die dritte Kammer - geheime gaerten rolandswerth

Im. Bittermann & Duka, geheime gärten rolandswerth, since 2004, Skulpturenufer Remagen, Arp Museums Bahnhof Rolandseck, Photos: Caro Bittermann, 2012

On the relationship between image, text and space in “Die Dritte Kammer”
(geheime gärten rolandswerth)
by Susanne Prinz 

“[…] The true „Experimentator“ must have a dark feeling of nature within him, which, the more perfect his dispositions, the more surely guides him on his course, and allows him to find and determine with the greater accuracy the hidden decisive phenomenon. Nature, as it were, inspires the true lover and reveals itself all the more perfectly through him – the more harmonious his constitution is with it. The true lover of nature is distinguished by his ability to duplicate, simplify, combine and analyze, romanticize and popularize experiments, by his inventiveness of new experiments – by his selection and arrangement of them, which is tasteful of nature or rich in natural sense, by sharpness and clarity of observation, and artistic, both summarized and detailed description or representation of observation […]”1
                                                                                                                                                                                          Novalis (1772-1801)

Whoever visits the green world of the „geheime gärten rolandswerth“ is not immediately aware of entering a space elevated to a work of art. Instead, one involuntarily abandons oneself to the romantic genius loci, follows the expansive lines, wanders through the small-scale panoramas, only to eventually discover the documentation in the former greenhouse. Only at second glance, or rather step, does the site reveal itself to the visitor as a complex system of images and texts, into which the routing is explanatorily inserted. This self-evident, physically experienced real garden space opens up an awareness of one’s own perception and promotes the realization that image space and real space are synonymous.

In fact, the garden conceived by Caro Bittermann and Peter Duka is part of the long-term project The Third Chamber, which the two artists pursued together from 1995 to 2004 and whose culmination is the „geheime gärten rolandswerth“. This virtual space enables both them and the viewers to play with the effectiveness of images and to test them against built reality. Sketches of plans and models, but above all painted pictures, document the approach of the two artists to continue working on the historical model of the mutually influencing arts of horticulture and painting, and to develop a contemporary language for it. Despite the obvious orientation to the historical medium of the image, the statement is clear: with the conviction that images possess utopian potential and thus have an impact on reality, or at least on its perception, they consciously step out of the end-time game of the avant-gardes and turn to ‘illusionistic’ representations.

Consequently, in the years before the realization of the secret gardens, they mainly created virtual visions, which seemed to them no less convincing than painted views in terms of the credibility of the appearance, the vraisemblance. These three-dimensional garden models, created on the computer, were directly converted into prints, served as models for paintings, and could ultimately – as can be seen in Rolandswerth – also be further developed for real gardens, which in turn served as models for further paintings.

In view of this alternation between the levels of reality, which can no longer be distinguished by sight, one is immediately reminded of Hubert Robert’s Idylle2 , which do not reproduce real views of nature, nor are they even fictions of ideal natures in the spirit of Rousseau, as one would expect for the 18th century, but rather the depicted vegetations are backdrops or designs for possible and actual gardens and parks. Thus, it has not been conclusively clarified to this day whether the sketches of Versailles or Méréville are depictions of actual gardens, suggestions for improvements, or purely imaginary scenes.3 Even in the paintings of Caro Bittermann and Peter Duka, the viewer can hardly tell whether they were created before, during, or even after the actual garden. “In this way, then, the image in its model-like quality fulfills its purpose and, at the same time, the end in itself of its autonomy. “4 In other words, the hierarchy of pictorial spaces and thus of different levels of reality is finally suspended.

Im. Bittermann & Duka, geheime gärten rolandswerth, plant tower FUEHRT, 2003, h = 10.5 m , ø = 3,5 m, concrete, plants, Skulpturenufer Remagen, Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck, Photos: Caro Bittermann, 2003 - 2017
The simultaneity of basically contradictory experiences is noticed by any attentive visitor to Rolandswerth in other respects as well. Thus, in the garden of the two artists, directed and diffuse time sequences coexist undisturbed. Vegetation cycles, tours, but also time standing still – for the contemplation of a particular landscape or preserved tree exotics – are perfectly compatible there with integrated time sequences and distant ages conjured up in historical quotation.

