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Tuesday
Feb112014

Anselm Kiefer: Alkahest, 2011

Anselm Kiefer. Oh, ihr Stimmen des Geschicks, 2011. Oil, emulsion, acrylic, shellac, charcoal, lead and iron object on photograph on cardboard 83.5 x 113.5 cm (32.87 x 44.69 in). Galerie Thaddeus Ropac, Salzburg

Alkahest is a series of large paintings, paintings on photographs and assemblages that site mountains as places of material transformation where water dissolves, ultimately, stone.  According to the press release statement from the Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac that showed this work in 2011, the term Alkahest comes from alchemy and indicates that anything can be dissolved by some solution, in this case, simply water, which through the processes of erosion dilutes whole mountains into mud.

The geologic reality of this is mirrored, for Kiefer, by spiritual battles found in German literature from Hölderlin and Goethe's poetry of the eighteenth century to Heidegger, and in Norse and Christian mythologies with their voluminous and powerful metaphoric imagery.  This image above, O Voices of Destiny (a phrase from Hölderlin's late poem 'Greece'  — O voices of Fate, their paths of the wanderer!), is Thor's Hammer, the weather maker for us mere mortals.    

This wonderful slippage in and out of metaphor and geology grounds the most enormous of world processes in the completely mundane experience of something like being caught in a June sleet storm in the Kananaskis.


Chris Conway. The flank of Mount Hart-McHarg through the cloud and snow showers of an approaching spring storm at Upper Kananaskis Lake. Kananaskis Lakes, Rocky Mountains, April 20, 2013The name Kananaskis isn't even the aboriginal term for the area – it was named by Palliser after a local man who recovered from an axe wound, a story that only dates from 1857.  I'm feeling culturally bereft here: German poetry, Norse myths are not mine, aboriginal structures of meaning are not mine either, the tenets of Christianity are stories rather than belief and the worst of it, given our current preoccupation with resource extraction, is that Kananaskis ranges were only explored in the first place in case they held gold.  They do have the less glamorous coal, and lots of ski trails put in for the 1988 Olympics.  

Kiefer's work comes out of a deep sense of his own German culture, which is why he spent years dissecting and reworking the second world war, and has continued working back and forward into mythology, geology and German philosophy: it is within him.  Settler colonies have such shallow roots: hair roots so lightly attached to the soil that it pushes phenomenological experience to the forefront. Interesting, but self-validating, and rarely linked to any sort of deep traditions. For this country, mountains mean mining and sports.  period.

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