Tenderness and Temperature
By Caroline Bachmann and Stefan Banz
Verlag für moderne Kunst, 2011
Take up this book and inside you will see photos of various cemeteries in and around Berlin, most being Christian, of course, but with the odd Jewish and Islamic cemetery thrown in as well.
The photos are melded with and, on occasion, framed by an abstract painting. No doubt the fruit of some form of digital manipulation – and, incidentally, it is a boon for New Media artists that ‘digit’ can mean both number and finger. The photos can be seen to be juxtaposed, overlaid and (best of all) mounted one within another. In this way, the photos resemble what they depict: tombstones, many of which are overgrown. There is a profusion of vibrant foliage and verdant spectacle surrounding them. Such an abundance of life, a dazzling green, arising out of death: Mother Nature putting on a show. This display of fireworks, a panoply of panpsychic pyrotechnics, seems at odds with the idea of a Friedhof as being a place of peace (Frieden).
Yet alongside the celebration of vitality there are broken trees, their trunks bent under the burden of heaven. Moreover, many of the statues – there are statues of angels, of Christ as King and Judge and Calvary figure, of the Madonna – are also broken, are without head or hand or limbs. Sometimes, too, the surfaces of these statues have become brittle and cracked. They are as fragile as we.
Some while ago I chanced upon David Robinson’s Saving Graces (a book of photos of statues of young women in Paris cemeteries) and since then I’ve become fascinated by the iconography of cemeteries, and enamoured by those beautiful, melancholy women in diaphanous robes, their faces grave and often bowed, holding flowers. You see these mourners in Berlin too. But the statues of women who, in abandonment to sorrow, have thrown themselves upon a grave, who are distraught as though pounding on a door that cannot ever be opened, who are writhing in inconsolable agony (which could, one readily notices, be construed as ecstasy) are absent. It is a difference in culture, perhaps, between Catholic France and Protestant Germany.
Cemeteries are strange spaces, otherworldly (a gateway to the afterlife) yet of this world. You see an angel’s wings and, looking lost, a child’s teddy bear. That glint of sunlight piercing oblivion’s black veil is sacred, holy are those red and pink flowers laid by the earth in which the Dead are buried – not a uniquely human custom, for the Neanderthals buried their loved ones.
As artists’ books go, Tenderness and Temperature yields many moments of wonder and reflection; it is a haunting work yet curiously consoling.
Caroline Bachmann and Stefan Banz have their own website, which is here.
The publisher’s description of Tenderness and Temperature can be read here.