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EXHIBITION PROJECT


"...SACRED GROUND OF ILMATHENS..."
Henry van de Velde


GALLERY of the CITY COUNCIL WEIMAR – HARRY GRAF KESSLER



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.

I have selected five periods of time of importance to the city of Weimar for my Weimar exhibition project. They are in part of special interest to visitors to the city and to the media, an din part of great significance in regional history: prehistoric Weimar, with the discovery of the human fossils of Ehringsdorf, classical Weimar with the influence of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich von Schiller, post-classical Weimar with Franz Liszt and his circle, the Weimar of classical modernism with the Bauhaus institutions, the Weimar of the National-Socialist era with the Buchenwald concentration camp.


THE PREHISTORIC WEIMAR

Of the many significant archaeological finds in the region of Thuringia, two are of immense scientific importance, even internationally. These are the skeletal remains of Homo heidelbergensis near Bilzingsleben and of Homo neandertalensis in Weimar-Ehringsdorf. The excavations and the salvaging of prehistoric discoveries by archaeologists are the basis of the first part of my project. The finds are entered on large-scale maps on site for later scientific analysis. For this purpose, special cartographic signs are used. Their purpose is to secure and protect the discoveries on site for some later time, saving them from their mortality.

THE CLASSICAL WEIMAR

The literary works left to us are the great legacy of the writers and philosophers who include Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich von Schiller, Johann Gottfried von Herder, Christoph Martin Wieland and Johann Falk. Their ideas and thoughts are conveyed to this day in the form of books. The book is the mediator between the creative spirit and recipient reader. The medium of the book forms the basis of the first part of my project. One of the stages in the production of a book is of particular interest for me. Once the manuscript has been typeset and printed for the first time, proofreading takes place. Usually the authors themselves do this. The proofreaders make use of an international system of communication – proof-reader's marks. These have been used since around the 16th century. Various systems existed until the 19th century, which differed slightly from each other. At the end of the 19th century, these were standardised to assume the form we know today. These proof-reader‘s marks thus stand between the manuscript, the author‘s original ideas and the end product which is the book.

THE POSTCLASSICAL WEIMAR

Music was the artistic creation of composers and musicians, such as Franz Liszt, Hector Berlioz, Richard Wagner, Peter Cornelius and Hans Bülow, who worked in Weimar. Music is written using international musical notation. Musical notation is the link between the creative composer, the performing musician and the listener. Musical notation forms the basis of the second part of my project. The origins of a standardised musical notation date from around the year 900 with the Neumen system. We arrive at our present-day notation system, invented by Immanuel Breitkopf in 1755, having passed through a number of stages such as the introduction of the stave around the year 1050 and rhythmic values at the end of the 13th century.

WEIMAR OF CLASSICAL MODERNISM

The atmosphere of a new beginning in Europe in the twenties can be felt in Weimar in particular in the foundation of the state-run Bauhaus. The educational goal of the Bauhaus was "the theory of building" (Baulehre) as the final stage of training. However, this final stage of training in architecture was only achieved to a very basic extent in Weimar. Two architectural reminders of that time are the "Haus am Horn" model house and the "Denkmal der Märzgefallenen" (Memorial to those who died in the "Kapp-Lüttwitz Putsch" 1920/coup attempt during the German revolution). And so architectural drawings form the fourth part of my project. Such drawings must be read by various parties such as the principal, the licensing authorities or the builders and trades. For this reason, when a building project is planned, typed and standardised signs are used for building materials, building instructions, technical installations etc. These signs give the creative ideas of the architect a universal form that can be read by everyone.

THE NATIONAL-SOCIALIST WEIMAR

One of the main goals of the national socialists was the creation of a standardised society, which was obedient, and without a will of its own. Individualists, those who thought differently and those with other beliefs were rooted out and disappeared in the camps. Here they lost their names and were from that point on treated as a mere number. They were then sorted into various groups. Each group was labelled by means of a system of signs made up of geometrical shapes in various colours. This system of geometrical shapes was thus an instrument used to control, standardise and socially exclude.


