Frankesche Stiftungen zu Halle (Saale), 2002
The Lines in the Spheres
“Up they soar, the planet’s butterflies,
pigments from the earth’s warm body,
cinnabar, ochre, phosphor yellow, gold
a swarm of basic elements aloft.”
Inger Christensen, Butterfly Valley — A Requiem1
“Drawing is another kind of language.”2 Drawing, sketching seismographic with the movement of the hand’s inner or outer rhythms and undulations is, to a certain extent, also hermetic writing. The notation of a condition or an emotion, an observation — or the projection of an idea onto the white surface of the paper. Visualised thinking.
Using coloured pencils, Jörg Ahrnt fashions small spheres with a spiral-like movement that converge into links of various sizes and structures through an almost organic process. As three-dimensional as these strings of beads appear to be in their precise and clear delineation, formed one after the other with multiple layers of seemingly uninterrupted threads of colour, the closer one approaches them the more textile and woven they become. They increasingly recede into the flat surface. They evolve from three-dimensional forms to lines. They move from the distinct to the diffuse, from the recognition of boundaries to the merging of figure and background.
In detail, through the rotating form of the spirals, the lines even assume the character of consistently uniform letters, above all those of the Arabic consonants with their many semi-circular contours. But they are also quite legible as the e and l forms of the Roman script. Through the endless repetition of the form, a labyrinth-like ornamental configuration emerges. The bundles of lines are reminiscent of the woollen ball — a three-dimensional form consisting basically of a single line — with which Ariadne helped Theseus to find his way out of the labyrinth.
In their appearance, the strings of beads that Jörg Ahrnt has depicted since 2000 convey a certain clarity, system, order — sustained by the white area that surrounds them. A weightless and an undefined location as it were. Like a field of action covered by a glass bell. But they are also enigmatic, full of tension, seeming to be without beginning and without end, open to many explanations and interpretations. They harbour chaos within themselves. They are abstract and at the same time very concrete. These beaded strings glide playfully through the consciousness of the observer.
Their form is pleasing, harmonious. It even seems possible to actually feel the coolness of a stone-like or mother-of-pearl surface. Or the warmth that they slowly absorb from one’s own body. In its individual form, the sphere is to be interpreted as an image of the world — and within the group, as an image of the cosmos — or as a microscopic vision of life in its smallest form. It serves as a model to explain scientific questions (atom, representation of viruses under the microscope) and as a model for the form of the soul (in the case of Jakob Böhme). The ball, or sphere, is considered to be the symbol of divine perfection. It plays a role in sorcery and in the texts of the theosophists. The centre of strength and energy in Tao yoga is believed to be a spherical form in back of the navel. The spherical form is without beginning and without end, familiar, archaic, identical from every perspective. All of this resonates in the drawings.
The first links of beads by Jörg Ahrnt originated simultaneously within the context of oil paintings that consisted of layers of coloured dots and, in their overall impression, were reminiscent of molecular representations. Parallel to these strings of beads that were soon to emerge in his drawings, Ahrnt began to develop an interest in prayer beads, in rosaries, and above all in the Islamic prayer beads known as tasbih. During a trip to Iran, he began to examine them more closely and to collect them. It was the spherical form and the sequence of the beads on the string that interested him in their “character as a transitional object, as a bridge to one’s own body and psyche”.3
The Islamic string of prayer beads consists of 99 pearls, each representing a name for Allah that the person at prayer speaks out during meditation in a particular ritual. As it says in the Koran, ”the heart is indeed silent when thinking of God”. 4 The connection between the draftsman and the religious ritual, however, should not be interpreted too literally. Nevertheless, the artist sees a structural analogy between the process of meditating and that of drawing. In working on these sheets of paper, it is a question for him of “openness, of letting go of that which is believed to be known”. Sometimes he thinks of these drawings as a breach, senses a distance. At other times, drawing for him is like playing an instrument. The drafting process does not follow a system but takes its course unintentionally. What emerges is determined while drawing. Thus the drawings, in their vagueness and mildness, are a suggestion rather than a statement. Their “pigments”, lighter than a butterfly’s wing, radiate a profound effect. If one becomes involved in their mysterious rhythms, it can lead to an enriching journey.
Inger Christensen, Butterfly Valley — A Requiem, translated from the Danish original by Susanna Nied, The Dedalus Press, Dublin 2001.
A quotation by Richard Serra used as the name for an exhibition of drawings collected by the New Yorker Wynn Kramarsky and that was shown in the Akademie der Kunst in Berlin in 1999.
Jörg Ahrnt in a conversation with the author on September 2nd in Bonn. All quotations by the artist were noted during this conversation.
Annemarie Schimmel, Die Zeichen Gottes, Die religiöse Welt des Islam, Munich, 1995, p. 192.