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10  |   I  P U R I T A N I
Raumwerk ( “spatial work” ), 1983
Acrylic paint on sailcloth [ twelve sails, each 270 x 135 cm ]
Linoleum [ ten strips, each 180 x 45 cm ]
Daylight [ twelve days, two hours each day ( 3–5 p.m., sunset : ca 5 :30 pm ),
from Columbus Day, 10 October 1983, at the Galerie Wewerka, Berlin ].

Limited edition
Fifty-two boxes, each 32 x 16 x 4 cm, containing : a booklet ( xerographed ) ; a set of twelve linoleum prints ; and a 30-minute audio cassette-tape
Galerie Wewerka Edition, Berlin 1983

Public and private collections.




I based the Raumwerk I PURITANI on the relationship the proportions of a remarkable early-twentieth-century industrial space in Berlin-Charlottenburg exhibited to those of the human form and harmonic division. Originally built as a garage with elevator access, the hall was serving as an art gallery at the time I had to do with it, in the early 1980s. Once freed from the partitions that had been erected to create additional wall space, the basilica-like form of the hall became evident, and the daylight that fell broadly through the glass gable-roof of its “nave” could be properly celebrated as the space’s main event.

View of I PURITANI, facing east, Raumwerk, 1983.

The width of this skylight (running on the east-west axis) multiplied by four gave me the length of a large rectangle, which I projected onto the hexagonal terracotta tiles of the floor directly below it, thus forming the outline of a very minimal Bodenskulptur (“floor sculpture”) whose form I defined with ten oblong strips of linoleum of the same color, each measuring 180 x 45 centimeters. The area of the rectangle thus described was the same as that of the sailcloth from which I had a sail-maker fashion twelve “sails” (each measuring 270 x 135 centimeters), which were hung, staggered in two rows on either side—to the north and south, that is—of the skylight.

The area of the rectangle projected from the skylight was in the same ratio to that of the entire floor, as the area of the white rectangle I painted onto each of the sails (180 x 45 centimeters, like the strips of linoleum) was to that of the sail itself (270 x 135 cm). The sound of an endless timpani roll issued from the small loudspeaker of a cassette deck: this, a quotation—assuming a simple timpani roll can be considered as such—from the introduction to Vincenzo Bellini’s last opera, I Puritani (1835). Like the daylight, the timpani roll filled the room with its sound, which might well have been a low, mechanical rumble issuing from the ventilator-fan whose blades rotated aimlessly in the updraft at the western end of the skylight.

I PURITANI, Raumwerk, 1983. Plan.

The first of the twelve days on which this Raumwerk was open to the public was the American Columbus Day holiday, which, of course, marks Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of America, on 12 October 1492 (coincidentally, the same day Piero della Francesco died, a world away). In 1983, the Columbus Day celebration had been moved to the tenth of the month, a Monday, and on this and each of the following eleven days, I PURITANI could be visited for two hours, making a total of twenty-four hours, spread over the twelve days, from 3 to 5 p.m. : that time of year, in that space, the hours during which full daylight slowly turned to twilight. In the constantly shifting light, visitor made their kinæsthetic explorations of Raum and Werk, which, of course, were identical.

On the deep-red poster announcing the event—which was, if not actuallly “operatic” by today’s standards, at least oversized for a relatively minor cultural event in the Berlin of the day—I set the title, I PURITANI, in large black letters, and on a thirteenth sail I draped across the grand piano that happened to be in the gallery, in white. On a smaller scale, the title appeared in white or black on black, grey, white, and red  in the handmade edition (see below) that complemented the Raumwerk. Written in two lines—that is, “I // puritani,” the second word typeset with a small initial letter “p”—the Italian article “I” easily lent itself to being read as the English personal pronoun “I,” and, indeed, the work was a “portrait of the artist” reduced to ratio, proportion, and simple numerical observations. As such, it dealt with the theme Old World–New World, presenting rudimentary autobiographical material as geometry in a spatial situation. Then as now, the words with which Rudolf Arnheim concludes his Visual Thinking (Berkeley 1969) seem to me especially telling in this context :

…  shapes and objects and events, by displaying their own nature, can evoke those deeper and simpler powers in which man recognizes himself.

