House Guests

In Turin I have seen the future of art.

A first review of the Piemonte Share Festival

“Let us invite you to bring the family, the grandparents and the children, and sit on our open-source furniture, relax, even eat something. Fill a wine glass with tomorrow.”
Bruce Sterling

ShareOne year ago, Casa Jasmina opened its doors, a showroom for household technology, smart and connected, and open source. I had learned about this project by some remarks of its initiator, Bruce Sterling at earlier occasions. Like many ‘Cyberisti’ of my age, I have been loosely following Bruce’s thoughts for thirty years now. There were always some ideas that I would take for me, to write or talk about, but it was not before his book ‘Shaping Things‘ that I could really work with what he was telling. ‘Shaping Things’ is a small book, more an essay. It is as far as I know the first comprehensive examination of what was really going on when digitalization would leave the confinement of the web and would conquer the realm of physical things to form an ‘Internet of Things’; and he was talking in particular on how digitally enhanced things might still be designed in a benign way, despite their totalitarian nature of global connectedness and allover datarization of human life.

With Casa Jasmina, Bruce announced to translate this design theory into the practice of an effectively livable home, that he was going to build together with Jasmina Tešanović, the Casa’s eponym. It is one thing, to write about stuff, a totally different thing to build something in the corporeal world, with all the constraints of the human condition to face. So it is no wonder that the ‘Casa’ I found at the day of its opening celebration was more an echo chamber for our visions and expectations than an actual home.

Today, one year later, Casa Jasmina has matured to officially host the Piemonte Share Art Festival. Luca Barbeni who had curated Share.to since its beginings 2006 had moved to Berlin to start his NOME Gallery, and Bruce Sterling stepped in as artistic curator to run the festival in Torino together with its co-founder Chiara Garibaldi, getting illustrious support by MOMA curator Paola Antonelli and astronaut celebrity Samantha Cristoforetti. Bruce would further focus the art exhibition from ‘art post internet’ as such, to domestic art and technology.

The ‘Casa’ and its inhabitants are notedly welcoming to guests, and the hospitality we experienced this time was no exception. Art in modernism on the other hand had struggled with domestic life since its conception – most artwork is plainly unsuitable for normal household conditions. And this property it shares with digital technology. Although most people use ‘computers’, formally PC, nowadays smartphones and tablets also at home, these devices have not really become part of our houses’ facilities. Our digital tech is still mostly personal outfits, more accessories than appliences. It is partly the arrogant presumptuousness of both tech and modern art, demanding all attention, defining their apodictic morale, which in my oppinion make both so hard to bear in the limited space of our private quarters. Jasmina Tešanović has argued about this in her vitriolic manifesto ‘The seven ways of the Internet of Women Things’ that we have published on this blog, too.

‘House Guests’ is the title of the exhibition, and thus the project is more about comfortable cohabitation of art, tech, and people, than about art as such. (Therefore I want to postpone my criticism on the artworks to a later article).

Video art from seditionart.com displayed on iPads in a frame. Here: Rose Throb by Claudia Hart.
Video art from seditionart.com displayed on iPads in a frame. Here: Rose Throb by Claudia Hart.

On exhibition we see two distinct types of artwork: Physical things and video. Eight pieces of video art that originate from the online art platform seditionart.com are displayed on wall-mounted white iPads. These eight works are not interactive, but mere video images. So it might seem that they could have been running on a laptop or a beamer, or any kind of digital screen, just one after the other. Instead, the iPads were framed in black ruffs, approximately double the diameter of the screens, resembling the bourgeois tableau painting. The problem with video displays in general, and in particular with mobile screens like the iPad’s is the total dominance of the medium over its content. McLuhan’s observation holds unchanged, that things on TV are primarily television, and secondly, if at all, the content, be it a story, movie or news. This medial predefinition is much less true for paintings, print, or sculptures where the material is just one aspect of a bigger whole. And despite their voluminous collars, the iPads in Casa Jasmina had not lost much of their hypnotic quality. The art they were showing faded under the beautiful hues of the brilliant technology. This pornographic dominance of the medium is clearly an issue with art in the digital age.