At various places in the park, the visitor encounters text. This is by no means unusual for a garden. In fact, garden art and art in the garden have been operating with texts on every conceivable level for centuries. This affinity between the work of art and the work of text can be documented in numerous ways; indeed, it is basically at the beginning of garden history, which traditionally sees itself as having grown out of the dream of Poliphilus 5. In the 18th century, an Abbé Delille6 was therefore able to spread unchallenged the advice that gardening should better be placed in the hands of poets and philosophers instead of commissioning architects.

As a result, the historical spectrum ranges from the rock garden Sanspareil in Upper Franconia, an installation of Wilhelmine von Bayreuth, which goes back to a concrete novel, to complex contexts of the history of ideas, as they can be reconstructed, for example, for the gardens in Gera to texts of the Rosicrucians and Freemasons. One can thus say that at least until the classical landscape garden, that is, well into the 19th century, the premise held: neither form nor language are secondary features of a garden. Both have independent hermeneutic meanings and together achieve a density of meaning not possible elsewhere.

The extent to which the mutual interpenetration of literature and visual art can still be fruitful today in the medium of the garden can be experienced directly in Rolandswerth. Already upon entering the park through the main portal with two entrances of different sizes, the visitor encounters a formally enigmatic text. Here is the first part of a sentence that places this place with its long, eventful history in new contexts. It is the well-known dictum of the German poet Novalis, author of the romantic work par exellence, Heinrich von Ofterdingen, “[…] the  speculation completed leads back to nature”. In terms of content, this quotation refers to the Age of Enlightenment, which created aesthetic concepts of nature that are still influential today.

In 1995, the same sentence gave the title to an important book by the literary scholar Silvio Vietta on the modern relationship between nature and aesthetics. The artists, who had been involved with gardens for some time at that point, took the author’s accusation that there was no contemporary language of garden art, that it was rather at the level of a flattened late Romanticism, as a personal challenge.7 Bittermann and Duka explain the implantation of the text itself thus: “Just as ‘green’ can play a mediating (and not a primary) role in the classical color wheel, so the search for balance, for reconciliation of opposites, is historically the essence of an early Romantic trait. Thus we have chosen to make the Hentzenpark in Rolandswerth the projection surface for an essential statement against ‘the obscuration of the idea of wholeness’. With the sentence from Novalis’ Allgemeines Brouillon of 1798: ‘Die vollendete Speculation führt zur Natur zurück’ (The speculation completed leads back to nature), we seize a fragment that, as a figure of thought, assigns a superordinate principle to the park in addition to its historically multilayered categories of meaning. “8

This theoretical declaration of intent found its concrete counterpart in newly implanted, architectural set pieces with different aesthetic and content codes. Similar to most large history parks, each of these small-scale architectures has a practical function – sometimes more, sometimes less obvious – and serves, for example, as a place to sit or a breeding hole for bats. All of the individual works also possess distinct sculptural qualities. They are made of contemporary materials and avoid any mimetic adaptation to their surroundings. On the contrary, the new main gate, which bears the first words of Novalis’ quote, is made of white-painted aluminum and thus clearly stands out from its surroundings. As allegories from romantic myths and as quotations from Goya’s Capriccio Der Schlaf der Vernunft gebiert Ungeheuer (The Sleep of Reason Bears Monsters), there are also cut-out silhouettes of bats next to the text fragment, which, with a bit of luck, we will encounter again in the park in the flesh. A path that used to be next to the entrance has been closed by a so-called Benjes hedge. Here, as in no other part of the park, the outside is strictly separated from the inside. Like an initiation, one passes through the white gate and slips into the double role of observer and actor. 

