Those who know me and the MINDKISS Project will know my answer: I’m not interested in the best venues for art. What I’m interested in is the resonance that people have in their encounters with OUBEY’s art. That’s precisely why Manila is interesting for me. And experience proves me right.
In The Mind Museum Manila even the security guards can’t resist the attraction of the pictures and installations on display, and use their breaks to immerse themselves over and over again in the worlds of images and experiences presented in the show which they actually only have to oversee and protect. What a wonderful resonance to the “Art of Resonance Show”! And that’s just one of many other resonances that will be collected and evaluated by the museum team in the coming months. When the exhibition closes we shall publish them.
The decision for this collaboration was easy for me to make after I met the director of the Mind Museum in person for the first time in October last year. She was immediately enthusiastic about the approach and spirit of the MINDKISS project. And I was immediately convinced of the seriousness of her engagement to present the newly conceived “Art of Resonance Show“ of the MINDKISS project in the rooms of The Mind Museum which are freely available for temporary exhibitions. And the young people of the museum´s fantastic team are extraordinarily dedicated, seriously engaged, thoughtful, careful and excellent in any kind of trouble shooting.
The Mind Museum is the only science museum on the Philippines, and owes its existence to the Bonifacio foundation, which seeks to encourage people to engage with art and, especially children, to engage with science and technology. It’s an adventure park of a kind that I’ve only experienced in San Francisco, the Cité de la Science in Paris, and the Deutsches Museum in Munich.
So why on earth should I have said “no” when I am invited to present the newly conceived project exhibition that bridges not just science, technology and art but also the analogue and digital experience of art. In a place dedicated to the discovery and exploration of knowledge that humanity has now gained about the universe, planet Earth, its oceans and inhabitants and our own species.
A place that is as indifferent to the esteem of the so-called experts of the established art world, including its doormen and addressees, as I am but which deals with the same questions and topics in which OUBEY’s art finds its source and roots. I hope that this place does not exist only once in this world in Manila but that in the coming years I shall be lucky enough to bring the “Art of Resonance Show” to similar such free and exciting places in other countries and on different continents – being aware that this will definitely not be easy at all.
When it comes to the wonderful, affable collaboration in the preparation and realisation of this exhibition at the Mind Museum in Manila, such good fortune has a name: that of Maria Isabel Garcia, the director. When, as we were touring the show a few hours before its official opening, I told her how extremely glad I was that this collaboration had come about, she replied, “I am more than glad. If our foundation has a heart´s desire, this is the foundation´s heart´s desire.“
Because this has been the case for both of us since we first met in a hotel early one morning at 7am, this heartfelt wish turned into a joint journey with the aim of creating a novel, unique space of experience in which the MINDKISS of OUBEYs art can be felt.
Incidentally, this exhibition is by way of a triple premiere:
As I celebrate this new exhibition here today in some way, of course I am not forgetting the previous eight stops of the Global Encounter Tour on four continents. Each of them was unique in terms of the particular resonance it gave to OUBEYs art. From the scientists in a symposium at the Goethe Institute in San Francisco and the attendees at an international management conference in Vienna to the students of the CEU in Budapest, now shut down by Orban government, and the children, teachers, and parents of a Maori school in Wellington/New Zealand and the artists from Uganda and Kenya at NIAAD in Kampala.
Meanwhile the ideas slowly formed for a completely new, stimulating and interdisciplinary exhibition concept, and were shaped and realised step by step from 2019 to 2022. They are now all presented to the public for the first time at the Mind Museum in Manila. Without all the earlier encounters and stop-overs, the present exhibition would not have been possible. This is why I would like now to give my heartfelt thanks to all the people who helped to make it possible that the previous stop-overs and the twenty five Encounters with scientists and individuals of various professions could be realised. The pool of inspiration from which the project can draw has steadily grown larger and will continue to grow. Because the journey of the “Expanding Universe of OUBEY MINDKISS” will continue.
How was it possible that flowering plants, whose first appearance in evolutionary history can now be dated back to 140 – 250 million years on the basis of fossil finds, could arise at all and develop at high evolutionary speed, since their first appearance, into a diversity of more than 100,000 species?
At first everything was green
Until then for three and a half billion years there had only been algae living under water but no plants taking root in the earth. The algae evolved into mosses and then, about 400 million years later, into ferns, the very first stem plants in the history of this planet.
The fern has survived all the ages of the history of the Earth and will also probably survive everything that awaits this planet in the coming decades and centuries – in filigree beauty and organic robustness. An undeniable example of the resilience of plants.
Many years ago when I once had the opportunity to go down into the depths of a coalmine with an experienced companion, when I was crawling through a narrow seam, out of the corner of my eye, in the light of my lamp I saw the imprint of a fern in a lump of coal. Never before and never since in my life have I felt myself so close to the traces of evolutionary history as I did at that moment. I was overcome with emotion and paused. Then I took hold of this lump of coal that who knows how many millions of years ago had absorbed this fern leaf, and continued to crawl on, supporting myself with just the one hand. In the other hand I grasped the fossilised fern and to this day I cherish it with a mixture of affection and respect.
Then colour appeared
Like other predecessors of today‘s flowering plants, ferns were and are so-called bisexual gymnosperms. Its bisexual DNA, however, conceals the predisposition to produce an angiosperm, i.e. a flower. Flowering plants have thus evolved from the genetic heritage of gymnosperms. However, with their flowers, which are true “architectural” masterpieces of nature in terms of their inner structures, they have a reproductive organ that cannot fertilise itself but is reliant on cooperation with other forms of life – bees, butterflies and other insects.
For the purpose of reproduction flowering plants developed characteristics that exerted a strong attraction on all kinds of animal pollinators such as bright colours and effusive scents. And due to cross-pollination species mixing or cross pollination spread as various insects took the seeds from one flower to other different kinds and deposited them. Today flowering plants account for 90% of all plant diversity.
Darwin would be thrilled
A mere 150 years after Darwin, in the 21st century palaeobotantists using state-of-the-art high tech have solved the problem that was still incomprehensible to Darwin in his time. He would certainly have been thrilled.
He would probably be much less enthusiastic if he knew about the way humans have handled this diversity in the last decades of the 20th century up to the present day. The natural proliferation of flowering plants that once existed in meadows and along roadsides has increasingly been pushed back by agribusiness oriented to the cultivation of crops, as well as by the sealing of the earth’s surface through the expansion of asphalted surfaces and the creation of gardens in which the colourful meadow flowers are eliminated as weeds and replaced by manicured lawns or trimmed conifers set in black gravel.
Every human intervention in the cybernetic system of nature has consequences. If the flowers disappear, the consequence is that their pollinators also disappear. We have known this for a long time. And have started to breed bees, to breed forests and to industrialize farming. But cybernetic systems do not function in linear monocausal chains of action. They are complex. Let’s see how long it takes before our species has really understood this. At least the natural scientists have grasped the point.
After he admits to the action, the relevant feuilletons report about it, ask about its meaning, and the significance of the image motifs. Some are surprised that he is quite obviously siding with the Ukraine with this action.
