the sheets has been adapted to the space; in the artist's Cologne workshop, they had been arranged in a different order – which means that the forms retain the characteristic variability of signs. In monochromatic red – the colour that signals correction, as we all remember from our schooldays – the signs shine out at the viewer. If that viewer has already had something to do with proofreading, individual signs will seem familiar to him. Anyone who has not used them in practice can let the aesthetic nature of the form have its primary effect. Perhaps certain associations will occur, change and then vanish again. The simple signs leave lots of space for the viewer's thoughts to play. He can focus on the sequence in which they are presented and follow the optical crescendo of forms, or perhaps detach favourite motifs from the series. In any case, he will find himself viewing abstract art, which can stimulate various thought sequences. In the Romantic period, an attempt was once made to present different thought sequences by drawing abstract forms. Here, the circle could be completed.

At the same time as the exhibition of these works by Johannes Senf in the Kunsthof, his five-part work "Der Verstand" (The Mind) from 1999 can be seen in the foyer of the Gleimhaus. Five different conditions of the human mind are made visible with characteristic signs, in this case in a cool blue: inactive, active, acting, creative and disturbed. The wall next to the pane of the Gleim library, where the works of the mind of great and less great spirits are preserved, provided the ideal place for the presentation. The triangle mentioned above is also to be seen in this sequence: for Johannes Senf it represents the creative mind in this work.

Yet another work by Johannes Senf can be seen in the Kunsthof. The artist always carefully examines the place for which a project is planned. Here, in Halberstadt, he was attracted not only to Gleim but also to the tradition of timber-frame buildings. Halberstadt, which once had the reputation of being the most romantic town in Prussia suffered irreplaceable loss in the bombing raid of 8 April 1945. Fortunately, however, there are still some streets, including the Voigtei, where the Kunsthof is located, which can show the visitor the old timber-frame building style of Halberstadt. The 31-part work is called "Wer Gott vertrawet der hat wol gebawet" (Who trusts in God has built well), named after a proverb. In studying the formal language of the timber frame, the artist observes that there are a large number of signs and symbols, which have been preserved in the building tradition. The carpenters who used these runes discussed with the owner of the building what salvation or votive sign was to be incorporated. During the course of centuries, knowledge of those signs was lost, so that we now see timber-frame ornaments, whose secret message is no longer familiar to us. The two works are presented in different places, but they are connected by an inner relationship: Gleim lived and worked in the old, idyllic Halberstadt. It is fortunate that the timber-frame house of about 1600 has been saved, so that his collection can be presented in its historic surroundings. Did Gleim still know the language of timber-frame signs? This is only one of the questions thrown up by the exhibition of Johannes Senf. It makes new perspectives clear, showing familiar things or traditional views viewed through the creations of contemporary artists to anyone who feels invited to view them and philosophise.

Doris Schumacher (second director of the museum "Das Gleimhaus" Halberstadt)                                                     Halberstadt 2003

                                                                                                                  translation from German by the translations office Denzig Cologne

extension of the exibition in the

1999; Kremerpigments, acrylic, Cansonpaper; 5 parts, each 11 3/4 in.




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 electronically data processing. It is the graphical qualities of these signs, which is most important for me and not the philosophical content or scientific significance.

From the Middle Ages Halberstadt had been a town where trades and crafts flourished and commerce was active. There is evidence for that in the large number of architecturally richly structured timber-frame houses. Most of them are in the style of the Central German timber-frame house, which is divided into three horizontal zones, opening up in the middle zone. For the most part, a bombing raid destroyed them in 1945. After the reunification of Germany, the numerous remaining timber-frame buildings in the lower city were restored and reconstructed.

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.

In my exhibition project, I want to take up the runes in their significance as signs of salvation and good fortune. 31 rune signs and their meanings have been preserved for us until today. They can be found in various forms on all timber-frame buildings. I have chosen these 31 signs for my project. They have been interpreted, re-designed and transferred to a uniform paper size of 19 3/4 in. At the exhibition site, they are hung in a room with a timber-frame wall. As the title of the exhibition, I have chosen a proverb found on a timber-frame house.

A considerable number of the timber-frame houses that survived the bombing raid on Halberstadt in 1945 are in the lower city. This is where the Kunstforum Halberstadt is also located. One of the exhibition rooms in the Kunstforum has a timber-frame wall. My exhibition project "WER GOTT VERTRAWET DER HAT WOL GEBAWET" (Who trusts in God have built well) is related to this wall and thus forms a connection with the timber-frame architecture of Halberstadt. The timber-frame ornamentation is resolved into its basic elements, the individual standing rune signs. In this way, the visitor is given the opportunity to decode the sign language of the timber frame and the associated symbolism while walking through Halberstadt.

Johannes Senf                                                                                                                                                                                         Cologne 2003

                                                                                                                     translation from German by the translation office Denzig Cologne
2003; Kremepigments, acrylic, Cansonpaper; 31 parts, each 19 3/4 in.