Kaminbehang — Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst

@medievalpoc said, “This has gotta be in the top ten ugliest arts I’ve ever seen and I love it.” Robert and I thought it was pretty freaky also. When we visited the Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst last Thursday it was unchallenged as the most wtf? of anything we saw. It’s deeply entrancing with its sheer strangeness.

So, with all the attention Der Kaminbehang got, I started to poke a little deeper. Turns out the Grassmuseum appreciates its weirdness, devoting an entire Digital Kinderkatalog (digital children’s catalogue) to the work. I can totally see kids going bonkers over it.

I’m not sure the Kaminbehang.pdf answers all questions being asked, but anyway, I slapped up a quick and rough translation. I also did a number on the text above each figure. I think it’s in Frühneuhochdeutsch, but there’s some words that are either Süddeutsch, imports from other Germanic languages, or possibly (in the case of the Roma figure) not German at all.

A couple of notes: These translations are on the literal side, not trying to dress them up beyond getting the meaning across. For the Kaminbehang, all characters are in uppercase, which can lend vastly different translations based on whether a word is noun or verb (e.g. herkommen/Herkommen). I presume this would be easier to differentiate for a German speaker, but even Robert had trouble teasing out the meaning. Words are separated with small stars. But not always. There are no umlauts, ‘V’ is used for ‘U’; ‘I’ is used for both ‘I’ and ‘J’ and sometimes ‘L’; some of the letters are so worn it took a while to work out what was what; there are both standard-ish Early New High German spellings (from what I can tell — not my thing at all), plus variations that seem according to how much space there was. I’m giving the original text (as close as I could work it out) plus a flat translation to English. I also did a translation to Standard German, but not including it.

First, the text above each figure, in original Frühneuhochdeutsch followed by my (literal) English translation:

Der weise Mor bin ich vorogen
alle ins Vien bin ich durch Zogen
mit meinem Pfeile und Bogen in meiner Hant

The white Moor I am before others’ eyes
all in my veins can I be seen through to
with my arrow and bow in my hand

So bin ich der Unger geant 1571
an meiner Kleidung wol bekant
durch deutsch und welsch Lant

So am I the Hungarian named 1571 (date of manufacture)
by my clothing well-known
through German and foreign lands

So bin ich der Zegeuner vor Hant
den deutschen nihi bkat als voe Jaren
da sie an uns kein Gelt deten sparenn

So am I the Gypsy before hand
the Germans are not generous as years before
since they no longer spare money on us

Ein Welscher bin ich bei zimlichen Jaren
und bin von Welschen genomenn
trag Kleidung nach unserm Herkomen

A Welsh am I for quite a few years
and am from foreign lands come
I wear clothing according to our tradition

So bin ich von schwartzen More genom
kein Kleidung drag ich in meinem Lant
von der sonnen Hitz die mich vorbrant

So am I known as the black Moor
no clothes do I wear in my country
from the sun’s heat am I burnt

Ich bin Frantzose wol bekant
meinem Herrn dem diene ich
bei meiner Kleidung bleibe ich

I am French, well known
my Lord do I serve
by remaining in my apparel

Einen langen Spies fur ich vor mich
ein Schweitzer und trever Helt
meine Kleidung mir also wol gefelt

A long spear for me before myself
a Swiss and loyal hero
my clothing pleases me indeed

So bin ich der Turck gezelt
kombt ein Christen meine Hant
er mus mir lasen ein teur speant

So am I the Turk tented (i.e. enveloped in a tent-like cloak)
a Christian comes to my hand
to leave he must make an expensive donation

So bin ich der hohe Deutsche genan
aller Nation Kleidung gefelt mir wol
weis doch nicht wie ich machen sol
mir doch ein bas dan die ander gefelt
damit ich ein Ansehen hab als ein Helt
so will ich hin zum Werckman gan
und im die Sache selber zeigen an

So am I the High German named
all nations’ clothing pleases me greatly
but I have no idea how I should wear them
first one then another enjoyed
thus I have the reputation of a hero
I will go to the artisan
and in these items display myself

And then the text from the Kaminbehang.pdf. This is intended for children or school groups, not sure what age range, but presuming pre-teens. It includes each of the figures, but their text does not correspond entirely or at all to the actual text on the Kaminbehang. It does provide additional information to its history, as well as elaborating on the figures, for example describing the first figure as Albino. I’ve also translated the figures’ nationalities or ethic groups literally. Some, like Moor or Gypsy or Turk are pejorative, either within their use context here or generally. German — the language as well as the thinking, people, country — still has ‘issues’ with both words used as well as concepts behind them. Let’s just say it’s late-’70s here.

