|is In Wild Air|
Herbert Pföstl is an Austrian painter of animals, plants and saints. For his bread and butter he has been curating the book selections at New York City's New Museum since 2001. Pföstl is the coauthor of To Die No More (Blind Pony Books) and recently published Light Issued Against Ruin (The Brother In Elysium) and Schrift-Landschaften (Epidote Press). He is currently engaged in translating, with Kristofor Minta, the selected writings of such singular and solitary German language authors as Adalbert Stifter, Novalis, and Hans Jürgen von der Wense. His translations will soon be available in various books and pamphlets, including A Shelter for Bells: From the Writings of Hans Jürgen von der Wense, out this fall from Epidote Press. His artworks are held in both public and private collections and can be viewed on his website.
Karl Bodmer’s American Indians
If my earliest work was influenced by Antonin Artaud’s hallucinatory and hieroglyphic drawings, then my earliest life, as a child in the provinces of Austria, was utterly shaped and, in my mind, sanctified by the solemn splendor of Swiss artist Karl Bodmer’s watercolors, aquatints, and handcolored lithographs of North American Indians. Commissioned by Prince Maximilian zu Wied- Neuwied, Bodmer was tasked with the responsibility of recording, in hundreds of sketches and watercolors, the Journey into the Interior of North America, Prince Maximilian’s scientific expedition to the Upper Missouri from 1832 to 1834. These images—which I found in my father’s library—were like icons of vanished cultures, but ones that still produced a radical shimmer. The faces of chiefs and warriors of the Plains Indians tribes, including the tragic Mandan, the Moennitarri, the Blackfeet, and the mighty Dakota Sioux—all reflected a lost, but deeper life. Romantically informed (or rather misinformed) about Native Americans—through my beloved books by the German Karl May and the Leatherstocking Tales of James Fenimore Cooper—Bodmer’s works seemed to contain a fiercer truth-content and to cast a darker spell. There was a certain tone in the bewildering otherness of these wonder-wounded images, and I endlessly tried to copy them onto paper and into my day dreamings. Little has changed since that time. I still keep coming back to them for solace, for my study of spirits—these troubled shadows, my saints, are always with me.
Hans Jürgen von der Wense
Composer, translator, poet, aphorist, photographer, and wanderer Hans Jürgen von der Wense was born on the 10th of November 1894 in Ortelsburg, East Prussia. One day before his seventy-second birthday, Wense died in Göttingen, Germany, leaving behind numerous diaries, thousands of photographs, six thousand letters, and thirty thousand loose sheets of writings on natural history, mineralogy, poetry, folklore, music, and the weather. His writings, which were filed in hundreds of binders and arranged alphabetically, comprised three major works: Epidot, a collection of fragments, the Wanderbuch, on his walking, and the All-book, an encyclopedia—but only fifty pages were ever published during his lifetime. A brilliant polymath and radical genius, like Artaud, Nietzsche, or Mahler, Wense lived among libraries and landscapes, without academic or familial consolations—often in near poverty—but canopied by his fever-longing to excavate and share the forgotten splendor of the things of this world. Radical, also, in his wandering, Wense is believed to have walked nearly 42,000 kilometers, or the equivalent of once around the earth, within just one hundred square kilometers of the Hessian and Westphalian highlands. I first discovered his writings through a small book titled Epidot, which was published by the legendary German Publisher Axel Matthes in 1987. Further extracts from Wense’s universe would very slowly follow over the next decades, through the tireless efforts of Dieter Heim (Wense’s close friend and the executor of his estate), Matthes & Seitz, and Blauwerke. There is, in his work, no ivory tower scenario, no flight from living, but instead the will to see, at any cost, the radiant truth of the universe, which he wanted to inventory in its totality—in its most natural state. Hans Jürgen von der Wense was to me the last, and dearest, in a great tradition of visionaries. A nomad between the various sciences, cultures, and literatures of the earth—he is a man who could have been invented by Borges. Yet he lived and was his own universe—marvelous and homeless as the storm.