A N N H O L Y O K E . O R G | A M E T H O D O L O G I C A L C A T A L O G U E O F W O R K S
07 | A T T H E R O U N D E A R T H S I M A G I N ’D C O R N E R S
Two panels, 1982
Collage, cut-and-pasted paper on wood
Each 180 x 270 cm.
Like the marginally earlier MY TARGETS, my next pictures—while larger and rectangular, as well as more complex and charged with meaning—were axially symmetrical in surface pattern and formed a “white” and “black” pair.
Each of the panels presents two circles with equal radii, whose circumferences intersect one another’s centerpoints—as in the simplest of Venn diagrams—to create a convex, lens-shaped area of overlap . Such a form is referred to as a mandorla (from the Italian, “almond”) or vesica piscis ( from the Latin, “fish’s bladder” ) and often appears as an aureole or to represent the Christian sign of the acrostical and acronymic ichthys (ἰχθύς, Greek for “fish”) *; its two concave, crescent-shaped counterparts are known as lunes, from the Latin luna, or “moon.”
Horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines inscribed within, and crossing through, these rudimentary portrayals of a globe’s two sides partially superimposed on one another—and structured by my now familiar rows of paper snippets—complete the pattern of each panel. As I wrote at the time :
[ … the work ] embodies the heroics of the monochrome, takes geometry as its syntax, and deals with the symbolic relationship of Cube to Earth [in] literary reference to … [ early ] cartographic representation[s] of globe, universe, and man.
The literary reference in this case is, of course, the work’s title, AT THE ROUND EARTHS IMAGIN’D CORNERS, a quasi-quotation from the Biblical Book of Revelation, which conjures the four corners of the earth, and forms the best part of the first line of one of John Donne’s Holy Sonnets : works—as you will see in the following essays—the words of which I have more than once found recourse to in my work. Much as recalling the image of Piero’s angels once filled me with an inexplicable and joyful confidence as a young girl, I find that calling to mind just a line or two from Donne’s Divine Meditations seldom fails to relativize my disenchantment with the day-to-day.
These two panels went far towards making good the damage wrought to my professional pride by the technical deficiencies of the untitled black and white canvases described above . In 1982, in my first one-person show—a gratifyingly concise presentation at the Forum Aktuelle Kunst Berlin—I exhibited them together with the diptych and triptych versions of READING BETWEEN THE LINES and the six drawings of KANTSTRASSEN.
Two years later, I again showed AT THE ROUND EARTHS IMAGIN’D CORNERS and KANTSTRASSEN, in a group show of five “American Artists in Berlin,” at the Amerika—that “K” speaks volumes to the Anglophone eye’s ear and sensibilities, doesn’t it? —Haus Berlin This was the local branch of a network of German-American institutes, founded in 1946, and originally known as US Information Centers . By providing libraries well-stocked with publications in both tongues, such centers were meant to encourage the “re-democratization” of Germany—read : to become the theater of a new and potent form of psycho-cultural warfare that promulgated the American mind-set.
Built in 1957, in a city whose cultural venues were still few and far between, the Amerika Haus Berlin, well-equipped and centrally located, soon became a sought-after address for concerts, lectures, and exhibitions alike. In the early 1970s, it all but overtly catered to the intelligence community, serving so flagrantly as a convenient recon transshipment-center that every time you went there, at least one transparently inscrutable middle-aged American would insinuate himself into your conversation, offhandedly pumping you and your interlocutors for every last bit of information you had to give—whether the talk be small, of overtly sensitive import, or what not. (Standard operating procedure—or vainglory—seemed to require this person to also let drop that, in a perfectly harmless sounding capacity, his next posting was somewhere intimidatingly far behind the Iron Curtain.)
I have long since had to realize that such characters’ opening gambits were not your routine stabs at chatting up the young and solitary female but, first and foremost, concerted efforts to ascertain their mark’s own information-gathering status. For close, if nonchalant, attention was granted to the gentlemen in attendance in equal measure, if ordinarily with somewhat less enthusiasm. Indeed, rumor has it that out of every two American “civilians” in the Berlin of those Cold War days, one was a “spook.”
By the time I showed there, in 1984, the worlds of both espionage and cultural exchange had lost whatever innocence they might have possessed, and the Amerika Haus itself was so heavily fortified that, when I sent out personal invitations to the opening, I felt obliged to stamp them with the caveat that guests should bring appropriate ID and be prepared to endure elaborate security procedures. What nowadays has become lamentable routine seemed, at the time, a terrific breach of etiquette—albeit that hadn’t kept me from enthusiastically installing my works in the nicely proportioned, if a tad oddly shaped exhibition space placed at my disposal, or from being very pleased with the results. To date, however, this show has remained my one and only foray into official expat-American society.
In the exhibition catalogue, I included installation plans for the Amerika Haus show itself , for my Raumwerk I PURITANI of the year before; and for PHASEN, which Eberhard Blum and I were just about to present for the first time, at the Akademie der Künste Berlin. I’d also begun to collect my (very basic) thoughts on the synonymy of rooms and works in a short text that began :
I like to study the geometry and proportions of the room in which my work is to be seen before deciding what is to go where. For the gallery of the Amerika Haus, I chose two large panels and six drawings, arranging them to form a symmetrical constellation in the (not quite) rectangular room.
One critic writing of the show declared me to be “probably the most American” of the five artists in it—something I’ve never forgotten, as I felt miffed at what, after all the trouble I’d taken to “go native,” I considered at the very least a false impression, if not a downright personal affront. Only later did I realize the comment had been meant as a tribute to my autonomy of means and expression : to the fact, that is, that I liked to make, and follow, my own rules.
* ΙΧΘΥΣ : Ι ( iota : Ἰησοῦς, “Jesus” ) ; Χ ( chi : Χριστός, “Christ” ) ; Θ ( theta : Θεοῦ, “God’s” ) ; Υ ( upsilon : Υἱὸς, “Son” ) ; Σ ( sigma : Σωτήρ, “Savior / Redeemer” )