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Update from Germany No.2

Michael Rodemer is spending much of the Summer of 2011 doing a collaborative art project in Berlin with Berlin artist (and former A&D Witt Resident) Franz John as part of Über-Lebenskunst, a symposium devoted to exploring sustainability, sponsored by the House of World Cultures and the Federal Cultural Foundation.

The work on the bridges in Aachen is going slowly, but steadily, forward. Peter Schneider, the German artist with whom I’m doing the exhibition, is making a construction out of “Riesen-Bärenklau” (“giant bear claw” -- heracleum mantegazzianum) that you can see in some of the photos below. (This picture gives no idea of the size of these things – the stalk is as thick as your wrist in parts! The flower is nearly a foot across! And it feels lighter than styrofoam.) He’s building the arc of a bridge from each side: from one side with (very aggressive!) blackberry brambles, from the other with feathers that seem to float in air. (for more photos, see: http://www.pjmschneider.de/aktuelles.html and click on the dates at left to see pix.) 
 
 
photo by Peter Schneider
 
I’ve made a couple of meter-long bridges out of 5x5mm wooden sticks, triangulating them like the bridges I went over as a child in central Illinois, on my way to go fishing with my grandfather in the Sangamon River or Salt Creek. Those were creepy, though beautiful, bridges: beautiful for their form and dark, rusty color, but creepy for the fact that the roadbed was made of wood planks which rose and fell beneath our truck’s wheels – crack! kaWhomp! creaaaaaak! – in such a way that made the swirling waters beneath seem like an imminent destination. (You could, in fact, look down through a hole in the truck floorboard, and see, through the gaps left by missing planks, the voracious brown water below, with tufts of foam of mysterious origin spinning in unexplainable vortices.)
 
So I made these zigzag frames for each side of the bridge and was trying to hold them parallel to one another to gauge what size board I’d want to get for the roadbed, when they slipped together at the far end, making a bridge that went from broad to narrow! Bing! This was MUCH better than what I’d intended to do! Change of plans! 
 
Then I considered what the metaphorical implications of this change could be, liked what I thought of, and proceeded to design another bridge. This one goes from wide to narrow in both the horizontal and vertical dimensions; I’ve built it also. Will dip both bridges into grey paint tomorrow, then see how I like the addition of tiny human figures. Companies here make a huge variety of little people that are meant to enliven model railroad scenery. Some of them are predictable (train personnel), but others are more lively, like people kissing, kids on bikes, old ladies with a cane, people at the beach, a painter with easel and model, someone in an outhouse, babies in strollers, ad infinitum. (http://www.noch-figuren.de) This may be corny, or it may put the interpretive spin on these constructions that I’m after. I hope the effect will be understated, something one has to look closely at to see.
 
On another front, I picked up the circuit boards on Monday that the Elektrotechniker at the University of Siegen made from my design; these will enable me to control the direction and speed of two DC motors or one stepper motor. (And yes, it does look a little like a face...)  
 
 
The black chip on the left is the motor controller, and it’s being driven by electrical signals from the right chip, a microcontroller (tiny computer) that I can program to do what I want. So, the chip serves as a surrogate for the artist. It works – now I just have to get the behavior I want by orchestrating a combination of electrical and mechanical factors that usually turn out to be more complicated than they at first appear.
 
Finally, the answer to the question at the end of the last blog (in case you’ve not seen it already in the press release): Article 5 of the German constitution guarantees freedom of speech.
 
Here’s the article, followed by a translation:
 
Artikel 5

(1) Jeder hat das Recht, seine Meinung in Wort, Schrift und Bild frei zu äußern und zu verbreiten und sich aus allgemein zugänglichen Quellen ungehindert zu unterrichten. Die Pressefreiheit und die Freiheit der Berichterstattung durch Rundfunk und Film werden gewährleistet. Eine Zensur findet nicht statt.

(2) Diese Rechte finden ihre Schranken in den Vorschriften der allgemeinen Gesetze, den gesetzlichen Bestimmungen zum Schutze der Jugend und in dem Recht der persönlichen Ehre.

(3) Kunst und Wissenschaft, Forschung und Lehre sind frei. Die Freiheit der Lehre entbindet nicht von der Treue zur Verfassung.
 
(1) Every person has the right to freely express and make public their opinions in spoken word, written form, and images, and to inform themselves, unhindered, from publicly available sources. The freedom of the press and of reporting in broadcast media and film are guaranteed. There shall be no censorship.
 
(2) These rights are limited by the requirements of general laws, by the laws protecting youth, and by the right to personal dignity.
 
(3) Art and science, research and teaching are free. Academic freedom does not relieve one of the obligation to remain true to the constitution.  
 


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