Positioning in Paradise:
Coordinates of the Utopian
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, Thorsten 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.