Catharina Tiazzoldi, Algorithmic Domesticities
Catharina Tiazzoldi, Algorithmic Domesticities
Compared to the solipsism of the videos, the physical objects were much more about really living with them. Tablecloth with algorithmic design, plates inspired by the quantified self, musical instruments driven by Microsoft Kinect: All kinds of calm technology, blending in with the maker artefacts that were to be found in Casa Jasmina before. The pretense of Casa Jasmina’s art is little, we don’t get sold an art revolution. While the late Zaha Hadid and her partner Patrik Schumacher would claim parametricism as the next paradigm of architecture, design and even the human condition as such, the objects at Casa Jasmina are rather playing with creative options than providing a grand narrative.

AL.TIP slr, Semaforo.A night lamp in maker design.
AL.TIP slr, Semaforo.
A night lamp in maker design.
The art at Casa Jasmina is thus not so much about art but about home. The real art project is the whole Casa, with everything that has been going on inside it from the beginning. As Bruce had proclaimed then: It is about putting human values into technical things. Together with the Arduino-creator Massimo Banzi, Bruce has been advocating for ethical technology, and had recently put together three posits in an IoT Manifesto: Things should be kept open and interoperable. While the standardization of user interfaces in smartphones are a clear advantage of Apple’s products, hardly anybody would want art to be paved down by the paternalistic sterility of the iTunes store. Closely related is second postulate of sustainability. What good is an LED lightbulb that might last for 20 years, if the software that makes it ‘smart’ would be outdated and might even stop its working after two years? Planned obsolescence has been the business practice in Silicon Valley from the beginning. That this is not just eco-babble was impressively demonstrated by Google’s remotely shutting down and bricking their ‘Nest’ devices that were sold before a certain date, to force people buying new ones. The third postulate is fairness. Tech must not to spy on people. I think this can only made possible, if we prevent things from requiring a centralized infrastructure. Only if we manage to build mesh networks of decentralized, distributed, and autonomous devices we will be able to maintain privacy.

For many people, contemporary art has long become detached from their lives – intellectually abstract, just the hermetic expression of the artist’s personality, protected by authorship and intellectual property claims – do not touch! Digital technology is mostly withdrawn from our grip. When we open their shiny cases, we void the warranty. Casa Jasmina’s art and technology is open, friendly, easy to live with. One might say that it lacks the grand gesture; it is just comfortable. Maybe this is exactly the point. We will see domestic things with interesting design, that are not just branded signature consumer products, but bespoke and uniquely fit to their owners, demonstrating instead of ellegantly veiling their factitiousness. What we will see is the rise of a new Arts&Crafts movement. Like its predecessor 120 years ago, this neo-arts&crafts will take a stand opposite the slick perfectionism of corporate industrial production, but not by regressing to pre-industrial manufacturing, but by embracing the novel methods and tools of the time. And opposed to the maker movement from which it has spun off, neo-arts&crafts will be less about technology and more about craftsmanship. Art nouveau at the turn of the last century is called Jugendstil or Reformstil in German. The ‘reform’ was about creating a livable environment for people to lead happy and healthy lives. If neo-art nouveau follows similar goals by being open, sustainable, and fair, I am convinced it will prevail. Much more than parametricism and other academic concepts of re-inventing art, it has the potential to become a major paradigm of art post-internet.

Now I want to see more of it!

Casa Jasmina

[Den Post auf Deutsch lesen]

“We must put human values into things, we must beware of the clashes among things. A smart house can clash with a happy house. The thoughtless convenience of seamless design can clash with the need for control and dignity. The users clash with the people. Our geek hood clashes with our personhood.”
Bruce Sterling

Casa Jasmina

Casa Jasmina, the first connected home built totally open source, celebrated its grand opening in Turin, Italy, on Saturday.

