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Letter to Bernd Zimmer at the opening of STOA169


Tilman Spengler

“I wish to express to you, dear Bernd, my impressions in the form of a letter, a rather archaic and universal method of exchanging ideas should be preserved, as should columns, and which, in addition, has the advantage of being strictly committed to a length (or brevity) of occasion.

For me, the most profoundly astonishing, and to some extent scandalous, aspect of your STOA169 project is not so much the underlying idea of a columned hall as a place of worldwide cultural encounter; much more bemusing, rather, is the fact (and herein lies the scandal) that such a bright idea has not been realised for over a millennium (at least ‘at our end‘, to put it somewhat casually).

Until, dear Bernd, when, here in Polling, on a few clover fields surrounded by sparse woodland, you had the stage floor excavated for the production of a new Stoa poikilos, and thereby… well, I’ll come to that later. With the archetype of the columned hall, of the Greek Stoa, it comes down to a rather important connection, one that you perfectly demonstrate: the Greek name for the building, as stated, is Stoa poikilos; the often ignored poikilos is usually translated as ‘colourful‘, which in this context is disagreeablytwee, for it was not meant in the sense of multicoloured sequins. Correctly translated, instead, it would mean ‘diverse‘ or ‘multifaceted‘, as it pertains to rather more than just the colour of the surface area. And it is precisely this mission of diversity, of the multifaceted, of the distinct and the intimated that has been fulfilled by the artists whom you invited. Each and every one of them has designed a pillar after their fashion, in their very own particular language. A kind of Pentecostal miracle rendered through columnar architecture.

The result, dear Bernd, is nothing less than a walk-in atlas of the world. Each work of art tells its own story as well as many others: stories from us, stories about us, stories from all corners of our universe, including the starry sky. Simply poikilos! A forest of pillars, spread, naturally, across a meadow, under the protection of trees, a place where, since time immemorial, miracles and phenomena belong. Although it may well be appropriate here, we have unfortunately too little space to thoroughly discuss the notion of the column. However, as we were conducting our last tour around the hall and you pointed out to a journalist the columns that were ‘supporting‘ and those that were ‘non-supporting‘, it occurred to me that this notion can be interpreted in quite a few ways. Indeed, it is not merely a matter of the physical supporting of a roof, but also of the bearing of a message, of artistic testimonies and of dreams. Luckily for us, then, ‘only‘ columns of a supporting kind have been brought together in this hall. 

I have no wish to lapse here into what Schopenhauer once termed “the intoxication of the column-metaphor”, but I would like to point out that the poetry of the accrued sculptures need fear no comparison with the literary genre itself, not with Rilke’s “column outliving temples almost eternal”, and neither with H.lderlin’s “night-bird [that] shyly mourns atop the pillar”; when faced with the beauty and wit of this hall, Gottfried Benn’s call to “spit on this obsession with columns” exposes itself all the more as half-baked nonsense.

I promised, dear Bernd, a few lines ago, to return to the topic of ‘staging‘. I wanted to weave it here into one of Walter Benjamin observations on the reproduction of art; a text that is, after all, one of the testamentary decrees of our generation. And what is more subject to the verdict of reproducibility than the surfaces of columns? Then, however, I found the most puzzling notation in my jotter – “see also Richard Wagner and his artwork!”, which led me to the composer’s claim that “the work of art should have the inaccessibility of a vision in a dream”.

In this moment I thought of Polling, dear Bernd, of a large clover field by the Ammer river, of a clear view onto the at all times freely accessible, archetypal Stoa poikilos, brought newly into being by you. Here in Polling you have, out of a vision in a dream, created the aforementioned world atlas, which people can walk through at any time – the very opposite of inaccessible. To put it bluntly, there has never been less Wagner. And not just in Polling.

Approachability has its price, naturally, the price that all objects have that awaken desire. Whoever is even slightly familiar with the history of temples and columns will know that every literary quotation about pillars that outlasted temples reminds us of the universal human desire for blind destruction. But there is no need to explain that to you, dear Bernd, you, who, during your journeys to the temples, made greater headway than Sindbad the Sailor did (at this point it should probably be explained to readers who are no longer – or perhaps never have been – familiar with the middle eastern tale of Sindbad, that in the syllable ‘Sind‘ there is an Arabic allusion to the transboundary Indus River in Asia and also the temple culture situated there. To our good fortune, dear Bernd, you, of course, journeyed much farther eastwards, to Polynesia and far beyond, to such a degree that the title ‘Stoa Sindbad‘ could confidently be added to your pre-existing moniker of ‘Stoa Saint‘).

In the history of the world, vandalism is unfortunately much more widespread than art or column design. It is, however, precisely this art – this work of art here – that is one of the few sustainable weapons that we have at our disposal against the vandalism of the psychological and the physical (it is both a small consolation and a serious warning that Alexander the Great, one of the most evil vandals we have known, did not survive for long after his brutal destruction of the temple city of Persepolis). In contrast, dear Bernd, you, along with the artists, have sent a signal, for which, on behalf of all future visitors, I would like to now thank you for.

No letter is complete without a short postscript: The word ‘xenos‘ in Greek means just as much ‘stranger‘ as it does ‘guest‘. In recent weeks we have seen, not only on the islands of Greece (but glaringly so there), how necessary it is to consider both of these terms together; the walk-in world atlas in Polling also serves as reminder of this. And for that, dear Bernd, my very special thanks!”

13. September 2020