3000 signs and 5 answers
What is the meaning of the Head by Markus Raetz? The sculpture Head, which is installed by the ocean in Eggum, has a dark greasy patina around its stone column. From certain points of view, the Head is right side up , from others – as we move around the sculpture, which remains static – the Head is upside down. What is this sculpture? Here are some possible answers:
1. This Head is a sculpture by Dan Graham. After having visited Nordland in 1997, my recollections are fixed on two pieces. One work seemed to be the other. One could contain the other. They are each other’s reverse: Dan Graham’s and Markus Raetz’s (one is the other inside out). Raetz’s Head is immobile. Yet it turns itself upside down and back again. It is the spectacle of a mutant form as our gaze wanders around it. Graham’s work captures the dramatic landscape of mountains and clouds. One is within the landscape yet this being is immaterial. You can make the recessed eye of the Head coincide with the horizon as if they were attached to each other. In both works, we are at the center of a perceptual landscape, where Merleau-Ponty or Wittgenstein meets Poussin. The mutant landscape defines our own role as pure transience. Our breath might blow the mirrored clouds. A blink of an eye could then close the landscape in Head. You experience the feeling of dislocation, but not the sensation of “placelessness.”
2. The Head is from the family of the Socle du Monde by Piero Manzoni. In the sculpture by Manzoni, a pedestal that seems to be upside down is actually supporting and presenting the world. Head stands for landscape as “cosa mentale”.
3. The Head is a Moebius strip. Circulating around the Head makes it seem like a Moebius strip. As much as the Moebius strip continuously becomes the inside and the outside surface, this head is continuously right side up and upside down. Raetz turns topography into topology. As a work on the nature of language, Head by Raetz can be seen to be closerto a Moebius Strip, than to any sculpture of a head, as is described in the writings of Julio Cortázar
4. The Head is the Sphinx. The sculpture is a Delphic mystery. Is the Head both blind and wise? Then it would be both Oedipus and the Sphinx. Was the Head the abandoned child of the King of Thebes found by the shepherds of Eggun? Oedipus would meet the oracle: Has the foreign within ourselves found a place to rest? The Sphinx will answer to your gaze. The answer will be in the realm of knowledge.
5. The Head is Thinking. Our walking around Head affects the sculpture and how we perceive it. This is also the case with the Havmannen by Anthony Gormley, installed in the water, which rises and falls with the tide. Both sculptures have their back to firm land . They concentrate on something else. Their gaze points out the existence of the landscape. Or are they concentrated on their own thoughts?
6. The Head is a flower. If the Head is Narcissus in both positions, looking down at the water and being the reflection, then we wander as Echo did. A growing myth in Nordland is that if Head is removed from Eggum, a flower, a genus of bulbous herbs of the amaryllis family, will grow in its place even during the winter. These answers did not explain the origin of that organic patina on the stone pedestal of Head. But during my visit, some zealous sheep approached. They scratch themselves on Raetz’s sculpture. Nature claims the original status of the stone. Somehow our gaze scratches Raetz sculpture as a symbolic search for meaning. Otherwise, we could ask the sheep...
“It looked a little sick.
– But now we like it.”
This was the spontaneous reaction of the two boys, Lars Gunnar (7) and Karl Martin Thomassen (9), after the unveiling of Head in Eggum (Lofot-Tidende, September 3, 1992). A fitting description of something at first indeterminable – ambiguous, something that feels familiar and unfamiliar, true and untrue at the same time. A metaphor for an encounter with something one is unable to sense and decide about immediately. Words for the sensation of losing oneself for a moment.
An endless play with the spectator’s gaze – my gaze – is a striking characteristic of Head. Perspective is always the winning element in the game. As I move, the image before me changes, making me aware that I am – rather than just being. A more or less representative human profile is present at all times when wandering around the sculpture and captures my attention. The view from each angle is a critical point between the absolute and the relative.
Head demands an active, perceptive and thoughtful viewer to countersign the identifiable aspects in the work’s signature. I manage small glimpses of a person that becomes purely abstract the next instant – what clearly appears as a human head mounted upside down is suddenly transformed into a dissolved shape. The work plays with notions of what a person is, and my knowledge of being human is being tried. It is a demanding situation: Without knowing what a person is how can I know what I am? The boys’ immediate reaction to this serious question assumed a form of distancing: “It looked a little sick.”
What does the work tell me then about what a person really is? Does Head present a confrontation and break with the concept of a true self? Is there actually a fixed notion of the existence of a true self, which explains with the boys’ reaction? Head does not depict the self as a totality; on the contrary, it is filled with movement, rhythm and twists – a multitude of personalities in an incessant state of change that are gathered into a single expression. From the one to the other, I am faced with different formations, the traditional organic context and constancy is absent. The changes, split are time’s doings. The person, as well as the idea of a “true self” is fragmented in Head.
The encounter with Head is one with a creative, active self. A self that is active in this encounter as well. There is a dissolving of head, person and the concept of my real self as I wander around the sculpture. In other words: I undermine my own self as true.
Sculpture is full of depictions of the true self – from portraits of rulers, statues of knights and Renaissance sculpture to the local men and women of Vigeland Park – are all based on the notion of an inherent subject in human beings. The dissolution of this concept has been considered a threat in modern times. The battle against decadent art may also be viewed as a battle for a “right” way to render the human body. What now? Head in Eggum forced me to reflect upon my own presence in a dual sense, purely physically in the specific landscape against the Arctic Sea and conceptually: the idea of my own determination or lack of determination. Losing this notion of self-determination is not unlike dissolving the boundary of the eye. We stand mutely before a loss of what we have traditionally understood as happiness: Head has no core. No figurations or profiles are truer than the next; no position is identical with another. As with my thoughts, everything works in parallel at different levels – all is temporal.
