Τετάρτη, 16 Νοεμβρίου 2011

Anselm Kiefer ---Acceptance Speech for the Peace Prize of

Acceptance Speech for the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade,
 October 19, 2008 by Anselm Kiefer.

 I think in images. Poems help me do this. They are like buoys in the sea. I swim to them, from one
to the next; in between, without them, I am lost.
    They are the points amidst the infinite vastness at which something masses together out of
interstellar dust, a bit of matter in the abyss of antimatter. Sometimes the rubble of things past coalesces
into new words and associations.
    Some poems lead us to believe that there is a meaning, one that might be indescribable but still
points toward there possibly being an end—an Eschaton. And that the word might perhaps
become flesh precisely because there, in the snow, on the white paper, it has already melted away.
Ingeborg Bachmann writes of this in her poem “Das Spiel ist aus” (“The Game Is Over ”):

    Nur wer an der goldenen Brücke für die Karfunkelfee
    das Wort noch weiß, hat gewonnen.
    Ich muss dir sagen, es ist mit dem letzten Schnee
    im Garten zerronnen.

    Only he who by the golden bridge
    still remembers the name for the
    karfunkelfaerie has won.
    I must tell you that it has melted with the last snow in the garden.1

    We are here in an empty room. What was once a church—with the walls of a church, the pews,
the altar, the pulpit—has left behind only this podium, with its three steps.
    The space in which we find ourselves today, the Paulskirche (Church of St.Paul), is like a cylinder
that penetrates into the depths. To me, it is like the entrance to a mine. I see the colors of the
sediments, the black-violet of Nelly Sachs, who stood here in 1965, the ultraviolet of Ernst Bloch
from forty-one years ago.

    When we speak of descending into history, of descending into ourselves, into our innermost
being, I see the mine of Heinrich von Ofterdingen and the mines of Falun, as described by E.T. A.
Hoffmann or Johann Peter Hebel, before my eyes.
    It is strange: both a descent and an ascent take place in these texts, just as in Goethe’s Faust in
the realm of the mothers: “steigend, steigend sinke nieder” (“rising, rising, I sink down”).
    Novalis speaks of miners as being reverse astrologists, and E.T. A. Hoffmann says that in the
deepest depths, by the faint light of the pit lamp, the eye becomes clairvoyant and is able to see in
the wonderful stones the reflection of what is hidden by the clouds.

I grew up in a small village in the country, without a TV, without the Internet, without the cinema
or theater—in a wonderful, empty space.
    Into this empty space fell the words, the not-yet consumed sentences of the poets and philosophers,
voices from the Paulskirche. I could hear them over the radio, even though at first
I did not understand their meaning. I can still hear the fragile voice of Nelly Sachs, the striking
and intense voice of Martin Buber.
    The voices fell into this empty space like drops in a cave, building the stalactites out of which
I am made today. Nobody creates alone, and especially not ex nihilo. The work emerges at the
intersection of different lines. I feel that I belong to this special space, the Paulskirche; indeed, I am
made of it. I was made from the thoughts contained in it.

According to a Hasidic legend chronicled by Martin Buber, upon every child in its mother’s womb
there shines a “light on its head”; and “it learns the entire Torah. But when it comes time to emerge
into the air of the world, an angel comes and strikes the child on the mouth, causing it to forget
everything.” Before our birth—in our empty, heavenly homes—we knew everything. But the
angel’s smack on the mouth results in each child’s coming into the world as what appears to be an
empty vessel, able to fill itself anew. Human beings would go mad if they possessed complete
knowledge of the disastrous course of the world. For this reason, each child comes into the world
in an empty space. And this empty space is at once empty and full, in the same way that empty
factory buildings are full of the traces and sounds of past labors. Every empty theater is a room full
of images and consolidated words.

Filled emptiness is like loud silence.

    And yet, it doesn’t stop with the angel’s merciful slap. Later, one fills this empty space. We
learn, recognize, and—just as a hard drive is never completely erased—after a while, some of the
signs reappear. The lower layers of the palimpsest become visible once again.