The fireplace hanging

The fireplace curtain on display probably originates from southern Germany and was manufactured in 1571. It is 40cm high and 284cm wide. Previously it was used to decorate a fireplace in summer, when it was too warm for heating. It belonged to the old art collection of the Leipzig Town Hall (Leipziger Rathaus), the so-called Leipzig Council Treasure (Leipziger Ratsschatz). This work of art which we will look at in more detail together dates back to the Renaissance era.

It is meticulously made of precious materials such as silk, velvet and linen. Gilded metal wires along with real gold and silver thread were also used in the process. The figures’ weapons are comprised of metal or carved from wood.

It consists of nine alternating yellow, white, and black fields, on each of which a male figure is identifiable. The embroidered figures were stuffed with linen and paper, and are semi-sculptural in shape — that is, they lie like bisected puppets on the cloth.

Shown are different nations in their country’s traditional clothing. As early as the 16th century, people in Germany were interested in knowing how other peoples lived. In addition the artist was making fun of the vanity of the people of the time.

What is important is:

  • The individual figures are representations of how foreign peoples and cultures were imagined in the 16th century.
  • The European peoples are depicted as very rich and progressive; the Africans however, as a wild and impoverished people.
  • Today we are fortunate to know much more about other nations and the similarities or differences between our lives. Have you ever thought about this?

The White Moor
“Although I am an African, I have a fair complexion. They call me Albino. Not only in the 16th century were there often people like me on the west coast of Africa. I am depicted half-naked, like a wild hunter, clothed only with a hat and loincloth. In my left hand I carry a bow, and in the right an arrow.

The Hungarian
“My clothes are a long, colourful coat, a scarf around my neck, white trousers and short boots. In my hand I have a war hammer.”

The Gypsy
”I wear a pointed cap, a striped cloak, short trousers, and shoes. With my hands I open my cloak a little — can you see my naked belly?”

The Italian
“I prefer to dress myself very elegantly — according to the latest fashion, all in black with a flat hat and long hose. To this attire also belongs a long dagger, which I hold in my hand.”

The Black Moor
“I am also an African and on my naked body wear nothing but armlets and a torc. In my hands I have two arrows. The white blemishes do not mean I am wearing a leopard skin, rather the black fabric is worn out in these places. Now the light linen base shines through.”

The Frenchman
”Like the Italian, I am very fashionably dressed. On my head sits a beret. In addition, I wear a ruffle at my neck, slit trousers, and dainty shoes. My bright hose are especially striking. My left hand rests on the hilt of a sword.”

The Swiss
“With a long, forked beard, I have been depicted in the colourful garb of a mercenary. This includes a beret, doublet, funny knickerbockers, decorated hose, and elegant flat shoes. Sword, dagger, and a long spear are my weapons.”

The Turk
“I wear a moustache and a cap, a wide collar over my coat, long hose and ankle boots. In my left hand I hold a small, naked baby by one leg. The scimitar is my weapon.”

The German.
“I am still naked, but over one arm I carry many items of colourful clothing. But for which of the different fashions should I decide upon? Best for me to go to a tailor and avail myself of him for advice. After all, I will not get warm by looking at the clothing!”

Reading: Eugen Herrigel (trans: R. F. C. Hull) — Zen in the Art of Archery

I went on a bit of a philosophical forest experience while staying in Waldsieversdorf. First, while feeling all introspective, I went on a very not sensible bike ride, the result of not paying attention to the topographic contour lines on the map meant what I thought would be a gentle, horizontal-ish amble through Wald and around See was a hellish excursion of muddy verticality, up and down slippery flights of stairs and inclines too steep to cycle, unloading bike from shoulder and mounting only to have to dismount five meters later for the next impasse, all the while darkness creeping in.

