Posi­tioning in Paradise:
Coor­di­nates of the Utopian
Martin Henatsch

 54°4 min., an enig­matic title and at the same time an incom­plete location, which Thorsten Goldberg uses as a header, not only for his exhi­bition and its book, but also for a work of art which is central to his work. Enigmatic—because the meaning of this abbre­vi­ation seems to remain uncertain. Is it a combi­nation of a temper­ature and a time or are these geographical coor­di­nates? It is incom­plete, because in order to name the location precisely the second coor­dinate, the latitude or longitude, needs to be given. This vagueness, and the lack of important deter­mi­nants in the defi­n­ition of thema­tised loca­tions, shows a basic prin­ciple of how the artist works. A glance at the map finally reveals the artist’s intention. The location of the exhi­bition whose cata­logue this is, is on the 54th parallel. By just giving the geographic latitude Goldberg creates a ficti­tious line between the loca­tions where his exhi­bi­tions are held and far-flung, seem­ingly tempting, but at the same time largely unknown places whose longi­tu­dinal coor­di­nates he fails to reveal. The artist has already used posi­tioning in his earlier works. For example in dograce + steep holm he refers to latitude 51°20’23“N on which are posi­tioned not only a prison complex to be built in Heidering, for which Goldberg has developed a design, but also the Welsh island of Steep Holm. With Green Island Switch (as the crow flies) the location of the exhi­bition in Radom in Poland is the starting point from where an imag­inary axis leads towards the West. And finally 54°4 min.: a trajectory which, according to sat nav instruc­tions, leads directly from the Gerisch Foun­dation in Neumünster to Wee Geordies’s Neigh­bourhood Pub and on to Lucy Island on the west coast of Canada. By strictly following the path of a latitude in a westerly direction, Thomas Goldberg refers not only to the popular game of spinning a globe—or these days a digital on-screen earth—and waiting excitedly to see which location the finger or cursor will point to when the globe stops. At the same time he draws a historical parallel to the great seafarers and trav­ellers of previous centuries, who preferred to follow a latitude to go west because it was easy enough to determine the geographical latitude on which they trav­elled around the world parallel to the equator by looking at the position of the sun. However, the exact iden­ti­fi­cation of the position on this line, i.e. deter­mining the longitude and thus the distance trav­elled from the port of departure, was one of the most complex problems in the history of discovery and remained unsolved for centuries. In the end longi­tu­dinal deter­mi­nation was made possible by improved measurement of time and was finally solved in the middle of the 18th century by the English clock­maker John Harrison (1693–1776), who invented move­ments which remained accurate and without delay even after many weeks at sea.(1) People trav­elled along the lati­tudes not only because of their desire to under­stand the earth better, but also because it held the promise of discov­ering hitherto unknown para­disiacal lands which nonetheless were thought to exist. After all, paradise, from which Adam and Eve were once driven, formed an undis­puted part of the earth’s geog­raphy, but was yet to be discovered. It was assumed that the peoples who lived near paradise must be marked by the pure and natural primordial state in harmony with nature once enjoyed by Adam and Eve. Meeting so-called prim­itive peoples therefore becomes a sign for prox­imity to the searched for paradise.(2) Accord­ingly, the wonders of the West were praised long before, for example, Christopher Columbus’s voyages of discovery to the New World. It was assumed and expected that places such as Atlantis and the Isles of the Blessed were inhabited by people who lived in harmony with them­selves and with nature, and were thus paradise. The cultural framework for all these dream geogra­phies can be found for the first time in numerous medieval descrip­tions of paradise. The chron­i­clers of the early Modern Age already agreed on describing this “New World” in terms of a para­disiacal golden age.(3) So does Thorsten Goldberg send us with his travel instruc­tions 54°4 min. not only to any old group of islands in British Columbia, but also on a search for a faraway paradise? The Lucy Islands, just like all the other islands he chooses because of the lati­tu­dinal coor­di­nates, turn out to be unspec­tacular and unim­portant places, mainly featuring no more than a navi­gation mark deter­mining their position. They are places which are not important to the rest of the world, places without any outstanding attrac­tions apart from their coin­ci­dental position exactly to the west of the artist’s point of departure. They turn out to be seem­ingly random and inevitable desti­na­tions of a finger journey for which the artist gives us direc­tions taken from Google Maps. These direc­tions, with various pictures, lead us along the route directly from Neumünster to British Columbia on the west coast of Canada. Photos taken from Google Earth illus­trate the indi­vidual stages of this imag­inary journey. They are unreal places in nowhere land; lacunae open to projec­tions and yearnings—even to ideas of paradise.