The angel’s smack on the mouth: the Stunde Null (zero hour) in Germany?
    But there was no benevolent angel to create a wonderful empty space, a site of beginning.
Because the empty space was plugged up, filled with things and words that were soon used up …
    The ruins were quickly cleared away, the blown-up shelters disposed of …
    The space of silence is not the empty space of the angel.
    Rubble represents not only an end, but also a beginning. In reality, the so-called Stunde Null
never existed.
    Rubble is like a plant’s blossoms; it is the radiant highpoint of an incessant metabolism, the
beginning of a rebirth. And the longer we can put off refilling empty spaces, the more fully and
intensively we can produce a past that proceeds with the future as if reflected in a mirror.
    The Stunde Null does not exist. Emptiness always brings within itself its opposite.

The remains of the Westwall (the so-called Siegfried Line) were razed. But the plugging-up and
obliterating extended not only to obvious political symbols—such as the two temples in Munich
blown up after the war—but also to almost all the wild corners in a village beautified in the course
of the postwar years. The wounds were not bandaged; they were shamefully hidden instead. It was
not only buildings that were hidden; it was everything the Nazis had touched.

After the Second World War, as a matter of principle, having an interest in mythology was looked
upon with suspicion. It became clear just how dangerous it could be for politicians to make use of
myths and to abuse and interpret them as justifications and templates for behavior. But is it not
even more dangerous to bury the myths in the collective subconscious, so to speak, rather than to
continue working on them in a way that everyone can see?

Science cannot replace mythic images and their power. Science’s belief in progress is possibly even
itself a myth. Scientific results are mostly provisional; each new discovery opens another door to an
even greater field of the unknown.
    Art, on the other hand, may appear as a glimpse, as a glimpse of the results of scientific research
that, over the course of a thousand years, may have become myth once again.

    After the collapse of the two German states, there was a repetition of the filling-up, the
clogging-up of empty space—yet another Stunde Null for everything that had occurred over the
course of forty years in the other part of Germany.

At the time, I wrote that everything should be left the way it was, as a museum—the former GDR
as a museum, a real and existing socialism that you could visit on the weekend, with interrogations
at the border. An adventure vacation.
    The suggestion was, of course, not meant programmatically, but as an event, a game with
the border.

What one actually could have done, though, would have been to leave the space between both former
states and systems empty, to regularly plough the so-called Todesstreifen (death strip) from
then on, as you would a Zen garden. An empty space could have been preserved, a meditation
room of history, into which people could have descended—descended into themselves.
    Incidentally, I find a similar thought in Merkabah mysticism, the same reversal of directions—
upward and downward.
    In the Sefer Heichalot, the “Initiate” passes through the seven heavenly palaces and simul taneously
into the depths, namely within himself. He rushes through the macrocosm and the microcosm.
That which is inside turns outside, and that which is outside turns inside.

I was in Berlin again after being away for a long time. There, I saw the buildings that had been
erected to replace the melancholic emptiness at Potsdamer Platz.

A singing contest for architects !

If this place had remained as it was, it would have become a marvelously empty space, filled to the
brim with history. Such a work would have contained all the parameters of art. Its material, the
border itself as fortification, would have been, for its part, usurped, occupied, turned into its opposite.
It would have become a paradox, like Duchamp’s urinal in the museum: useless as a political
tool and therefore going all the way as art, “From the Adige to the Belt,”2 as it were.

An empty space? It would appear that there are no empty spaces in our material world. In one
cubic centimeter of air—a sugar cube in size—there are roughly 45 billion atoms whizzing around.
This unimaginable abundance is at the same time an inconceivable emptiness. If we enlarge an
atom to the height and width of the Cologne Cathedral, the neutron is a pea—though a pea as
heavy as thousands of cathedrals—and the electrons run their course somewhere high up beneath
the arched roof. In between, there is nothing. In between, only unidentified forces are at work.
We consist of empty space.

According to the laws of nature on the preservation of matter, no atom is ever lost. Scientists argue
that each of us carries within ourselves an unbelievably large number of atoms that have already
been present in very different kinds of matter for millions of years before becoming part of us.
    Within ourselves, we carry atoms from the beach at Ostia and the stones of the Gobi desert,
atoms from dinosaur bones as well as some from Shakespeare, from Martin Luther, from Einstein,
and from the victims and oppressors of centuries past.

