Raffael Rheinsberg

Poetry of the unknown

Far, far to the north, on Andøya, Raffael Rheinsberg has built a small island museum. His museum is located in the garage of a polar museum, not much bigger than his, which displays all things Arctic, from stuffed birds to artefacts from the shipping industry. This is a typical museum, examples of the objective knowledge in the region, carefully and lovingly collected. Rheinsberg's museum is also regional in character, but the objects displayed in the simple wooden shelves are meagre and rough around the edges. These are objects the artist has discovered on his many tireless hikes around the island. Side by side in this garage are rusty tools, objects that have drifted ashore, discarded items; all bearing witness to an workaday life museum logic can never comprehend. This evades all logical narration and moves into the realm of naked phenomena.

This interlinking of two completely different museum terms is precisely why Raffel Rheinsberg's work is so dramatic and unique. While the polar museum, like any other museum, aims to preserve knowledge, conserve history and analyze culture, the island museum speaks to the fallows of knowledge, to a place where standard categories no longer fit. It is no coincidence that the museum is housed in a garage, a sheltered storage room for the car, which is both comfortable and necessary to explore the island. Now, it has been cleared out and serves as a space to reflect on a presentation of the poetry of the unknown.

Raffael Rheinsberg is, rather fittingly, nicknamed the “archaeologist of everyday life”. And yet, I find this label reassuring. In this island museum it dawned on me that archaeology is always out to prove something, digging around the layers of the past to drive our knowledge of the present forward, enhancing it, if at all possible. In this garage it is the other way around. This museum disperses knowledge, divides it. Of course, some objects sometimes contain clues of something familiar. For most objects, however, I find no names. I call this the Rumpelstiltskin effect, named after a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. (I could also have called it the Beckett effect.) It is not only time that has worn away at the artefacts, rendering them unrecognizable, it is also the water. The salty air, the unclear origins of the artefacts and their partially maritime special purpose hardly lend themselves to a proper burial with a proper headstone, which is the case in a regular museum. These artefacts, however, are zombies, undead, left in a state of suspended animation, refused a burial because they refuse to earnestly say goodbye to life. Instead, they rebel against a creation where they are predestined to spend eternity in blissful hibernation at a museum or be recycled at the rubbish tip.

In this sense, the island museum contributes to a deconstruction of the museum concept in that it evades the order of things. This allows for a uniquely Nordic sense of time, transforming narratives into poetry: because “little does my lady dream, Rumpelstiltskin is my name”.

This text was first published in the book Artscape Nordland, Press forlag, 2001.
by Michael Glasmeier

About the artwork

“At the heart of this concept is the goal to organize that which has been found and experienced—what has been seen, sensed, tasted—that which is overwhelming this far north.” [...] Organize the lines on a person's face, mirror images of landscapes long gone, poor circumstances, the daily struggle to survive. Organize the many wooden houses bleached by the burning sun and icy wind. Organize life tasks, those forgotten and those not yet explored. Traces of work, wooden racks on the beach for drying fish, vast areas for peat harvesting—peat for roofing, peat for heat and peat for peat mounds. To collect all of this in a museum: a museum for nature, for the islanders—an island museum.”
Raffael Rheinsberg, Berlin 1991

Raffael Rheinsberg

Born: 1943 Kiel, Tyskland

: 1973-79 Fachhochschule für Gestaltung, Kiel

Live and work: 
Berlin, Germany