I arrived back at the bach in semi-darkness to finish watching Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is all kinds of buddhist philosophy and struggle which caused me to wonder why I think I’m so clever to take the hard path or think I don’t even need to pay much attention and then find myself in situations where I’m genuinely not having fun. Instead, for example, just going for a gentle ride around the lake.

Later, I was writing an application, and sorting through my scrapbook when I came across a pdf of Eugen Herrigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery. It turned out to be a short 60 pages and as I began reading, it dragged me in. I’ve been finding Chinese philosophy more appealing lately, and more practical, than European, particularly Daoism and Zhuangzi, which of course have strong parallels with Zen (or at least in my mind they do). I find also there is little mysticism or spirituality in the texts—or no more than any European philosopher has of Christianity. It was the practicalness of doing in this book that I had to read, coming off such a horrible cyclocross experience, something in general I have struggled with often as a dancer, climber, doing yoga, cycling, in my thinking of how to get through a task. Yeah, it sounds like I’m going all hippy here.

Early next year I’ll be working with Isabelle Schad, and we were speaking about this. I’d been thinking—as a result of reading Zen that I might take up Kyudo, but it occurred to me that Aikido, which Isabelle practices would be a better fit, given how the form influences her movement. Actually this book should be required reading for me on a monthly basis, if nothing else than to remind me not to do stupid things on my bike.

Eugen Herrigel (trans: R. F. C. Hull) — Zen in the Art of Archery
Eugen Herrigel (trans: R. F. C. Hull) — Zen in the Art of Archery

Gallery

Museo Civico Medievale

Tuesday before the evening performance, I decide for another museum, this time the Museo Civico Medievale, which I thought could be a good accompaniment to the Museo della Storia di Bologna I visited with Dasniya last week. Again set in a palace, this one being the Renaissance palazzo Ghisilardi, built in the late-15th century and containing one of the city’s towers, Torre dei Conoscenti. It’s very beautiful, with delicate arches; the upper floor ones being half the size of the lower. The museum itself is somewhere between Museo della Storia di Bologna and Museo Civico Archeologico di Bologna, having the grumpy, stalky attendants with their coats and books thrown on their chairs of the former, and the smart, room-by-room exhibits of the latter.

It also has the not-so-good audio guide of the former, a combination of the same narrator (probably employed for a bulk job on all the museums) suffering from frequent, abrupt finishings mid-exposition, and either cryptically placed numbers beside exhibits or entirely absent. I discovered though, instead of searching for the numbers, I’d just enter the subsequent one and look around until I recognised what was being discussed. In this way, I found myself quite well-educated on around a third of the exhibits otherwise unmarked.

Besides that – and I found myself enjoying it for the perverse anti-social quality – it is a solid and delightful museum on its own, and in combination with Museo della Storia di Bologna gives a comprehensive introduction to the city for someone like me, an outsider with no knowledge.

It caught my attention over the many other museums for the medieval focus, covering roughly a period from 10th to 15th centuries with some overflow prior – a significant period in the city’s history, and much can be understood by examining this span. Curiously, it starts with two rooms that are not exactly this focus; the second though contains collections of from the 15th century including one cabinet full of Chinese and Japanese works. Outside that door are three Jewish gravestones and one Muslim, which were left homeless due to a papal edict.

Getting into the museum proper then, I find unlike almost every European pre-modern museum filled with religious clutter, this one has rooms and rooms celebrating the university, or more precisely the deaths of its professors. A lot of religious stuff too, though I found the beauty of it, both aesthetically and in the craft of construction caused me to put aside atheist tendencies and be overcome by the sublime. Some of these works are deeply poignant; others joyous. It’s not possible for me to devalue them merely because they have a religious theme or content.

Later, there is a small statue of Mercury, and one of Archangel smiting Lucifer – very similar to the one in Madrid. Then I arrive at war.

Into a red room, suits of polished armour, lines of pikes, hatchets, broadswords and rapiers, helmets, chain mail, jousting lances, mauls, shields, flanged maces … one suit was especially impressive, an asymmetric jousting armour with three massive, square bolts and their threads protruding from the chest, and a solid facepiece except for three tiny holes.