I’m surprised that one can be so taken aback about this.
Banksy, as an intelligent spoilsport of the commercial art and culture business, struck me as likeable from the start. And his ability to show up at the right place at the right time with an effective action, and at the same time to deal visually with complex issues and topics in a way that everyone can understand, impresses me time and time again.
Far from the established art scene, he has managed to reach people with his street art right where they live and roam about. The enormous speed with which this street art then spreads virally on social networks shows its tremendous impact, and so my like for him is combined with equally as much respect.
The films and photos of the atrocities committed by the Russian army in Bucha and Irpin went around the world in April. It is precisely there, in Irpin, and also in the towns of Borodyanka and Horenka, that Banksy has now left his mark on the destroyed walls of a kindergarten and on the walls of bombed-out apartment buildings. Anyone who sees these artistic imprints inevitably also sees the traces of the terrible devastation in these and countless other cities and towns in the Ukraine. Banksy makes war a point of discussion simply by bringing these images to the places where they are inextricably linked to people’s everyday lives, within the footprints of the brutal war that Russia has been waging against Ukraine for nine months now.
I wonder what the people of Irpin, Borodyanka and Horenka have to say about these imprints Banksy has left on the walls of their destroyed houses.
The response to art, an artistic action or even non-artistic action, is at least as interesting as the artwork or action itself, and ultimately what makes it come alive and keeps it alive. I have been following this trail of thought for many years, and this also connects me to Banksy.
The first responses on the internet showed not only Banksy’s pictures, but time and time again people who had themselves photographed in front of the pictures or took selfies. Later, Banksy himself posted a video with footage of his campaign on the web. American and German television reports also featured comments from people on site, some of whom had even traveled from other cities to see the murals with their own eyes. They all speak of appreciation and gratitude that someone like Banksy has the courage to come to them, to the Ukrainian war zone, just to express his solidarity and sympathy. Some express the hope that the campaign will generate a new kind of attention for Ukraine’s existential defense struggle, others are simply amazed by what they see.
The motifs of the murals are as disconcerting as they are touching. The places where they can be found are chosen with care. Some, each in a very unique way, bring the vision of a carefree life to the destroyed environment. Others capture a moment of existential horror in everyday life, and others seem to explicitly want to give hope.
There is a ballerina dancing with ease on pointe, swinging a band of cloth over her head, as if she were on a stage. A woman in a robe with curlers in her hair, a gas mask in front of her face and a fire extinguisher in her hand, standing on a chair left isolated, on the wall of a house. In the remains of a tiled bathroom which turned into an outer wall, a man lies in his bathtub, two children teeter on a tank barrier. An oversized phallus rises from an armored vehicle, on the impact hole of a house an acrobat performs a handstand. On the remains of a wall from a destroyed kindergarten, a small boy in a white combat suit taking down a big, strong man.
Particularly, the image of the little boy taking down a big, strong man is the subject of speculation both on the ground and in the media: The boy could symbolize Ukraine defeating Putin. This is also how a Ukrainian woman sees it in one of the videos. My spontaneous association was very close to this idea; it brought back memories of the story of David’s fight against Goliath.
A biblical story
Who does not know this biblical story from the Old Testament? A shepherd boy named David defeats a giant named Goliath. The Old Testament is full of stories that sound fantastic – from the seven plagues God uses to punish the Egyptians, to the Red Sea miraculously parting for the Israelites fleeing Egypt, in order to bury their persecutors underneath themselves afterwards. But none of these stories struck me as realistic as that of David and Goliath when I first heard them in my childhood.
This was not because of how Samuel explains the victory little David won over the powerful Goliath. He writes that this had to happen because David was chosen by God to become the next king of the Israelites. Through his heroic deed against the enemy Philistine, the word of God came to pass and David became Israel’s legendary King David. One of the most exclusive traditional hotels in Jerusalem still bears his name today.
Why David triumphs
What excited me about this story? It was the idea that David, by his own strength and through great courage, the intelligent use of his abilities and the realization of the greatest weakness of his opponent – who was huge, heavily armored and armed, but thereby also having difficulties moving – managed to defeat this monstrous fighting machine called Goliath.
David, as the youngest son of the family, was at that time tending to his family’s flock, defending it daily against the predatory attacks of wild beasts, which he put to flight or killed by the skillful use of his slingshot.
The stone, which he hurled skillfully and with such great force against the forehead of his seemingly overpowering opponent, hit him so deeply and forcefully that he fell head first and lay unconscious, his colossal body powerless in the sand. The fact that David then also cut off his head and thus dispersing the entire host of Philistines – who had been mocking David until then – confident of victory, was no longer in my memory when I looked at Banksy’s spray-painting. I only found that out when I went a little deeper into this biblical story. The stories of the Old Testament are not only remarkable, but occasionally of blunt cruelty.
Symbol and role model
For thousands of years, the story of David and Goliath has stood as a symbol and example for sheer size not having to be synonymous with invincible strength or power. That a single person – if he does not allow himself to be intimidated by the apparent greatness of the opponent, and instead remembers his own strengths and courageously confronts the superior power – can turn the tide of history. In this respect, it is more than a story about a divinely chosen one. It is a story of encouragement that has lost none of its exemplary power, even well into the 21st century.
The comparison to the courageous defensive struggle of the Ukraine against the seemingly invincible superiority of the Russian army is obvious, and it is also strongly suggested by Banksy through the context in which he places the image.
No biblical story
But this is not a biblical story. The Ukraine is not a single person, but a country, a nation. It may be small compared to vast Russia – that is attacking it with the sole aim of wiping out its existence – but the Ukraine is not fighting alone, it has strong partners by its side who support the country in many ways. Nevertheless this fight is strenuous; it will take a long time and will claim many victims.
For me, however, the Ukraine has one thing in common with little David from the Old Testament: As a community, it has the courage and the valiant determination to defend its country, its freedom, and to win this battle. It will not be intimidated and it will not give up.
Banksy’s images do nothing to change the existential threat in which the people of these cities he visited, and of Ukraine as a whole, have been living in for nine months now – and against which they have defended themselves with great courage, equally great humanity and admirable indomitability.
But now they are here, these pictures. They have appeared unexpectedly, as if out of nowhere, and, for a few days at least, they have once again drawn the attention of the world to what the people in Ukraine experience and suffer through day after day – to the extent of the world already having become accustomed to this struggle.
For the people of Ukraine, especially in Irpin, Borodyanka and Horenka, these images will probably remain a lasting reminder, even after the war, that someone like Banksy was once among those who stood by their side – standing with the Ukraine.
I’ll take his bet.
When it came to astrophysics, for a long time everything revolved around the earth – until Copernicus and Galileo radically ended this geocentric self-absorption. Since then, it has become clear that not everything revolves around the earth, but rather that the earth – like countless other planets and moons – moves in orbits around our central star, the sun.
