Yuri Kalendarev


Project for Kilian. The ecology of war


Even today, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Germany’s capitulation, the Second World War is far from being grasped as an “event. ” This is not because of the moods of individuals, but because of the nature of the war itself. It involved mass annihilation of civilian populations and genocide against entire peoples (Jews and Rom), so that in this case the image of the enemy is remarkably clear and lasting. Obviously, we will continue to connect something which cannot be limited to the specific period from 1939 to 1945 with this war for a very long time. The concentration camps which have been turned into memorials recall the actual time of the catastrophe, and they remind us that it is impossible to create a memorial as long as the catastrophe continues to exist within each one of us.

Is there any detachment at all from events of more than half a century ago? Can “distance, ” or to put it better, “being at a distance” from that which, after fifty years, has no emotional impact on us, or in simple words: has stopped shocking us - can this distance be overcome?

For me, the attraction of this Kiel project by sculptor and land-artist Yuri Kalendarev is that he makes no attempt to depict war aesthetically (which the designers of numerous memorials for victims and soldiers of the war have so often done quite involuntarily), but that he attempts to see the war as an event, viewed from the detachment of fifty years, and he supplements this understanding with further, complicating elements. The setting for the project is “Kilian, ” or rather the remains of the largest German submarine shipyard. Using a ray of light, the names of the ships and submarines which were sunk in the Baltic during the Second World War, the names of fallen sailors, airmen and prisoners of war, and place names from the area will be projected onto the east wall of the submarine pen. One part of the environment in Kiel harbour, beside the ruins of “Kilian, ” is a fifteen meter diameter circle of blue light which is sporadically transformed - at specific intervals - into a foaming wave reminiscent of the bubble which appears on the surface of the sea when a submarine sinks. Later it gradually smooths over and becomes a blue patch. Impulses of red and blue stroboscopic light are planned in this part of the installation. Another element of the composition is a black cast-iron plaque with texts from the “Universal German Library” of Friedrich Nicolai (1733-1811). It will be installed at the place in the printing house where the German Enlightenment scholar’s “Universal German Library” was published at the end of the eighteenth century. The historically precise location of the printing press, marked by the cast-iron plaque, will be illuminated by a large, blue lamp. In this way, the project gains a further, historical dimension (German Enlightenment), represented by the name Nicolai, a pupil of C. Wolff.

On the one hand, an illuminated installation is planned in Kiel harbour, on the other hand, a blue light will be installed in the city. The third element, after light and air, is sound. It links these two elements with each other, filling the space of “Kilian, ” and - in the city - it emerges, scarcely audible, from directly beneath the plaque.

If one examines the artistic work of Yuri Kalendarev chronologically, it is characterized by a move from sculpture, land-art and environment (see the project “Seltenleer” in Heidelberg, realized in 1990 and employing a blue stone) to an increasingly minimalist use of expressive means, working with light, colour, sound and space. It is not by chance that he has chosen words by Hans Gercke: “Blue - colour of distance”1 as an epigraph to his Kiel project. As Yves Klein did, Kalendarev has a preference for blue, a color which creates distance.

The main intention of Kalendarev’s Kiel project is the transformation of war into an event which is not completely exhausted by the war itself, but which is constantly combining with its precursor and antipode, the German Enlightenment. Within this project as it is planned, the event of war becomes an event of this specific place, of the city of Kiel, where, at the end of the 18th century, Nicolai realized his project of enlightenment, and where - almost one and a half centuries later - a huge submarine pen was built by prisoners.

What is an anti-monument? And why does Yuri Kalendarev consider that his Kiel project belongs to this genre? In the case of a memorial, an event is fixed in its anthropomorphic dimension. In a literal and metaphorical sense, a memorial is figural, characterized by the presence of a figure. This may be a human figure, in honour of whom the memorial has been erected, or a figure may serve as an allegory of an event to which the memorial is dedicated. It is difficult to imagine a memorial, no matter to whom it is dedicated, without a figure or the allegory of a figure. Perhaps the meaning of a memorial lies in this dedication, in the fixation of a hypothetical “past, ” which detaches it from the actual event. The event itself, therefore, knows of no past, for it does not stop happening. An anti-memorial avoids this kind of recollective relationship to the event. The event is constantly present at the heart of the anti-memorial; one way in which it emerges is in the clash between different time layers. The event become an element in a concrete landscape.