Continuing into the room with 15th century guns, and I was about to get kicked out. I think they are Snaphances or something similar, long-barreled, with a highly-decorative stock and ornate firing mechanism. I ran out of time here, being shooed out by the attendants, grumpy as ever. It had taken me around 2 1/2 hours to get through 17 of the 22 rooms, and missing also a proper wander around the palazzo.

I was thinking also about what makes a ‘good’ museum, and why I might not want every museum to be ‘good’. The Museo Civico Archeologico di Bologna is not exemplary by current ideas of what a museum should be and do, being as an acquaintance described it, “a museum of a museum”, yet in its inaccessibility, it also provides for something other than a single superficial visit, a tourist itinerary. The museums I’ve seen recently seem to sit precariously on incomplete history, colonialism, kitsch, populism, a meta-narrative of the subject they attend to. At one and the same time, they also are beguiling and disarming in their love of their subject, the concise summary of the work of uncounted people over centuries. Perhaps one of my basic propositions – however critical I might be of a specific museum or museums, or how museums as a whole currently function – is that I do not question whether there should in fact be museums. Museums, books, art, culture, music, dance, idleness, walking, getting lost … without the arts and culture, humanity is in poverty, and for most of us it is only museums that provide direct access to this from our past.

Museo Civico Medievale – 1: Copperplate etching for publication, 1756
Museo Civico Medievale – 1: Copperplate etching for publication, 1756
Museo Civico Medievale – 2: Small blue bowl with busts
Museo Civico Medievale – 2: Small blue bowl with busts
Museo Civico Medievale – 3: Chinese court scene scroll
Museo Civico Medievale – 3: Chinese court scene scroll
Museo Civico Medievale – 4: Courtyard of palazzo Ghisilardi
Museo Civico Medievale – 4: Courtyard of palazzo Ghisilardi
Museo Civico Medievale – 5: Muslim gravestone, 1674
Museo Civico Medievale – 5: Muslim gravestone, 1674
Museo Civico Medievale – 6: Sculptures from the Palazzo della Mercanzia
Museo Civico Medievale – 6: Sculptures from the Palazzo della Mercanzia
Museo Civico Medievale – 7: Bologna University Professor
Museo Civico Medievale – 7: Bologna University Professor
Museo Civico Medievale – 8: Mounted crosses and palazzo arches
Museo Civico Medievale – 8: Mounted crosses and palazzo arches
Museo Civico Medievale – 9: Vessel in the form of mounted knight
Museo Civico Medievale – 9: Vessel in the form of mounted knight
Museo Civico Medievale – 10: Madonna mosaic, 12th century
Museo Civico Medievale – 10: Madonna mosaic, 12th century
Museo Civico Medievale – 11: Sacerdotal tablet in ivory, 10th century
Museo Civico Medievale – 11: Sacerdotal tablet in ivory, 10th century
Museo Civico Medievale – 12: Sacerdotal tablets in ivory
Museo Civico Medievale – 12: Sacerdotal tablets in ivory
Museo Civico Medievale – 13: Pope Boniface VIII
Museo Civico Medievale – 13: Pope Boniface VIII
Museo Civico Medievale – 14: Illustrated vase, 13th century
Museo Civico Medievale – 14: Illustrated vase, 13th century
Museo Civico Medievale – 15: Window in palazzo Ghisilardi
Museo Civico Medievale – 15: Window in palazzo Ghisilardi
Museo Civico Medievale – 16: S. Pietro Martire
Museo Civico Medievale – 16: S. Pietro Martire
Museo Civico Medievale – 17: Maestro di Corrado Fogolini, 14th century
Museo Civico Medievale – 17: Maestro di Corrado Fogolini, 14th century
Museo Civico Medievale – 18: Sepolero di Matteo Gandoni, 1330
Museo Civico Medievale – 18: Sepolero di Matteo Gandoni, 1330
Museo Civico Medievale – 19: Sepolero di Bonifacio Galluzzi, 1346
Museo Civico Medievale – 19: Sepolero di Bonifacio Galluzzi, 1346
Museo Civico Medievale – 20: Lastra tombali di Bernardino Zambeccari, 1427
Museo Civico Medievale – 20: Lastra tombali di Bernardino Zambeccari, 1427
Museo Civico Medievale – 21: Sepolcro di Pietro Canonici, 1502
Museo Civico Medievale – 21: Sepolcro di Pietro Canonici, 1502
Museo Civico Medievale – 22: Modello di tomba di lettore
Museo Civico Medievale – 22: Modello di tomba di lettore
Museo Civico Medievale – 23: Part of palace foundations
Museo Civico Medievale – 23: Part of palace foundations
Museo Civico Medievale – 24: Palazzo Ghisilardi first floor
Museo Civico Medievale – 24: Palazzo Ghisilardi first floor
Museo Civico Medievale – 25: Mercurio, 1502
Museo Civico Medievale – 25: Mercurio, 1502
Museo Civico Medievale – 26: S. Michele Archangelo che abbatte il demonio, 1504
Museo Civico Medievale – 26: S. Michele Archangelo che abbatte il demonio, 1504
Museo Civico Medievale – 27: Jove, Minerva, among others
Museo Civico Medievale – 27: Jove, Minerva, among others
Museo Civico Medievale – 28: Armour and pikes, 15th century
Museo Civico Medievale – 28: Armour and pikes, 15th century
Museo Civico Medievale – 29: Jousting armour
Museo Civico Medievale – 29: Jousting armour
Museo Civico Medievale – 30: Medieval Bologna
Museo Civico Medievale – 30: Medieval Bologna
Museo Civico Medievale – 31: Bolognese guns
Museo Civico Medievale – 31: Bolognese guns
Museo Civico Medievale – 32: Treatise on Asian archery
Museo Civico Medievale – 32: Treatise on Asian archery
Museo Civico Medievale – 33: Vetrata con stemma della Famiglia Maraschalchi, 15th century
Museo Civico Medievale – 33: Vetrata con stemma della Famiglia Maraschalchi, 15th century
Museo Civico Medievale – 34: Palazzo Ghisilardi tower
Museo Civico Medievale – 34: Palazzo Ghisilardi tower

