The way - der Weg. Abraham David Christian

[anlässlich der Ausstellung Abraham David Christian, the Way - der Weg im MKM Museum Küppersmühle für Moderne Kunst, Duisburg, 11. Juni bis 29. August 2010 ; eine Ausstellung der Stiftung für Kunst und Kultur e.V., Bonn] / [Hrsg. Walter Smerling. Übers. Jeanne Haunschild ...]

Abraham David Christian: Der Weg | Museum Küppersmühle, 2011.
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Seite im Original: 13

Hayama_7, Towers of wisdom, The Way, Tao, the Way!

First of all:
Why do I think so highly of Abraham David Christian?

Because his forms create more reality than any other (typical artistic) activity! For it is not the things that happen (events) that shape and change us (humans), instead, it is the act of looking that shapes and changes us, as MGD so perceptively wrote. Abraham David Christian (ADC) is one of the great masters because he succeeds in placing the object that is seen before our eyes, while refraining from presenting his original artworks as unique phenomena, merely in order to satisfy our appetite for the new. ADC developed his ideas during the decades he spent travelling the world, examining the objects that people from every part of the world, from every culture and religion have brought into being, or allowed to come into being by shaping forms, by thinking and giving thanks. With the utmost intensity, in seclusion, in a state of profound contemplation, albeit with lively enthusiasm, he has observed the great forma of the signs and shapes that people employ to talk about themselves and their Weltanschauung. ADC did not intend to present a summa, a compilation, or an accumulation of this universal knowledge. Instead he wanted to convey this universal repertoire of the forms of expression that are common to all people in all eras and cultures: the lowest and highest common denominator of the knowledge that mankind has structured as a way of ordering the world, and of examining what exists in the world and how it is all connected! In monasteries and wide expanses, in temples and markets, in huts and palaces, he developed his universal, anthropological view of that which is common to all, despite the fact that it has hitherto been cultural difference, and the exoticism of the foreign, that has attracted the attention of adventurers, conquistadors and storytellers.

Abraham David Christian shares with us what he has seen, glimpsed, discerned and recognized in an unpretentious, pure and unadulterated way which only masters can truly accomplish, masters who have no need to prove the unique nature of their art by producing provocative, scandalous, aberrations. Instead, they allow their gestures and apposite modes of behavior to act as embodiments of the objective spirit, that is, the collective common spirit. Each of his ‘sculptures’ enables us to glimpse a fundamental universal form – beyond the cultural, religious, ethnic, and linguistic differences that usually define our identity, our awareness of self. He refrains from the pathos of creative artists who seek to compete with the divine Creator himself. ADC creates by attesting to the insights that he has gained. Dutch, the language of his childhood, has a wonderful word, ‘beamen’, which means Amen, to attest to the existence of a given state of affairs, a relationship, a configuration, a universal condition. ADC ‘beams’, he attests to the connection he has discovered between things that are based on reason and the poetic formulations on which his elementary forms are based – and he ‘beams’, he attests to the purpose, the meaning of the forms that he has put on display, for our imagination and thought processes. He attests to the healing power of this kind of display!

‘I am filled with expectation. I do not know if you have experienced this, when sometimes you feel you are right next to something, that there is only a very thin veil between you and – and what? Knowledge? Truth? Life?’, asked MGD.


Being prepared

Hayama: Japanese Imperial villa with Shinto shrines shaped like towers, fifty kilometers west of Tokyo – this is where the artist ADC set up his studio. A spirit at home in the world!

Seven: the sacred number (seven seals, seven arms of the candelabra, seven days of the week, the seven liberal arts, the seven sacraments, etc.)

Tao, the Way: Method as the way to all places in the unity of thinking and walking, of holding and understanding, of observing and moving, of ‘body’ and ‘mind’, of journeying and singing, of ‘discours’ as ‘parcours’.

Towers of silence: The followers of Zarathustra place their dead on these, to be devoured by vultures and thus borne up to heaven.

Towers of wisdom: Minarets and bell towers (campanile), the keep and bulwark towers in city walls, stairways to heaven, lookout tower, debtors’ tower, medieval city tower, television tower, library stacks; it is the tower-keepers, not the dead, who work here, looking down on everything; the call to divine service as a way of serving mankind; asceticism of silence beyond the sound and fury of this world.

Wisdom that leads to confusion: Artists do not like theorists; that goes without saying: ‘Artists, paint, don’t talk!’ (‘Bilde Künstler, rede nicht!’). So why do all artists want to be honored by talkers who they consider their subordinates? To be praised by those they despise?


Proverbs 9.1 ff

‘Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars: (the arms of the Menorah). The towers of the high crown of the city (fortification of the upper city) have been erected. The feast of life can be celebrated, the feast of wisdom. He is wise who loves you because you scold/teach him. Just as he is just who is taught by teaching. And he who does not let himself be kept from the feast of the Wise because the spirits of the dead dwell upon the towers and we, their guests, at the feet of the towers (the world far below the platforms of the towers).’

