the wheels of history

asta gröting at carlier | gebauer

Arist Asta Gröting has a fascination with the invisible, the space between. Her new exhibition, “Goethe’s travel carriage, Adenauer’s Mercedes and my Smart,” focuses that fascination on modes of personal transport over the last three centuries—specifically those of Goethe, Konrad Adenauer and herself. By scanning the typically unseen undercarriages of each vehicle and casting them into life size molds, Gröting lets the observer interpret the interplay of the three objects in a way that provides an unexpected mode of comparison. As she makes the invisible visible, she paves a pathway to a completely new awareness. Ahead of the opening on March 3, the berlin art journal’s Cordula Schmitz spoke with Gröting about rubber, romance, eavesdropping on grownup conversation.

Cordula Schmitz: What did you do to Goethe’s carriage?

Asta Gröting: I wanted to turn its technology inside out and upside down. I wanted to make the invisible parts of the three vehicles visible. I had Goethe’s carriage scanned and then replicated it.

CS: So is that your basic concept and inspiration for the current exhibition?

AG: My basic concept was to bring together three rubber casts of three vehicles that span three centuries of German cultural heritage. There’s the romantic epoch of Goethe, the remnants of which still remain in the way we think and approach things; the post-war generation, which has influenced the way my generation acts and feels; and then there’s the technology that our current era has produced.

CS: Usually you’re more focused on the “inside” and the spaces between people. Why have you turned to technology now?

AG: Technology, craftsmanship and vehicles fascinate me. They say almost everything about a society and the time period. The exterior changes with the zeitgeist, through which you can learn a lot about a society and the people of the time.

CS: What’s so special about vehicles and their owners?

AG: I saw Goethe’s carriage for the first time 20 years ago in Weimar after the Wall came down. In 1810, the carriage was the highpoint of craftsmanship. Ever since I saw it for the first time, I’ve been thinking about that carriage and in what shape and form a statement would make sense. It turned out to be quite difficult to get a hold of a carriage, so a friend suggested I use Adenauer’s company car instead. Just as I’d somewhat come to terms with it, I suddenly had the opportunity to do both, and that’s how I came to having a conglomeration of German history in one place.

Goethe bought this custom-made travel carriage in Karlsbad in 1810 for 1200 Gulden. That’s the year he wrote the Theory of Colors. In this carriage he scrawled down the Elegies with a pencil: “O könnt ich wie vom Stein die Bilder drucken. Welch eine liebe Sammlung würd es geben....” Two hundred years later, I can scan and replicate the bottom of his carriage.

CS: And how does Adenauer fit into this lineage?

AG: When I was a child, at night, I’d secretly try to eavesdrop on what the grownups were talking about so excitedly, and I always heard the name Adenauer. As a leftist journalist, my father was in the opposition. There was the Spiegel scandal of 1962 and the subsequent murder of Buback by the RAF. Adenauer had an incredible fear of the Soviets. He was famously quoted as saying, “Should I make an army out of 16 year-olds? The NATO would never buy it,” in response to the accusation that he’d composed the German army of generals who’d served in the Wehrmacht. He was representative of a new, confident Germany after 1945 and drove a car to match.

CS: And then you and your Smart car come along…

AG: Yes, it looks a bit presumptuous at first, doesn’t it? (laughs). First of all, all three are high-tech vehicles according to their time period. A Smart is like a computer, like a laptop. It tries to take up as little space and energy as possible. There’s little left of the engine that a vehicle like the Mercedes 300 had.

These vehicles are also like an outer shell that can define a person. Cars have become so small, but they are still a mode of distinguishing ourselves. These three vehicles are like witnesses to German cultural history over the last three centuries.

by Cordula Schmitz

[Images: Asta Gröting's studio, by Paco Arteaga]