Kafka

These two pieces incorporate porcelain words borrowed from Franz Kafka's 1919 story The Great Wall (Beim Bau der chinesischen Mauer). While an artist-in-residence at The Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai I took the story apart and reassembled it, literally, using porcelain tesserae (mosaic tiles) that I had made in Jingdezhen and Shanghai.

The narrator of The Great Wall is a scholar who claims to have helped build the wall. He begins with a discussion of possible reasons for the decision on the part of "the High Command" to build the wall in a non-linear, piecemeal fashion. He takes up and quickly dismisses an earlier scholar's view that the wall was intended to be the foundation for a new Tower of Babel.

On the left below is Kafka Remix, in which I have rearranged words from the story into an alternative text in which another narrator suggests that writing is like bricklaying, and that the Great Wall itself is built of words. The German text and an English translation can be found below the photograph.

The piece on the right, Last Train to Kafka, presents a quote from The Great Wall in which the narrator discusses the relationship of the High Command, remote and unknowable, to the people who actually built the wall. Although the reasoning behind the orders issued by the High Command was difficult to understand, the narrator explains that it was common practice not to think about the orders too much. It was considered wiser (safer) to simply stop thinking. To ask too many questions is to risk shaking the foundations on which the world rests. Thus the narrator, too, on arriving in his story at this potentially subversive point, simply stops and ends the story, as if to demonstrate that he, too, knows when to stop thinking.

The ornamental wooden frame presents a symbol associated in China with Buddhism. In Europe the swastika evokes the holocaust and the National Socialist brand of fascism. The locomotive and cars are made of porcelain, as are the words assembled within the frame. 
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