“Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to our lives.“
Berlin is a city with many monuments to commemorate. Being a city with such a huge history there is a lot to commemorate, the monuments remembering the holocaust are far out in the mayority. Some of these monuments were made by the Israleli artist Dani Karavan. Now that I am in Berlin I wanted to see them again.
Dani died almost a year ago in Tel Aviv. His amazing life lasted 91 years. I had the honor to meet with him several times. I want to remember him as the great artist he was.
One of his artworks in Berlin, is at the Reichstagsufer where one can find nineteen glass plates with the first nineteen articles of the German constitution written on them. The glass plates are visually connected by corten steel plates and there is also a connection with a tree at the other side of the river where the offices of the Rechstag are situated. Glasplate One, Article One: Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect it shall be the duty of all state authority.
A short walk further, at the other side of the Reichstag is the monument for the Roma and Sinti. If there were a ladder of impressiveness I find this one even more impressive than all the other ones. Here Dani created a circular pond with a black floor which makes it look as if it has an endless depth.
In his own words: “Do I have the power within me to create a place of nothingness? Where there is nothing? No words, no names, no metal, no stone. Just tears, just water, surrounded by the survivors, those who remember what happened, those who knew the horror and others who didn’t. They are all reflected here, upside down, in the water of the deep black pit, while the sky covers them – the water, the tears.”
Everything is indeed swallowed by this water: the sky, the trees, the Reichstag, the visitors. There is also hope, even if it is just a tiny little bit of hope. In the middle of the pond there is a black triangle which works as a small altar that descends once every twenty four hours when a fresh flower is put on it before it returnse each day exactly at one in the afternoon. And in the distance of the monument one can always hear the sound of a violin, remembering the Sinti music.
Dani Karavan was a phenomenon in Germany. The same in his home country Israel and also in France and in Spain. One of his most impressive works is the monument for Walter Benjamin which marks the spot at the border between France and Spain. It is there where Benjamin commited suicide in 1940 fleeing for the Nazis when he was not allowed to cross the border into Spain for his escape to the USA. He may be a phenomenon everywhere, he certainly is not in my home country the Netherlands.
After seeing an exposition of Dani’s work in the IVAM in Valencia in 2003 I personally tried to change that. At that time I was responsible as the project manager for Culture Park Westergasfabriek for the realisation of the park. We also had a budget for art. Being a project manager for a public space project in Amsterdam usually means that you really have to know everything about everything. With one big exception: you are not allowed to say anything about public art. You may even not have an opinion on that, art is for artists and art experts to decide on. I did not think like that. That is why I called Dani Karavan in his studio in Paris and went to meet him there some weeks later. We talked a lot, he showed me wht he was working on, we had dinner in a nearby restaurant and he said he was really interested. When he saw the plan for the future park by Kathryn Gustafson and Neil Porter he said that this park design was in fact art. It would be difficult to make a piece of art inside aonther artwork. He needed the landscape architects permission before he could proceed. Kathryn and Neil were very happy to give him that permission. We talked more on what the art work could actually add to the park concept. My biggest fear (that has in reality become true) with the building of the new park was that all the past, everything thnat had been there before would be forgotten. With the beautifull but completely artificial roof garden we were creating the history of what the place once was would be easily forgotten. Most people do not like gas factories, they give a negative assosciation. Why were they there, what about the noise and the dirt and what about all the people that worked and even died here because the production of gas from coal was dangerous and there was alot of polution.
Dani made a design where there would be a deep hole in the groud with a small fire burning in the depth producing just a little bit of artificial smoke. Burning coal producing gas in the depths under the new park surrounded by some granite benches to sit and contemplate. An almost invisible piece of art making a very strong statement. The Amsterdam as well as the Dutch art world had never heard of Dani Karavan. They were certainly not interested in changing their opinion. There was enough money in my budget to pay for the design but not enough to realize it. I had to find out that there was going to be no funding for it. Sometimes you win and far more often you lose. This was one of the occasions that I lost.
I met with Dani again in Italy where we visited the art garden Villa Celle that he made in Tuscany. I had the opportunity to travel to Tel Aviv. We had dinner together and I went to see his Kikar Levana (White City) art work in the East of the city. I went to Gelsenkirchen, to Cologne, to Dusseldorf in Germany where there are amazing art works by Dani Karavan. I walked over the Axe Majeure in Cergy-Pontoise which is a 3 kilometer long art work.
Earlier this year I saw a documentary on Dutch TV: High Maintenance – Dani Karavan. “When nature gives you something so beautiful you would be really stupid not to use it” is the first thing he says. The documantary maker asks him: “How does it feel when nature talks to you?” Dani: “That is something you will never be able to grasp. That is only given to the greatest artists“. “Please be a little bit nicer” his daughter says to him. Dani looks old. He is old. The documentary is filmed in the years before he died. We see him visiting his art works. And they all need maintenace. There is always everywhere something missing or not working. One could say, yes please make art works that do not need maintenace. But that would be stupid. A painting in a museum is cleaned or restaurated when it is needed. Everything of value has to be taken care of. I really admired that stubborn incredebly gited man.
Talking about the art work he made for the Knesseth (the Israeli parlement) on the back wall he says: “I do not sign my art works. Michelangelo never signed his artworks did he?”
We see Dani working in his studio, he is making drawings on that table, there where he also made a piece of art for me. I have the drawings here.
Find that documentary and look at it. Find Dani Karavans work and experience it.