Green Island (as the crow flies) is similar. Here the artist chose Radom as his point of departure for his finger journey along a latitude. This time it ended on the coast of Newfoundland, 5,130 km to the west of Radom. On this imag­inary trip due west, a navi­gation mark gave him the first red light, willing him to stop. He took this as a sign that he had found the end of his journey. As a symbol of the random yet math­e­mat­i­cally stringent connection between this distant coastal land­scape and the point of departure in Poland, he created a sculpture in Radom repli­cating the navi­gation mark. On the one hand these desti­na­tions appear almost random: an unim­portant rocky island of which there are many, a little corner of the world which gets almost no mention on any map. On the other hand they are, within Goldberg’s artistic concept, the result of an almost compulsive approach. But what is random about following a path of the earth’s rotation until one ends up at a navi­gation mark or in a pub, the artist asks. In this way he ques­tions the usual logic of tourists’ travel plans, which always have some­thing of a search for paradise about them.

Why does the artist lead us to such places? Is it the search for auspi­cious places which has, as a constant in human cultures, attracted discov­erers of all times to set out for paradise?(4) Voyages of discovery always seem to have been driven by the search for the lost paradise, a golden age, however dependent on time and envi­ronment this dream place might have been construed.

Even Christopher Columbus’s voyages were deemed above all to be voyages of discovery of an earthly paradise he thought to find in the east by sailing in a westerly direction. After all, during his third voyage (1498–1500), he iden­tified the Orinoco River as one of the four streams of paradise and realised during a stay in Haiti that the earth was not so much round, but rather pear-shaped “like a female breast”, which is the best example of the fact that after a long voyage starving seafarers tended to ascribe fantas­tical qual­ities to places.(5)

Longed-for faraway places, which even virtual trav­ellers like Thorsten Goldberg will probably never visit, can in the end be more fantas­tical than every­thing that a real trav­eller could expe­rience there. On the one hand this is reflected today in travels in our heads perfected by digital route finding, a melan­cholic pleasure knowing that there are these far-flung places which we can discover, just like Karl May and his Wild West, from the comfort of our own desk secure in the knowledge that we do not need to leave our comfort zone.(6) On the other hand, today’s increas­ingly stan­dardised, consumer-oriented and marketing-led wanderlust makes the travel desti­na­tions contin­gently inter­changeable. These desti­na­tions seem to be char­ac­terised more by glossy holiday land­scapes than by reality. By going to a faraway paradise via a virtual map, travel brochures or Love Boat romances, we para­dox­i­cally rob it of part of its authen­ticity. Its ubiquity trans­forms it into exchangeable building blocks of generally accepted and culturally uniform yearnings.

What, however, turns any old location on the map into a place remarkable enough to be etched into the general land­scape of public consciousness? What are the reasons why we regard some loca­tions as important places, whereas others receive no attention at all? And what happens to places that are suddenly put on the map from afar, for example because of Goldberg’s artistic work? François-René de Chateaubriand (1768–1848), the French diplomat and writer, was also a keen trav­eller. In “Travels from Paris to Jerusalem” he describes very vividly how the nature of the attrac­tions he visited on the Attic peninsula changed. The further he left them behind, “the more beau­tiful the columns of Sunium glow above the sea”.(7) The French ethnol­ogist and anthro­pol­ogist Marc Augé even considers the distance from a place to be the ideal position for its defi­n­ition: “This elim­i­nation of the place is the climax of the journey”.(8) In his thesis “Non-places” Augé looks in detail at the mech­a­nisms which turn dots or spaces on earth into “places”. He then juxta­poses them with “non-places”. Whereas for him places are anthro­po­log­i­cally as well as socially deter­mined and thus histor­i­cally charged and asso­ciated by people with concrete events, “non-places” are iden­tified with tales, projec­tions and yearnings that are perhaps inde­pendent of the location. “In the same way as a place is char­ac­terised by identity, rela­tions and history, a space which has no identity and cannot be labelled as rela­tional or historical, defines a non-place. …Spaces which them­selves are not anthro­po­logical places.”(9) Therefore non-places are basi­cally inter­changeable and obtain their char­acter from the projective expec­ta­tions of the narrator, spec­tator or discoverer. “The connection which forms the bond between indi­viduals and their surroundings in the space of non-places takes place via words and texts. (…) Some places exist only through the words that define them and are in this sense non-places or rather imag­inary places, banal utopias or clichés.”(10) But what signif­i­cance do these locally defined places have for the global artistic community? They only follow Goldberg’s search full of yearning for a special place on the other side of the world. This place thus becomes a projection screen for artistic but also for intensely personal yearnings und expec­ta­tions which initially have little or nothing to do with it. Thorsten Goldberg destroys its “placeness” and, just like the marketing strategies of the tourism industry, declares it to be a non-place which is ulti­mately exchangeable. The artist is concerned with the constantly changing inter­action between places char­ac­terised by personal expe­ri­ences, authentic features and social history which, since the 20th century, has been super­seded by mass tourism and increas­ingly virtual repre­sen­ta­tions or even simu­la­tions. The subject of Goldberg’s artistic inves­ti­gation is the constantly changing and newly defined interplay between “placeness” and its mutation into a perhaps para­disiacal non-place. The “place never completely disap­pears and the non-place never produces itself completely—they are palimpsests on which is reflected time and again the intricate corre­lation between identity and relation.”(11) They are coor­di­nates of the utopian with which Goldberg declares the basi­cally projective and thus exchangeable, even placeless over­writing of all places to be the point of departure of his artistic work.

