Exploration drilling in Jena, Weimar and Erfurt to rediscover Jewish academic Eduard Rosenthal

Horst Hoheisel and Andreas Knitz Image: Anne Günther/FSU

Horst Hoheisel and Andreas Knitz Image: Anne Günther/FSU

Memorial design by Horst Hoheisel and Andreas Knitz wins Jenas 2018 Botho Graef art prize

With their intriguing decentralised design, Erkundungsbohrungen (Exploration drilling), the artists Horst Hoheisel and Andreas Knitz today won the 2018 Botho Graef art prize, which is organised jointly by the city of Jena and Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Germany).

The proposal for a decentralised memorial involves drilling holes with a 20-centimetre diameter through the outer walls of buildings that were important to the life and work of Eduard Rosenthal (1853-1926). A brass tube topped with thermal safety glass will be inserted into each hole and an inscription in the glass will explain the connection between Eduard Rosenthal and the building.

The multi-location memorial is expected to be inaugurated in spring 2020. The city of Jena and Jena University will accompany the process of creating the memorial with a comprehensive communication plan. 

In addition to Hoheisel and Knitz, designs for a decentralised memorial to Eduard Rosenthal were submitted by Antonia Low, Michaela Melian, Patricia Pisani, Luise Schröder and the partnership of Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock. All the designs can be seen in an exhibition at the Kunstverein Jena (Jena Art Society) until 27 January 2019.

Honouring the Jewish university rector and father of Thuringias constitution

The legal scholar Eduard Rosenthal is considered to be the father of Thuringias state constitution of 1920 and he was twice rector of the University of Jena. His portrait, painted for the University of Jenas important collection of portraits of professors was removed after the National Socialists took power, because of Rosenthals Jewish heritage, and it has been missing since 1944. The intention was to erase Eduard Rosenthal from the cultural memory. The academics memory has been preserved for the past decade in Jena through the Villa Rosenthal cultural venue and the Clara and Eduard Rosenthal grants given by Jenas agency for cultural events, JenaKultur. However, he is still unknown to many Thuringians and even residents of Jena. In 2018, the Botho Graef prize for contemporary art, which is awarded every three years, sets itself the goal, together with the city of Jena, of restoring the accomplishments of Eduard Rosenthal to the cultural memory.

Together with students, curator Verena Krieger, Professor of Art History at Jena University since 2011, developed the concept of a decentralised Rosenthal memorial. As a kind of memory network, it is intended to connect the places in Jena und Weimar where the academic was active and also link them to the Thuringian state parliament in Erfurt the legacy of Rosenthals constitution.

Since the end of 2017, a high-ranking board of trustees has supported the concept of the art prize. It includes the director of the Buchenwald memorial site, Volkhard Knigge, Foundation Weimar Classic director Hellmut Seemann, Jena University president Walter Rosenthal, and Thuringian Minister of Culture Benjamin Hoff. The new president of the state parliament, Birgit Diezel, and Thuringias Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow have together taken on the role of patrons.

In April 2018, the artists were invited to Jena, to familiarise themselves with the life and work of Eduard Rosenthal, his family history, the history of the villa built for him in Jena in 1890, the few authentic records of his existence, as well as the places where he worked as academic and politician, and founding member of the Jena Art Society, the current City Library and the Ernst Abbe Foundation. This gave them the opportunity to discover possible locations for a decentralised memorial.

The competition was accompanied by Artist Talks, in which the participating artists presented their creations and introduced the general public to contemporary works belonging to the culture of remembrance and concepts of memorials and counter-memorials. The highpoint and closing event of the Artist Talks series was a discussion evening with the chair of the Botho Graef art prize jury, the internationally known conceptual artist, Jochen Gerz.

Seeing and experiencing Rosenthals marginalisation

The jury voted unanimously for the Exploration drilling design by Hoheisel and Knitz, as it felt that the proposal "had found a powerful image for the essential search for Eduard Rosenthal, who was forced into oblivion, and his simultaneous rediscovery". The proposal fulfilled the task of the competition, which was to make both a negative and a positive statement. "Negative, as the drilled holes reference loss, making someone disappear, the absence of Rosenthals portrait and therefore the absence of knowledge about him and his achievements. Positive, as the inscription draws attention to Rosenthal. The history of the anti-democratic and antisemitic marginalisation of Rosenthal is not retrospectively healed through the memorial, but it is made visible and capable of being experienced."

The artists who created the winning design are among the major trailblazers of a critical culture of remembrance in Germany. For example, in 1987 Horst Hoheisel reconstructed the Aschrott Fountain, which stood in front of Kassel City Hall and was destroyed by National Socialists, as a negative shape sunk into the ground. Since 1994, Hoheisel and Knitz have worked together as an artistic team. In Thuringia, they created the monument Crushed History in the courtyard of the Governmental Archives of Thuringia between 1997 and 2002, and in 1995, the Memorial to a memorial on the roll call square of the former Buchenwald concentration camp.

All the designs for the competition can be seen until 27 January 2019 in an exhibition at the Jena Art Society (Markt 16). The exhibition is open Tuesday to Friday from 10 am to 6 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 3 pm.

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