The Internet of Things

Smart homes -interconnected household appliances and domestic technology controlled by computer, connected cars -the automobile as cybernetic system, driving partly or even fully autonomous, wearable technology probes that we carry directly attached to our bodies, as smartwatches, wrist bands, or smart textiles, and finally smart cities, a pervasively networked communal administration – this is the IoT, the Internet of Things, which is about to enter our daily lives, and will maybe change it even more than the World Wide Web and the smartphone has done.

Smart Home
Smart Home

What is it like to live with connected technology? More than two billion people already access the Internet via their smartphones. A smartphone is in fact a platform to support some twenty different probes, sensors that continuously track our movements, whereabouts, connectivity, and many other dimensions. However, this is not how people experience using their devices. Phones and tablets appear quite similar to books with just a bit more functionality. We use our mobiles as media, and we hardly ever see them as part of some Internet of Things, of course. Thus is it far from trivial to make a truly connected life visible. So this is one aspect of what Casa Jamina is about: It is a showcase for living with connected technology at home.

Digital technology has changed almost everything in business as well as in our everyday lives. However, even if I recognized something would happen, I was never able to convince people of the consequences, that in my view had become unavoidable. Then change struck, and left its victims bleeding on the field, often enough lethally wounded. I love digital technology. I love social media, search engines, and wikis. But I moan about how easy we give away the public space, our people had been fighting hard to achieve. I moan loosing social and political control to economic reasoning. I don’t want to give away one other bit of what is left of our public goods. This is why we wrote the Slow Media Manifesto five years ago, this is why we argue to have Slow start-ups instead of more disruptive technologies. Demonstrating open alternative to proprietary platforms in the IoT is the second task, Casa Jasmina was conceived for.

Casa Jasmina

At Wired Nextfest 2013, I heard Bruce Sterling suggesting a possible strategy to counter the “Silicon Valley way” of doing technology, that with good cause is called “platform capitalism” by some: Bruce suggested Open source luxury. Instead of harvesting network effects, scalability, and winner-takes-it-all economics, he advocated for economic value, based on craft. Open source, he said, would be no contradiction to luxury, at all. It would rather foster craftsmanship as point of differentiation. Instead of forcing people into an operation system, to lock-in the users to subscription plans, open source luxury would offer convenience as well as freedom of choice. And from September 2014 on, Bruce announced how this idea would be rendered tangible: The Casa Jasmina. Named after Jasmina Tešanović who would originally came up with the idea, the first open source connected home would root into the Turin Fab Lab, and its Arduino ecosystem. It would be a field trial for technology which will pervade our homes one way or the other.

Casa Jasmina will be a connected home with real people living in it. It will be not just another corporate showroom with fancy displays that nobody will ever really use. No jetpacks, no flying cars, no talking refrigerators enhanced with silly home entertainment displays nobody had asked for.

Casa Jasmina is based on two foundations. First, the Arduino, open source hardware that has become the leading platform to control the IoT. The Arduino is a genuine Piemontese invention. Started at the Interaction Design Institute in Ivrea, it is developed by a team around Massimo Banzi in a small office above the Fab Lab in Turin. While open source, the Arduino is partnering also with traditional consumer electronics suppliers like Intel or Samsung. A huge community of people commits to the development of Arduino based applications. Together with its English counterpart, the Raspberry Pi microcomputer, the Arduino now provides the strongest support for the Internet of Things.

The second foundation is design. How things look, how things interact with us and with other things, what materials are used, and what story they tell, this is as important to what things are, as is their technical functionality. Casa Jasmina is somehow design fiction, design that shows, what would be possible, to let us experience, how that feels. But other than the regular design fiction, Casa Jasmina will have objects that really work, that can be used, or if not, to be replaced by other things that would do the job. Designing things that really work is different from doing a display to just show off. Thus the things to see at Casa Jasmina might be edgy, but they will have to work with the inhabitants, and not just preveil until some trade fair’s doors close.