[Long before Arnheim died in 2007, he had become one of the twentieth century’s most widely read and influential writers on the theory of art and perceptual psychology. Born into a Jewish family in Berlin, in 1904, he immigrated first to Italy, in 1933, and then, in 1939, to England. In October 1940, he arrived in New York Harbor, and spent the rest of his life in the United States.]

I PURITANI, poster, black offset printing on red matte coated paper, 100 x 70 cm, 1983.

Ten generations, and more than three hundred years, before I was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1951, my forebear Ann Holyoke had sailed together with her pious parents and siblings from England to New England. Her older brother Elizur was the first Englishman to lead an expedition up what came to be called, after him and his exploits, Mount Holyoke, whereas two of her Putnam granddaughters were instrumental in setting the Salem witch-hunt of 1692 in cruel motion. Nearly two centuries later, my great-grandfather Lehmann booked passage on the HAPAG Line’s Teutonia, travelling under steam and sail from Hamburg, Germany, to America, where one of his as yet unborn sons would marry a descendant of Ann Holyoke’s youngest grandchild, the baby brother to those “possessed,” witch-hunting Putnam girls . Having spent my own childhood along the Atlantic coast of North America, I had “returned” to the Old World in 1971, aboard the MS Europa. It had taken ten days to sail from New York to Bremerhaven, after which I flew from Bremen on to Berlin, where I had been living for twelve years at the time I PURITANI took place, and where, happily enough, I continue to live and work to this day. 




The edition accompanying the Raumwerk consisted of fifty-two deep-red handmade boxes, each measuring 32 x 16 x 4 centimeters and containing: graphic reproductions of the Raumwerk’s “sails,” as a portfolio of twelve linoleum prints ; a 30-minute audio cassette-tape of the timpani roll ; and a 32-page xerographed collection of images, texts, and musical scores, bound in black. Apart from graphics and technical drawings pertaining to the Raumwerk I PURITANI itself, my birth certificate, and a luggage tag from the MS Europa, these materials encompassed :

•  genealogical information from the History of Lynn, Essex County, Massachusetts (Boston, 1865) on my Holyoke family’s early years in seventeenth-century Massachusetts ;
•  the “Extract from the List of Emigrants,” Hamburg, 1866, for my great-grandfather, Johannes Christian Friedrich Lehmann (1846–1929)—which lists his occupation as Commis, or “clerk”—as well as his obituary from the Omaha paper, in which he is described as having been a pioneer and friend to Buffalo Bill ;
•  poetry and prose by Heinrich Heine—the expatriate German poet and essayist, whose mocking tongue was ever tempered with fellow feeling—including his often-quoted poem “Nachtgedanken” (“Thoughts in the night,” 1843), written in Parisian exile about his abandoned fatherland, and an excerpt from Florentinische Nächte (“Florentine nights”), in which he writes of Vincenzo Bellini’s operas and of a deaf opera critic who sees music; in conclusion, Heine posits other listeners who hear music as form and color ;
•  material concerning Bellini’s I Puritani, including the music and lyrics to the opera’s Romanza, “Corre a valle” (“ … the exiled wanderer […] dreams until he wakes with grief at his own, his country’s fate …”) … 
•   … whose melody in turn put me in mind of the popular American song “The Sidewalks of New York” (1894)—a.k.a. “East side, West side”—sheet music for which is also reproduced (courtesy of my dear father, who tracked it down and mailed it to me, in those far-off days when such information flowed exclusively in print, on paper).