pre-rehearsals

Having taken some time to get this far, I spent the last couple of days extracting a couple of year’s of notes from my old abjection notebook and transplanting them into a new one. Some original ideas now seem embarrassing. Others it’s surprising how little they changed, springing fully-formed to life, and merely refining themselves over time.

I sat in a café yesterday before ballet, reading Howard Barker’s Death, the One and the Art of Theatre. At times the bias of the author is plain; the faint discrimination of which he speaks, I try to read it by changing words, to eradicate this irritation, yet quickly the meaning entangles itself into incomprehension, and I see the only option would be to rewrite these parts entirely.

Still, I come across a description of photography that once more causes a scene to spring fully-formed to life. It feels as if it is one of the remaining missing scenes now accounted for. Difficult to say. It is though comprehensively different from anything else in the work, and so without having been there so early, reading and making notes, there is no way it would have otherwise occurred to me.

For the moment then, this leaves one last unidentified scene. Some possibilities exist for it amidst the ideas which have the feeling of failed seeds, but equally, all of them feel somewhat arrangements of convenience; used because none better exist.

It’s new for me to make a work thus. Normally I do have notes and ideas, and dim visions of what they might amount to, but for abjection, I’ve been working on it and thinking over it for so long, it’s coalesced in my thoughts into a nearly complete work. As for what the effects being in a studio and rehearsing might have on it, that I will begin to find out next week.

Yes, finally coerced myself into rehearsals.

Gallery

abjection archery photoshoot

Earlier in the week, I met Christian for crépes at a Belgian café beside the Spree; a first hello since I returned from Brussels. He has a quite splendid camera, and we’ve been talking about photos for a long time. Though bereft of corpse paint, and decidedly not topless, we still managed to make something this afternoon in the Naturkiez that is the west-end of Uferhallen.