In the meantime, our human consciousness has processed all of this to some extent, and at the same time opened up new possibilities for discovery and exploration. What lies ahead for the moon, Mars and Venus, can already be guessed. And with their evermore exact calculations and thanks to the use of continually high-quality space probes and telescopes, astrophysics and astronomy have calculated – on the basis of mathematics – an unabated exact picture of what is outside our solar system. Even also including what is outside our home galaxy, the Milky Way, along with dark matter and black holes. The images and findings now reach far back to the birth of our universe, some 13.7 billion years ago.
Today we assume that there are other habitable planets on which extraterrestrial life is possible, that there could even be extraterrestrial intelligence in space – one or possibly even several other species, in addition to the artificial intelligence that we are currently creating on this planet and whose development deeply worries many people. After all, we have been the only ones of our kind on this planet for tens of thousands of years; how long that will be the case seems only a matter of time. Human evolution has taken this path, and now we have to see how we get along with our intelligence, which has created another artificial intelligence . Exciting times.
However, there is one thing we have been able to rely on so far: The uniqueness of our universe. Even though we know that this universe is expanding continuously and at an ever-increasing rate, moving into a growing entropy, it is still something like the fixed reference point for everything connected with our existence on earth.
But the possibility that our universe is only one among many is becoming more and more of a focal point of the sciences involved in the exploration of this very universe. In particular, the study of dark matter, string theory and quantum mechanics, are leading the way. Some consider this idea nonsense; because they do not (yet) see a scientific explanation.
But the already mentioned expansion of our universe after the so-called big bang, also called “inflation”, does not end specifically at the same time. Where the expansion does not end, further big bangs could take place, from which new universes arise. This would be a so-called “eternal inflation”, and a multiverse would be its logical conclusion – an expanding ocean of multiplying universes. Each of these universes could evolve and be different from ours, but any one of them could possibly be the same as ours – as it is said that duplicates are inevitable in the cosmos.
The idea of a multiverse is comparable to the Copernican revolution; it means the end of our previous conception of the cosmos. At the same time, it opens up a view into worlds of which we could, at best, only dream of. Taking into account all of this – even though the new findings of quantum mechanics have not even been mentioned yet – something is heading our way.
Each artist develops their own manner of work which can change or grow over the course of a lifetime. Picasso made countless sketches before he put his astounding work “Les Demoiselles d´Avignon” on huge canvas in 1907. Decades later he was filmed as he painted spontaneously from the wrist with brush and white paint on a glass surface. From head via hand onto glass.
Jackson Pollock let the colours drip from the brush onto the canvas, where the dynamic movement of his hand and body over the canvas lying on the floor turned them into lines, structures and finally into a picture. A spontaneous, intuitive, energetic act of discharge?
Such “liberation of a picture from the handwriting of an artist”, as OUBEY called it, was something he too ascribed to in the first years of his work. In some pictures of this phase you can still see occasional thin lines of dripped paint. In others, only the materials applied to the coated hardboard in a secret formula interact with one another and form themselves dynamically into turbulences which, supported by a little thermodynamics from outside, turn into a picture. He remained true to this principle for several years, through to the final consequence of renouncing any authentication through signature.
From eyes to wall
At that time he would have preferred to have completely freed himself from the process of materialising his pictures through his own efforts. For, as he once said, he had already finished painting them in his head. They stood before his inner eye in in their full complexity and multidimensionality as completed works.
He often felt that having to actually paint them so that others could see them was an imposition of the physical dimension of reality on boundless spiritual reality because he was certain that the materialised result would never equal the quality of the vision. He once expressed this radical desire to overcome the separation of spirit and matter in this sense in words that are equally radical:” I want to blast them out of my eyes onto the wall, my pictures.”
What a fantastic idea! Drastic, powerful, irrepressible – transcending the limits of the possible. Back then, in the early 1980s OUBEY was moving with this longing in the realm of the unobtainable, of utopia. Yet in ten or twenty years’ time with the rapid progress made in both technological and neurological research it may well be possible that the images that arise in a person’s mind can be made directly and immediately visible.
When wishes come true
Perhaps OUBEY‘s dream, born of the distress of a perceived limitation in his early work, will one day become reality for other artists, scientists, and thinkers in the sense of a freeing of the spirit from the fetters of matter? Whether then the materialised expression of thought in what they make visible will always be more satisfying than the supposedly imperfect ones brought from the mind over the hand onto paper or canvas is an open question. Who can say for certain, after all, just what is hidden behind an idea or conception when it can express itself completely free of the filter system of consciousness? There may well be some unpleasant surprises in store. In OUBEY’s case, however, I would have no doubts in this respect, quite the contrary. In this way even more fascinating works and thoughts would probably come to light than those he left us in his self-perceived state of limitation. I am almost tempted to put myself in a state of dream-like yearning.
Freedom in humility
Finally OUBEY freed himself from his early notion of a picture freed from the artist’s handwriting. This marked the beginning of a totally new and enormously productive period of work. It saw the production of GENESIS, the StarPixels and many other great works, all painted with recognisable brush strokes on coated hardboard and every one of them signed, often even with an engraving in the middle of the picture. Not only to recognise the limits of our physical humanity in the “quarantine that separates us from the immediate experience of the cosmos”, as OUBEY once called it, but also to acknowledge them and accept them is part of what I would call humility. Humility doesn’t limit us, rather it opens us up for new, previously unimagined possibilities. Humility is a key to freedom.
A key to freedom
That OUBEY was able to find this key to freedom at an early age was the result of his long, radical, honest and critical examination of himself and what his calling as an artist was in this world, in this universe. To arrive at such a point of concordant self-realisation is existential. Some loose themselves in their desires along the way; others cannot bear the struggle with themselves and give up. That OUBEY reached this point of development before his life was cut off so early and unexpectedly is, on the one hand, his own achievement. But I also view it as a gift because nobody knows how much time they have left to reach such a personal self-realisation or whether indeed they will ever reach it at all.
Image: OUBEY Computer Art (OCA), 1990
I always knew that OUBEY’s pictures speak a universal language. Ever since travelling the world for five years and meeting people of the most diverse cultures on four continents, this universal quality of his paintings has become apparent. The documentary OUBEY- An Element of the Universal gives a good idea of this.
However, some of OUBEY’s pictures have always been sound-pictures for me. Images that do not merely speak a universal visual language, but also ring out in what is probably the most universal of all the languages in this universe – music. Some people think that mathematics is the language of the universe. This may well be so. But unlike mathematics, of which music is the artistic expression, not all people on the planet understand mathematics. Yet everybody on this planet understands music. Music is possibly a language that could even be understood by an extra-terrestrial intelligence.
For this reason alone I was very early on excited by the idea of collecting musical resonances at some point in addition to the linguistically expressed resonances to OUBEY’s pictures captured on the film of the Encounter Videos. Musical resonances could possibly open up a completely different, non-verbal level of access to his pictures in a universal language that perhaps could come even closer than human language to the very distinctive universal language of the pictures themselves. The cosmos as the benchmark and reference value of OUBEY’s art could find an unprecedented form of expression in a musical resonance.
Even though we are now living in the 21st century, however, there are still tangible boundaries between the disciplines. While it is fortunately true that the number of interdisciplinary art and research projects has largely increased over the past twenty years, such border crossings have only been perceived sporadically in the everyday world. But since the MINDKISS Project is primarily aimed at people who are not at home in the worlds of established art or science, I find this idea of musical resonance with OUBEY’s pictures particularly interesting and important.