In this sense those far-away desti­na­tions which Thorsten Goldberg has chosen because of forced randomness within the framework of the concept for his artistic work would initially have to be defined as places. The pub just by the Pacific coast in British Columbia, the tiny island featuring a light­house on Poyll Vaaish Bay, a barren rock measuring around 1 km² off the coast of Labrador or the forlorn navi­gation mark on the Lucy Islands. These are all stops on the artist’s virtual journeys repre­senting a little piece of land at least for those people who live close by and possibly asso­ciate tangible expe­ri­ences with these dots, repre­senting a place.

What is the corre­lation though between today’s Google Earth-led joy of discovery and the longed-for paradises of previous centuries? This is another question that Goldberg poses and not only in 54°4 min. Time and again he presents us with places the general public are not really aware of. And by giving these places an artistic treatment, he declares them to be substi­tutes for yearnings—yearnings to give loca­tions an identity. This can already be seen in one of his earliest works for public space where he publi­cises a postcard sent to him by an air hostess friend: Nach­hausegehen Zuhaus­esein Zuhause­bleiben (Going home Being at home Staying at home, 1991). On 10 large-scale adver­tising boards in the centre of Stuttgart he put up enlarged post­cards from his frequent-flyer friend posted from exotic coun­tries. Dreams initially asso­ciated with far-flung desti­na­tions turned out to be inter­changeable yearnings inde­pendent of actual places. They turned out to be more like reflec­tions of the traveller’s subjective needs than descrip­tions of the places mentioned: “On a short trip to Rio again. Christmas was quite boring (every­thing shut in New York!!). But New Year’s Eve was a sweatin­ducing Latino Dance Night until I dropped.”(12)

Moreover, with his 2010 design Dograce + Steep Holm(13) for the new Heidering prison complex to be built in Bran­denburg, Germany, Goldberg brought two totally different places together into an imag­inary context. Before the opening of the prison in relation to which the artistic compe­tition was held, a dog race was going to take place along the site’s 1.3 km-long double fence. Goldberg had planned to film this with high-speed cameras in a way that the roughly 90-second race would be extremely slowed down, resulting in a 100 hour-long large-screen projection to be shown within the prison. One of the two film projec­tions, which were to be installed perma­nently, was going to document the grey­hounds chasing an arti­ficial hare. Its circular motion was going to corre­spond to the projection of a plane turned into a vertical position, circling Steep Holm island which is located on the same parallel. Just as the arti­ficial hare triggers the grey­hounds’ hunting instinct, the plane would carry a sky-blue banner through the air in order to set off the human hunting instinct. In this way the artist joins two circular and repet­itive move­ments full of promises and puts them into a formal, geographic and textual context. But these are two things promising happiness that cannot be fulfilled; they are chimeras of animal and human longings. If it is unlikely that the racing dogs will ever reach the flut­tering object of their desire, than it equally unre­al­istic that the little bit of blue sky dragged along behind the plane will ever quench the spec­tators’ longing. This is even more poignant for prison inmates for whom the far-away sky will neces­sarily have to remain a projection screen surrounded by prison walls. Although this site-specific work must leave the locked-up inmates with a bitter taste, it reveals, however, even inde­pen­dently of the pris­oners’ restricted freedom of movement, a univer­sally valid symbolism for the seem­ingly anthro­po­log­i­cally constant trait of human beings to be drawn to faraway, posi­tively defined places. Here, however, Goldberg defines this yearning under the restricted condi­tions of movement of the spec­tators and/or the compulsive chasing of the lure. Thus the work’s point of departure is again the with­drawal of essential factors which, under normal circum­stances, would define the place.

