Imagine: a horizontal, rectangular block. The long sides are parallel to each other and also the short sides are parallel to each other. You can think of eight cubes, in two rows of four. They are so close together that you can not see a seam anymore. Only a rectangular base, a rectangular top surface and four rectangular sides. It is a form, however simple, that is hardly described in language. Think of a drawer, or a block of soap, a beam or a worn-out sleeper, a box or a brick. But then of iron. The block looks like this: the most important part of this sculpture.
Between four pillars
It is not much easier to describe it. There are four columns. In between, the closed block hangs horizontally. The columns are not at the corners. The block is wedged between the columns, which are each on one side, not exactly in the middle of each side, on the ground. The columns are considerably higher than the block. That is why the block hangs. All four columns project differently above the block. The block is therefore not exactly in the middle of the pillars.
Sculpture and architecture
Because there is a block between four pillars, this is not just about sculpture, but also about architecture. The architectural thing is that the block hangs above the ground and that the four pillars do not touch the corner points of the block, but slightly beyond the corners, from the middle of the sides. Thus the construction defies the sense of balance that is important in the experience of a space.
The sculpture is that the four pillars are not equal, they are all four differently thick and unevenly high, and all four consist of two unequal blocks, which seem welded together. Because all four are unequal, they withdraw from functional architecture and focus on their plastic qualities.
All parts are solid. We can see that because all surfaces of all parts show a different and uneven deep relief. The surface is everywhere of the same material as the inner, inner and outer are the same. So it is no question than that all parts come from larger wholes, cut out or cut or chopped, or that smaller masses have been removed from the remnants we now see. The image seems light, because the big block hangs loose from the ground, but it will be considerably heavier by all the massive parts than you might suspect at first sight.
What is striking is that the tracks on the standing columns are horizontally oriented, while the tracks on the side of the block are vertical. That shows us that it is constructed with intention, by a higher hand. The tracks are caused by a cutting torch. This process, in which gas and pure oxygen are used, shows in the form of the traces how much oxygen has been used to burn the iron. The sculptor has used his skill here to make different kinds of tracks appear, both in form and in color, in depth and in direction. We can therefore exclude coincidence. Every block and every part and every surface has been created through extreme control of the material and its processing. The whole object has been given a form and appearance that the sculptor could finally live with, and one in which he no longer felt compelled to do any more interventions.
Yet this form is sculptural, because the architectural character does not contain any functional function here. Moreover, it seems, because no part is equal to another, as if the object happened by chance: it seems not made but found. The sculptor has done everything to avoid that which would make it architectural, - equality of parts and surface effect, logic of building and construction. The object is useless in the sense of "unusable" and "non-functional" and thus owes its possible meaning not to architecture, but to sculpture. 'Being unusable' means that the object accommodates symbolism, even if we still do not know which one. It also means that in the first place it appeals to our feelings, and not our reason.
What meanings can we ascribe to the object? We can not live in it, although we immediately experience the form as habitable space. In fact, the combination of columns and hanging blocks refers to those elements in architecture that make buildings usable and habitable, but are shown here in unusual order. This space does not rest on poles, this ship hangs within a structure, it is modern in appearance but mainly archaic in shape, it is reminiscent of the medieval skeleton construction of the large cathedrals with their buttresses outside. It could be a religious space, a hanging temple, the Germanic Walhalla, the hall for the fallen warriors, managed by Wodan. Wodan, who was also called Odin, was the god of wisdom, of death, war and poetry.
That is the visual language of this image, if you can speak of language. These square, iron, sturdy forged pillars do not resemble the classical round Greek or Egyptian columns, which are reminiscent of plants and their stems, but these are forged rods of burnt earth and ore, caused by heavy blows and presses in a form squat, perhaps poured, and where the cutting torch has gone deep inside. As if Thor himself had been working with his huge lightning hammer. These columns consist of blocks, stacked blocks, one even heavier than the other, and in their rejection of the round entasis of the ancient temples, they are a creation for a sanctuary for a different culture. That is why the block has been hung up between the columns, lifted from the face of the earth, detached from the petty earthly bondage, floating for a greater spiritual experience. Here the block does not press the top of the pillars but, with its weight, clamps the columns on the ground.
Within this, the heroes, the poets and the spirits gathered together, here they withdrew from the earthly grief, here they made their highest decisions. There is no daylight coming in, the space can not be more secretive. We see a monument of a non-earth civilization. That is sculpture: the form that is reminiscent of existing architecture, without being that architecture, while every visible detail breathes the atmosphere of the building, which perhaps once existed somewhere. Certainly, if a Walhalla is ever to be built, it will look like this. And it will impress by his suspicion of eternity, his determination and unshakability, his inaccessibility. It has the quality of a treasure chest. Because it is also a jewel that shows exceptional refinement, in every detail of the surface and in the fragile fragility of the composite pillars. Ore brown are the colors with black earth and traces of heat and ash. How did this monument survive, how did it keep its existence, while it seems to be plagued by a firestorm. Is it made? Has a sculptor been involved here? Or was it brought to earth from a high heaven?
And again my eye lingers on the glacier-like grooves of the surface and wants to drill in, into the hanging space, to witness, to be present at what is going on there. You would like to commit it, stand on the heads of the pillars, feel the surfaces under your feet, jump down on the roof, peer down from the edge, lean your back against the heaviest column. You would like to be inside, experience the space, know the closed walls around you, undergo safety and seclusion, experience the tranquility of undisturbed contemplation. But now, inconceivably, the object becomes lighter and lighter, the more it takes the matter to lose mass and rise almost weightlessly. Does the block actually rise up between the columns? What is it that drives the movement upwards in this image, why is there not the feeling that the block is falling? Is it illusion or interpretation from an unconscious wish? No, it is really clear now, the block hangs, really, it hangs, clung between the steles of the gods.
This iron is the ore of the earth, the soil of the volcano, the volcano that spewed up the entire monument, in exactly the right proportions. Relationships that only Hephaistos can create, so easy, if not calculated, so together, so unlike. Is it still a seat? Or an altar? Undoubtedly lies hidden here, in this image, a great secret, perhaps the greatest secret in Herbert Nouwens's entire oeuvre, the answer to the question he would most like: how do I lift the mass of the iron upwards? apart from the ground, how do I place it, as the heart of man, the energy source of life, light and radiant, above the earth? And we, spectators, taste the impossibility of this task and at the same time its success. Thus, this hanging hall of the gods is at once the home of the nuclear reaction, the safe of all energy, the heart that the body carries. And now the effect becomes clear on the surrounding space, the distance that this sculpture asks us to respect, the own space that it needs for its pure existence, the space that is necessary for the slow view, the space that liberates it from every professionalism and functionality.
Perhaps this is all too pompous. Perhaps it is no more than the dream of every young man, a house in the trees, a place between heaven and earth, the power of the supernatural, the tasting of the air, the wingless hovering in unlimited freedom. There is never a path to the high house. There is only the language that makes us aware of the many possibilities. It is the language that creates the discoveries and fuels our feelings while at the same time dampening the ratio. And the description has never been exhausted, never as long as it is fed by the actual presence of the sculpture. There it is, where this sculpture brings us. See why we always have to experience sculpture in its true presence. Because she leads us into our dreams.
(If you click on the pictures, you will see an enlargement)