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EXHIBITON PROJECT


SAINT BONIFACE
THE APOSTLE OF THE GERMANS

GALLERY OF THE CITY COUNCIL ERFURT



Boniface (originally Wynfrith/Winfried) was born in Crediton (?) Wessex in 675 as the son of a rich landowner. At the age of seven he entered a monastery in Exeter, and shortly after that the Benedictine monastery of Nhutscelle. There he was anointed to the priesthood but gave up the brilliant career in store for him to move to Frisia with other monks in 716. There he planned to save souls by proselytisation, but was unsuccessful. In 718 he travelled to Rome to receive the Pope’s support for his missionary work. On 15 May 719 he received from Pope Gregory II his letter of appointment as Preacher to the Heathen. At the same time he was given the order to reform and reorganise the existing church in the land of Thuringia, which was already considered to be Christian, and to subordinate it to Rome. He performed missionary work in Frisia and Lower Saxony. On his second journey to Rome he was appointed Missionary Bishop by Pope Gregory II on 20 November 722. On his return journey he visited the King of the Franks, Karl Martell, who recognised him as Bishop and issued a writ of protection for him. Now he began his missionary work anew, this time among the Chatti (Hessen). Although the region of the Chatti was part of the Kingdom of the Franks, they were still fighting for their independence. They opposed Christianity as the state religion of the Franks in order to maintain their independence. However, by cutting down an oak tree near Geismar, the tribal shrine of the Chatti dedicated to the worship of Donar, Boniface succeeded in conquering Hessen in the name of the new faith in 722. This was achieved under the protection of the Franks who were occupying Büraburg (Fritzlar) on the River Eder, the border between Franconia and Saxony. In 724 he moved to Thuringia and performed successful missionary work there. He founded a monastery in Ohrdruf and organised the affairs of the church according to regulations from Rome. In 732 his position as Missionary Bishop was confirmed by Pope Gregory III. After his third journey to Rome, he began his work of setting up dioceses. Among others, he founded the diocese of Würzburg in 741, which covered the Main region of Franconia as well as southern Thuringia, and he named Erfurt the diocesan capital of northern Thuringia. When the effort to reform the Frankish church and submit it to the supremacy of Rome failed, he withdrew to his diocesan seat in Mainz. In 752 he resigned from his bishopric and moved to Frisia in 753. While performing missionary work there, he and his companions were slain in 754.

Thor (Scandinavian) or Donar (Germanic), the Indo-Germanic god of heaven, is also the god of thunder, with his lightning hammer (Mjöllnir). His tree symbol is the oak. He is the god of communities and fertility, the protector of those who till the land and of the local meeting. His attribute is the hammer as a symbol of thunder and lightning, which mark out his passage across the sky. This very popular god is represented as an over-large but familiar figure, driving a chariot pulled by goats. When he blows into his beard, flashes of lightning are created; he has glowing eyes, enormous strength and can be terribly angry. He brings rain, drives frost away and shatters the giants of ice. On memorial stones one can often see a hammer on a rope (Thor's hammer), which he throws at his enemies or strikes down on their heads. Various fertility cults are associated with Thor/Donar, of which there is evidence up to the late Palaeolithic age. Thursday is named after him.

I have chosen two signs for my exhibition activity in the gallery of the city council Erfurt. The first is the cross, standing for the Christian faith. It went along with Boniface during his missionary work as a sign of his faith, in its medieval meaning of victor over the powers of darkness. The second is Thor’s hammer as the main cult symbol of the god of the sky, the sign of his strength and power but also a sign of the saviour and fertility. Both signs are on a white background, the universal colour of all religions. The Christian cross is golden yellow here, the most sacred colour of divine revelation in medieval colour symbolism. Thor’s hammer is red, the colour of the Germanic weather-gods, who are represented with red hair. Red is also seen as the colour of fire and lightning. Both signs are interpreted by me, processed and transferred to a uniform format of 27 3/4 in.

For the Boniface Exhibition in Erfurt I have chosen two signs that resemble each other graphically. They are the main signs of two quite different religions, opposed to each other in the "Germania" of the eighth century. On one side were the Chatti who wanted to preserve not only their natural religion but also their cultural identity and their independence from the Franks. On the other side fought Boniface, who wanted to bring his faith, which was superior in his eyes, to the “heathens”. In doing so he could be sure of being supported by the Franks. The acceptance of Christianity, the Frank’s state religion, by neighbouring peoples helped that state to suppress and assimilate them.

