"...SACRED GROUND OF ILMATHENS..."
van de Velde
GALLERY of the CITY COUNCIL WEIMAR – HARRY GRAF KESSLER
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.
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
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.
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
Various systems existed until the 19th
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.
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
OF CLASSICAL MODERNISM
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"
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.
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.
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.
the exhibition project "…SACRED GROUND OF
(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.
translation from German by the translation office Denzig
2001; Kremepigments, acrylat, Cansonpaper; 37 parts, each 11 3/4 in.
2001; Kremepigments, acrylic, Cansonpaper; 35 parts, each 11 3/4 in.
1999; Kremepigments, acrylic, Cansonpaper; 86 parts, each 11 3/4 in.
– NUTRIENT RESOURCES
2001; Kremepigments, acrylic, Cansonpaper; 26 parts, each 11 3/4 in.
"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
SENF ON THE EXHIBITION IN THE GALLERY OF THE CITY COUNCIL
"HARRY GRAF KESSLER"
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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".
Siebenbrodt (head of the Bauhaus Museum
from German by the translations office Denzig Cologne