After a short walk, you reach a place between a large redwood tree and a copper beech, where a concrete tower stands over ten meters high. It is composed of six segments, each of which bears the lettering “fuehrt” in a circle and which are mounted on top of each other, always twisted by one letter, from top to bottom, to make the word uniquely legible. The tower is a plant tower, which is designed in such a way that both planted and random plants can grow on it. In addition, this hortus conclusus provides nesting sites for bats and wild bees. This tower is the central artistic intervention. Bittermann and Duka understand it as a generator that can be experienced rather than read, since the words reveal their meaning only when slowly circled. It is the key link for understanding the garden text. One finds him also several times on pictures of the artists. He and his very similar brothers appear there like stone witnesses of a culture that seems to have withdrawn from the gardens long ago. The last part of the sentence is shown above a side exit that gives a view of an adjacent campsite. It was mounted in place of a dilapidated railing and consists of sturdy steel letters painted white. The fact that the inscription “back to nature” can only be seen in mirror writing that is difficult to decipher from the given course, but can be read normally from the towpath outside the park, appears as a further paradox of the “geheimen gärten rolandswerth”. In any case, these offer the visitor a multitude of possible directions of view and movement. For the specifications of the path system are by no means so exclusive that not everyone could discover new, own vistas and axes of escape during his visit, which may well be in contradiction to those of other viewers.

The two artists do justice to the community’s justified claim to a public place of recreation as well as to private desires for peace and solitude by installing eight benches. On them they sign their work along with several others who worked with them for two years on this project. The white portraits cut out of aluminum on one side of each bench refer to the so-called Eighth Blumists, which the artists conceived as part of The Third Chamber. Two architects, two artists, two gardeners and two curators are depicted in each case. At the same time they pay tribute to Novalis as the originator of the short, but for the “geheimen gärten rolandswerth” central quote. As a small riddle, each bench therefore bears a letter of his name on the side opposite the portraits: N-O-V-A-L-I-S. The “A” appears twice as a double bench and is assigned to the two artists themselves.

Complementary to, but separate from, the text garden project, the old greenhouse has been converted into a museum site as a fortified ruin. As the last architectural testimony of the historical garden, it contains a permanent text documentation and a collection of historical photographs with mainly local, orally handed down memories. In addition, it contains a ‘play manual’ for the park.

 Here, at the latest, a serious difference between the heterotypical structure of the garden itself and the relationship between text and image prevailing in it and the usual use of these media as a means of communication and important support for memory becomes clear. In the greenhouse, text and image consciously preserve handed-down memories. In the park, on the other hand, text produces new meanings in the inherent tension between two- and three-dimensionality. They emerge from the contradiction between the necessary dissection of the text for the purpose of analysis and simultaneous enigma as well as a condensation of the pictorial space through the specifically controlled plant growth. The potential of a garden consists precisely in the simultaneity of different perceptions, similar to Kleist’s “slow production of thoughts while speaking”. The resulting new narrative, however, is often still shaped by the invisible old patterns. As a result, a longing motif also resonates, which can evoke a very different kind of memory – far more fleeting, but all the freer in its associative possibilities.

1 In: Novalis: “Das allgemeine Brouillon 1798/99”, in: Ders.:Werke,
ed. and commented by Gerhard Schulz, Munich 1969, p. 452.
The quotation is engraved on one of the metal plaques in the former greenhouse
in the “geheime gärten rolandswerth”, Skulpturenufer Remagen.

2 Hubert Robert (1733-1808) is considered to be one of the leading French artists
of the 18th century, especially as a painter of ruined landscapes.

3 Cayeux, Jean de: The Gardens of Hubert Robert, in: Mosser, Monique and Georges Teyssot.
(eds.): The History of Garden Design. The Western Tradition from the Renaissance to the Present Day,
London 2000 [orig. ed. London 1991], pp. 340-343.

4 Bittermann, Caroline and Duka, Peter: “The Third Chamber – The Accomplished Speculation
leads back to nature,”Baurede für die “geheimen gärten rolandswerth”, Entwurf für das
“Skulpturenufer Remagen,” Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck, March-December 2002, in:

5 Colonna, Francesco: Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Venice, first edition 1499.
engravings are the basis of some formulas constantly repeated in the garden since then: Temples,
Nymphaea, pyramids, obelisks, the tomb of Adonis etc.

6 D. i. Jacques Delille (1738-1830), French poet and translator.

7 Vietta, Silvio: Die vollendete Speculation führt zur Natur zurück. Natur und Ästhetik, Leipzig 1995.

8 Bittermann/Duka (as note 4).

Text from the catalog for the exhibition “geheim – Caro Bittermann, Peter Duka”.
at the Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck, Salon Verlag Cologne, 2013

geheim arp foyer d3k
Im. Die vollendete Speculation-3+4, 2004, dimensions variable, piezoprint, wallpainting, tower modell, "geheim", Foyer Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck, 2013