Abraham David Christian: Torri del Silenzio
opening reception Saturday, October 11, 9 pm.
Abraham David Christian's first works were performance pieces, developed around 1970, which at first he refused to define as art. Joseph Beuys, seeing the promise in these early works, arranged for the young artist to come to the Düsseldorf Academy of Fine Arts.
In 1972, when he was just twenty years old, Abraham David Christian took part in documenta 5, with a performance work. Rebelling against the idea of a master artist, Christian challenged Beuys to a fist fight, which the artist accepted. This became a legendary event in the history of Conceptual Art. Christian declined the invitation to participate in documenta 6, five years later, as a pointedly political act. When invited to documenta 7, he accepted, almost as if to further disorientate the art world's expectations, establishing once and for all that his behavior could not be predicted. Following that, he withdrew again for years from the official art scene.
Abraham David Christian stood for a radically democratic concept of art. Like Beuys, he understood art as emerging from and belonging to society; but, unlike Beuys, he had the courage to deliberately avoid the mechanisms of publicity, forbidding the press to show his portrait and, at times, omitting any mention of his name in catalogues. To this day, most of his works go into the world untitled, allowing the viewer maximum freedom to experience the work, and avoiding any branding of it by the artist (or by the viewer). Christian's way of separating the art from the artist's identity is an attempt to find an alternative to the model of hype. While there is a sympathetic relation between the two, the real objective is to create the maximum amount of potential for future work. The idea is not to become locked into any one way of working or in a style that is based on the artist as a one-dimensional personality.
Abraham David Christian formed his first sculptures out of earth. Their creation was extremely challenging and took years to make, a process that simultaneously took their decomposition into account. In fact, Christian saw art primarily as a function of process, related not only to method but to material. In a world of limited resources and circulation, the ideal result should still be perfect, in terms of quality, and at the same time ephemeral, in terms of quantity. These principles of construction applied also to his extremely complex paper sculptures, which came into being at the end of the seventies. Over the last two decades, Christian has also used bronze, an ancient material that has been in use for the last five thousand years. Because it can be melted down, it can be used again and again, according to the artist's wishes; it is also relatively easy to ship and to store. The attention to detail in the early years of his work evolved over the years into an outstanding awareness of issues of quality, treating each piece as if it possessed a soul, or the sense of one, whose volume and surface must be carefully attended.
Abraham David Christian's geometric or figuratively inspired works reference archetypes or archetypal forms which, according to the artist, many Palaeolithic cultures of the world have in common. He understands them as inherent treasuries of human forms. Archetypes appear in idols such as the Venus of Willendorf and have been used throughout history, from the most primitive cultures to the most modern. The artist refers preferably to situations of radical change in art history that created essential new art forms in which these archetypes were freed from the sediment of cultural history and were allowed to come to the surface again. Such circumstances were dominant during the Renaissance as well as the modern age and exist again today. Currently, we find our culture in a state of radical change, in which globalization provokes a delicate balance in our understanding of differences and similarities.
During the last two years, Abraham David Christian has worked on the seven sculptures of the group Torri del Silenzio. The concept arose in Hayama and the plaster models were made last winter in New York. In Germany, at the beginning of 2008, they were cast in bronze and then reworked and patinated. Each individual sculpture consists of a cascading rising foundation of six to seven hexahedrons and a cone or teardrop form on the highest plateau. The foundation appears static and the shape enthroned upon it organic.
At first, the Towers remind one of zikkurats and stupas, and then of still more archaic forms, such as the animist Scandinavian cairns or the omnipresent Tibetan Lhadhos. The first zikkurats originated more than 4,000 years ago in Ur, and the best known zikkurat was dedicated to Marduk in Babylon - the Tower of Babel. Contrary to the rhetoric in the Bible, it was not built to storm the heavens, but as a gesture of humility: a way to make God's descent to man easier. Zikkurats served as cult sites and observation towers. The zikkurat of Marduk had at least seven, or perhaps, according to Herodotus, as many as eight levels. The strength of the legend - and, at the same time, the archetype, as Christian sees it - is reflected in the fact that Pieter Bruegel the Elder still painted the Tower of Babel as a cascading form two thousand years after its destruction.
The stupa is one and a half thousand years younger. It is the visualisation of a Buddhist belief: a square platform serves as the base embodying Sangha (the fellowship), whereupon rises a hemisphere that symbolizes Dhamma (the doctrine), and upon that the Buddha-devoted relic chamber crowned by Nibbana, the jewel. Through the combination of cube and cone shapes, The Towers of Calmness resemble closely the stupa. Their nomenclature again refers to the buildings of the Parsis, which developed from early Zoroastrian burial places in the form of walled rock plateaus. The Parsis worshiped the four elements: fire, water, air and earth. For this reason, they bury their dead neither in the ground nor in water, nor do they burn them; instead, they carry them in the Towers of Silence, where the corpses are eaten by birds, which, in turn, are carried forth.
Abraham David Christian's Torri del Silenzio reenact the boundless circle of human history and human perception. Their architectonic embodies a world view that operates simultaneously on a physical and metaphysical plane. Formally, they negotiate the opposition "to carry" and "to be carried," the physical worlds of ascendancy and descendancy. Metaphysically, the sculptures can be considered as spiritual light towers, as objects of contemplation.