For decades now the discussion of art in public space has revolved around the paradigm of site speci­ficity. As an answer to the practice favoured mainly just after World War II, of putting up drop sculp­tures, i.e. non-figurative sculp­tures which were randomly erected and which seemed to have no relation to their surroundings and whose autonomous char­acter was even based on their lack of context, site speci­ficity was discovered by artists like Richard Serra who were pivotal in the further devel­opment of art in public space.(14) By the end of the 1960s Serra had already left the funda­mental framework of self-reference stip­u­lated by Modernism. He discarded the Modernist concept of a mobile work of art and of a flexible arrangement when posi­tioning sculp­tures in favour of site-specific posi­tioning: “Site-specific works of art are not isolated; they relate to the surrounding condi­tions. Their scale, size and position are deter­mined by the surrounding topog­raphy, be it of an urban or non-urban nature. The artworks become part of their location…”(15) To this end, Serra used his monu­mental steel sculp­tures to analyse the specific compo­nents of their surroundings. His trail-blazing approach to site speci­ficity consisted of the artistic reve­lation of the urban, historic and aesthetic struc­tures of the loca­tions for which he created his sculptures.

Thorsten Goldberg also embraces this legacy as an important rule, when, by way of the styl­istic diversity of his many works in the public space, he puts the respective require­ments of his loca­tions before the prin­ciple of artistic recog­nition, i.e. his own styl­istic mark. During the 1990s at the latest, these concepts seem to have reached an impasse. The classic juxta­po­sition of bour­geois crit­icism and authority, which nour­ished the devel­opment of art in public space, seems to dissolve in the same measure as the definable identity of loca­tions that determine public space is called into question. In the same way Goldberg circum­vents the specifics of these places and their contex­tu­ality, despite having carried out site-specific research for all his projects. His works are not really created to mark or identify a place; they are not land­marks which for example delineate the route of indus­trial culture in the Ruhr area, showing the way as highly visible sign­posts. Quite the opposite, Goldberg’s projects lead to a cancel­lation of the iden­tities of the places he engages with. He achieves this by drawing imag­inary connection lines from his places to desti­na­tions which are found by accident, nearly unknown and difficult to reach. After all, he pronounces his places to be primarily points of departure of the imag­inary journeys to far-flung desti­na­tions. In doing so, he not only dissolves the concrete site speci­ficity into some­thing unde­fined and exchangeable. He also applies the same logic to the loca­tions of his works and exhi­bi­tions. In this way he puts non-site-specificity at the centre of his artistic inves­ti­gation, which Marc Augé considers to be a mark of “Super­mod­ernism”, as opposed to Modernism, which is based on site speci­ficity: “In the non-places of Super­mod­ernism there is always a special location, at which ‘places and objects of interest’ are presented as such—pineapples from the Ivory Coast, Venice, city of the Doges, Tangier, the exca­va­tions of Alesia.”(16)

Goldberg, whose work is based on the tradition of site speci­ficity, also constantly yet subtly ques­tions this category, thus turning his back on the defining credo of an over 40 year-old tradition of art in public space. Another example is his work 60°N 05°E (encased waterside), installed in Bergen, Norway in 2012. It consists of a metal sheet measuring 420 m², which covers, honeycomb-like, a narrow coastal strip in the city centre. It is a monu­mental reflective sheet fitted to the rock and installed at a height of around 50 cm from the ground, the result of an inter­na­tional compe­tition which the artist won in 2010. Although in this case the title even includes the northern and eastern coor­di­nates, the work again coun­teracts the identity of its location. This is because the mirror sheet alone, which is laid out over the bay like a rectan­gular cloth reaching down to the road, largely ignores the urban and geographical condi­tions. It is a kind of “anti-sculpture”, which defi­nitely does not want to emphasise the char­acter and/or the identity of its location, but might—as the artist predicts—reflect the Google satellite next time it updates its photos of the area. Thus it repre­sents a sculpture which reflects its own image for the next Google Earth trav­eller. In the same way in which an artist’s easel reflected in a mirror or chan­delier points to the personal authorship and the devel­opment process of a painting, the satellite would engrave itself into the sculpture as a sign of world-encompassing compre­hen­si­bility and validity. As a result, the satellite’s ideal viewing position could be found on peoples’ computer screens rather than its actual location.

But how can a place which is shaped in such a way by an impressive land­scape, be expressed in a sculpture? Given that Norway’s fjord land­scape is unique, would not any attempt at sculp­turally marking, exulting or inter­preting it, ulti­mately result in ridi­culing the scenery or pandering to clichés of it? Goldberg answers these ques­tions with a silver cloth and juxta­poses an impressive naturescape with the absurdity and the lapidary char­acter of a metal runner put down on a rocky beach. The sculpture becomes a symbol for the super­im­po­sition of all things land­scape with tech­nical simu­la­tions and touristy asso­ci­a­tions. A stony coastal edge, a technoid steel construction trailing the ground level and the sublimity of the natural panorama all overlap. The artist dares to create a site-specific coun­ter­image in exactly a location whose impressive land­scape can hardly be surpassed and as a result negates the alleged natural as well as cultural identity of the place, thus turning it into a non-place. In the sense of Marc Augé, the places Thorsten Goldberg engages with become palimpsests, reflecting time and again the complex interplay between identity and relation.(17) Goldberg negates the specific char­acter of his places and provoca­tively treats them like exchangeable, contingent and univer­sally uniform non-places whose function it is, for example, to serve as a vehicle to another world beyond the actual location, just like those inter­na­tionally inter­changeable shopping malls or airports.