What’s inside?

The buildings at Via Egeo that house the Fab Lab and Casa Jasmina are the remains of Turins famous industrial past as Italy’s center of metall processing industry.

And now it is there, at Via Egeo No. 16. The architecture of Casa Jasmina is genuine Futurismo Italiano: Built in the 1920s, the floor of the Casa used to be the apartment for some managing ranks of FIAT, sitting right on top of a steel foundry, meant to tear down the walls between private live and industry; what better metaphor could there be for what we have today! Like the futurists demanded but had never fully realized, the Internet of Things will diminish our privacy, the bourgeois concept of private home. But instead of letting this lead right into fascism, as we had seen futurism end in 1930s, we have the chance to nudge the contemporary futurism onto a benign, democratic trail. “We must put human values into things”, as Bruce Sterling put it.

Bruce Sterling and Lorenzo Romagnioli in Casa Jasmina's kitchen.
Bruce Sterling and Lorenzo Romagnioli in Casa Jasmina’s kitchen.

The exterior of Casa Jasmina still looks a bit run-down for Turin standards, but it would very well pass for an average apartment building in say Naples. The staircase leading to the building’s Piano Nobile is rather narrow and I suppose it was originally ment for servants and deliveries. We enter the flat through a small hallway, painted in dark grey, with a programmatic text of Bruce Sterling to introduce the visitor to the project -like you would expect an arrangement at some museum’s exhibition. Opposite of this wall lies a very basic bathroom.

Bookcase by Caterina Tiazzoldi
Bookcase by Caterina Tiazzoldi

Straight on, a spacious corridor opens, painted all white leading along huge windows on the right giving view to a roof garden. Left is a small living room, not seperated from the corridor by a door or threshold, but by a bookcase, a design study by Caterina Tiazzoldi. A spacious kitchen, also open to the corridor, lies separated by a wall next to the living room. Behind that follow to more rooms with doors, to be used as bedrooms when Casa Jasmina finally will house its inhabitants. At the end of the corridor, a few stairs lead to a wall with an A0 sized poster displaying an allegory of “The Internet of Women Things”.

"IoWT - the Internet of Women Things
“IoWT – the Internet of Women Things

Behind that might have been a double winged door that was probably the original main entrance. The floor in the bedrooms, the kitchen and living room is covered by an expensive, arfully made oak parquet that somehow survived the long decades during which the building had been abandoned and degrading.

Great confidence in the durability of Open Desk's furniture (also used as makeshift stairs)
Great confidence in the durability of Open Desk’s furniture (also used as makeshift stairs)

Most of the furniture is designed by Open Desk, a London based design shop that publishes patterns for furniture, easy to be cut out from plywood. Open Desk’s way of distributing their designs for free is far less uncommon than we might naively think. It is rather something we used to have until very recently. If we would go to a carpenter, the artisan would show us different design examples from pattern books or catalogues. We would then commission the work based on a pattern, and the furniture would get made. So good quality in furniture is by no means connected to securing intellectual property. Rather the opposite: Only mass produced goods need protection because they can never meet artisan standards.

Things not-so-smart

Marco Biranza's '9 Random Spots' is nice piece of calm technology as art. The color pattern changes, whenever the connected Geiger counter registers an accidental decay.
Marco Biranza’s ‘9 Random Spots’ is nice piece of calm technology. The color pattern changes, whenever the connected Geiger counter registers an accidental decay.