But where and how to find musicians with not just the desire but also the capability to create a resonance to a painting in their own way, musicians who can qualitatively live up to what has been set as a verbal level in the earlier Encounters? Musicians who are willing to engage in such an experiment? For me it was once again the start of something new without any certainty about the final outcome: grandiose failure or grandiose success. It was just an idea, not a plan.
It is one of the many almost incredible but true stories of this project, how, at the end of my three year project break in 2019, chance brought me together with the composer, musician and singer Natalia Kiés in New York. At that time she spontaneously and exclusively gave me a sample of what she was doing and I was instantly wowed by her musicality and by the poetry of her lyrics. I talked to her about my idea of musical resonances and asked her if she could imagine writing a resonance to OUBEY‘s greatest work GENESIS. She didn’t know the painting back then. After she got to know it, yes, she could imagine doing so.
Now, three years later, there is her marvellous song Mówić przez sen, with which she expresses her own personal resonance to OUBEY‘s greatest work GENESIS. With her wonderful voice she gives the aura of an enchanting dream to an already fascinating performance. She meets the overwhelming size and existential depth of the painting with an apparent lightness of touch which is the very opposite of superficial as it clothes the profound questions of our existence in the wonderful experience of a dream.
I can only describe it as a stroke of luck that in collaboration with our long-term project partner Christoph Harrer a video has been created in which some figures from OUBEY‘s GENESIS develop a moving life of their own dancing to Natalia’s music. What he has set in scene here is just as magical as the dream Natalia‘s song tells of.
For the past few days now, I have been in deep conversation with another musician whom I first contacted well over a year ago. He has now developed some ideas and I can say that I find them all very interesting and exciting. So it might well be that we’ll have a second musical encounter. And if luck or chance continues to bring us together with one or the other “right person”, I would be more than happy to have a few more of them. Because I’m still curious.
They are pictures that love colour. Some powerful, others delicate. For the most part they seem to come from another world where imagination holds sway and gravity plays no role. Dancing or free-floating figures like this white dressed flower-adorned woman against a heavenly light blue background are familiar to anybody who has ever been interested in painting.
But there are also quite different pictures. The other day I recalled one of these images. It’s been a very long time since first I saw it but it moved me so much at first sight that I have never forgotten it.
In my first encounter with this painting the strong effect it had on my thoughts and feelings was enough for me. Only yesterday it unexpectedly resurfaced in my memory. I began to look for it in the internet. And when I finally found it and read its title, I couldn’t and wouldn’t leave it at the mere effect it had on me as I had once done but began to research the possible background to its creation. Because I found out that Chagall had painted this picture sometime between 1940 and 1943 and had given it the title “La famille Ukrainienne”.
The Ukrainian family portrayed by Chagall in this painting in the early 1940s was fleeing war and destruction. And so I began, for the first time in my life to read a little more about the history of Ukraine, and would recommend anybody who now wonders about the resilience of this people under the invasion of Russian forces or anyone who might even be inclined to think that they should give up the fight for their independence and freedom, to do the same.
When Chagall painted this picture Stalin‘s “Great Terror” had already struck Ukraine a few years before. Several million Ukrainians were deported to the Gulag, at least 500,000 of them lost their lives. And after Hitler broke the non-aggression pact with Stalin and started the war with the Soviet Union, Ukraine became one of the main theatres of the Second World War in the 1940s. Once more, immeasurable suffering came upon the country. Historical research estimates that up to 7.7 million people, more than one fifth of the population of the country, perished at that time.
And while I am sitting at home at my desk, reading up about a painting by Chagall and the history of Ukraine on the internet, for more than the past three weeks Russian forces acting on the order of their president have been conducting a brutal war of aggression against Ukraine which has at long last been independent, free and sovereign for over 30 years. I don’t need such knowledge of history to find my own position and stance. But such knowledge does help me better understand what is becoming impressively obvious to the whole world these days: that the people of Ukraine will not willingly surrender the precious commodity of their freedom for any price in the world. No, I must correct myself. I think I understand it. But true understanding can probably only be with those who carry this history within them, who carry Ukraine within them and are now fighting for its independence.
I carry another history in me. I am well aware of it and of the responsibility it entails for the present. After plunging the world into a war of unprecedented magnitude, the Germans were given, on their unconditional surrender, what Ukrainians are fighting for today – freedom, democracy and, after reunification, even sovereignty. For this very reason I would like to see more respect shown to a president of Ukraine who – like Mannerheim once did in Finland – personally stands up to Russia’s attempt to annex the country. The fact that a German Chancellor remained mute after the speech by this strong Ukrainian President to the German Bundestag is something that almost robbed me of language.
The memory of a painting by Marc Chagall today has liberated me from such speechlessness.
That art and history would combine in my mind with the closeness of a real present-day war in Europe could not be expected and has overwhelmed me. A short while ago, I was planning to present a huge exhibition of OUBEY’s art in April in Moscow together with wonderful people and partners there. I cancelled this exhibition on the 25th February of this year. I didn’t know anything about the history of Ukraine at that time. But I had seen and heard Putin’s declaration of war on television. Anyone who had heard, seen and understood that knew everything one needed to know to make this decision. And in this attitude I agree with OUBEY to this day.
“Building Bridges” would have been the subtitle of the event. I hope that at some future point we will be able to build bridges with Russia again. When that will be is written in the stars. Right now we are building bridges to Ukraine.
Here’s a link to some well-structured , compact information on the history of Ukraine published by BBC News:
Immediately I immersed myself anew in “Die Föhnforscher” for the umpteenth time. I had bought the book together with the catalogue of the first and only exhibition of original paintings by the painter Herbert Achternbusch, which I had visited more than 25 years earlier at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin. Until then, I didn’t even know that Achternbusch was also a painter, or even that he originally came from painting.
Until then I had only known his films which fascinated me as their superficial banality was in fact just as bizarre as it was profound and shot through with a subversive anarchist strain. Unlike Luis Bunuel’s early films “The Andalusian Dog” and “L’Age d’Or”. Not surrealism but rather a cinematic shift putting what we know as reality on a level where its normality is called into question. In this sense a kindred spirit became palpable for me. It can also be found in OUBEY’s only, as yet unreleased silent film “Gestern unter Wasser/Inside Out” (Yesterday Under Water/Inside Out) from 1984.
But it was his paintings that I first came across unexpectedly in 1988 in the Künstlerhaus Bethanien that awoke more than enthusiasm for Herbert Achternbusch in me. It was something like love, and this love blossomed immediately again in me as a few weeks ago I sat in my reading chair, lost to time, and wandering through his picture worlds.
Caught in my emotion, I made a few notes that evening. Maybe I would dare to write an article on one of the few living artists who really mean something to me because they have given me so much with their work which as unconventional as it’s high-class and from which I still benefit today?