When I, as Derrida, countersign Head, I am signing with my own experience, just as the two boys in 1992. As with this work, we are never finished. We are open to the future. We are what we become; perhaps it is now that it is good.
Markus Raetz’s sculpture at Eggum in Lofoten is surprising! It is placed on a lonely site – in unusually beautiful, monumental and contrasting surroundings. A place one does not expect to find a sculpture. The human head is modest in volume – one might pass by without noticing it. To attempt to compete with nature would be futile. Raetz does the opposite. Perhaps he wants to show the little human’s insignificance against nature and its powers. At first glance the sculpture appears as a beautiful classic head. After studying the sculpture for a moment, the spectator is in a way chased around by the help of horizontal “turbo-like” lines or “waves”. The sculpture changes constantly – it is impossible to detect when the head turns – and suddenly becomes up-side-down. Is the artist “playing” with the spectator? The sculpture has a solidity of form that is suitable to the surroundings. It is placed on a stone plinth which is straight and true against the horizon, its round outline reflects the compact, egg-like composition of the sculpture.
A wondering head
Summer makes calm hollows in the sea.
In July the sun beats time in the head
and there is no night to carry away in open boat.
A black-backed gull thirsts for rain to fly through,
gusts of wind to turn it around.
A head toward the ocean, an ocean toward a head
a keen gaze aimed at all corners
of the clouds! It is said
that if you look for the one you get the other;
stand on your head and you see the world as it is
in Switzerland and in Norway, the country without meaning
but filled with significance, angling upwards
with bridges, roads, fisherman’s racks
as the birds fly away,
strong green start, sculptures, steep drop and storm.
I came to see
(split between dawn and dusk
between mirror and reflection, eternal shadows and eternal dust)
the ocean, the head, the beautiful wondering head.
In the winter, in gray and freezing weather
with a pull of sounds
that are neither land nor sea, a museum
for thoughts, turned toward the stony beach
and the all-knowing birds.
These homemade stars, the steady lanterns
that blink in the snow, under the shoes!
I lived in this house once, with a boat on the sea
and a stone garden. Here we two were, alone...
You are present in me, enigmatic philosopher from Eggum
in this Lesbos walled up by bridgeheads and grazing animals
seen by an age old sun and newborn eyes...
– Gone with the Wind at Sunset envelops the Horizon –
Yes, as a censer, a Greek flame in the palm of the ocean –
a fog bank, a wondering head toward the Artic or Anatolia,
the Eastern Garden of Paradise or the Northern windowless sky.
Nature itself is the greatest artist
and mankind and its temples under open sky,
called for rescue under the clouds, where every thousand
patterns of bluestone colored nets captures its own dream
a pitiful delusion? The head, newly created, rises from the ocean
a delusion? Then your woken eyes have been beaten by slumber
and your tiny human figure lost against the still, dark depths.
When I took off from Leknes’ airport onboard WF 812
on a glistening wet green summer day, I thought of her
continually newborn wondering head
and knew that it was my own
head, my own language, if necessary.
Under the wings a glimpse of mountain, half-buried in clouds
as in a flood without banks, an ocean with no coast.
A head toward the sea, a sea
toward a head, a point between taiga and tropos,
the simple, newborn place of wonder.
Damn Markus Raetz!
You are the direct cause of my always returning from Eggum with sheep shit on my clothes and crushing sand between my back teeth. Because the wonderful rhythms of the sculpture have to be experienced again and again. And it works. You have found the past in me with your art piece, Markus. I am continually overjoyed about my new-found childlikeness!
I have even had a good laugh out there too. Art is so blessedly suitable for provocation. A witty dog has obviously had some sort of adult baptism from your sculpture. For in the area of rolling stones, just below the Head, a new figure has turned up. With a simple, ingenious trick, an oblong, beautiful rounded stone has been transformed into a silent and wondering human being, or is it perhaps a confused and dazed seal. A small stone put on top of the large one, and suddenly, there it stands, or he, or she, and gapes at the Head, silently asks what this is, this funny thing up there, that stands still, night and day, throughout the five seasons.
Five? Yes, this is my own invention. The fifth season out there is the sum of all that the other four contain, the changing of the light and the waves’ crashing fury included.
Did you plan this as part of the vegetation? Because the plinth stands so beautifully planted in green grass. I feel like digging down to see if the granite has rooted itself. It wouldn’t surprise me if that was the case. You have blown life into stone in several ways here.
Pål Eikås, Stamsund
You can say what you will, but the head is certainly art from the perspective that no amateur could have managed to make a round thing the size of a head which has a totally different and meaningful look from each angle you look at it.
Journalist Thor Johnsen, Ofotens Tidende, 12.06.1993
A simple, quiet-mannered sculpture which does not scream out its presence, but which slowly allows itself to become discovered.
Nordlands Framtid 08.08.96
“The Head” is by no means any which head.
Perhaps a little too simple? Yes, that can be the conclusion if you do not take time to go around the head and look at it. In other words, in this situation – as in many other situations in life – what you see is dependent upon where you are coming from. They love their sculpture in Vestvågøy and Eggum.
Helgeland Arbeiderblad 15.06.94