If one subscribes to the view of the Indian-born literary scholar and art historian Homi K. Bhabha, cultural identity is basi­cally no longer asso­ciated with a specific location seen as closed, uniform and homo­ge­neous, as a result of the radical changes in society towards a migration, infor­mation and media society. Therefore this location would not be suitable either to serve as a clear-cut framework for its site-specific artistic inter­pre­tation. According to Bhabha the place in which some­thing starts its being repre­sents the boundary.(18) “In this sense the boundary becomes the place from where some­thing starts its being; this happens in a movement that resembles the unstable, ambivalent char­acter of the connection with things lying beyond.”(19) Under these circum­stances site speci­ficity as a category of contem­porary artistic methods based on the concept of a closely defined identity of a location would also have to be called into question.

Goldberg’s work takes into account this shift in dealing with the under­standing of public spaces. His concept of site speci­ficity does not attempt to mark or codify a place as a closed and distinctive unit. Nor does his Bergen sculpture derive its radi­cality from the empha­sising inter­pre­tation of its location, but from the rela­tivi­sation of its expected uniqueness as well as creating awareness of the super­im­po­sition of this location with layers of different obser­vation. Ulti­mately the distinctive shape of the “reflective cloth” can only be seen from the air. Therefore passersby will simply make out an area which is frag­mented and hard to detect because it constantly waxes and wanes with the tide and becomes part of the sea. The surrounding moun­tains, the lights, the clear sky or the clouds are all reflected in the sculpture in such a way that it is hard to distin­guish its reflec­tions from the actual setting. Its perception is defined by the fact that the lines are blurred between natural space and art space, between the surface of the water and the polished metal panel, between the actual place and satellite images. This is, entirely in accor­dance with Bhabha’s view, a location that is difficult to define, a place of cultural tran­sition, difference and imag­inary spaces.

As much as Goldberg makes the with­drawal of site-specifying longi­tudes the struc­tural marker of his work in 54°4 min. or Dograce + Steep Holm, he labels them just as explicitly in another group of works. This group deals with the historical coun­terpart of paradise, the Land of Milk and Honey. He bases three important works Milch & Honig, Nächste Fahrt — Milch & Honig and Flüsse aus Wein + Bier, on the exact carto­graphical recording of the Land of Milk and Honey on the map “Accurata Utopia Tabula”, drawn in 1716 by the cartog­rapher Johann Baptist Homann.

But where exactly is this Land of Milk and Honey? Histor­i­cally it is seen as a parallel to paradise, a dream land which was also called “Cockaigne”.(20) An Irish text about the Land of Milk and Honey dating from the early 14th century starts with the statement: “Far out in the sea, west of Spain, lies a land called Cockaigne.”(21) Marco Polo describes the coun­tries he discovers in much the same way, i.e. with visions just like the Land of Milk and Honey fantasies: he says that tribes live there who practise adultery and are openly promis­cuous with willing women. Such travel writing conveys to the readers an image of the ultimate non-tangible place where all possible yearnings are fulfilled.(22) In this way Cock­aigne is different from paradise, which remained sadly undis­covered throughout the centuries, but was always seen as a geographical constant. Paradise was located in the east, awaiting its discovery some­where beyond the sea and ques­tioned by no-one as late as at the end of the Middle Ages.(23) People believed that the route to its discovery lay across the sea, following a certain latitude around the world in a westerly direction. However, in order to locate paradise, a longitude was needed, which could only be calcu­lated by means of correct time measurement. By the second half of the 18th century when the right clock­making tech­nology to facil­itate more exact sea navi­gation was finally available, a new era had begun in which the rational beliefs of the Enlight­enment and an almost complete carto­graphical survey of the world had under­mined the certainty that Paradise actually existed. Although, unlike paradise, the Land of Milk and Honey had been accu­rately recorded since the Middle Ages at the latest in several imag­i­native maps and descrip­tions, its ficti­tious char­acter was never in doubt: the Land of Milk and Honey was always a joyfully depicted place in the nowhereland of the imag­i­nation, whereas paradise still remained undiscovered.

