The movement of the tube is a giant invisible hand that pulls and pushes everything and everybody around. Since 2003 I have regularly sat on the tube, working with the train to make some drawings. I am an unreliable meat accelerometer recording the train's movement. I take the scribbled drawings that the train makes, and composite them in the computer into landscapes and other images. These ones are from the Northern Line, and the composite image is a transcription of Caspar David Friedrich's Abbey Among Oak Trees, 1809-10.
Friedrich's Romantic memento mori becomes an ambiguous vision of open skies, of landscapes and scale, dreamt by tube trains rattling underground. What other landscapes might an urban transit system day-dream of? Something with no sign of either man or his makings? Or abandoned cities reclaimed by nature? - Joseph Gandy's or Gustave Doré's visions of London. Or people outside of the cities? - Manet's Déjeuner sur l'herbe perhaps.
Starting to put the ground in. Friedrich's painting is a ghostly layer. The seven tube drawings I'm using are the ones floating in the air - I'll be copying them many times. We're going for a deliberately random-esque organic look - it doesn't wanted to look "tiled" or copy-and-pastey.
Friedrich's Abbey Among Oak Trees, 1809-10, in the Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin. It is a wonderfully gloomy and desolate scene: a cortege of monks slowly bear a coffin through the doorway in a facade that's the only standing remnant of a ruined abbey. About the abbey are shattered, leafless oaks and gravestones, none standing vertically. A horizontal band of light sky silhouettes the black oaks, the rest of the picture seems shrouded in a murky fog.
More of the ground is in, and the darker horizontal band is making progress. This time there are some "composite" blocks floating in the air - I'm combining drawings into larger blocks in order to make slightly quicker progress, and to keep Photoshop happy. You can see here that the picture is slightly too symmetrical in the vertical axis.
(Fr 13 Januar 2006:) The next morning I walked from Reinickendorfer Strasse on the U6 down into Mitte, shivering in the cold but determined to dutifully see the things that a first-time visitor needs to see. At the Alte Nationalgalerie on Museum island, I wander the rooms, drifting past Schinkel's romantic city-landscapes, Blechen's Tower Ruins, and Bocklin's Landscape with Castle Ruins 1847 and Island of the Dead 1883, searching for hidden truths. I tried to avoid the Friedrich paintings for as long as possible, wanting to see them last. I knew which room they were in, and often had to cut my eyes away to avoid getting a premature glance.
(Schinkel saw Friedrich's Monk by the Sea in 1810 and was so impressed that he gave up painting and took up architecture, much to the benefit of German and world architecture.)
The Friedrich room has several paintings with a figure in them. Often solitary, this figure is Rückenfigur, the wanderer.
My copy of Joseph Leo Koerner's Caspar David Friedrich and the Subject of Landscape 1990 is in storage, inconveniently hidden from view. But Nancy Thuleen rescues us:
This Rückenfigur, though, deserves further consideration, and Koerner fortuitously obliges, tracing older uses of the figure as mere ornamentation or as a portrayal of the artist himself up to Friedrich's innovative placement of the figure: no longer witnessed in the act of making or even casually observing, Friedrich's Rückenfigur takes on the vital role of experiencing, partaking in the scene and in the art itself. Unlike his predecessors', Friedrich's figure is integral to an understanding of the work and plays an active role in it. One need only imagine the landscape in Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog without the critical position of the Rückenfigur, who not only directs our gaze but changes it, makes it unstable. Koerner's exquisitely detailed reading of Friedrich's great painting culminates in the contention that the figure, "as figure of self," is in fact "Nature, man, and human history together," and that the "experiencing self is both foregrounded and concealed." [Koerner, p194] [...] It is in view of these later works that Koerner also senses the Rückenfigur to be a marker of "pastness" -- a moment of déjà vu , the sight of the Other, a Doppelgänger who both sees and is seen, or even, as Friedrich himself indicated, the political 'demagogues' whose moment had passed. Friedrich's Wanderer , as indeed his art, travels in the purgatory between the infinite and the bounded, the timely and the timeless, the past and the future.
The sky is going in - I considered knocking the black back to grey to get the lighter tone but decided against in the end. Trying to achieve it with white space instead, and hope that it won't draw too much attention to itself. Some working layers in between sky and ground.