The main purpose of an anti-memorial is not to remind us of what happened in this place (of course, there is this idea too, but it is secondary), but to create a functioning model of the event. On the one hand, this model does not resemble the occurrence, but on the other hand, and even as a direct consequence of this dissimilarity, it reproduces not all, but only the most essential and characteristic peculiarities of what occurred in the past. The event can be defined as an abstraction of the concrete, of what actually happened here. In the case of Yuri Kalendarev’s Kiel project, the event is depicted solely by machines: by an underwater buoy which projects a dynamic blue patch of light onto the water’s surface, and by two other massive sources of light. At the heart of the antimemorial, the Enlightenment coexists with war as if with its own reverse side. The event prevents an unambiguity of judgement; in part, this is due to the number of dimensions involved, which cannot be reduced to a common denominator.2 That, pertaining to the abstract elements of the machine, is anti-monumental; it gives us - instead of an image, a sculpture or figure - an outline of what occurred, an outline in which the past, oversaturated by options, is unable to recognize itself. For none of its possibilities is realized, except its impossibility, i. e., that which destroys it as the past. In his project, Kalendarev does not aim to polemize, employing the metaphor “bloody Baltic” with respect to the period of the Second World War. But the red, the “bloody” is visible for a few moments in his work - as a red stroboscopic light together with blue light on the water’s surface. The red is presented as an element of the anti-memorial’s abstract machine. The event underlines distance by veiling what occurred in an aura of hopelessness. In fact, we only begin to see this hopelessness through the antimemorial; it was previously concealed by the exaggerated unambiguity of judgement. Russian prisoners of war, British airmen and German submarine crews died here, in this setting in the “bloody” Baltic. Straight after the war, in October 1946, English engineers blew up this pen. They were destroying the remains of the Nazi military machine.

In 1988, the State of Schleswig-Holstein gave the status of an historical monument to the ruins of the “Kilian” submarine pen in Kiel harbour. This decision sowed the seed for an antimonument, later conceived by Y. Kalendarev. By declaring “Kilian” an historical monument, the state authorities released - so to speak - the “genius loci,” and the artist attempts to recapture it in his work. He designed his antimonument to be situated within the war memorial - the ruins of the pen “Kilian. ” The anti-memorial has an effect on the memorial due to the inevitability of its setting. It could not have been installed anywhere else, only here, where events once took place, here in Kiel harbour, on this location in the “bloody ” Baltic.

One can dispute the project’s visual poetry with its author. The Kiel project has no relation to language, it does not use language playfully. Those familiar with earlier works by Kalendarev will understand what is meant here. I am referring to a “dematerialization” of his artistic activity, which was initially oriented towards sculptural installations. This concerns a fresh orientation towards direct work with the elements.

The Kiel project is not only related to the ecology of the location, it is also concerned with daytime and night-time. Naturally all three elements of the project are particularly effective at night. Another interesting aspect of the project is that it is not determined by the viewers, who cannot comprehend it in one viewing, since its three main parts are too far away from each other and cannot be seen simultaneously. The intention is that the potential viewer combines them intellectually, grasping them from a superior, invisible standpoint. This is the project’s relation to land-art, although as a rule, land-art does not take on such an immense historical burden as is the case with “Kilian. ” Here the aesthetic is very close to the historical. The aesthetic is undermined from within (there is no orientation towards an autonomous aesthetic object), but also from without (through the pressure of the singularity of this setting in which war was waged). The author of the anti-memorial may neglect neither the inner nor the outer pressure. In this sense, the transformation of history into an “event” includes the unavoidable risk of reproach that here history is being aestheticized.

But only by taking on this risk can we lend a new dimension to war, creating an “ecology” of war. Yes, the dimension of horror which passes into silence is always present in total war, and will always be present. This anti-memorial by Kalen- darev is a reminder of this silent truth of war, especially in the case of a war which is based upon the negation of the right to live for entire peoples. There is only one way of forcing us to voice this truth. This is the creation of distance, the transformation of silence into an “event. ” I believe that something of this nature will emerge when the Kiel project is realized.

4, May 1995, Moscow


(1)  See the analysis of the “sculptural” period in the artistic work of Y. Kalindarev in the article by Hans Gercke “Sculpture as a counterpoint,” Stones, Heidelberg, Kunstverein Heidelberg, 1990, pp. 6-13.

(2)  The number of such dimensions can be multiplied. For example, Kiel played an important role at the Russian court during the Elizabethan period, because the successor to the Russian throne, the future Peter III, was the ruling Duke  of Holstein (a unique occurrence in Russian history). Dozens of officers from Holstein served at the court at that time. Incapable of keeping his tiny dukedom under control, the Grand Duke handed over affairs of state to his wife, the future Catherine the Great (also a princess of Holstein on her mother’s side). She demonstrated her talents at government for the first time in Holstein. The “Holstein” theme takes up almost a quarter of the Tsarina’s memoirs.

Translation: Lucinda Rennison, Berlin