Lukas Janitsch | Das ahnt keiner

“How you were! How you are! Nobody knows it, none can guess!” The opening lines of Richard Strauss’ Rosenkavalier already anticipate the theme of temporality the opera takes up, putting into words the complex relationship between the passing and experiencing of time. Lukas Janitsch’s exploration of how time is perceived also begins with how the past is conveyed into the present: old-fashioned porcelain with delicate mille-fleur, coffee mugs with cartoon motifs, and ‘Wimmelbilder’, pictures teeming with detailed figures, which are to train the child’s eye to follow the change of seasons – the exhibited objects refer to the realm of memories.

Even if at first this collection may seem to be personal and private, the objects and motifs are in fact archetypical emblems, symbols of a happy childhood. The objects are thus not the result of years of collecting artefacts, nor are they treasures taken directly from the artist’s very own personal trove; they are, rather, fabricated by him, meticulously hand painted. An eerie shift also takes place in the motifs, revealing itself only at second glance. The coffee cups, exuding an idyllic atmosphere, are not decorated with common field flowers but endangered, almost extinct species; the botanic illustrations are taken from the Red List of threatened plants. The animal motifs of the cartoon series: no harmless playmates but protagonists of a dystopian fable. “As the animals left the forest” is about man’s destruction of the forest and the animals’ forced flight.

Lukas Janitsch juxtaposes this collection, a fictitious echo of an idealized childhood idyll that has become firmly etched in the collective memory by superimposed media images, with authentic historical objects. They are fossilised pieces of bone, taken from the Natural History Museum, laid out on coloured glass panels. The threat formulated in the cups has long been fulfilled in the remains of the Ice Age species: the steppe bison, mammoth and cave bear are completely and utterly extinct, their life and history, now conserved, appear able to be reconstructed on the basis of the tiniest fragments. The glass panels are also fragments and remnants: they are sections of historical stained-glass windows, the negative forms created by the cutting, which have been stored in the cellar of a Viennese art glazer for a good hundred years and refer to their matching counterparts in chapels and churches.

Arranged into platform-like forms with building bricks, the museum exhibits are translated into a precarious game of balance: the signifiers which, thanks to their historicity as fragments, render visible what has long vanished, become abstract forms, detached from any fixed textual or visual ascription, discharged from their archaeological function. The “how-it-was” loses its imperative force and becomes a flexible space of possibility, while as sunlight, time itself wanders through the panes of coloured glass, casting a coloured shadow over the souvenirs and relics.

Between porcelain cups and bone fragments, between fictitious witnesses of the past and authentic historicity, Janitsch casts a tight net that explores the function of remembering as it oscillates between deception and preservation. When we lose ourselves in the micro-narratives of the teeming figure pictures and the adventures of the cartoon characters so that time becomes an unfathomable and extendable dimension, then the subject taken up by the Knight of the Rose Octavian, which sounds out at the top of each hour, is the necessary time-giving meter that first makes the passing of time tangible.

Nina Lucia Groß and Raphael Dillhof