All summer the grasses have been springing upwards, and now flowering riotously, it could be so easily – with the slightest imagination – a garden in a forest somewhere, or the Steppe reaching on endlessly. It’s where I practice archery, which of course I nominally practice for abjection, which I make for my own enjoyment.

There is a routine to preparation: assembling the bow; stringing it; applying the guards to forearm and fingers … sighting the target, aiming, drawing, a pause, releasing. Breathing. Christian also filmed me, so I discover how I align myself, how much I wobble or shake when drawing and finding the last instant. I am quite amateur, even if I bring whatever I might know about a body to this pursuit.

The scene in abjection requires all of this, with the exception of release. It makes good practice then, as Christian photographs in the low sun, to hold this draw, until my shoulders and and upper torso start to burn, and to do this over and over. If I plan to hold this for at least a few minutes, I’ll really need to engage in a process of suffering now.

He takes some 200 images and a couple of videos of me shooting over an hour while the sun passes below the tops of the neighbouring apartment blocks. In all this, I shot perhaps six times. Here are some … something of a sequence.

abjection archery photoshoot – 1
abjection archery photoshoot – 1
abjection archery photoshoot – 2
abjection archery photoshoot – 2
abjection archery photoshoot – 3
abjection archery photoshoot – 3
abjection archery photoshoot – 4
abjection archery photoshoot – 4
abjection archery photoshoot – 5
abjection archery photoshoot – 5
abjection archery photoshoot – 6
abjection archery photoshoot – 6
abjection archery photoshoot – 7
abjection archery photoshoot – 7
abjection archery photoshoot – 8
abjection archery photoshoot – 8
abjection archery photoshoot – 9
abjection archery photoshoot – 9
abjection archery photoshoot – 10
abjection archery photoshoot – 10

archery

Something I’ve been meaning to write about for some time. A while ago – in early June – I bought an archery bow. One of the scenes in abjection I have imagined has a slightly megalomaniacal attempt to take out the sun with an arrow. I can’t say for sure if the scene will make sense, function in some way, or even elucidate what it’s about and it’s place in this performance, but nonetheless I wanted to rehearse it well.

My bow is nothing so special, though it looks pretty. It’s a recurved takedown (a Samick Polaris), which means it looks like a sleek upturned handlebar moustache, and the limbs bolt onto the riser, making it dissembled about a third the length it is when together. And when it’s together it’s almost as tall as me. Stringing it is an exercise in learning to dance also; it has the potential to be quite inelegant – lucky I was taught a fancy step-through method by Lewis.

At the other end of Uferhallen is the vast and empty bus-turning and parking ground. Empty is not so good a word. It is full of life, becoming during the course of summer a wilderness of grasses and shrubs abloom and rich with colour. At its widest, it’s nearly 50m and the length is almost four time that. It’s a beautiful, tranquil oases, unpopulated even when the occasional person wanders through. The entrance is guarded by the vast maws of the Uferhallen rubbish bins and assorted piles of detritus, which perhaps help in keeping people from wandering in.

For me, I have a part not so deep inside, bounded on the western side by the blank faces of apartment blocks where I set up to practice. It is a tense engagement; to miss the improvised target (flattened cardboard boxes over up-ended packing palettes) is to strike concrete and shatter the arrow – an expensive blunder. But otherwise …

It becomes a rhythm, like dancing. I attend to the brush of the wind on my skin, its sound, the light as it shifts, the calmness, my breathing. Like dancing, the position is unimportant; if arriving and departing are taken care of, that is.

My training and learning consists of reading what I can find on the internet, watching some videos, closed-eyes feeling my way to a consensus, relying on that I can dance and have a close relationship with the physicality of myself to perhaps, hopefully take something of that and make it useful to the rhythm of pulling the bow string and releasing it.

It is muscular also. Like dancing, climbing, yoga … the other things I do that I call training. I thought perhaps I should have a category for this here too, and write about these things which I make my life with.

How will this archery, Bogenschießen make itself into abjection? I have no idea. I did decide that if nothing else I had to show unequivocally through my handling of the equipment that this was not just something I’d spent half a day or so with prior to a performance; that it must become part of myself or self extended to.

Perhaps later this week I shall be having some photos arranged of this.