Smart things in the Casa Jasmina so far consist mostly of works of art, playing with concepts of Calm Technology. Some off-the-shelf smart tech has also found its way into the house. A Roomba, not connected at all, however in a way autonomous, and a Samsung Smart TV set. Right on the evening of the Casa’s grand opening, Juventus Turin faced FC Barcelona in the Champions League’s final, a game not to be missed by anybody in Turin, of course. But despite all the nerdy and geeky people around, we weren’t able to get this Smart TV set . In the end, I plugged my Laptop into the Samsung set, degrading it into a totally dumb screen for the really smart and connected however totally 20th century device that my PC is. Trouble went on after that was done, and realized, that Mediaset, Italy’s dreadful broadcast trust, would only stream their content via Silverlight – a video technology so outdated, that even its inventor Microsoft had long ago stopped supporting. So I had to start a virtual machine with Windows on my computer, and run an ancient version of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer in that.

My laptop, running Windows XP in a VirtualBox, attached to the "Smart TV" ...
My laptop, running Windows XP in a VirtualBox, attached to the “Smart TV” …

This funny anecdote illustrates, what’s wrong with how the smart home business is implemented by the traditional consumer electronics companies. The design of the TV set is still the same as when there were just a couple of stations to switch between and no need for a keyboard to type in complex commands. Even worse is Mediaset’s online video service. Driven by the station’s wish to maintain control over the “digital rights management”, they built their proprietary system of content distribution with tools crippled for the very same reason. If such outdated software would run critical infrastructure, it would easily become a security risk. You wouldn’t even want to run your laundry with that.

Consumer electronics has the reputation to be an industry with the worst user interfaces and the lowest understanding of people’s behavior. If you have ever tried to program the clock of your stove, you know that CE engineers must be living just at the opposite site of the universe than their customers. Household technology was always outdated, obsolete electronics refurbished to once more generate some money. This is really not the industry you would want to resign your private data to. Neither are utility companies, which are among the main drivers of Smart Home, famous for their customer care.

On the other hand, we are becoming more and more used to doing things mobile. Services that are not accessible via app feel outdated and inefficient. People once having experienced the mobile convenience, will benchmark all electronic things accordingly. And why not? Just because the legacy providers of our services and products are not delivering according to our demand, should we take abstention? Should we give in, and keep to outdated, inefficient products that waste our time, energy and other resources?

Open Source

Will my home be run by Google Nest or by Apple Home? Imagine the ridiculous situation, when you decided to buy some smart device from one provider, and that would require all your other stuff to run the same proprietary operation system. You’d have to either give up your smart home functionality or to restock everything with the matching system. There might be some brand purists that want to mindlessly live in a monoculture. For most people, this seams not really practical.

cj9To become successful, smart appliances will have to be seamlessly interoperable with each other, too, no matter who manufactured them. This is not the business model of companies like Google or Apple. Open standards for interoperability is what open source stands for. The Arduino is the most advanced and most stable IoT technology anyway. But open source technology is not only better in making things work together. Open source means, that people can hack it, dismantle it, understand, how the thing and more important, its software really works. This is the only way I now that helps to make things secure. Only what can be hacked gets thoroughly tested. Only when there is a vivid discussion going on potential security flaws and how to patch these, we will get safe technology. This has been lessen we should have learned by now.

The Internet of Everything

“As Warren Ellis said at ThingsCon, we may be living in the last days when nobody knows where we are — when the home is still like an aristocrat’s castle, distinct from the rest of the world.”
Bruce Sterling

The Internet of Things is not just about machines talking to each other. The sensors on our devices generate and collect data that is directly linked to our personal lives, to our behavior, our actions, and the environment around us: “Data is made of people”

Privacy, informational self-determination, and algorithm ethics become even more important with the IoT, “the Internet of Things and Humans” as Tim O’Reilly calls it, or what might be even clearer, the “Internet of Everything”. Concepts like Big Data or the IoT bear the danger to get killed by overexposure and buzzwordization. The marketing and tech babble disguises, how pervasive the influence of digital tech on our lives already is. A human-scaled model of the smart home will help to make that visible. We will be able to explore how to get the best from the truly remarkable development, that could realy help us, not only to make our daily lives more convenient, but even more meaningful, more social, and more sustainable.
And this is why I belief Casa Jasmina is a very important project.