Each of the fife ages forms a part of my exhibition project. Each part is represented by a special abstract system of communication: THE PREHISTORIC WEIMAR by 37 archaeological map signs, THE CLASSICAL WEIMAR by 40 signs from proofreading, THE POSTCLASSICAL WEIMAR by 86 musical notation signs, WEIMAR OF CLASSICAL MODERNISM by 35 architectural drawing signs and THE NATIONAL-SOCIALIST WEIMAR by 19 triangle signs for Concentration Camp Prisoners. I interpret the forms, re-shape them and transfer them to a uniform paper format of either 19 ¾ in. or 27 ¾ in.

For the exhibition project "…SACRED GROUND OF ILMATHENS…" (Henry van de Velde) in the various Weimar institutions I selected the five periods described above from the large number of equally important historical and cultural events. In part they are seen internationally as the most important periods for Weimar and are those most frequently found in books, lectures, symposia and cultural history exhibitions. But I want to show a new way of looking at what is already well known. This may arouse curiosity among visitors to the exhibition. They should be stimulated into thinking afresh about things they have long known. This may inspire a re-determination of positions and an expansion of inner horizons.

Johannes Senf                                                                                                                                                                                         Cologne 2000

                                                                                                                     translation from German by the translation office Denzig Cologne
ARCHÄOLOGISCHE ZEICHEN
ARCHAEOLOGICAL SIGNS
2001; Kremepigments, acrylat, Cansonpaper; 37 parts, each 11 3/4 in.
DEUTSCHE KORREKTURSCHRIFT
GERMAN PROOFREADING MARKS
2001; Kremepigments, acrylic, Cansonpaper; 35 parts, each 11 3/4 in.
NOTENZEICHEN
MUSICAL NOTATION
1999; Kremepigments, acrylic, Cansonpaper; 86 parts, each 11 3/4 in.
ARCHITEKTUR BAUSTOFFZEICHEN
ARCHITECTURE – NUTRIENT RESOURCES
2001; Kremepigments, acrylic, Cansonpaper; 26 parts, each 11 3/4 in.
KENNZEICHEN DER KZ-HÄFTLINGE
"IDENTITY MARKS for PRISONERS in the CONCENTRATION CAMPS"
1999; Kremepigments, acrylic, Cansonpaper; 19 parts, each 19 3/4 in.
"SACRED GROUND OF ILMATHENS" – THE ART AND EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMME OF
JOHANNES SENF ON THE EXHIBITION IN THE GALLERY OF THE CITY COUNCIL
"HARRY GRAF KESSLER"

 

Within the context of the European Cultural Capital of Weimar in 1999, the artist Johannes Senf, who now lives and works in Cologne, intensively studied the culture and history of Weimar, where his artistic development had begun with a stone-mason apprenticeship and courses in art during the 1970s. Already in 2000 he proposed the exhibition project to the city of Weimar with the quotation from Henry van de Velde, "The Sacred Ground of Ilmathens" with the purpose of making the history of Weimar an art experience in the Museum for Pre- and Early History, the Goethe Institute, the Belvedere Music School, the "Haus am Horn" and the documentation room of the Gauforum. Now these five groups of works from the years 1999 to 2001 are being shown together in a concentrated form and thematic as well as artistic density in the "Kunsthalle Harry Graf Kessler", revealing a significant insight into the work of Johannes Senf.