Thorsten Goldberg has based his artistic reflec­tions on the centuries-long history of the defi­n­ition and discovery of paradise, as well as its caricature-like elevation to the Land of Milk and Honey by commenting on how we deal with the concept of longing. He displays his inter­pre­tation of the map he acquired in a large light box which is also shown in the outside area. In the process he has given it a legend which refers to the coor­di­nates of the map and which comprises all of the nearly 2000 places, rivers, moun­tains, etc. Using this legend, just like in a contem­porary atlas you can find the most extra­or­dinary places: Faulbett, Sauvol, Prosit, ZumVol­lenfaß, Geilbach, Schlam­p­en­Morast, Sündenmeid, LiebeBerg, Ursprungde­sEwigen­Lebens etc. (which roughly translate as: Lazybed, Sowful, Cheers, The Full­barrel, Horny­brook, Slutmud, SinCity, Love­Mound, OriginsofEternalLife).

They are the coor­di­nates of a topsy-turvy world which are reflected in these place names and which Goldberg transfers from a world of abstract wishful thinking to a recog­nisable reality: payment for doing nothing and sleeping, as well as being lazy; all these things help question the prin­ciples of work and consci­en­tiousness. Gluttony versus an irregular food situ­ation; the desire for eternal youth and eternal life; sexual freedom as a demon­stration of innocent inter­course between men and women. Reflected in the invented historical names are the compen­sa­tions for then contem­porary fears and social ills. Goldberg has bestowed on them a cate­gorising local­i­sation which in turn makes them into potential travel desti­na­tions. They can be compared to the all-inclusive wellness desti­na­tions of today’s tourism industry, bookable and acces­sible with sat nav. To medieval eyes the desti­na­tions would have been the very embod­iment of the Land of Milk and Honey. Their lack of infor­mation is contained less in the missing longitude than in the cliché-like local­i­sation of desires powered by longing.

Goldberg first had this map installed in 2003 as a large-scale light box on Berlin’s Pariser Platz on Unter den Linden, in close prox­imity to the French embassy, as well as KPM, Bugatti and the luxury Hotel Adlon. In Heidenheim in 2004 he installed a stop whose elec­tronic display read Nächste Fahrt—Milch & Honig (Next trip—Milk & Honey), thus announcing desti­na­tions taken from the Baroque map of the Land of Milk and Honey. Again in 2006 the artist created a neon art instal­lation based on those catchy place names, this time in Wies­baden, called Flüsse aus Wein + Bier (Rivers of Wine + Beer) and an updated version in the Gerisch Foun­dation in Neumünster in 2012, whos title in English reads: “Rivers of wine and beer + and streets made of ginger + nutmeg. There are no cripples or blind people, no-one is crosseyed or dumb. No-one suffers from scabies or has spots, there are no freaks + everyone has a perfect body + And the vigour of men to enjoy their women will never falter +”.(24) Goldberg’s instal­la­tions put these fantas­tical 15th century promises of the Land of Milk and Honey in strange compe­tition with the commercial neon adver­tising signs of the 20th and 21st centuries. At the same time the ideals of an inten­tionally topsy-turvy, fabri­cating and ulti­mately placeless world of the Land of Milk and Honey, initially devoid of any concrete meaning, receive the coor­di­nates they need for real­i­sation as a sign on a building site in a station fore­court or as an advertising-laden promise of an idyll in a sculpture park. These longings seem to have remained unchanged in the last 500 years, but Goldberg addresses them by dealing with them through avail­ability and merchantability.

The same almost absurd empha­sising of the paradox—associating rather abstract, imag­inary and desire-led percep­tions with concrete places which are actually in context with the objects shown, but do not have an inevitability wrested away from the location—is also char­ac­ter­istic of Goldberg’s cloud sculp­tures. These are a series of stylised repro­duc­tions of clouds which, instead of the geographical coor­di­nates, are given the date they were created. Cumulus 08.07 is a neon object which floats on the tip of a crossbeam above the little river Lippe in Lipp­stadt, Germany. And another stylised plastic cumulus cloud each floats above the garden courtyard of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agri­culture and Consumer Protection in Berlin and, as Cumulus 11.08, above the private resi­dence of the Herbert and Brigitte Gerisch in their Gerisch sculpture park in Neumünster respec­tively. They are supported by high, over­hanging metal angles made from polished stainless steel. A cloud of all things—the epitome of imma­te­ri­ality, volatility and constant change—is what the artist has had cast in shiny plastic in comic-like outline. The cloud is hoisted with a lot of static equipment high into the air in order to let it hover on a glit­tering moveable steel girder, the cloud bracket. There is hardly an object that would be less suitable for a sculpture than a cloud. And now Goldberg turns just this volatile conden­sation of floating water droplets, this thing onto which human beings project their romantic longings, into a monument. Its artistic tension is based on exactly this contra­diction between the laconic sobriety of the mate­ri­al­i­sation of a cloud which, because of its solid shape, appears unin­ten­tionally comical, like some­thing used in Pop Art, and its unfath­omable volatility. In the end it is a contra­diction between a concrete, site-independent, longing-laden and non-formulaic striving towards a para­disiacal distance on the one hand and its meaning as a carrier of romantic tran­scen­dence on the other. In this context the prin­ciple of site speci­ficity, undis­puted for decades in terms of art in public space, is trans­ferred to a utopian dimension which tran­scends the location. The artist reduces the instal­lation site to nothing more than a location from which our thoughts can travel into the distance, fleeing the actual place. The fact that the Neumünster cloud is not only visible in the museum park, but also for passers-by from outside the surrounding walls, empha­sises once again Thorsten Goldberg’s trans­boundary approach to his work, which cannot be reduced to the dichotomy of place and non-place, private and public, art and politics, within and beyond borders.

