This basement room used to house the farm animals. The old store rooms are on a slightly lower level. The artist Anselm Kiefer was so inspired by the historical spaces that he built his installation here. It’s called Johannis-Nacht – St. John’s Eve
Kiefer's work of art in four-parts is littered with references to ancient mythologies, religion and folk beliefs. If you’d like to find out more about the background to the piece, there’s some additional information on the panels in the small annexe to the left of the basement entrance.
The first room deals with a story from Greek mythology. It’s about Jason, the son of a king and leader of the Argonauts, and about his heroic quest for the Golden Fleece. We’re seeing a miniature world from a bird's eye view. A parched landscape stretches out below, on which an aircraft made of lead has landed.
The name "Jason" appears on the left wing. Human teeth are scattered across the ground, from which tiny soldiers are growing. This is another reference to the ancient Greek myth. The plane’s approach is littered with little white dresses like shrouds. The top-down view of this tiny landscape seems like a compressed look back into history. In his works, Anselm Kiefer examines the past to understand the present, guided by existential questions and opposites such as life and death, victory and defeat.
In the next room, a similarly grim atmosphere prevails. There are dresses draped over a simple wooden gate. More frocks are incorporated into the picture beyond the gate. These white dresses are a reference to Lilith, Adam’s first wife. There’s a story in the Old Testament, in which Lilith defies God’s command and leaves Adam – for which she suffers terrible punishment. Lilith is transformed into a monstrous creature who seduces men and gives birth to demons. In feminism, rebellious Lilith is often seen as a role model for a woman who defies male authority.
The ferns in the third room are reminiscent of St. John's Eve, better known as Midsummer Night. According to an old folk belief, ferns are said to blossom briefly on St. John's Eve and develop magical powers. These powers can bring good fortune or bad luck.
The snake on the ground, as the embodiment of the devil, is another reference to the dark forces on St. John's Eve. The painter's palette reminds us of the healing power of art, yet here, it is shattered.
In the fourth room, a river of lead cascades down the wall. Kiefer personally heated the metal and poured it into the vault through the hatch in the ceiling. Kiefer has frequently used lead in his works. The teachings of alchemy held that this metal was very close to gold, the purest of all substances.
The reflection of light on Kiefer's river of lead implies the presence of the sacred. In this reading, the lead represents a divine ray of light. According to the esoteric discipline of Kabbalah, God sent his ray of light into a dark void during the act of creation and thus brought the world into being.
In the cellar vaults of Johannisnacht, Kiefer uses ordinary materials to retell myths from the past and by doing so, forges a connection with our world’s major current issues. The installation was created in 1990, the year Anselm Kiefer was awarded the Kaiserring.
Fotos: © Uwe Walter, Berlin