Yesterday evening I doubts that my article on the wonderful, indomitable, and yet somehow still loving and loveable anarchist Herbert Achternbusch was good enough to be published here. Yesterday evening, however, he went before us, the living, on the way that we all must take eventually.
Today the papers are full of obituaries. Obituaries are not my thing. But after this unexpected, marvellous, intense and very personal re-encounter with him, I’ve completely rewritten the article for him, for myself, and also for OUBEY and shall publish it just as it is. With a deep bow, great thanks, and a lot of love in my heart.
In case you’re wondering about the title of this post, it’s Achternbusch’s opening quote in his book “Die Föhnforscher”.
So what, you may think. Who cares? So far, hardly anyone minded, because hardly anyone knows about it. What happens to privatized art, and the question of whether what happens to it is in the spirit of art, is not one of the topics that make the headlines.
Value enhancement through public presentation
What is familiar to all of us is the purchase of very valuable works of art by very wealthy private individuals, with which they then either decorated their homes or loaned the art to a renowned museum.
In the latter case, it usually boils down to the fact that this loan serves the purpose of increasing the value of the artwork through its presentation in prominent houses and the public perception associated.
As soon as the value of these works increased sufficiently due to their museum display, the generous loan has fulfilled its value-enhancing purpose. Then the owner takes the painting back into his possession and sells it at auction for a considerable profit. The new owner can, if he wants to and finds a willing museum, continue this game.
In addition to the owner’s financial gain, this practice also brings the museum a financial gain and the public an intellectual gain, at least for a limited time. After all, these works of art do not disappear from the public eye immediately after being acquired by a private buyer, but have been shown in their original form, accessible to the public for once.
But in the end, there is only one winner – the private owner of the artworks.
I remember an extensive conversation with the director of a renowned museum, who strongly criticized this instrumentalization of museums for the mere purpose of increasing the value of art for its private owner. That was fifteen years ago.
Value enhancement through the exact opposite
If one considers the developments in this regard, brought on by Freeports constructed in the direct vicinity of airports in the recent years, the aforementioned museum director might have been happy about the circumstances he previously bemoaned. Now the museums no longer play any role at all in this game of increasing the value of art.
After being purchased by a private buyer, art often no longer ends up int the interim storage of a museum but is moved “off-shore” into a bunker, where it is declared as “temporarily stored” for an indefinite period of time and at low cost.
Here, art, alongside high-quality jewelry and pure gold, functions solely as a crisis-proof investment with the prospect of profit in a time of uncertain money. The operators of the Freeports also make a good deal. Customs and tax regulations, which were actually intended for a short-term interim storage of valuable goods in a transit zone, are being applied here for an indefinite period of time. And this under strictest lock and key. Not even the mayor of Geneva is granted access to the Freeport there at his request.
The capital value of art levels its true value
What the mostly long-dead artists, to whom we owe all the great works of art for which astronomical auction prices are paid today, would say about this development remains an unanswered question.
Some of them moved in the space of courtly or otherwise zeitgeist expectations. They had princely or even royal fans, or financial backers, which in no way diminishes the quality of their works. The artworks were often only put on canvas by other artists under the direction of the masters themselves. Others ignored the spirit of their time and, in the free spirit of their creative work, countered the prevailing understanding of art of their time with something so magnificent that it found no buyers. Many of them lived more poorly than well from their art during their lifetimes.
Their works are now on an unleashed market of surplus money. Well-known art fetches six-figure digits in the millions on this market. And the works of contemporary artists are deliberately maneuvered into a hype that earns their works a value in at least the single to double-digit millions. The inner logic of the system brings increasing amounts of money into circulation year after year. More and more people have millions in assets, which they are looking to invest. These are no longer the art collectors of the 20th century, for whom – despite all sorts of other interests – a genuine interest and often even a real love of art was always the decisive driving force behind their actions.
These investors are people for whom art is nothing more than the better alternative to shares. A financial investment, an object of speculation. As such, it can be exchanged at any time for another investment that promises a greater increase in value. For me, this is tantamount to saying that these investors don’t care at all about art itself.
Hardly anyone else criticizes this moral decay in dealing with art more bitingly than Banksy. May we be spared the experience that even he may one day turn out to be a cleverly disguised player in this game.
Art is for everyone
As I understand it, this development is the exact opposite of what constitutes the meaning and purpose of art. While museums in the “old system”, despite all the criticism that can be levelled at their exclusive concept of art presentation, still created a publicly accessible space, this new development of art privatization is creating a previously unknown, exclusive space that follows different laws. Art in a vault. One could also call it “art in a bunker”.
In this space, art cannot and may not follow its actual purpose. It is deliberately and systematically prevented from meeting people, from inspiring them and at best even from making them happy. This is diametrically opposed to the approach of the OUBEY MINDKISS Project. Even though not all of OUBEY’s work has been published as part of the MINDKISS Project to date, the aim of the project is nevertheless clearly to make this work accessible to as many people worldwide as possible in the simplest way possible.
As for almost everything, a label has now been found for this project-“low-threshold access” to art. As objectively correct as this choice of term may be from the point of view of others, it implies the defamation of what the actual goal of this MINDKISS project is. For this is not about higher- or low-threshold access. This is about free access for all.
Another word about private wealth. Private wealth has multiplied in the last twenty years. Rich people can exert influence because of their private wealth. That has always been the case in principle. But the number of those who can do so has increased enormously. Few of them have generated this wealth entrepreneurially like a Bill Gates or an Elon Musk. Today, they no longer invest the majority of their wealth in the increase of wealth by buying art and bunkering it for the long term to increase its value, but by making future-oriented projects possible. For that, they have my greatest appreciation.
Because OUBEY’s connection with the cosmos and its uncountable number of stars and galaxies already opened up true worlds to him from a young age. There is an idea of these true worlds to be found in the preface to Arthur C. Clarke’s world-famous science fiction novel “2001: A Space Odyssey”, which he wrote together with Stanley Kubrick, who in turn made a film adaptation of this novel in 1969, thus creating a cinematic masterpiece of the highest order. What an excellent text and inspiring contribution to one of the five volumes of the book “OUBEY MINDKISS”, titled “StarPixels”.
The truth will be far stranger
“Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living. Since the dawn of time, roughly a hundred billion human beings have walked the planet Earth.
Now this is an interesting number, for by a curious coincidence there are approximately a hundred billion stars in our local universe, the Milky Way. So for every man who has ever lived, in this universe, there shines a star.
But every one of those stars is a sun, often far more brilliant and glorious than the small nearby star we call the Sun. And many – perhaps most – of those alien suns have planets circling them. So almost certainly there is enough land in the sky to give every member of the human species, back to the first ape-man, his own private, world-sized heaven – or hell.
How many of those potential heavens and hells are now inhabited, and by what manner of creatures, we have no way of guessing; the very nearest is a million times further away than Mars or Venus, those still remote goals of the next generation. But the barriers of distance are crumbling; one day we shall meet our equals, or our masters, among the stars.
Men have been slow to face this prospect; some still hope that it may never become reality. Increasing numbers, however, are asking: `Why have such meetings not occurred already, since we ourselves are about to venture into space?´
Why not, indeed? Here is one possible answer to that very reasonable question. But please remember: this is only a work of fiction.