Every park”, according to the French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, writing a commentary to her work „Park—A Plan for Escape” at docu­menta 11 which she also installed in a park, “Every park, whether it is the rose garden in Chandigarh, the Paris Park in Rio de Janeiro, the Parc de la Villette in Paris, the Chinese Garden in Zurich or the Japanese garden in São Paulo, plays with this possi­bility of fleeing—fleeing the city via an organic envi­ronment, but also through other cultural references.”(25) In order to achieve this, Gonzalez-Foerster installed hetero­ge­neous set pieces from all over the world as imag­inary places of refuge in the Auewiesen park in the German town of Kassel. These are objects which are imbued with memories of the distance they have trav­elled: “the voyage of the objects from Veracruz, Rio de Janeiro and Mumbai, a slow crossing of the sea through several climate zones…”(26) And when in her statement the artist finally inter­prets the park as a space which opens up “in frag­ments” and as an ambivalent “play­ground”, as a “tran­sition from one space to the next”, as a “beginning of a change in the way we view situations”(27), then all this sounds like an actual imple­men­tation of Bhabha’s concept of a discon­tinuous and broken “third space”. In the same way as Thorsten Goldberg and Gonzalez-Foerster juxtapose the specific char­acter of the real place with the hybridity and brit­tleness of a global jigsaw and the outdoor reality of the park with an imag­inary and projective figu­ra­tiveness. If art is under­stood in this way, it repre­sents the point of departure and a space of discovery in our perception of paradise in which public space is better reflected than in any empha­sising marking of street space. As a conse­quence however, public space is newly defined as a permanent projection, constantly moving, place-less, unreal and utopian.

Is silence visible?” is the question Thorsten Goldberg asks on his website, referring to a special project, Die Potsdamer,(28) which could have been realised in 2005 if the Berlin senate had not decided against the jury it appointed “not to give any funds to the real­i­sation of the art project”.(29) Although Goldberg had won the compe­tition and was thus commis­sioned to carry it out, this was vetoed on the grounds that it would be difficult to explain to the public why such a large amount of money would be spent on an art project. The high-profile compe­tition could not be realised because of political reser­va­tions. At first sight though Die Pots­damer looks harmless enough. The artist wants to block off the street for a 45-minute shoot on a Sunday morning in early summer. Pots­damer Straße, whose name reminds us of the past when it was a magnif­icent avenue, was to be cleared of all signs of modern life: no cars, no adver­tising boards, no people, devoid of its busy life and reduced purely to its substance. Through this unreal scenery moves an elegant race­horse with a female jockey—a petite and arti­ficial rider, so different from the tradition of heroic eques­trian statues. The rider is followed by a camera which, at the same time as the ride, also docu­ments the unre­al­is­ti­cally quiet, empty street. The artist planned to show this film on a constant loop on a purpose-built large-scale LED screen right above Pots­damer Straße. In this way it would seem as if the film had been subse­quently cleaned up using elec­tronic image processing. As a result it could have served as proof that this “dreamlike state”(30) had once actually been a reality.

With this work the artist once again removes the defining coor­di­nates from the place he uses as his stage. Is it not the people, the shops, the traffic and life itself that are the actual essence of Pots­damer Straße? Does Goldberg not undermine the specific char­acter of the street by clearing it in an arti­ficial and highly elab­orate way in order to achieve what he considers a ficti­tious ideal state? However, the dreamlike coun­ter­image and the char­acter of the location are mutually dependant. The ficti­tious image of paradise is able to say more about the place of its creation than its artistic dissection and this is the quin­tes­sence of Thorsten Goldberg’s approach.

