Thoughts & Insights

27 Cube Memory System

One day when I asked OUBEY just what “27 Cube Memory System” – the title of the only triptych he ever painted – actually meant, he gave me a very special kind of look and shot back, “You’d better ask Fritz Haller about that”. And that was the end of that until 2005, one year after OUBEYs untimely death, when I drove to Bern with the original triptych packed in the boot of my car to see Fritz Haller and ask him this question.

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Fritz Haller and OUBEY met in 1981/82 at the University of Karlsruhe where OUBEY was studying architecture and Haller was head of the department for design and construction of industrial buildings. In the very first night OUBEY and I spent together, talking until sunrise, we swaped stories from our past lives and discussed our visions for the future of planet Earth. OUBEY told me of his professor and the projects like Integral Urban and Prototype Space Colonies which Fritz Haller had introduced him. OUBEYs glowing enthusiasm for science, science fiction and the outstanding range of his visionary thinking impressed me so much that it remained among the freshest most immediate of my memories.


Fritz Haller was one of the very few figures whose authority OUBEY almost unreservedly accepted. A carpenter by trade, this autodidact towered over the university establishment by the strength of his vision and the unconventionality of his teaching methods. This at least was how OUBEY saw him who found in the professor an inspirational role model for just how far you could go if you shook off the weight of convention and forged your own way. And Haller for his part accepted the young OUBEY who was anything but the average conventional student of architecture, dutiful, industrious, ambitious and dull. While others were duly designing a folding chair because designing a folding chair was what the assignment called for, OUBEY drew up a rotational vector which formed the basis of his own idiosyncratic mathematical approach. “Haller accepted this as the outcome of a design process for a folding chair and commented that it was “intriguing”. He told me that this was a direction I should continue to pursue”, OUBEY said in a conversation in 1992. But it was Haller himself who pursued it since by then OUBEY had abandoned the chase.

The enormously important role that Haller played for the young OUBEY hesitating at the crossroads where architecture and art part company becomes apparent when we consider that OUBEY dedicated a triptych to him, named 27 Cube Memory System after the “multi-celled basic structure of orthogonal systems” Haller had developed:. Apart from Fritz Haller, there are only two other people to whom OUBEY ever dedicated a painting: Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz with the painting “Die Reise der Monaden” (The Journey of the Monads) and Albert Einstein with the painting “Einsteins Tränen” (Einstein’s Tears) which is also a play on the title of a Perry Rhodan sci-fi novel.

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The 27 Cube Memory System explains the fundamental structure of a cube composed of a total of 27 cubes consisting of four different types. The whole structure can only function when the cubes –which are differentiated by various numbers of open sides – are placed in correct order . It’s an intelligent building system, fascinating, seemingly obvious, but far from trivial.

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The triptych of the same name, however, is less concerned with the actual cube system, even though the middle panel contains a number of delicate allusions to it along with the name “Fritz Haller” carved in the outer crust of the thick layer of paint. The name can only be found if the viewer stands very close to the painting and consciously looks for it. Astonishingly enough, Haller immediately recognized it, even though when I brought the painting to him in 2005, he was suffering the advanced stages of Parkinson’s. I gave him a large photographic reproduction of the triptych with a dedication as a memento of this extraordinary and even somehow extraterrestrial reunion between Haller and OUBEY in Bern, and he presented me with the voluminous catalog to his one man show in the Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin which OUBEY and I unfortunately had been unable to attend. Since I met Fritz Haller and his wife first in 2005, I visited them every year and over the course of seven years until Hallers´s death in 2012, we became true friends.

For OUBEY this three part painting – so he once said to me when we were talking about it at greater length – is the expression in art of the existentially vital dilemma he was facing in 1983: studying architecture yet carrying the flame of art inside him = the meeting with Haller, the brilliant architect, encouraged him to follow the promptings of his heart and go his own way = leaving architecture behind him and forging ahead to live and work as a free artist. Such currents of feeling can be easily deciphered if you delve deep enough into the painting. Yet without knowing anything of the personal background to the work perhaps you might just simply see it as representing our way through life – being aware that living inherently means dying – that leads from living through death to the after death freedom of the spirit and the soul. Death is not an end but a center. Death is the bridge, door and key out of the spirit’s body-bound mode of existence in this world into another immaterial form of energy. OUBEY himself talked about this way of viewing the painting in this conversation in 1992, which I already mentioned before. It‘s a way of viewing that I also embraced when I returned from my visit to Fritz Haller in 2005 and expressed my own thoughts about the painting in a poem. Whether or not I shall publish the poem and if so when, I don’t as yet know.

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The right wing of the triptych, by the way, has already been in two Encounters – one of them is online and shows the Encounter with the Maori violinist Elena. Needless to say she hadn’t the slightest idea about anything talked about in this blog post when she first saw the painting – which makes the associations it awakened in her and the discoveries she made that more interesting.”This impassioned red is yearning for the freedom of the infinite blue” was one of the thoughts expressed in the other Encounter which is not online.

After ten years of project work and five years of OUBEY MINDKISS in the public arena one important phase of the project has now come to an end and the next phase is beginning. So many people have talked about this triptych and what they have said shows such fascinating points of divergence and such astonishing points of similarity that any danger of one restricted received view of the painting can be safely discounted. Furthermore, the series of personal Encounters with OUBEYs paintings is now over and done with – always with the notable exception of an Encounter with an astronaut, a wish that thus far has not been realized. So the triptych certainly won’t be travelling to another Encounter – which enables me now to publish a text like like this one for the first time and perhaps by doing so makes you feel a little better acquainted with OUBEY. I am delighted that this is possible now and I believe OUBEY would be, too.

If you would like to get very close to the center part of OUBEYs triptych, to see the scratches and Fritz Haller´s name in it, you can do a “360 Degree Virtual Visit” at OUBEYs studio.