The truth, as always, will be far stranger.”*
In his new large studio with a floor-to-ceiling window front and a wide view of the sky, OUBEY began to work on his star project in March 2004. In this studio, he was no longer only mentally connected to the cosmos and its stars when he worked there at night, but also spatially and optically. At any time, his gaze could wander out through the large window front to the night sky with all its stars visible from earth.
He called them “StarPixels”, and so combined his understanding of the pixel structure shown in his pictures from the pioneering work with the Amiga 500 computer at the end of the 1980s with the recurring star motif in the same format in each picture, and with the creative design process that gives each of these stars its uniqueness. All are similar, but none is like the other. With his engraved signature, OUBEY also gave each of these stars his personal seal of this uniqueness.
After he painted the first twenty-five stars, he assembled them into a cluster on the floor of his studio – a large star image composed of 25 small star images.
The stars and OUBEY seem to attract each other. One or two new stars were added every day. The creative process resembles a self-absorption that is as creative as it is meditative. In a year’s time, he would have reached his goal.
OUBEY had painted 84 stars when he died in a traffic accident on August 2, 2004. Two stars remain unfinished. They show the basic beginning structure of the formation process of each of the stars. What their unique color and structural shape would have come to look like will forever remain their secret.
*From Arthur C. Clarke: 2001 – A Space Odyssey. Based on the screenplay by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick. Foreword by A.C.C. and S.K.
And a map, revealing the location of a real island in the middle of a world of endless water, tattooed on the back of a young girl, becomes the object of desire.
But things can also turn out differently. And that is when water, not soil, becomes a scarce commodity, essential to survival. This is a shortage that we have never experienced in our latitudes. But that can change.
We turn on the tap and out it flows, this valuable commodity. And what flows is high quality, purified drinking water. But water that comes from the tap is no different to money that comes out of a cash machine. Something can only come out if it’s already there.
Money can be printed if need be. Water, on the other hand, cannot be produced artificially. It’s a natural resource that can be stored but not artificially increased.
A limited resource
Ever since I was in Uganda a few years ago with the MINDKISS Project, I look at the water taps in my apartment with different eyes. I was already economical in my use of water beforehand – or so I thought. Yet there I experienced what it means when every drop of water really counts and is used over and over again before being eventually disposed of.
There I experienced just how much effort it takes to get water for drinking and cooking. And how sparingly water is used there. Perhaps not in the luxury hotels where tourists are supposed to feel at home. But all the more in the households of the so-called simple people who had received me as their guest. It made me feel ashamed.
People in other regions of Africa and the world experience daily what it means to have to make do with a minimum of water. Here we live in a so-called temperate climate zone and have no idea of such restrictions. We have become accustomed to such luxury and take for granted what in truth is great good fortune. Yet nothing in this world can be taken for granted. And every good fortune can turn.
Water is an elixir of life. Humans can survive many days without food but only a few days without water.
The earth is a blue planet. About 70% of its surface is covered by water. Yet this water is salt water, unsuitable for consumption.
Humans need drinkable fresh water to live and survive. Yet nobody needs 120 litres of drinkable water a day in order to quench their thirst or prepare their food. Nevertheless, a German consumes on average 120 litres of drinking water of the very best quality per day. On average a maximum of 2 litres per person is drunk or rather less. This leaves 118 litres of drinking water which we use each and every day for showering, bathing, washing the dishes, doing the laundry, watering the garden, and even for flushing the toilet.
The infrastructure of our water supply dates back to the times when human awareness of the limited nature of resources was still in a prenatal state. As an expert told me recently when I asked him about this, it is still not possible to separate pipes of drinking water from those aimed at general consumption.
But that is not all. Everything we consume and use each day also involves indirect water consumption. To this day no product label indicates how much water was used in the production of a foodstuff or manufactured product.
The cultivation of citrus fruits and almonds in certain regions of the world alone accounts for half of the “green water” available worldwide. Green water is the water that naturally enters the ground through rainfall. In temperate climate zones like the one we live in here in Germany, many agricultural products can be brought to harvest with green water.
“Blue Water” is water drawn from lakes, rivers or even from the groundwater to be used in irrigation systems. An article in Perspective Daily magazine which is well worth reading gives a further perspective on this.
Just as the resources of a bank need to be covered so that money can be withdrawn, the reservoir of available drinking water must also be covered so that this precious commodity will continue to flow from the tap for everyone when we turn it on.
The size of this reservoir is shown by the groundwater level which has dropped continuously and at an alarming rate in recent years. As though this isn’t enough, the quality of the groundwater which has collected in recent decades has also deteriorated significantly. And this is solely due to the fact that we not only regard water as a seemingly unlimited resource, but also abuse the streams and rivers that supply us as garbage dumps into which we tip not only the disposable waste of everyday life but also toxic waste.
The after-effects of earlier decades of the 20th century when, for example, the river Rhine near Basel, Ludwigshafen and elsewhere showed up in new colours everyday –depending on which wastewater had just been dumped by local chemical companies – have fortunately disappeared from the Rhine waters today, but they are still present in the groundwater. The toxins that are now entering the groundwater will remain there for many decades to come and will reduce the quality of the water for our children and grandchildren.
Sunlight is bliss
When I hear people complaining about the “bad summer” these days, I can sort of understand them. At the same time I wonder why rain is so unpopular. Ask any farmer and he will tell you that the correct measure of sun and rain is needed for a harvest to be brought in.
Just as we simply let water run out of a tap, the range of fruit and vegetables in the supermarket also seems to us as though it came out of a tap – and as neatly packaged as possible in plastic that is difficult or impossible to recycle and for whose production quantities of water were also used. When a summer in which not a drop of rain falls for weeks and temperatures climb to over 30 degrees Celsius every day is described as a super summer with which everyone is happy, then quite frankly I feel queasy.
Farmers are still trying to counteract the drying out of their fields by pumping precious groundwater out of the earth only to have at least half of it evaporate into the air via a 360 degree sprinkler system. What a waste! Fortunately many farmers over the past year have introduced a different kind of artificial irrigation system which allows water to reach the roots of the plant close to the ground.
To avoid any misunderstandings: of course I too love summer and the sun. But also, even at a very early age, I also loved walking in the rain without an umbrella and I still can relax to the soothing sound of rain on the roof or the leaves of bushes and trees.
Rain brings blessings
We should not fret about rain, if it falls in moderation. Never. Because the rain fills the reservoir of groundwater from which we, nature and not least of all our descendants must one day supply ourselves with drinking water in order to live at all. If we do not learn to think beyond the horizon of our present lives into the future and a few decades ahead, our descendants will find a world in which what we once took for granted will have ceased to exist. Do we want that? I, for one, do not.
Extreme temperatures of 50 degrees on the east coast of Canada or extremely heavy rainfall that turns peaceful streams and rivers into flash floods within the shortest time, that sweep away or destroy everything that lies in their path may still seem like singular exceptions to us at the moment. But they could also be the harbingers of climate change. Well, you might say, extreme climate changes have occurred again and again in the history of evolution. That’s true. Only this is the first one that we are able to foresee at an early stage due to the development of our technology and thus we have the chance to slow it down and mitigate it but at the same time prepare ourselves for its catastrophic effects – be it by protecting the land from water or, on the other hand, by securing water for the land.
