1950s

Text by Jochen Gerz

abbey MarienstattThe job is to deliver the local paper from Hachenburg. A steep, winding road through the woods. A good job. Talking to Father Karl about the Korean War in the convent’s old library. The atlas is opened on Asia. Communism is a problem. The Americans are allies. MacArthur is our man. The winner takes it all, but there is no loser. The ceiling is high, the walls and the windows are high, and the woods outside are also high and quiet. The church is also high. No bombs here. He likes the daily rituals, being part of something. He hears the name of Sartre for the first time. Sartre is someone they seem to know, to respect. At first he thinks he is one of them. After one year, his time at the abbey is up: they find out that he is skipping confession.

Düsseldorf, 1946/47

The first studios are kitchen tables and the galleries are not galleries, nobody speaks about art. Art for him is the people who meet in the Old Town. Most of them return in the morning to their work in an office. The artists come later. At night, on the way home, he shares the street with the diggers. Art will be back shortly. Art is everywhere or it has just been out for a stroll. It is very small. He does not think about anything else. He does not think about something new for the streets. Many houses are rubble, the ruins are removed one by one. Only the street signs remain in place. Something new, for whom? Many people seem to have disappeared. Nobody knows where they are. Nobody talks, all the voices you hear ask for a beer. Beer has won the first elections after the war. The poets write about the clouds. Poetry readings are dreadful. The new time comes without a past. Where are his origins, far away in another time, another place?

EuropeVorticism, Imagism, Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska, BLAST? Or here on the River Rhine, “on Schalke”, with the Schmela family, Monsieur Fernandez, the grid pictures of ZERO and the preface by Bense, at the Bobby Bar with Ruthenbeck and Schnüff? The teacher must have been a true Nazi. Is there any place without them? And at home? Does he really want to have a look around?

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska: Bird swallowing a Fish, 1913/14He studies every syllable of the crowded city, studies himself and learns to be alone. Wherever he goes he is driftwood, wherever he turns up he does not belong. He does not have much to tell either. Where is he from? Germany does not sound like a good idea (You know, I actually like the autobahn …). Wherever he moves his shadow was there before. London is the capital of books and tube stations, but the sound is switched off. Books are friends. He is good at silence, losing and stealing time. Everything is media. Media is a quiet square in London with trees and tidy houses. It is not his address. Imagine living with your cousin’s pious family. So many rules. Is this a place to swim against the tide?

Nov. 3, in 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first-ever living animal into orbit: a dog named Laika

Readings in bookshops on Charing Cross Road – Emerson, Whitman, Williams, Cummings, Yeats, and Pound of course. Spending a day or two looking for the right word. Looking for contemporaries. Another glimpse of his life: meeting Nay and Uecker at the Mayfair Galleries.

Tubby Hayes First Band, 1955Paintings are coincidences, the first bridge. The bridge is a return ticket. Is there something to return to? Silence is not his kind of city. Memory has a voice. It does not need to be his story. He can make up a time, find out more about what he has in common. Nothing is his. All of it is his. Call it our times. To add Tommy Steel, Tubby Hayes’ Big Band and the ugly Marquee Club might be a good idea.

My name is Jochen Gerz