Links

Bruce Sterling on the Casa Jasmina
Video: Introducing Casa Jasmina
Transmedia 2015
Casa Jasmina (this was at least my first encounter with the idea)

Further reading
Slow Startups
Algorithm Ethics
Ethics for the Quantified Self
My socialist post-liberal techno-determinism

Fostering Slowness

The real innovation blogging brought to our media landscape has never been real-time. No, the most important difference between “regular” websites or portals and blogs is their archive and the beautiful possibilities for fostering slowness (philosopher Odo Marquard coined the phrase “Langsamkeitspflege” for a very similar concept).

When German blogger and journalist Don Dahlmann wrote three years ago, “one really should create an overview of the German blog scene because very much will be lost very fast”, I started the Blog History Project. This project aims at preserving the early history of blogging in Germany.

The projects extends from the first beginnings of blogging 14 years ago – among the pioneers were Robert Braun, Cybertagebuch and Moving Target – through the first Wave of Blogging in 2001 that even got noticed in some newspapers, up to the great blogging euphoria in the mid-2000s. Now, it already has been three years since I started the project, but the most exciting observation is: almost all blogs and their archives are still available. So, maybe we do not lose as much as we may have thought.

Everytime I ventured into the field of oral history, I learned, that key elements of urban infrastructure such as post offices, where almost every citizen went many times a year, month or week to withdraw money, send letters or look up phone numbers, are kept in collective memory for about 10 years after they had been torn down.

Sometimes there is not even a single photograph showing the buildings – in spite of (or maybe: because of) their banality. Paradoxically some of them are documented only on Twitter, a medium very frequently criticized for its banality and fleetingness. I suppose there are more pictures of the beautiful 1950s Aschaffenburg station on Twitter than in the building authority’s archives.

We will probably stilll read our blogs in 20 years and browse their huge historical archives, while political real-time characters such as Ursula von der Leyen (called “Zensursula” by her web-savvy opponents) and former president Horst Köhler slumber in dusty, cobwebby corners of the Wikipedia. And that’s certainly not the worst development.

I can only recommend the highly informative book by Florian Aicher and Uwe Drepper about architect Robert Vorhoelzer, the most important figure of the Bavarian postal architectural office in the 1920s, who planned many of the postal buildings pictured in this article.

Stained Glass

[Original German Blog Post]

Window in the southern transept of Cologne cathedral by Gerhard Richter.
Image courtesy of Derix Glasstudios GmbH & Co.KG, Taunusstein.

That [Chamber] at the eastern extremity was hung, for example, in blue -and vividly blue were its windows. The second chamber was purple in its ornaments and tapestries, and here the panes were purple. The third was green throughout, and so were the casements. The fourth was furnished and lighted with orange -the fifth with white -the sixth with violet. The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue. But in this chamber only, the color of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes here were scarlet -a deep blood color.Poe, The Masque of the Red Death

The 19th century Romanticism with it’s enthusiasm for the middle ages brought also the Stained Glass Window back into sight.

House of Sir John Soane in London, built 1808-24.
The copyright on this image is owned by Peter Barr and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

There are spectacular examples, full of fashionable nationalism like the Bavarian Windows, given to the Cologne Cathedral by King Ludwig I. These Windows were obviously intended to orientate the citizens of Cologne towards the east, away from France with which Colgone shares more than just the same side of the Rhine. Irony of fate that the very Ludwig I became the only German monarch who had to resign in 1848’s revolution – just in the year when the Bavarian Windows had been opened.

***
Stained Glass in art history has rarely managed to get regarded anything other than just craftwork. Too dreadful are the vestiges – crown glass windows painted with horse and carriage at bawdy beer halls of the 1930s, or Gothic-nationalistic kitsch like the windows described earlier.