With Die Pots­damer the spec­tator is again seduced into embarking on an auspi­cious journey to a para­disiacal world. Although in this case the trajectory is given by the course of the street the rider is following, it can still be compared to the line along the latitude leading to faraway islands, or to the cloud chased along by the wind or to the historical fantasies of Cock­aigne shown in the Land of Milk and Honey works. The location where the artistic work actually takes place is always condensed into merely giving an impetus for its imag­inary and romantic departure. It is over­written by general percep­tions of longing merely inspired by the location: in the case of Pots­damer Straße, usually always so busy, it is the vision of tran­quillity, the stepping out of time which, for a moment, seems to be frozen. It never­theless seems precisely that negation of a place which makes Goldberg’s artistic work so powerful. Why else would the Berlin senate be worried about the fact that the public might not under­stand why money is spent on such an art project? Are they concerned that the oft-mentioned specifics of such places—Berlin’s special atmos­phere maybe—are no longer important for their perception in the first place because of globally inter­changeable super­im­po­sition. Are they worried that the potential of public space has moved to a different commu­ni­cation space and urban reality has turned into a canvas for universal marketing and urban planning strategies? Or is it simply Thorsten Goldberg’s prin­ciple of removing some­thing instead of adding it, which usually defines the artistic process, that might have led to the Berlin politi­cians rejecting his winning project? But can we still apply the old concept of site speci­ficity, of a sculp­turally phrased juxta­po­sition of art and pugna­cious public space, to a space constantly in flux which needs to be defined contin­gently? Thorsten Goldberg gives today’s public spaces a new defi­n­ition as non-places in constantly rede­fined motion, making them visible essen­tially by elim­i­nating those coor­di­nates which seem mearly to denote rather than define their identity—with coor­di­nates of the utopian.
 

(1) Cf. Dava Sobel und William J. H. Andrewes: The Illus­trated Longitude, New York 1995.

(2) Cf. Hermann Pleij: Der Traum vom Schlaraf­fenland. Mitte­lal­ter­liche Phan­tasien vom vollkommenen Leben, Frankfurt am Main 2000 (1997), p. 309 f.

(3) Cf. ibid., p. 310 f.

(4) Cf. Hermann Pleij: Der Traum vom Schlaraf­fenland. Mitte­lal­ter­liche Phan­tasien vom vollkommenen Leben, Frankfurt am Main 2000 (1997), p. 289.

(5) Ibid, p. 24.

(6) Cf. Daniel Kehlmann: Finger­reisen, in: du 762—Weltkarten. Eine Vermessenheit, Zeitschrift für Kultur, no. 11/12 December 2005 / January 2006, p. 20.

(7) François-René de Chateaubriand: Reise von Paris nach Jerusalem, Leipzig 1811, quoted from German trans­lation of: Marc Augé: Non-places, Paris 1992, German title: Nicht-Orte, München 2010, p. 92.

(8) Marc Augé: Nicht-Orte, German edition of Non-places, Munich 2010, p. 92.

(9) Ibid, p. 93.

(10) Ibid, p. 96 f.

(11) Ibid, p. 83 f.

(12) Nach­hausegehen, Zuhaus­esein, Zuhause­bleiben, 1991, quoted from: Martin Henatsch: Thomas Bauer, in: exhi­bition cata­logue. Kunst im Welt­maßstab, Schleswig-Holsteinischer Kunstverein, Kunsthalle zu Kiel, 1993.

(13) Thorsten Goldberg’s design won second prize and was therefore not realised.

(14) Cf. Miwon Kwon: One place after another: site specific art and loca­tional identity, Cambridge/MA, London 2002.

(15) Richard Serra, quoted from: exhi­bition cata­logue. Richard Serra. Running Arcs. For John Cage, Düsseldorf 1992, p. 63.

(16) Marc Augé: Nicht-Orte, German edition of Non-places, Munich 2010, p. 110.

(17) Ibid, p. 83 f.

(18) Cf. Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, London, 1994, sited here from the German trans­lation: Die Verortung der Kultur, Tübingen 2000.

(19) Ibid, p. 7.

(20) Cf. Hermann Pleij: Der Traum vom Schlaraf­fenland. Mitte­lal­ter­liche Phan­tasien vom vollkommenen Leben, Frankfurt am Main 2000 (1997), p. 315 ff.

(21) Ibid, p. 222.

(22) Ibid, p. 312.

(23) Ibid, p. 221.

(24) Neon tube text “Milch + Honig +”, from: “Sterf­boeck” (Death Book), 1491—a prac­tical guide and philosophy with the aim of showing how to behave to reach the right place in the afterlife.

(25) Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster in conver­sation with Lars Köllner, in: skulptur projekte münster 07, Cologne 2007, p. 57.

(26) Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: Park. Ein Fluchtplan, in exhi­bition cata­logue. Docu­menta 11_Plattform 5: Ausstellung, Ostfildern-Ruit 2002, p. 564.

(27) Cf. ibid, p. 564.

(28) http://www.potsdamerstrasse.com/files/film.html, 31. 03. 2011.

(29) Petra Henninger: artnet® magazine, http://www.artnet.de, 8 September 2005.

(30) Thorsten Goldberg: http://www.potsdamerstrasse.com/files/film.html, 18. 3. 2012.