(Sa 14 Januar 2006:) The next day I took the U6 down to Friedrichstrasse to the Pergamon museum, which sits across from the Alte Nationalgalerie on Museumsinsel. The Pergamon contains original-size, reconstructed monumental buildings, and is curiously enigmatic on which items are reconstructions and are which original. But by now the distinction is beginning to blur: the reconstructions, many from the 1920s and 30s, now need conservation themselves. The gates of Ishtar from Babylon are rightly impressive, but scarier was the market gate of Milet, a lurching stack of columns held together with restraining straps.
Fellow artists and friends described Friedrich as a mysterious and mystic character, with an almost monkish lifestyle. His studio was bare and kept only the essential tools for work. He needed solitude and introspection to achieve his visions as he wrote: "Close your bodily eye, so that you may see your picture first with your spiritual eye then bring to the light of day that which you have seen in the darkness so that it may react on others from the outside inwards."
Later, Alex told me that during the 1980s, if you crossed the Wall from West Berlin to visit the Pergamon museum, you might be the only visitor in it. And I imagine that solitary visitor as Friedrich's rückenfigur, wandering alone, observing the world the other side of the wall.
(Some time later.) We now have hundreds of layers, and Photoshop is getting very sluggish. Taken some of the sky out. The abbey facade, some monks and the leafless oaks are going in. Very hard to do the small branches with the drawings from the tube without making them smaller, which I'm not doing at the moment. Instead, trying to hint at the branches, rather than represent them directly. I test this by repeatedly zooming in to work and then out to check the effect, like a painter stepping back from the easel with narrowed eyes (This is partly what Derrida was getting at in Memories of the Blind).
Nancy Thuleen again:
Landscape in Friedrich's paintings takes on, under Koerner's discerning eye, the character of a journey, of the search for that which is hidden and may never be found. Thus the great spires of the floating cathedral of the Winter Landscape with Church (1811), while clear to the viewer, remain hidden to the exhausted figure in the snow, dwarfed by the branches of the fir tree and its wooden cross. The importance of the almost hidden for Friedrich's landscapes -- that which is 'sensed' without being known -- leads Koerner into a succinct review of Romanticism's greatest tenets: the importance of becoming rather than being, the paradoxical need to discover an 'original' truth, the subjectivity of personal experience.
A kind of presence-place: always already, here and now, screened (shown/hidden), almost not quite.
More tree and abbey action. The trees look like they're festooned with vines, which isn't true to Friedrich's painting, but seems appropriate. The left hand side of the abbey looks a bit copy-and-paste still. Instead we want a flat alloverness (Pollock), something with no seams... I remember reading something about the appearance of randomness requiring non-random means, because the truly random doesn't look random.
Friedrich received a religious education from his candle-maker father, which presumably influenced his work. Another possible influence was witnessing the death of one of his brothers while ice skating in the frozen Baltic Sea - the brother was attempting to save Caspar from falling through the ice when he fell through himself. Friedrich's mother died when he was seven, and two of his sisters died before he was 18.
(So 15 Januar 2006:) The hotel's external shape is the facsimile of a water mill, and the canal around it is covered in a thin layer of ice, a milder recalling of Friedrich's tangled The Sea of Ice 1824.
We are getting there, but it's not finished. I'm not sure about the sky. And a couple of the trees have a weird blur effect because I have a double-hit of a drawing which is now offset by a few pixels - it looks smudged. must press on, drawing the picture out.
So: Friedrich suggests a kind of unstable history-presence-place, here and now, almost not quite. (I am thinking too of the unstable Glider in Duchamp's Large Glass). And correspondingly, we perform a scanning, a finding-losing, a constant revising in this city of lines, of points of measurement and of light, of memorials in stone and metal as both remembrance (mahnmal) and as admonition (denkmal), and of wall traces. Berlin's wall traces are unstable too: there are sufficient different ways of marking the trace of The Wall that any perceived local difference on the ground - of one tile to those that surround it - immediately becomes a possible Wall-trace. A city of drawn lines, running between measured measuring points, marking removed and imaginary walls.
Friedrich: "The painter should paint not only what he has in front of him, but also what he sees inside himself. If he sees nothing within, then he should stop painting what is in front of him."
Some examples of the tube drawings. A first draft for this Friedrich piece. The Friedrich painting itself. A Berlin U6 drawing (2006) - 15 drawings made on Berlin's U6 line, from Alt Tegel to Friedrichstrasse, and an earlier untitled composition (2004).