Born at the end of the Second World War, Kiefer was drawn towards the Shamanistic approach of his mentor Joseph Beuys, diverging from the artistic tendencies of his contemporaries by addressing the dark historic past of his native Germany.
From early on in his career, Kiefer explored the potential of the classical form of the book as a visual tool to combine the literal and historic truths of the material world and establish a symbolic imagery that gives gravitas to his central themes and concerns. “The book, the idea of a book or the image of a book, is a symbol of learning, of transmitting knowledge. The story of our beginnings always begins in the oral tradition, but eventually finds its way into the form of a book.” (Kiefer in Michael Auping, Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth, Fort Worth 2006, p. 174)
Creating a rich, manifold narrative of complex interleaved images, their theoretical trajectories are visualised through the materialisation of the book itself. In the present work Kiefer typically explores the transformative qualities of natural materials. The cracked texture of the warm auburn surface incites new meaning into its pages. Invoking the image of ploughed earth, a common motif in Kiefer's iconography, the work references the artist's upbringing in rural Germany, as well as the notion of a general "process of regeneration", a fertilisation of a land stripped bare by the ravages of Nazism. The amalgamation of earthly materials is symbolically anchored to Kiefer's overall attempt to re-establish art as a bridge between heaven and earth, returning the beauty of the sacred and the divine to the devastated world around him, because for him, "all stories of heaven begin on earth." (Kiefer in Michael Auping, Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth, Fort Worth 2006, p. 171)
The physicality of the hair that spread along the dried clay and sand like a withered riverbed presents traces of past existential tragedies, whilst recalling the prominent theme of Paul Celan's poem, used by Kiefer in a series of works from the 1980's, in which the beautifully contrasting dark and light hair of the metaphoric protagonists Margarete and Shulamite, is juxtaposed and intertwined to discuss the totalising theme of the Holocaust.
The present work is a poetic manifestation of Kiefer’s central concerns, referencing both the more definite theme of Germany’s historic past, explored extensively in the first phase of his career, as well as demonstrating his move towards a broader search for universal ideals and truths.
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