Introductory speech by Manfred Nägele at the opening of the exhibition 'Gezeitenwende' by Johannes Pfeiffer at the Kulturforum in Schorndorf.

Please allow me to begin with some personal remarks.
I would like to start by saying that the artist of this evening, Johannes Pfeiffer, is a friend I have known for more than half a lifetime. However, this should not make me biased towards his work.

Johannes Pfeiffer is above all the reason for my fascination with Italy, a country where art is extremely active, especially in Versilia, the region at the foot of the Apuan Alps, where a certain aura has shaped Pfeiffer as a person and as an artist.

Artists from all over the world live and work between La Spezia and Viareggio, and particularly in Carrara. It is here that marble gets quarried from the mountains, cut, and exported, but also transformed into works of art in many studios. The entire landscape is covered with a fine white marble dust that looks almost like the patina of the finest flour.

This is where Michelangelo got the stone for his sculptures, where Henry Moore created his works or where Botero worked, and so on. In Versilia there are several foundries for sculptors who work with bronze. In the area around the city of Lucca artists gather from all regions of the world.

It was in this lively artistic landscape that I met Johannes Pfeiffer about a quarter of a century ago. Since then, I have never lost sight of him.

Since that time, my natural fascination with this Italian mosaic of art and artists has remained so unchanged. Not a single year has passed without me going on a pilgrimage to Pietrasanta, especially to meet Johannes Pfeiffer and his work before he moved to Turin.

At the time he lived humbly in the small mountain village of Monteggiori above Pietrasanta, where to fulfil the dream of a future life as an artist he took every kind of odd job: bricklayer, taxi driver, waiter, and paid sailor. A dream that in the short term could also become a nightmare.

I was already very interested and fascinated by Johannes Pfeiffer's first Italian artistic experiments. They revealed a rather subjective and unique imagination and the use of materials in a stimulating and often literally exciting spatial dimension with the aim of creating objects, installations, environments, and conceptual projects.

It was in this country that the artist identified the core theme of his works, leading to the birth of his way of expressing himself through his own signature.
The artist was well acquainted with the craftsmanship of stone, wood, and iron and used his hands to work with everything – bricks, concrete, saws, and shapes – adopting a practical and purposeful approach.

Johannes Pfeiffer's artistic standard repeatedly features two materials, brick and wire. Through the combination of both, the artist gives to different versions of his work a sense of lightness, without actually displaying the idea of gravity from an aesthetic point of view.

I vividly remember the work carried out at the foot of the Leaning Tower of Pisa – a semi-circular tower made of bricks which were stacked one on top of the other without the use of mortar and held in place only by some wires attached to an eyelet.

The hollow semicircle was fixed to the thin wires using a metal ring placed on the ground, following a central perspective and tracing a slant parallel to the original tower.

At the time, this 'lyrical solution' represented an original and artistic contribution to the international discussion on saving the Leaning Tower in danger of collapse, carried out in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut. Even the German magazine Der Spiegel and the television reported on Johannes Pfeiffer's pioneering vision.

So today we can observe bricks and strings once again in Schorndorf, but in a completely different context. Pfeiffer's constructions are not only understood as purely and formally interesting solutions, but also provide space for speculations based on myth, history, sociology, or philosophy. Everything lies behind the imagination of the Swabian thinker Johannes Pfeiffer, who was born in Ulm, the city on the Danube of the famous Tailor of Ulm and the no less famous Ulm sparrow.

Johannes Pfeiffer's works, which have been specifically conceived for a particular location, often engage in a dialogue with the respective genius loci, in this case with the fascinating brick buildings of the Arnold factory next door, as far as they are still preserved.

At the base of this installation, in Schorndorf, we can find about 40 tonnes of sand distributed over 200 square metres. The fine mineral grains that make up the sand are a symbol or metaphor for transience. They remember rocks and stones ground down by the cruel ravages of time, or a trickle of sand constantly measuring time flowing in a glass clock.

In the form of dunes, sand wanders through the deserts of the world and lays itself as a merciful blanket over traces and corpses. In the many tonnes of its depth, the sand preserves the hidden relics of past civilisations for eternity, removing them from the view of archaeologists and defying only the immanent transience of all things.

Johannes Pfeiffer placed his bricks, which are also made of burnt and moulded sand, in the sand, reshaping their own purpose as a symbol of human civilisation related to craftsmanship.

The bricks therefore seem to sink or emerge harmoniously in the undulating sand – depending on the viewer's perspective – creating a metaphor for the eternal becoming and flowing of time.

As for the taut wires – does their traction opposes, for a fleeting moment, the gravity of the bricks into the darkness of the sand, or are they associated with the hope, for instance, of holding, lifting, and recovering buried objects like a gentle pouring rain?

Or do they recall taut strings like those of an out of proportion harp on which the wind may sing a mysterious melody, the monotonous buzzing of becoming and flowing?

"Gezeitenwende", the very title of the work, establishes a link with the transience, the perpetual wandering and transformation following the rhythm of an invisible cosmic clock.

Also, this artificial and artistic mosaic of Schorndorf with its high investments in a sophisticated design will have disappeared without a trace after a few weeks carrying caducity as its symbol. This is precisely one of the main reasons of attraction of such art which carries, sub specie aeternitatis, a minimal expiry date.

For me, it is exactly this transitory nature of Johannes Pfeiffer's works which reflects the natural modesty of his personality.

In its constructions the artist doesn’t seek duration and permanence, but, instead, he gets satisfied with a short moment of eternity. He’s probably fully aware that in the places where he realised his works some memory will remain. This is the case of the Eberbach Abbey, the San Ludovico in Parma, the old railway station of Montevideo, the Church of Sion in Berlin and any other place.

Perhaps you too, dear guests, will extend these seconds of eternity in Schorndorf. Perhaps, when you go back to your everyday life, you will keep all this in your memory.

The artist will soon return to its adopted hometown near Turin, in Italy, where he lives with his wife Maria and his son Gabriel, who’s also here with him today.

For me, seeing Johannes Pfeiffer's 'Gezeitenwende' exhibition confirms a common saying from this country. In Germany, if we say that something is embedded in sand, as the saying goes, it means that something has failed. We can therefore state that, here at the Kulturforum, the artist has achieved something extremely fascinating with a calculated failure in mind.

Or we can simply choose the words of the American artist Donald Judd, whose works can be currently seen in Düsseldorf. Referring to his works, he recommends observing what you can see.

You can also enjoy some of the Johannes Pfeiffer's works with a higher expiry date next door, as well as those of the Hüseyin Altin's exhibition of works from three decades.

Thank you for your attention.