We are connected to each other via atoms in a very material way. I feel connected with human
beings both alive and dead, with Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan, with Ernst Bloch, Isaiah
and the last Psalmists. I feel connected to people and stones that existed long before me and will
continue to exist after I am gone.

    Ich steh im Flor der abgeblühten Stunde
    Und spar ein Harz für einen späten Vogel:
    Er trägt die Flocke Schnee auf lebensroter Feder;
    Das Körnchen Eis im Schnabel, kommt er durch den Sommer.

    I stand in the bloom of the withered hour
    and save up a drop of resin for a late bird:
    it carries a flake of snow on a life-red feather;
    the grain of ice in its beak, it will get through the summer.
    Paul Celan, “Ich bin allein”/“I am alone”3

What a wonderful image of passing and of asserting oneself against the laws of nature. The
Kabbalistic theory of the emergence of the world, as formulated by Isaac Luria in the sixteenth
century, sees the Creator as a God who withdraws.
    He gives up a small part of His space, in which He then allows the world to develop. He creates
an empty space.
    I am and have always been fascinated by Jewish mysticism. All letters in the alphabet are considered
holy. No matter how arbitrarily we line them up, the letters come from God and always
formulate a meaning—even if it is only revealed thousands of years later.

    I have found a distant similarity to these mystic images in the poetry of Hölderlin, such as when
he speaks of the space the gods left us upon their retreat.

I grew up on the Rhine, the border river. But, even at that time, it wasn’t just a geographical
boundary. You could hear the clapping of the water against the rocky bank, see the lights on the
opposite shore and the dangerous turbulence of the river itself.
    The country on the other side was not just one among many. For the child who could not reach
it, it was a promise of the future, a hope. It was the Promised Land.
    When I look back today, there are roots that trail off at the threshold to the prohibited area,
the area that, in a wondrous way, is always empty owing to the incongruence between desire and

As a child, of course, I still had no concept of that country called France.
    There were rows of poplars, the beginnings of roads. But, for me, behind this lay an empty,
uninhabited area, which would have to be filled up at a later point.
    The border, though, was fluid, not only because a river flows, but because the river swelled in
the spring after the Alps thawed; it spread out formidably, flowed into the old tributaries of the
Rhine, flooded the land and filled the cellar of our house.
    Where was the border now? Where the bed of the Rhine was in calmer times, or in your cellar?
The border had come into our homes.

Where are our own borders? Are we blocked off from the environment, nature, and the cosmos?
Do we not consist of that which meets us, strikes us, and radiates upon us from the universe? Are
we blocked off from those closest to us? From the thoughts of other people? From the influences of
the living and the dead? Are we individuals who can be solely responsible for everything we do?
    In the poems and sketches of Paul Valéry, too, the barely comprehensible borders of the “I” are
touched upon on many occasions.
    I am myself for a moment, and the rest of the time someone else. “Passe entre mes regards sans
briser leur absence”(Paul Valéry, “Intérieur ”).

    Grenzt hier ein Wort an mich, so laß ich’s grenzen.
    Liegt Böhmen noch am Meer, glaub ich den Meeren wieder.
    Und glaub ich noch ans Meer, so hoffe ich auf Land.
    Bin ich’s, so ist’s ein jeder, der ist soviel wie ich. […]
    Ich grenz noch an ein Wort und an ein andres Land,
    ich grenz, wie wenig auch, an alles immer mehr.

    If a word here borders on me, I’ll let it border.
    If Bohemia still lies by the sea, I’ll believe in the sea again.
    And believing in the sea, thus I can hope for land.
    If it’s me, then it’s anyone, for he’s as worthy as me.
    I still border on a word and on another land,
    I border, like little else, on everything more and more.
    Ingeborg Bachmann, “Böhmen liegt am Meer” / “Bohemia Lies on the Sea”
I border, like little else, on everything more and more. Every border is an illusion, set up in order to
calm us and to lead us to believe in a permanent location. And yet, without borders, without this
illusion of borders, we are incapable of living, either as individuals or in relation to others.
    I border, like little else, on everything more and more. This wonderful sentence artfully leaps over
and translates the dualism, arriving at something completely different, something deeper and
something whose mystery occupies my thoughts time and time again.
    Bohemia lies on the sea. I subscribe to the truth of this image by Ingeborg Bachmann more than
to that of any map or geography.