In western civilization, the museum is the home of wisdom; it teaches by means of a shared vocabulary of form that is recognized by all and a special language that is specific to artists! An anonymous cultural collective versus individual authorship.


The Great Commission: acknowledging making shapes as both a learning process and cognitive art!

Seldom has a child’s name as bestowed by his parents (or teachers, or brotherhood, or guardians) so clearly determined his path through life as has Abraham David Christian’s name. To be named, invoked, in the name of the Patriarch, the Psalmist and the Redeemer, according to our Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions! The construction of archetype and poetry and healing through the making of shapes, that is, through a parallel activity that involves the head and the hand, has always been a fundamental principle of ADC the artist’s, as it is for all artists, scholars, architects, poets and musicians who want to create – who are capable of being astonished, irrespective of anyone else, by the fruit of their labors. ‘What is it then, what could this be? I made that? Although I didn’t know about it or want it – incredible!’
Nowadays, creative work is basically seen in these terms, as a manual process involving all kinds of materials that gives rise to concepts, as if grasping an object makes it possible to grasp its meaning. Thus, these forms are concepts that challenge our brains to comprehend them, to get to know them, so that they do not remain unique phenomena but are capable of being constantly repeated. We reflect on this artistic production of forms, and thereby increase our repertoire of forms for understanding the world and making us more fluent in processing other such phenomena! In so doing, we make the joyful yet alarming experience that every attempt at repetition involves new variations of the concepts that underlie the production of these forms. So, if want to fix them permanently, we need to define the basic patterns that seem to be part of every variation, and which are quite easy to spot! In architecture, ‘arche’ (in Greek αρχή) refers to a basic pattern of concepts for making forms, understood as tactile objects – and as primal forms, the original documents of the human spirit’s sources of inspiration, as the creative life-giving action on the materia through the production of forms!

Abraham David Christian’s nomenclature is representative of the direction his work has taken, not merely as part of a systematic process but in cultural historical terms, too. Abraham stands for the emergence of an understanding that relies on tactility, for a fundamental orientation towards the first/last primal forms: the block, the heap, the krater, the staff, the stairway, the border, the enclosure. The most striking variations of these forms, their embodiment in the history of human forms and their production, are, for example, the pyramid, stupa, spinning top, obelisk, house, pagoda, tower, bulwark, and every variety of enclosure/exclusion, along with the enclosed areas for temples, shrines, and museums.

The name of King David reminds us how these basic forms are constantly being altered through a process of idealization (geometry), operating on materials such as earth and land, the climate, the material nature and logic of technical processes and, above all, on the linkage between many primal forms and artistic first principles, as in the construction of settlements, or the fabrication of weapons, or the depiction of hegemonic concepts through religious rites and forms of festivals. This is what characterizes David’s Psalms; they enable the basic concepts that underlie forms to speak for themselves, to be communicated! Thus, Abraham, the father of culture and founder of religion, refers in an exemplary manner to the inescapable principles that underlie all knowledge and that are accessible to every living person through the sense of touch, by grasping the things of this world. King David sings, glorifies and celebrates this constant arche-type, using poetic imagery to describe it, and, through his loving appreciation of all forms of life, to acknowledge it in the eternal, immortal forms, that is, in the orderings and the classifications that we think of as laws that govern the way the world functions.
But, what is the purpose of Abraham’s fundamental forms and David’s poetic, celebratory variants? Their purpose is indicated by the name of Christian. The knowledge of the primal forms of all worldly phenomena, of the universal background to these forms, of the concepts that underlie the production of forms, of ideas – as proclaimed in invocatory celebrations, which have become a means of communication through poetic amendments, repetitions, as a means of achieving new variations, combinations, groupings, of giving mere mortals access to an approbatory power! In scholarly writings on art, this is achieved the very moment when a text has been approved; when a completed text has passed muster. In medicine, it is when a cure is effected, using methods and rituals that are thought to heal. Healing refers to the salvic effect that a secure means of existence has, together with the opportunity to develop an ability to learn through productivity/creativity.

We seek for salvation in tactile work, which enables us to accept ourselves when we see that we have accomplished something. The salvation of the world is experienced in terms of the sanctification of the forms, constructs, concepts, and ideas which we have dedicated our lives to! Thus, divine service is a service that involves formal, rituals, through which is achieved, or should be achieved, a mediation between physical formations and spiritual concepts. So, the service of mankind includes the service that museums provide, serving our perception of the communal (the ‘arche’) and of the particular by means of tactile formations and the application of concepts. Whoever accomplishes this testifies to a ‘vitality that is ready to leave’ in an Etruscan smile, in the smiles of wise men, who can say yes to the world and to the most sacred hour of death, that is, their own end (to accept their own death, as Christ did) in the certain knowledge that every new start requires prior knowledge of how it will end. He who wishes to build a chair must know the end of the work, the finished chair, right at the start, in order to make a rational start!


