Thomas: (flipping through the catalogue) I was interested in these Madonnas. I saw them as containers or machines themselves, constructed out of codes that had been obligatory over the ages.
The mother’s pose with the child, the relationship between the head and body, colours and so forth…
Almost everything was proportionate to everything else and coded in relation to one other.
Just a fraction was open to liberties in design, interpretations that could be left up to the individual icon painters. The coded containers were like vases that are constantly filled with fresh flowers.
I saw this “production programme of Madonnas” as having a parallel to industrial manufacturing. Deliberately reduced to pure making—all of the necessary parts for this “building of a Madonna” were manufactured like auto parts.
Even the manufacturing process was similar in theory to automobile production, where the average automobile has about 4,000 parts that are assembled into a “car”.
An average of about 600 unique, organic shapes would have to be made for the interior sections; these were created on a photocopier by distorting the printed rubber latex sheets—developed in an individual mapping process.
This mapping would have to be done in such a way that six to eight hands could pull and warp the images into the pre-prepared outlines, and copy them so neither a loss nor a surplus would be visible in the image.
A finger, for example, would have to fit exactly into the desired position of the Madonna hand, like the fender on a car.
Here (continues to flip through the catalogue): that is a Jaguar Madonna, and here we have a Madonna filled with Mercedes…and this here is a work with computers—made with the Atari.
Also with the Atari, every image is calculated one by one, printed and inserted into the Madonna scheme.
The computer is stiff, clumsy and brutal compared to the latex warped by six hands. But that has something, too. (flips back to the first Madonna) All of these were made with rubber…
Antje: So those were the latex sheets that you put on the copy machine, right?
Thomas (flipping): Right. Content-wise, these confrontations were two worlds: yes—no / old—new—good—evil—almost medieval… like with Stefan Lochner at the Staedelschule…
There are these two Japanese woodcutters—Sharaku and Utamaro—with these woodcuts from 200 years ago. Every little segment is filled with Canon cameras.
(Flips through the catalogue from back to front until it closes) Now we’ll start back at the beginning (flips it open again). Okay, of course there’s also Christ. He’s filled in with the first piece of highway on German soil (Frankfurt Darmstadt). The Corpus Christi as a Man of Sorrows, criss-crossed by thousands of streets and cars. The highway is all over the place, in every hand, in every drop of blood. That has something to do with genetics, too….
Back in 1958, when I was doing this apprenticeship as a weaver, day after day I would stand there for nine hours between pounding rows of looms. The rhythm of 400 machines—this dang dang dang dang dang dang dang dang—was everywhere. And back then I thought, “I can’t take this. I urgently have to get out of here and go into treatment.”
But then I started singing to myself very softly and soon I felt a pleasant shiver and swinging all through my body. I could let go and sink into it—find peace in the middle of this frenzy of activity…
It was the same for everyone in those days. Sooner or later, everyone would let themselves free-fall into hell.
Instead of fighting it, I thought it was sweet somehow…
Antje: But how did that… you mentioned that you were singing while you were doing it, right?
Thomas: I sang a few rounds so that I could sink into it… gave myself to the space inside the machines… I was completely overwhelmed and collapsed on a regular basis, showed mild signs of a mental breakdown, so to speak.
In any case, I didn’t trust my senses—when suddenly I started hearing human voices at a certain frequency in the dynamos.
I put my ear to the engine block (demonstrates by putting his ear to the table top) and actually heard the delicate, little voices of women singing somewhere deep in the transmission…
Antje: And what were they singing?
Thomas: It seemed like a kind of rosary. The same murmur that I heard as a child in the empty church…. when a little group of old women would meet for a rosary in the afternoon.
All of them dressed in black, a “heap” in the middle of the church: Hail Mary, full of grace, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death … … wuawuawuawua … (briefly imitates the singing). 100 Ave Marias—bead after bead, the Ave Marias chimed in with the ball bearings…
So motor and old nuns became one! Drenched in sweat, I said to myself, “That’s enough. You really have to get out now!”
30 years later, where everything and we are all hanging on the IV drip of the machines—I found my way back to the rosary.
I’ve conceded myself to the closeness, even the merging with motors—through the being of now! `
Everywhere in traffic—in the supermarkets, etc, I heard this wailing / grinding. In the rosary, it wasn’t about understanding the meaning—but about masses / just about traffic / motors running / radio on / standing—grinding—praying—like in Tibet, in Islam, in Israel—basically all over the world—grinding down, working off, buying, using…
No—that’s not fatalism…
… and the concept of weaving was flat… but Heidegger intended it to be three-dimensional: as a Geweb or “texture”. And in his “texture”, there are millions of textures lying on top of each other. In their infinite sum, they come to represent the body. And there, of course, there are billions of points of overlap.
And if you see this as finely as he says in this short text on the “texture”, then you can work with it quite well.
The “meadow” metaphor, for example, was always at least as important to me as that of the texture: That I lay down in meadows as a child, in the fragrant summer meadows where billions of little insects and creatures and plants and weeds form such an unimaginable unity, such a great, atrocious symbiosis, a…
Where millions of little parts have to die so that myriads of little parts can come to life. And just the fragrance there alone …
Helke: Well, and the sound.
Thomas: …or this wind that blows through there, through the grasses… So, I’m certain that there are a few archetypes for masses… and it’s up to you what you want to take of that. (Or not.) And here we come back to Canetti for a moment: whether the symbol of the masses is now the forest or whether it’s the mountains, or the sea.
In any case, everyone needs a portion of the mass of nature—even if it’s an artificially manufactured one. Which is the normal reality in enormous cities, where, with upwards of ten million, there are mostly anorganic symbioses. In the face of this reality, it appears that it may be irrelevant whether a “mass” is potatoes or toothpaste. But we, with our privileges, cannot learn this any more.
In any case, there is this: the fact that we have certain “masses of nature” behind us or within us that we can plug into… is, I believe, the most important thing, to keep you from falling into this frozen loneliness—the perpetual fear of life.