It has been barely 24 hours since I turned off the light of the “Offen und Alles und Zusammen” “Open and All and Together” light drawing in the Schlosskirche (Castle-church) in Rumpenheim. I have received an important award for the piece, the Diana 2022 Kunstpreis. The award is especially important for me personally, because we just arrived here in Offenbach in late January, days before my mother’s passing, and I really hoped to somehow connect to the community here (again). With the award, it felt like it could be possible.
The drawing will be on again this coming weekend for a few hours and then in the evening of September 30th, during a finissage.
There should be a separate entry for the complexity of the execution of the piece. It took months to make it possible and I was on the edge of giving up a few times. I am very grateful for the award. I am so happy to be the recipient, especially now. What I could not have expected though and what literally made my face hurt for two days was the incredibly, overwhelmingly positive response of the many hundreds visitors who saw the work and were seemingly transformed by it.
The Rumpenheim Kunsttage (art days) format is an open studio, curated exhibition, with artists presenting their work in public and private locations around Rumpenheim. The art prize is designed to be awarded for work that is displayed at the historic and beautiful baroque church on the grounds of the Rumpenheim Castle and the English park. It is a magical place and some royal families, alive and extinguished have visited here. (Obviously also people from all facets of society, from around the world.)
I couldn’t leave the church to see the other artists’ work, as there was a constant stream of visitors. Seemingly all of them had such a positive reaction to my work, that the joyful conversations have literally made my face hurt and made it impossible for me to get sleep for two nights in a row. What an amazing, amazing experience.
An overwhelming majority of people experiencing the work for the first time assumed that it was painted on the walls of the church. And their response was based on that. Many liked it, were confused how I managed to create such a large painting. Most were happy that the change had taken place and saw it as a leap forward for the otherwise austere interior of the historic church. They wanted to tell the Pastor, the community, this was a good decision. they approved.
Because the windows of the church were not covered, the drawing interacted in almost magical ways with the weather outside. I had somewhat expected that it would happen to a certain degree, but not as much as it did. It was lucky that on the first day of the exhibition the weather was mixed and so it happened more than once that a cloud unexpectedly covered the sun and then the drawing literally leapt off the wall. It materialized, came to life, changed color and became radically present and bold. Some of the visitors literally gasped when that happened. It was an incredible interaction of nature and art and people. And it was also precisely what the work is about. My work is about the interaction and interconnectedness of everything. And here it was happening, live, on a huge scale. I could not be happier about that interplay.
The work was obviously displayed in a church, and so the context was immediately spiritual. One visitor said that the drawing and its interplay with the sun reminded her of faith itself. How “it almost disappears when things are sunny and bright, but it becomes present, important and strong, once things get rainy and dark”. I could not have come up with such a description but it felt so fitting.
Some visitors sat in the church for 30, 60 minutes, staring at the work. An old couple was mesmerized, leaning against each other for quite some time. As they were leaving the church, the woman pushed five Euros into my hand. “This is a thank you, for this. What a great idea.”
Some visitors were of the angry sort, entering the church with a certain bitterness and callousness in their step. But the work seemed to transform them. Maybe they overheard the conversations around them or maybe it was the work itself. Almost all left the church softer, gentler. Somehow transformed.
Some were disappointed that the work was not as incredibly vibrant as it appeared on the evening of the award presentation. I was able to show them a sped up recording of how the work shifted from before sunset to after. More than one visitor admitted that the fully saturated drawing had been too much for them and that they preferred the more natural tones of the drawing during the day. One woman said that the glow of the work at night was so overwhelming that she had to leave the event. She felt as if she were inside of an uterus and about to be born. That was too overwhelming for her. Indeed, once the drawing became the only light source in the church, the interior became like a prehistoric magical cave. This is how humans must have felt when they experienced cave drawings for the first time, the light of torches or some other sources may have created an experience of focus and wonder.
Many visitors returned to see the drawing in changing light and also on different days. Some came back more than four times.
The one hundred printed descriptions about the artwork were gone by late morning of the second day. Some visitors told me that they took the description home, read it and then returned to see the work with fresh eyes. Some read the description to each other. Some left and came back with their children or spouses or friends.
One man told me that the drawing and the thoughts connected to it reminded him of a film he saw recently. But he could not recall the name of the film. He returned on the following day with a little piece of paper. He researched the film and it was “But Beautiful. Nothing exists independently” by Erwin Wagenhofer. And not just that. For some inexplicable reason the film was being shown at a cinema nearby, only on that very day, only 15 minutes after the exhibition closed. The man was fascinated by the incredible coincidence. I was too. I had to see the film (and it is a really great film indeed.)
There must have been literally hundreds of conversations about the work. It was so inspiring to see how the art really touched people. Some men felt they needed to start monologues about something they had experienced or found out. (I learned so much from some.) Had no idea that the site of the church was in some way sacred for thousands of years.
Some visitors felt a personal connection to the work and thus to me. They looked for some kind of shared origins or some kind of creative connection. One man told me about his paints and how he had lent them to an Iranian artist, who out of desperation painted all of them black, before returning them. This has discouraged him from painting and he wondered if anything could be done to get the colors back.
Many women visitors seemed to have an incredible, intuitive understanding for the work. Some did not even try to put it into words. It was just pure gratitude somehow. Many spoke about the color of the drawings. They are always red. One young girl simply spontaneously said “this drawing is the color of love.” And it is.
On Sunday, I was part of the holy mass at the church. The sermon was a dialogue with me about the work. And pastor Strauch had prepared some good questions which allowed me to give more dimension to the work. Some people in the audience were touched by the entire experience. It was amazing to see their faces light up at some points in the conversation. Many came back later in the day.
There were some favorite moments. One of them was when a woman came back with her differently able son. He entered the church as if it were a moving maze. He just briefly glanced at the drawing and then away again. I asked his mother if it would be okay with her for me to show him the transformation of the church with and without the drawing. With her permission, after climbing up the stairs to the projector, I covered its light with a piece of paper for just a few seconds.
The church went back to its austere and clear look, just to return with the painted giant drawing moments later. I think I heard the boy gasp. When I returned to him and his mother, he looked at me as if I were someone he knew from another life. His gaze seemed softer, but now also for me. Seemed we three all felt a certain happiness. Both left the church and it felt like something special had just happened.
A completely different good moment was when a clearly very knowledgable man tried to convince another stranger that this drawing should be a permanent feature of the church. They should tell the pastor! He laid out a set of arguments. It was very nice when he then found out that he had been talking at the pastor all along.
It is impossible to compress two and a half incredibly intensely beautiful days into a blog entry. My face no longer hurts by now. Everything else does. In all the excitement I forgot to drink and eat. I feel like I have performed some kind of athletic feat.
The drawing and the church are resting now. But they will be illuminated again, this coming weekend. And then again at the very end of the month.
I can’t imagine that ever again will I have a similar two days with people who are experiencing my art. I still can’t believe my good fortune.
Open and All and Together indeed.