“Shneebett” (translated from German means snow-bed) is the title of an installation by Enrique Martinez Celaya reflecting on the final days of Beethoven. Central to the installation is a full-scale refrigerated bed covered with frost. It was first shown at the Berliner Philharmonie in 2004 and is currently on view at the Miami Art Museum.
This work to me exemplifies the kind of serious artistic engagement that stands in opposition to the irony and safety of humor seen in so much art today (my post on Dubossarsky and Vinogradov points at one such instance) . I will quote from the www.schneebett.com to give some insight into the work:
“Schneebett is framed by nineteenth-century German idealist responses to Kant and animated by the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk, or “total work of art.” This nineteenth-century idea of an all-encompassing work that could mobilize and unify the arts attracted and haunted German artists and writers like Novalis, Lessing, Goethe, Wagner, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. This quest for aesthetic unity also sought to reconnect art to ethics, which had been sundered by Kant. For Martínez Celaya Schneebett is enlisted in the service of life, of human consciousness and its capacity to understand the world, even death. Kurt Schwitters’s epic Hannover Merzbau (1923-1937) and Joseph Beuys’ practice of “social sculpture” of the sixties and seventies are important art historical antecedents that inform Schneebett. Schwitters transforms specific spaces into comprehensive aesthetic environments while Beuys takes artistic practices into the public arena. Although it shares similar interests with Anselm Kiefer’s ambitious installations, such as the poetry of Celan, Heidegger’s writings, and the emotional resonance of Berlin, Schneebett operates on a different emotional register.Unlike Kiefer’s work, which is directed toward excavating and critiquing German national identity, Martínez Celaya’s work in general and Schneebett more specifically, uses the complexities, ambivalences, and tragedies of German culture, including the powerful presence of Jewish thought and feeling, as a means to explore the universal yet diverse experience of exile and loss, memory and longing, and the finality of death.
For Beethoven, for us, the deathbed offers only the occasion for remembering all that the world has had to offer, in art and nature. The birch tree branches also establish a barrier between the viewer and the deathbed. The empty chair is for us, as we can only sit and watch at a distance the death of another and consider our own confrontation with death.
The deathbed renders death final, renders it cold and lonely and opens up a chasm, even for those whose religious beliefs presume a God who saves, who resurrects, and gives eternal life. Believer and unbeliever alike must confront the ultimate ethical encounter with the ultimate other, our own finality. Martínez Celaya has written, “the invocation of a great order in the face of nothingness is fundamentally an ethical experience.” (The Prophet, 232). Schneebett, which begins as a monument to Beethoven, becomes our memorial, a mirror through which we confront the memory and value of our own work.”
The title of the piece is taken from a poem by Paul Celan, translated from German, which I’m reprinting from here (http://www.eleventhvolume.com/miscellany/2006/12/28/eldbjørg-raknes-paul-celan-scott-walker/)
Eyes, world-blind, in the fissure of dying: I come,
callous growth in my heart.
Moon-mirror rock-face. Down.
(Shine spotted with breath. Blood in streaks.
Soul forming clouds, close to the true shape once more.
Ten-finger shadow, clamped.)
eyes in the fissure of dying,
The snow-bed under us both, the snow-bed.
Crystal on crystal,
meshed deep as time, we fall,
we fall and lie there and fall.
Some Beethoven: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6txOvK-mAk