Then—after a lovely snippet by the Neo-Platonist Christian mystic Meister Eckhart (1260–1327) on the inseparability of Material and Form, which takes “white” as its case in point—the booklet concludes with an excerpt from Henry James’s preface to the ( heavily revised ) New York Edition of his first novel, a Bildungsroman entitled Roderick Hudson, which had originally been serialized in the Atlantic Monthly, in 1875 ; three decades later, in 1907, he wrote of it :

…   I recall again the uplifted sense with which my idea, such as it was, permitted me at last to put quite out to sea. I had but hugged the shore on sundry previous small occasions ; bumping about to acquire skill, in the shallow waters and sandy coves of the “short story” and master as yet of no vessel constructed to carry a sail. The subject of “Roderick Hudson” figured to me vividly this employment of canvas, and I have not forgotten, even after long years, how the blue southern sea seemed to spread immediately before me, and the breath of the spice-islands to be already in the breeze.

[ … ]
[  T ]he painter’s subject consist[ s ] ever, obviously, of the related state, to each other, of certain figures and things. [ … ] Where, for the complete expression of one’s subject, does a particular relation stop …  ? Really, universally, relations stop nowhere, and the exquisite problem of the artist is eternally but to draw, by a geometry of his own, the circle within which they shall happily appear to do so.

An early scene in Roderick Hudson—the ultimately doleful tale of an American sculptor’s moral and artistic foundering in Rome—takes place in late August, “when summer seems to balance in the scale with autumn,” as our hero and a newly made acquaintance, Rowland Mallet, ramble for what turns out to be the last time through the hills and dales surrounding Northampton, Massachusetts. This scene represents one of the rare instances in which James employed the names of actual, lesser-known sites in his fiction, as he soon recognized that localizing, and limiting, his (and his reader’s) field of vision in this manner too severely restricted the sweep of his prose, diminishing the scope of his narrative truth ; henceforth, he was invented, or disguised, his settings, in so far as they were not major cities or other, commonly identifiable geographic realities.

Thomas Cole, View from Mount Holyoke after a Thunderstorm, The Oxbow, 131 x 193 cm, oil on canvas, 1836. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The two young men discourse on America and Europe. Rowland says, “It’s a wretched business, this virtual quarrel of ours with our own country, this everlasting impatience to get out of it. Is one’s only safety then in flight ? This is an American day, an American landscape, an American atmosphere. [ … ] some day when I am shivering with ague in classic Italy I shall accuse myself of having slighted them.” Roderick counters, impulsively extolling the American artist’s National Individuality and professing his own intention to stand his ground on the American continent and produce quintessentially American art …until, that is, he allows himself to be turned by Mallet and espouses, in his next breath, the irrefutable advantages, the very indispensability, of European exposure for an artist’s development. Whereupon, our mutable young gentleman’s travel plans are forged, and his fate sealed, as the two friends watch the shadows shift on Mount Holyoke’s summit, from their perch upon its neighbor just the other side of the Connecticut River, Mount Tom.

The annals of Lynn relate how both these hills received their present names at the hands of two enterprising young Englishmen, abroad in the mid-seventeenth-century American wilderness :

There is a tradition that during an exploration by some of the settlers of Springfield, five or six years after they first located there, Elizur Holyoke, with a party, went up the east side of the river, while Rowland Thomas, with another party, went up the west side. On reaching a narrow place, between the mountains, a conversation took place, across the water, between Holyoke and Thomas, concerning the naming of the mountains. And finally it was determined to give the name of Holyoke to that on the east, and the name of Thomas to that on the west. The latter soon came to be called Mount Tom ; but the former was more fortunate in retaining the integrity of its name.

A poem by Heinrich Heine—“Präludium,” or “Prelude,” with whose first four stanzas I began the I PURITANI booklet—eulogizes the health and beauty of the virgin American continent ; it begins : Dieses ist Amerika ! / Dieses ist die Neue Welt ! / Nicht die heutige, die schon / Europäisiert abwelkt [ … ] ( “This, here, is America ! This, the brave New World ! Not today’s, Europeanized and wilting” ).

Really, relations stop nowhere.