He himself describes his work, where art and science, history and philosophy, specific sites and events are transposed into memorable groups of works, in this way: "In my works I investigate signs from abstract communications systems. They are derived, for example, from history, ethnology, calligraphic research, religions or natural science and range from prehistoric cave drawings to modern computer data flowcharts. "His approach can definitely be compared with that of the early Bauhaus in Weimar, when the Bauhaus members overcame the traditional, Eurocentric view of the world regarding the origins of art and design and concerned themselves with the religions of the world and Einstein’s relativity theory as well as with prehistoric cave drawings and the currents of the European avant-garde, from Italian Futurism to Russian Constructivism. In particular an interest in early sign systems as well as calligraphy and typography in the Bauhaus from 1919 to 1923 prompts interesting comparisons with the work of Johannes Senf. The Bauhaus Manifesto of Walter Gropius in 1919, with the cry, "Architects, sculptors, painters, we must all return to the handicrafts... This is the original source of creative design", was followed by masters and apprentices. In the pottery workshop, led by Gerhard Marcks and Max Krehan, from 1921 a unified system of workshops and individual brands was developed. The workshop mark of the Bauhaus pottery was a circle divided in the middle by a vertical stroke, lengthened at the top with short line like an arrow at 45 degrees. The personal marks of Otto Lindig, Johannes Driesch, Marguerite Wildenhain and Else Mögelin were formed with one or two additional lines and there were variants with an "M" for Gerhard Marcks, "B" for Theodor Bogler and "L" for Otto Lindig. The workshop and its members were bonded visually with a system of signs. Another example is the Bauhaus signets of 1919 by Karl Peter Röhl and of 1922 by Oskar Schlemmer, both of which emerged from Bauhaus competitions. In an expressive and visionary language of forms, in his "Sternenmännchen" Karl Peter Röhl combined the human figure as a line-code of the Germanic runes for the masculine and feminine principles with the circular, abstract black-and-white divided head as the sign for Ying and Yang. This figure carries a pyramid and is flanked by cosmic symbols of the swastika sun, moon and stars. Simplified as signs and geometric figures, the Bauhaus profile of Oskar Schlemmer, on the other hand, enters as a symbol of humanity into the age of modern machines, means of transport and communication systems. The human being remains the centrepiece and point of reference, as in the work of Johannes Senf. A third example should be mentioned: the telephone images as enamel pictures by László Maholy-Nagy from 1922, whose "sign systems" no longer turned to the middle ages but referred explicitly to the new Bauhaus course, "Art and Technology – a New Unity". Bars and crosses from overlapping lines form the strict graphic composition, whose coordinates were to be communicated by telephone and reproduced. By allocating colour numbers for individual areas it was possible to send the entire "data volume" through the telephone. Simultaneously, the question of the original and the reproduction of art was raised. From 1922 Maholy-Nagy also worked on photograms with geometric formal elements and a kinetic-constructive system, light sign systems as an analogy to lighthouses or the Morse code.

Senf's artistic interventions are both educational programmes and sensitivity training. For example, for prehistoric Weimar with the discovery of the Ehringsdorf human fossils he chose the archaeological signs that are used today for mapping finds. He associated Classical Weimar and its great writers with the topic of book production, which cannot function without its standardised correction signs, while to the topic of the Bauhaus he allocates the architectural sketch, which would be unthinkable without its fixed signs and hatchings. Especially successful seems the association of the "Silver Age" in Weimar and its great musical tradition from Franz Liszt through Richard Wagner to Hector Berlioz and Richard Strauss with its artistic transformation of musical notation. The 86 squares, each 11 3/4 in., show abstracted elements of the notation in black and totally geometric force on a white, painted background, seeming to hover graphically in front of the wall and the picture surface. The most striking and perhaps artistically most successful work of Johannes Senf is the nineteen-part sequence of "prisoner signs" for those imprisoned in fascist concentration camps. The 19 3/4 in. squares are subdivided into five grey and grey-blue vertical strips, reminiscent of prisoners' clothing, with triangles in seven colours to mark the category of prisoner sewn on and the addition of the yellow triangle for Jewish prisoners. Senf breaks up the triangles into coloured lines that make the painted background visible. In this way two image levels are created, the individuality of the prisoners’ clothes differentiated in paint in contrast to the uniformity and almost painful precision of the triangles over them.

In the flood of media images, Johannes Senf asserts himself as a painter with individually designed image grounds on delicate Canson paper and as a committed artist and critical contemporary with his intellectually and aesthetically stringent image inventions. He seeks and finds his image and sign systems in our everyday lives, in the codes of the increasingly globalised world. He transports them and alienates them artistically so that they become something of his own. In this way Senf arouses curiosity for his artistic interpretations and also for the "starting material", which he uses to develop his exciting "educational programme".

Michael Siebenbrodt (head of the Bauhaus Museum Weimar)                                                                                                     Weimar 2007

                                                                                                                  translation from German by the translations office Denzig Cologne
AUSTELLUNG KUNSTHALLE WEIMAR
AUSTELLUNGKUNSTHALLE  WEIMAR
AUSTELLUNG KUNSTHASLLE WEIMAR
NACH OBEN