Discursive movement: Tao, thinking the way and transforming forms by conscious walking

For more than 400 years, the members of the upper classes and ultimately, the citizens, learnt how to translate their thoughts into practice by visiting gardens, parks, museums and exhibitions. Descartes’s description of the way thoughts move as a ‘discours’ followed a parallel connection between ‘discours’ and ‘parcours’ that was established in the gardens of the Age of Absolutism, as a geometrical and allegorical form that can be retraced by walking in the French gardens of the age, and by the ‘arche’tectonic, symbolic form of the English landscape garden. Our precursor, Goethe, provided a synthesis of these two approaches in his own summer house, in the park on the river Ilm in Weimar, with a monument called the ‘Good Luck Stone’. In this instance, there are two stones: a cube and a sphere (the cube measures 90 x 90 x 90 cm, the sphere has a diameter of 73.25 cm). The sphere rests upon the cube. It is intended to be a circle within the square edges of the cube, a sphere inside the cube or simply the completion of ‘squaring the circle’, thereby referring to the impossibility of combining idea and exhibit, description and artifact, or content and form, or, for that matter, thought and its ideality in real life. When we seek an analogy, we instinctively understand that surface of the sphere refers to an eye, a skullcap, an architectural arch or a segment of the vault of Heaven. If this kind of formal analogy has resulted the sphere being seen as a symbol of Heaven, then the cube must stand for Earth. This disrupts this shape’s usual associations, knowing as we do that the world is sphere-shaped. During the Spring Ceremony, the Chinese Emperor represented the connection between Heaven and Earth in his own body, by standing on a cube and bearing a Phi-shaped disc on his head to represent a cross-section of the sphere. The connection flowed through his body, up to the fontanel in his skull, and through it into the open centre of the disc. So, why is the earth a cube? The answer is, because it represented the second primal form of geometric ideality. If Heaven was represented by the circle/sphere, then, the logical conclusion was that the square/cube was left to stand for Earth, since it referred to the fundament, the ‘arche’-tecture of a house, as the universal site of the human spirit, which is based on the architectural construct of columns/pillars with connecting crossbeams.

How does this reference relate to humans? Through the formal analogy between columns and humans who walk upright (represented by the sovereign ruler) which is still expressed today by reference to the three parts of a column, the base, shaft and capital. The Latin for head is ‘caput’, which is why the top part of the column is called a capital. Generally speaking, it is true that a formal analogy of this kind does not suffice to make it meaningful. The way we experience the evidence must be countered, in current terms, ‘critiqued’, to make it accessible not only as a subjective experience but as something that is known. Goethe’s subheading for his monument, the ‘Altar to Agathe Tyche’ (meaning, the ‘Altar to the Eternal Laws of Nature and Spirit’), makes the connection between the evidence that is attained though the magic of analogy, and that is acquired methodically (as knowledge) through the eyes, the organs of reason. It is this mediation between the momentary opportunity to grasp the evidence and the fundamental Petrine law, the rock-solid permanence of natural law, that translates the title ‘Stone of Good Fortune’ into everyday language as the knowledge that, in the end, only the hard-working are fortunate. Or, that the purpose of artistic creation is to gain the good fortune of achieving something, as in the Latin mnemonic: ‘Ars gratia artis’: accomplishing something is the reward of hard work.


The title of ADC’s exhibition is represented by a Japanese character that is almost identical to the Chinese character for ‘Tao’. It has been translated as ‘The way is the destination’, under the influence of the New Age Movement, which is based on the ‘Wandervogel’ movement and the attitudes to life expressed in Beneath the Wheel (Hermann Hesse), of Wilde Geese are rushing through the night (Walter Flex), On the Road (Jack Kerouac), Easy Rider (directed by Dennis Hopper) and I‘m off then (Hape Kerkeling). It reminds us of the parallel function of ‘discours’ and ‘parcours’, and of thinking and moving as being central to the way we express our lives. Since time immemorial, the greatest goal of education has been to achieve a parallel existence for the living body and the mind, through the pleasurable experience of ritualized physical effort and the Eureka moment when insight is achieved. In today’s terms, this would mean inducing the brain to release endogenous opiates both through our Augean compulsion to perform a task and the adrenaline rush that is achieved by accomplishing that task.

Today, the main way this compulsion to engage in a task is experienced is in sport. Since we are not allowed to jog through the exhibition, or to collapse in a peaceful, enjoyable state of exhaustion after a 10,000 meter jog past these artworks, we must use our imagination to produce a similar emotion. We anticipate the desire to perform a task; the best thing to do is to reproduce in our minds the most difficult tasks we can think of, such as lifting furniture when moving house. We recreate and transfer the way we lifted large objects, wardrobes, or bed frames, to our breasts in order to move them, to make them submit to our will: ‘Strangely unnerving […] labor! Strangely fruitful intercourse this, between one body and another mind’, was how Thomas Mann described it. Invoking an object with the power of imagination allows us to experience the mystery of moving tables: the will that can place us on mountains, allow small things to grow large, to become heavy, or hot, because we experience size, weight, heat as our bodies and as formative powers that determine our selves. Hocus-pocus? Spiritualist babble? I attest to this, holding my pen upright, which, through the magic of analogy, stands for an erect member, and for procreation. We attest that Abraham begat Isaac who begat Jacob who begat Joseph…