There is a special border, the border between art and life, that often shifts deceptively. Yet, without
this border, there is no art. In the process of being produced, art borrows material from life, and the
traces of life still shine through the completed work of art. But, at the same time, the distance from
life is the essence, the substance of art. And, yet, life has still left its traces. The more scarred the
work of art is by the battles waged on the borders between art and life, the more interesting
it becomes.

Artists are border dwellers, experts in transgressing boundaries as well as specialists in drawing
    Happenings, Dada, and Fluxus all increased and radicalized the frontier traffic between art and
life. They drove mimesis to its highest point. However, this mimesis could no longer be imitated.
Duchamp’s urinal is wonderful, but something like that can only be done once or twice at the
most. The third time turns the “readymade” back into a urinal.

What is a work of art? I can only describe the process of how a work comes into existence.
    It begins in the dark after an intense experience, a shock. At first, it is an urge, a pounding. You
don’t know what it is, but it compels you to act. And, at first, it is very vague. It must be vague,
otherwise it would just be a visualization of the shock experience.
    I am then in the material, in the paint, in the sand, directly in the clay, in the darkness of
the moment.

    Because the spirit is already contained in the material. This idea puts me at complete variance
with Plato’s teachings. What takes place in this proximity, with my head practically in the paint—
this vagueness is, at first, most explicit. It is a strange, contemplative internal state, but also a form
of suffering in its lack of clarity.

    This changes when I withdraw from the canvas, whether after a longer or a shorter time. Now
I have a counterpart; I refer to something out there. The painting is there, and I am there in
this painting.
    Then, disappointment immediately follows: Something is missing. This “something” is not
something that I have not seen, that I have perhaps failed to uncover. No, I cannot find
what’s missing. This work, begun and now recognized as unfinished and deficient, can only succeed
if it associates itself with something else that is itself incomplete, such as history, nature, or
natural history.
    The painting turns the world into its object; it objectifies itself. And when I say that I call on
nature to help, it is not only meant metaphorically. I actually do put the paintings in the rain,
under the sun, under the moon …

    In this moment of objectification, decisions must be made. The painting that is coming into being
must be examined for its latent possibilities, so that a decision can be made about the direction it
should take.
    And, at this point, the war in the mind begins. Perhaps this is the war Heraclitus was referring
to when he said that war is the father of all things.
    There are so many opportunities, and each option not taken is a loss and, at the same time,
a reflection of all the internal contradictions.

At some point, the inner war becomes an outer peace.

Because the longing—the despair over the loss of so many works that must perish in the inner
battle—would only be satisfied if that which came into being were to correspond to the
original proximity.
    Thus, since the fulfilment can never correspond to the wish, the result will always be only a
temporary one.
    Only if the inner were to become the outer and the outer the inner, if the ascent into the completed
relation were to correspond to the descent inwards, only then could the work be finished,
perfected. But for how long?

The process of a work’s coming into being that I have described to you can repeat itself with the
same object at any time. This means that the objectified painting, which I believe to be finished,
can fall back into the state of material, of the dark moment. And the process starts again from the
    I have containers full of such works waiting in the darkness.
    A spiraling cycle is at work here, and not an ascending line.
    No Eschaton.

    Über der grauschwarzen Ödnis.
    Ein baum-
    hoher Gedanke
    greift sich den Lichtton: es sind
    noch Lieder zu singen jenseits
    der Menschen.

Over the grayblack wasteness.
    A tree-
    high thought
    strikes the light-tone: there are
    still songs to sing beyond
    Paul Celan, “Fadensonnen” / “Threadsuns” 5

I do not mean to say that peace is to be found beyond humankind, as in the lines of the poem
Fadensonnen” by Paul Celan.
    But in the alliance with something greater, something that is equally not yet reached,
equally unsaved.
    In such a future lies the Archimedean point.
    Man, says Rabbi Eleasar, is a piece at whose ends God and Satan are pulling; in the end, God is
clearly the stronger.

I, on the other hand, believe the outcome is undecided.

Anselm Kiefer