Water as a commodity?
The market economy teaches us that the demand for a commodity determines its value and that the scarcity of a commodity increases its value – provided that the commodity is sought after on the market and is in demand. When soil is in short supply, soil is valuable. This is shown in the film Waterworld. When water is scarce, water becomes valuable.
But if water becomes valuable to us only because it is scarce, then we have a problem. Water is valuable in itself. And always has been. We only have to understand this and treat it accordingly – respectfully, carefully and sparingly.
Right at the start of his architectural studies at the University of Karlsruhe OUBEY got to know somebody who impressed him deeply, more than anyone else in the university establishment – Professor Fritz Haller. “He’s like an obelisk“ OUBEY once said about him in a 1992 conversation, adding “You walk around him and look at him in wonder from all sides.” As a trained carpenter, autodidact and visionary, Haller at all didn’t fit into the caste thinking of this academic system. That alone would have been reason enough for OUBEY to find Haller interesting. Yet it was above all else two futuristic projects initiated by this professor and carried out together with his students that made OUBEY so enthusiastic: Integral Urban was one, Prototypical Space Colonies the other.
Both these issues are topical today in a way that could have been seen at the time if you didn’t hold the future to be a mere continuation of the past. Yet decades, sometimes even centuries, pass before the necessity and possibility for change reach a public interest large and strong enough to give them the driving force they need to rise above the status of fiction or utopia.
Haller’s concept for a city of the future, first published in 1968, was revolutionary for its time and remains so today, and precisely for this reason is both fascinating and alienating. Fascinating because here in metropolitan centres people retreat to a high quality minimum of space in which they have limited individual spaces of retreat and a variety of social, cultural, sporting and medical functional spaces at their disposal. Add to this a mobility concept that completely abandons the car as the preferred means of individual transport and instead designs a transport infrastructure that would certainly have delighted an Elon Musk. And nothing but primeval forest around these urban population centres. Nature freed from humans, and allowed to be nature.
So much for the fascinating, which immediately excited me when OUBEY talked to me about it, through to dawn on the first night of our life together. So what’s alienating about it? It’s the categorical, the self-repeating uniformity and standardisation of this otherwise highly intelligent concept. It leaves very little room for individuality. Everybody is equal – perhaps the one or the other has a little more personal space to retreat to in this city of the future. Yet there’s something communist about this utopia which is probably why it wasn’t terribly well received at the time and still is not. And as such it leaves out a central theme that inherently arises when people live together in cities and societies: the economy. What do people live on? What kind of work do people do in this city, and where and how do they work? Are there factories? How and where are people built into this concept? Is there high-tech industry? Is there agriculture?
In defence one could argue that it is just an architectural concept and therefore limited, without inclusion of overall social issues. That’s true. It was a concept from the ivory tower of advanced architectural thought. As such, however, it is still inspiring and valuable from my point of view.
Since Fritz Haller‘s Integral Urban was published, we have wasted many decades without taking a critical and serious look at this or that interesting future concept for people living together in harmony with nature. In terms of urban development, we have gone forward as wildly and unconceptually as ever instead of investing in really new, sustainable and ecological concepts. Nature would have thanked us. And the lives of people in urban centres would be substantially different and more pleasant than they now are.
Yet there is no improvement in sight. Day after day, we continue to concrete and cement incredibly large areas of the earth of this planet as though earth were something that didn’t need air to breath. And as though we weren’t dependent on the earth for giving us everything we need for life. We haven’t just lost respect for nature, as a species we have apparently still not understood what created us in the first place and what keeps us alive.
The question of a concept for the city of the future is a question of survival – in one way or another. After all the social utopias of the 18th and 19th centuries failed grandly in the attempt to realise them in the 20th century, social dystopias are now coming into fashion and they are no better. They are the expression of a zeitgeist that seems to have lost faith in its own ability to change and therefore conjures up its own demise. Warning, but not really helpful. Can mankind make amends and restore as the very basis of its existence what we have destroyed for one hundred and fifty years in a frenzy compounded by technical feasibility and financial greed? There can only be one answer to this question in the year 2021 for a species that calls itself Homo sapiens and that answer is “yes”. The species is being put to the test. It has to show that it is intelligent enough to ensure its own survival. Because there is no question that the planet will survive us. We are not the masters, only a part of this wonderful cosmos in which we live. The antidote to dystopian conditions is not some new utopias. What is missing is thinking in contexts, the interdisciplinary thinking and cooperation of those who would then really earn themselves the name of “elite” which they like to ascribe to themselves today.
To avoid any misunderstandings, let me say that when science fiction creates dystopias, it’s another matter. Blade Runner by Ridley Scott from 1982 based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick from 1968 shows the dystopia of the city of Los Angeles in 2019. Even if it is not always dark and raining in Los Angeles today as it was in the film Blade Runner, the description of what everyday life is in the city today for a growing number of people as “dark reality” really is the core of what the film cinematically captured at the time. People who can only secure a livelihood by working several jobs and still can’t afford an apartment. They live in tents on the pavements of busy streets. They aren’t outlaws but people who go to work every day. A great documentary on Ridley Scott´s Blade Runner, which is definitely worth seeing, aired on Arte TV a few months ago and showed that present day reality based on life in Los Angeles in 2019 has long since caught up with the fiction of a city of the future. Whether this dystopia will be repeated by the equally marvellous Blade Runner 2049 by Denis Villeneuve from 2017 is something I probably won’t be around to see.
Two feelings that come together in a moment, completely unplanned, as though they belonged together.
Now I am sitting here and wanting to write about what I’ve seen. It’s true that here and today I want to write about this one film Nomadland, which moved me very deeply. Yet after the longest period of my life being away from the cinema it also goes hand in hand with a declaration of love for film and the cinema in general.
Ever since the great pioneer of cinema Georges Méliès began the greatest adventure of his life over one hundred years ago by putting everything he had into the production of films, movies have belonged to a fascinating dimension of reality that can only be experienced when you sit back in a soft chair in a large dark room, equipped with a brilliant screen and the best acoustics, and in a few minutes are so drawn into what is happening on the screen that you forget the rest of the world. Many directors and producers have shown us time and again how movies of such quality are made. One of the best of them, Martin Scorsese, with his marvellous 3D film Hugo Cabret, has posthumously paid Georges Mèliés the tribute he has long deserved.
And Hollywood showed itself wowed by Nomadland too, with the Academy awarding it three Oscars this year – one for best film, one for the extraordinary directing of the young Chloé Zhao, and one for the incomparable Frances McDormand who is always completely herself. Just how much she always remains true to herself when she acts becomes clearer in this film than in all her previous movies. Because here she is playing together with people who are not professional actors but real nomads. And she doesn’t play them to the wall but feels and fits in as though she were one of them herself, letting them really come into their own in the interplay. She lives with them for the duration of the film, leading the life that many Americans lead who have freed themselves from the confines of settled affluence – more or less voluntarily. Frances McDormand is an exceptional actress and human being in Hollywood. Good that she’s there. And good that this film exists. It provides an antidote to the raucous posturing of these times when collective outrage occasionally and absurdly outstrips itself by telling this story that’s as quiet as it is impressive. But the best way to find out everything else about this film is to see it yourself.
