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40  |   L I G H T
Wall piece, 2002
Collage, cut-and-pasted printed paper, on pressboard and wood, with glass and chrome-plated brass
180 x 45 x 6.5 cm.


In 1996, close to 320 stone sculptures were discovered in a rectangular pit in the city of Qingzhou. Found on the grounds of what had once been the Buddhist Temple Long-xing, most of these figures date from the sixth century CE. All of them had been not merely buried, but carefully and reverently laid to rest in a grave many layers deep.

At the Altes Museum in Berlin, where a number of them were being exhibited in November 2001, one of these 1500-year-old Buddha figures stopped me in my tracks. I was transfixed by both its posture and and its countenance: eyes nearly closed, lips just barely forming the gentle smile of the benevolent and blessed, right hand raised in the gesture of fearlessness, left lowered in that of the granting of wishes. For I am used to the sorrowing, suffering face of European ecclesiastic art, and the composure of this figure was for me at once a marvel and a mystery. Its confidence and comfort awakened in me the desire to create such a “being” myself—according to my lights and using my own means and methods.

To do so, I resurrected the equivocally autobiographic stele form—measuring 180 by 45 centimeters—that had played a major rôle in my Raumwerk I PURITANI, almost twenty years before. I used the collage technique with which I have so often created the patterns of textured surfaces out of innumerable rectangular snippets of printed paper arranged in rows to suggest the folds of the Buddha’s robes, his feet (protruding below them), and the aureole surrounding his head.

As do the haloes in depictions of Christ and Christian saints, the aureoles of Buddha statues derive from ancient representations of the god Apollo, and I called my figure LIGHT, in homage to the Greek god of that phenomenon, in recognition of Christ, the Redeemer, as the Light of the World, and particularly to express my admiration for the Enlightened One. Yet, as the circular glass of this rectangular wall piece’s “third eye” is strongly suggestive of a lighting fixture—just as the hands are reminiscent of glass switch-plate covers—the work’s simple, one-word title could well be construed as “lamp,” too,  and the piece itself as a kind of form-follows-function “Bauhaus Buddha’.” As such, LIGHT would seem to hew to even the most severely fundamentalist religious cult’s laws and bylaws as far as the proscription of idolatry goes.