Die Schönheit der Demut

von Eckart Britsch

The beauty of humility


“Who dreamed up this abyss and cast it aloft?”
Julian Przybos ́


My first encounter with Birgit Dieker’s work was “Der große Kurfürst” (The Great Elector). What first fascinated me was the floating appearance of the piece, which made me think of Joseph Brodsky’s “Homage to Marcus Aurelius” and his thoughts on the equestrian statue in history. In particular his observation that the 20th century is disconcerted by the equestrian statue. Since politicians started to ride in limousines rather than on horses, they have become lost—no longer do they go head held high into battle, risking their lives.

The politics of shareholder values—in many cases more fatal than any battle —does not lend itself to represen- tation on horseback. Horses embody empires, virility, nature. A horse rearing up against the horseman signifies that the rider fell in action; now ever riding, riding, riding, into the night, into death. All four hooves in rest on the pedestal tell us that his master expired peacefully in his bed. One foreleg bent high indicates that the rider died of the wounds he suffered in battle. One hoof slightly raised indicates a long life—enjoyed at a canter.

When Richard III cries “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse”, we see at once the role the horse plays in history and myth. It is foremost among the animals, our connection to the past, without which there will be no future.

Nowadays, when faceless decisions determine the twentieth century’s orgies of destruction, no one mounts a horse. Birgit Dieker’s “Der große Kurfürst” makes the hollowness of that representation radically clear. This sovereign stands alone in the world, absolutely so, without others of his kind. He can only maintain his position by denying what he represents—I am a Brillo pad protesting against uni- versal destruction. His metallic glint is reminiscent of Paul Celan’s epiphany of truth: “That which was written grows hollow, that/which was spoken, sea-green, / burns in the coves, / in the / liquidized names/the porpoises leap,/ in the eternalized Nowhere, here,/in recollection of the too-/loud bells in – but where?,/who/in this/shadow square/snorts, who/beneath it/shines out, shines out, shines out?” Monumental absence; the devastated world of representative emotion; the death of sensitivity; the cruelty of the interior void. “Der große Kurfürst” is a stand-in for Joan of Arc who rises virgin time and again from never- ending violation. With the quiet sigh of the wind he whispers to us that all our comrades have died in vain.

This Elector is no acolyte of the Disciplinati, nor a depiction of them. These stories of witch burnings in the late 14th century were the basis of Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal”. A pair of travelling entertainers dance gracefully among the images of horror, symbolizing the unbreakable will to live.

The fact of the matter is this: the more idyllic the surface, the more the interior is a pigsty. The more bourgeois on the outside, the more merciless the hatred and toughness on the inside. The history of everyday prostitution of man is a constant oscillation between possession and dispossession. By depicting the Great Elector as some- one without foundation—with both feet firmly in the clouds—Birgit Dieker loosens his definition and his sover- eignty. As with Ezra Pound, identity is chaff in the wind. It reminds me that death can be practised only once—as beginners, when we get there.

The tension between the sexes like- wise becomes a strange affair. Birgit Dieker here observes the conflict as if from outside the scene. After all, any view from inside is inevitably distorted and thereby limited in its significance. She creates forms so sensual they beg caresses and yet you flinch from touch- ing them, detecting some taboo. Birgit Dieker works with great precision with the material, but without being in love with it. A feeling of guilt arises, only to be immediately repressed, just as everyone sees the sun appear smaller when the weather is cold. Birgit Dieker manages to let the objects retain their mystery, as is the case with the mat- tress “Hide and Seek”, and “Babette”, by not revealing their contents. “Babette” could be something to wrap Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s “Große Göttin” (Great Goddess): ”She is mending away, bent over her damaged darning- cushion, the thread between her lips. Day and night she mends. Always new ladders, always new holes”. She is a reduction of woman “groping for the holes of the world with her thimble and mending them and mending them”. Alongside, the statement be- comes clear that any perversity can be marketed. Nowadays you have to ask yourself whether you save your own skin or merely put it on the market. In discussing the limits of the body, the sculptures touch multiple conditions, throwing light on the transitory nature of our existence. They allude to the concrete everyday physical experience: excretion, insertion, mingling, and decay. It is visible to all, almost per- ceptible to smell, only our ears escape it. They are sculptures of corporeal sensation on the streets of civilisation. In her reduction to the bare essentials we detect humility in Birgit Dieker’s work. The humility everyone ought to feel when confronted by the gift of existence. The emotions of the body radiate the works in a great beauty, illuminating just how precarious is our existence. “Nightmare” is a black funnel- shape, reminiscent of Poe, threatening to draw all and sundry into oblivion. The glimpse into the abyss makes us aware that each moment we live could also be the moment we die. Therefore always take the shortest route; it is the most natural way of overcoming the shock. The enduring impression remains that all souls are mere nothings all of the time, if one is cap- able of seeing the true course of the world. In the face of that void, any action will serve beauty, for dirt will only ever be dirt.