Generally speaking, I would ask you and also urge you to go to the cinema now and as often as possible because this is the only way that movie theatres will have a lasting chance in the competition with streaming services. These services, like internet providers of all kinds, have been the great winners of the lockdown in the film business. I, too, watched many a film at home during the lockdown, but only those broadcast by TV stations – and not a single one in the programme of major streaming services.
Back in the late 60s and early 70s of the last century cinema had already been pronounced dead. Wim Wenders, arguably one of the best German directors, dedicated one of his first films Im Lauf der Zeit (Kings of the Road) which is absolutely worth seeing, to the demise of provincial cinema at the time. Yet cinema reinvented itself, survived and experienced a resurrection that hardly anyone would have predicted. It would be fantastic if that now could happen a second time. Because truly great films need a really great screen and the undivided attention of their viewers. There is no substitute for real cinema.
I was more able to compensate for the loss of the cinema last year through music and reading than through films in small screen format – no matter how wide the diagonal or how high the HDTV quality. Because I also love these highly personal movies that spring up in my mind when I’m reading a novel or listening to good music. Yet I also love to see what others make of the personal films they play in their own minds, and bring to the silver screen for the whole world to see. And it’s been that way since I was not even ten years old and went every Saturday to the Spira Cinema in my home town for 50 cents to join a noisy crowd of kids sitting on the floor and watch Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, “Fuzzi” and “Father Brown”. OUBEY shared this love of cinema with me like no other person before or after in my life. Perhaps that’s why the two lines that had the entire screen to themselves for a moment in the credits of Nomadland moved me so much:
Dedicated to all those who have left us. Au revoir
The story that this film tells, for one hundred and ten minutes, so quietly, so intensely and so grippingly, here opens up its existential moment of singularity – quite in the sense of Thomas Pynchon whose monumental novel Gravity´s Rainbow was the subject of our last article Beyond Zero – Between Entropy and Transcendence, Nomadland is anything but monumental. And yet the film does have something in common with Pynchon´s novel; the idea that those who are struck at some point by the lightening of life still live on in this world yet at the same time are also at home in another world. They give the impression that they’re from this world, which in purely physical terms, they are. But in their hearts, their souls, they live in another world. In Nomadland?
The first chapter of Thomas Pynchon’s monumental novel, Gravity’s Rainbow, is preceded by this quote. The title of the first chapter is Beyond the Zero, and after reading just a short section, it opens up all kinds of questions that were never even asked in math class, let alone answered.
As you continue to read the novel, you experience a wild ride through the times of chaos and order in the final stages of World War II. London, Los Angeles, but above all Nazi Germany, which was obsessed with ultimate victory through the use of the V2 annihilation rocket, for which they strived. In between, plenty of historical excursions into the darker sides of history: evolution, religion, revolution, colonialism. A complex network of relationships between organizations and people. And far and wide no figure with whom one can identify. Some go under, evaporate or lose their way, others continue to manipulate, unabashedly and unflinchingly, to the very end, their own interests always firmly in view. Above all, symbolically, there is the ballistic trajectory of the rocket – the parabola that Pynchon describes much more poetically as a rainbow in the title of the novel. As the reader, I am left amazed, confused, frightened and sometimes appalled, but always alone. Keeping it up to the end is exhausting, but worth all the effort.
I was unaware, when I started reading, that this novel, which was written in the sixties and first published in the original edition in 1973, almost fifty years ago, and has been subjectively interpreted by exegetes again and again, with great delight in their own view of this world, is now considered a masterpiece of 20th Century American literature. I had not even heard the name Thomas Pynchon until then. So I began to read without thinking about all of that, which was a good thing.
The one who caused me to dedicate a considerable part of my limited lifetime to these 1,200 or so pages, printed on gossamer-thin hymnal paper, was OUBEY. He bought the novel before the fatal accident, which meant that he would never be able to read it himself. When I first held the book in my hands, by chance, while cleaning up or rearranging a few years ago, I was as fascinated by this find as I was by the blurb on the dustjacket.
The interplay of chaos, order and entropy in the interaction of dynamic complexity, as it is scientifically studied in thermodynamics, was one of the topics that occupied OUBEY very early and particularly forcefully. Fascinated by turbulence of all kinds, in which this interplay of forces takes shape as wildly as mathematically calculable, he developed his own technique to reproduce his insights and feelings in colors and structures, which he transferred to the coated hardboard as his own artistic expression.
This is exactly what Thomas Pynchon does in Gravity’s Rainbow. He uses his own unique language technique, full of references to poets, philosophers and novelists, to lend his own literary expression to the interplay of the forces of chaos and order, and the dynamic complexity of world events.
In the end, entropy, the force of self-destruction, which is probably inherent in all dynamic-complex systems, no longer appears to be something threatening, but rather something that is almost natural and essential. For it opens the alternative perspective of transcendence. Not for everyone, but for all who attain a second level of reality in their lives, that goes beyond the two-dimensional linear course of earthly events. These are the people who, according to Pynchon, are those who have been “struck by lightning”, in a figurative sense, during their lives – who have experienced and survived an impact that called everything, including their own existence, into question. This experience opens up an individual way out of entropy, through the possibility of transcendence.
And yet, it has something good, this immanent movement towards entropy. If it did not exist, mankind would possibly still be at the point of development where we were many thousands of years ago. Instead, we have experienced and historically documented the downfall of so many glorious systems – from the Mayans, Aztecs and Babylonians to the Greeks and Romans to the “Thousand Year Reich” – and in our collective consciousness, we are actually not much further along than we were a few thousand years ago. Technically, however, we are, not least of all because we are waging industrially and economically desirable wars, such as were not even remotely imaginable one and a half centuries ago. And this is what the novel is about.
But what role does nature play in this story of the rise and fall of human empires? What about our understanding of nature? In Pynchon’s work, nature is a true refuge and solace for those who have been disregarded. At the very end of the novel, on Page 1,150, it says: “trunks and branches groan, full of grief over the technical wound that has been cut through their terrain.” More than fifty years after the publication of Thomas Pynchon’s novel, nature no longer merely groans and sighs – she rebels, and she is trying to teach us a lesson that man may not learn until it is too late – for him, not for nature. Man, whom Pynchon calls a “devastator,” is approaching the “tipping point” of his own existence, solely due to his own actions, intentions and a fatal lack of understanding of interrelationships. Real entropy in sight.
In 1992, OUBEY led and recorded a discussion, it which he also made clear statements about the relationship of human beings to nature and their home planet, Earth. I think I understand why this novel interested him so much that he wanted to read it. How exciting it would have been, for exactly this reason, if OUBEY could have read the novel himself and commented on it. What a pity, that this was no longer possible.