After the end of the middle ages, architecture concentrated on natural sunlight. Windows served no longer as independent creations of art but became mere installations to the building. The set-up mystical atmosphere of the old cathedrals opposites the grandiose theatre of the baroque edifices and finally the artificially coloured light would not fit the increasingly longing for immediate experience of a supreme meaning in nature, which was formed since the 17th century not only by Claude Lorrains’ landscapes:

I know that others find you in the light,
That sifted down through tinted window panes.
And yet I seem to feel you near tonight,
In this dim, quiet starlight on the plains. (Lomax, Lomax, Spencer, Rogers)

The metaphorical denotation of light had changed. Thereby we get to an important aspect of designed glass windows: They had been not (just) part of the architecture but rather media, created for reading.

The earliest preserved stained glass windows can be found in the cathedral of Augsburg: three prophets, likely from a larger series, approx. 1060 A.D. with already completely distinct material and type of representation that we know from the successive four centuries. Small, dyed pieces of glass put together with bands of lead, partly covered with drawings in brown enamel paint or silver pigment.
The medieval windows communicate in different layers of meaning:

In the first instance they serve as Biblia Pauperum, i. e. as pictorial illustration of theological content for the church’s visitors who at that time usually where not able to read.
The second layer is an image of “Heavenly Jerusalem”. Of course the medieval man was at first overwhelmed – not getting any colours in sight outside the church apart from brown, green and the blue sky.

But the stained glass is not just staging, there is also a theological aspect deducted from Ezekiel’s vision and from the Revelation:

* Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire (Eze 1,26)
* Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal. (Rev 6,6)
* It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. (Rev 21,11)
* The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. (Rev 21,18)

The stained glass of the cathedrals was as precious and expensive as real gemstones. Deep read, so called Gold Ruby for example was obtained by blending nanoscopic gold particles. Thus during the Gothic times glass was not just seen as mere substitute for genuine gems. Like with the glass, the gemstones had been assigned their meaning because of their coloured translucency.

Sainte Chapelle
Copyright-Informationen

The diaphanousness opens the third and spiritual layer of meaning: the light itself is inscribed by colour and content of the pictorial windows, it is transcorporated like the Holy Water. This idea of a “light baptism” is truly the most original aspect of medieval glass art. The most spectacular example in my opinion gives the Sainte Chapelle at Paris.

***
As mentioned in the beginning, the renaissance of tinted Glass windows in the 19th century has been completely eclectic and shows hardly any discretion – not to speak about subtle, spiritual layers of meaning like in the middle ages. It took not until the 20th century to generate creations of glass that could rightly be seen as works of art again.

Obviously many of these works are used in church buildings: Le Corbusiers Notre-Dame-du-Haut at Ronchamp has many little coloured windows, but these lack the medial character – the panes remain architectural decoration.

A different thing is the wonderful glass collage by Rupprecht Geiger – sacral like the Baptistery Window in the Evangelische Apostelkirche at Stockdorf – or profane like at the stair case at Munich’s Technische Universität (at cross section Theresienstreet, Luisenstreet). Geiger manages without any eclecticism to find an abstract form of expression in his glass windows.

The window of the southern transept in Cologne’s cathedral by Gerhard Richter also has all the distinct layers of meaning. The hue is taken right away from the production of the Gothic glasses. A Poor-man’s-bible, this is made clear by Richter, is no longer needed in our world of technically reproduced and seemingly objective images; and so he distinguishes his work from the usual wood-cut sacred kitsch that reminds to Ernst Barlach. Human words and images step completely back; nothing is abstracted, nothing transferred from reality into image. The coloured panes are arranged by mere random within each field; but the very fields are mirror symmetric one to the other. In this global symmetry the local contingency is dissolved. Thus the aspect of Gothic light mystics gets fully visible again.

***
One glass picture marks properly a turning point between epochs: the Large Glass by Marcel Duchamp, 1923. It is the pivotal point for Duchamp himself and represents like rarely another work of art the whole 20th century.
The original title of this most important work of glass art of the modern times is:
“The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even”
“La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même”
Art, the Machine Célibataire, the Bachelor Machine.