Johannes Senf                                                                                                                                                                                         Cologne 2003

                                                                                                                    translation from German by the translation office Denzig Cologne
THORS HAMMER/CHRISTLICHES KREUZ
SAINT BONIFACE – THORS/DONARS HAMMER, CHRISTIAN KROSS
2000; Kremerpigments, acrylic, Archespaper; 2 parts, each 27 3/4 in.
JOHANNES SENF

In his works, the artist Johannes Senf, born in Thuringia and today living in Cologne, examines and compares signs in abstract communications systems – from signs of possessions and clans in the Stone Ages and the Middle Ages up to modern computer flow-diagrams. The trigger for this direction was the fascination he felt at the wealth of Chinese characters seen in the city of Hong Kong. Since then he has been exploring all kinds of sign systems: ancient and secret alphabets and signs from handicraft, mining or alchemy. For example, old writing signs such as the 25-letter script of the Phoenicians, the Hebrew alphabet (the "square script") with its 22 shapes, nomads' signs for branding animals or the various tri-grams of the I-Ching, are used as starting points and objects to be processed in whole series of works. Here he is interested partly in the origins of the signs and the meaning they convey in their context and partly in their actual forms. For his own purposes he re-designs them with linear geometric forms such as dots and lines, horizontals, verticals, diagonals, circles and squares.

In order to compare different sign systems clearly with one another, Johannes Senf has developed certain conceptual patterns, which he terms "test arrangements". He includes four basic conditions in these: 1. The carrier material is always paper. 2. The basic format for each individual sign is a square. 3. The line thickness of any one sign is always constant. 4. Several lines of the sign touch the outer edge of the format. The base surface of the signs is prepared with several runs of acrylic glaze, where the strokes of the brush remains visible, thus creating an interplay between the rhythmic painting style on base and the precisely contoured sign above it. The number of sheets in a group of works is based on the specific sign system and the selection Senf makes from it. In addition, he works with a specific colour symbolism, which he uses to point out the cultural context of his signs.

Clearly, the allocation of meanings to written signs (he does not use pictogram s) is arbitrary, i.e. they follow a certain, culturally acquired convention. Anyone who does not inhabit (or no longer inhabits) the contexts in which these signs are used for communicational exchange (as in the case of so-called dead languages) will, as a matter of course, have to live with limited understanding and misinterpretations. On the other hand, the secret about their content stimulates new, associative interpretations. This, too, is the area that Johannes Senf works in.Senf often works towards certain thematic or local projects, as he does in the case of Boniface and the thematically associated felling of a sacred oak as the starting point for the Erfurt exhibition. But this time he has not chosen a writing system but rather confronts two generally comprehensible symbols with each other: the Christian cross and the hammer of Thor as an attribute and cultic sign for the old Germanic god Thor or Donar. Many such hammers of Thor have been found in the form of pendants on necklaces from the time of the Vikings in Scandinavia. They probably served as magic signs and amulets. Senf has centred the sign of the cross, which, in terms of design, creates the greatest possible stability and peace. Inherent in the sign of the Thor’s hammer, on the other hand, is a strong pictorial dynamism, which is created by the contrast between empty areas at the base and a concentration of form at the top. Both signs are set on a white background. He has made the figure of the Christian cross golden yellow, the colour representing divine revelation in medieval colour symbolism. The red of the Thor’s hammer, on the other hand, is set hypothetically and associatively: as the colour of the Germanic gods of the weather, who were represented with red hair, and as the colour of fire and lightning, as well as fertility, for which Donar was responsible. The fact that in this sign a tree can be symbolised no less than Christ's Cross makes the antagonistic element in the confrontation of Boniface with the oak of Donar seem less final than the way it is presented in the Vita Bonifatius.

Kai-Uwe Schirz (director of the gallery of the city council Erfurt)                                                                                                  Erfurt 2004

                                                                                                                  translation from German by the translations office Denzig Cologne
AUSTELLUNG KUNSTHALLE ERFURT
NACH OBEN