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, 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.