Transromantik is an on-going collaborative project by Cathy Ward and Eric Wright. Begun in 2000, it currently encompases several large-scale installations and smaller projects that have been presented in various international venues.
The Chamber of Pop Culture
The initial installation "Transromantik -The Berchtesgaden Effect" was curated by Roger Burton and Ian White for the Chamber of Pop Culture at the Horse Hospital, London UK. Ian and Roger commissioned the work in 1998 and it took 2 years to complete the original corpus of sculptures, paintings, videos and other components of the exhibition.
This exhibition ran from 27 Oct - 25 Nov 2000.
Since the initial exhibition in 2000 at the Horse Hospital, Transromantik has been expanded and shown at a number of galleries in the years following the Horse Hospital show. See the list at right for more detailed information.
Transromantik - The Berchtesgaden Effect
“A fantasy forest of trees stripped to the bone, painted and adorned with talismanic idylls and magical objects; spectacular, escapist fantasies and fairy tale castles, invested with the seductive and disturbing power of classical Romanticism, evoking bowers where 'mad' King Ludwig II and Walt Disney sit together in hyper-real pastorals more perfect than nature itself.
Ward & Wright's lyrical forest is a radically joyous exploration of how the revisionism involved in popular myth-making adopts the sugar-glazed guise of candy-coloured artifice. Inspired by a 'revelation' in the Hofbraufhaus, Berchtesgaden in Bavaria, Germany, it is an ambitious journey into the darkness at the heart of 'innocence'.
Ian White (Curator CPC/HH and Lux Gallery, Artist and Writer for numerous arts publications)
Transromantik - Volksgeist
Comissioned by Mercer Union Gallery, Toronto in 2002. The exhibition featured site specific new tree sculptures. See the texts section for Vincent Deary's catalogue essay.
Transromantik - Glade
A curated selection of "Fairytale" tree sculptures at Gallery 14, Golden Square, Soho, London. The exhibition took place in April 2002.
Essays about Transromantik and Ward & Wrights work.
Down The Local by Vincent Deary
was not that German idealism collapsed; rather, the age was no longer strong
enough to stand up to the greatness, breadth, and originality of that spiritual
world, i.e. to truly realise it." -Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics.
"Truth is structured like fiction" -Lacan.
The licence of Romanticism is issued by our exclusion from the Thing. We'll never
know it, never get it. When Kant, and then the rest of western culture, woke
from it's "dogmatic slumber" it was to this, our exile in the phenomenal
world. "We can know a priori of things only what we ourselves put into
them." We can't see the wood for the trees. To be one of the first to really
get that, imagine. Can't see for looking, can't help but seeing the spookily
transpersonal, impersonal categories of human being. He counted them, 12, immutable
and absolute, but not for long. Romance began when imagination woke up and saw
cosy option, make believe, the soft core porn of Romantic Landscape Painting,
Nature in the knickers of Notion. But take it further, as with this work here,
push Romanticism to it's limit, objectify the processes of objectification,
and something else begins to happen. Husserl re-defined the Thing as the ideal
limit of all its possible modes of representation, an asymptotic point. Something
like that happens here. The work of fantasy normally accomplished by the gaze,
which transmutes this tree into a demon, this one a sylph, all the poetry of
the encounter with the object is here accomplished by the object itself, which
is fantastically over-determined. All the work has been done here, you need
bring nothing to this encounter. As such what we are confronted with is the
process of gazing itself, looking on, we see our looking looking back at us.
More than this, we also learn something about the gazes (transpersonal, transcultural)
"Process of making folkways: Although we may see the process of making
folkways going on all the time, the analysis of the process is very difficult.
It appears as if there was a "mind" in the crowd which was different
from the minds of the individuals which compose it." ` W. G. Sumner (anthropologist)
realised that mind belonged to no-one and effectively was reality, it took Hegel
to realise that this mind is culturally embodied, local and evolving. The Volksgeist,
the spirit of the people expressed itself through art and customs, laws and
institutions, language and culture. The spirit was the reality, the individual
the abstraction. It is as this point, historically, that a certain indelible
reflexivity entered cultural practice. "Art is man's nature" realised
Burke in England at the same time. Again we see the room for Romance. The "rediscovery"
of myths and folklore, the cultures very deliberate plundering of itself, acquires
its force and value at this point because it is precisely at this point that
myth became mythic, the expression of spirit in the idiom of culture. The very
idea of the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the time, begins then, and in Germany.
doubling occurs. We find the culture prescribing itself to do what it is already
doing. Only in partaking of, communing with the Volksgeist does the individual
acquire their individuality. Thus the sudden sacred aura donated to going down
the local, getting to the pub. If customs and shared values - Sittlichkeit -
are the cumulative wisdom of the spirit, then the pub and public institutions
are the place of their exchange. Place as embodied knowledge is something the
21st century cognitive scientists are just waking up to. Hegel knew this long
ago. The pub is the spirit's site of self communion. It knows how to drink.
where this is leading. Germany's genius with itself, the synergy of its cultural
reflexivity and self commitment is precisely what Hitler co-opted to make himself
instant myth. But look around. Disney too, that other empire builder, myth maker,
lifts his fantasy castles and modus operandi directly from King Ludwig II. Our
culture is indelibly branded with the tropes of German idealism, from Lacan
to The Matrix, from cognitive science to virtual reality. This work evokes the
primal scene of western cultures awakening to itself, actually locates it. In
doing so it completes the project of romanticism and transmutes the imaginary
landscape into the landscape of the Imaginary itself.
-Vincent Deary 2002
Fetish, Anti-Fetish, Thing
"They looked for it outside themselves, but it was only to
be found within." -C Baudelaire, "What is Romanticism?"
Perhaps we recall Dante's Forest of the Suicides, each object standing stark
in independent space, petrified totem of itself, no foliage to conceal the wood
from the trees, from us. Dante’s trees would stand and scream and bleed. So
might some of these. Others would run with gold, or laugh, or play a music box
tune. One could kill, another weep. But to linger for too long in the notion
of a forest would be to go astray and we must move into the idea of the Clearing.
Obvious choice, and the perfect prototype of Installation. Of
course for Heidegger the Clearing is the place of unveiling, where Being literally
dis-covers itself. So what is revealed, unveiled in this clearing? Well precisely
the veiled object. One is reminded of Hegel's bizarre definition of a plant
- an animal with its organs on the outside. However here what the objects, 'the
trees', bear on their outside is all their symbolic determinations - it is almost
as if, as objects, they leave us nothing to do as viewer. The work of fantasy,
normally accomplished by the gaze, which transmutes this tree into a demon,
this one a sylph, all the poetry of the tree is already accomplished by the
trees themselves, which are fantastically overdetermined. So paradoxically these
apparently sensual, gorgeous objects achieve a sublime banality, an inert completeness
- all the work has been done here, you need bring nothing to this encounter.
As such, what we are confronted with is the process of gazing itself, it is
the gaze incarnated, clinging to the surface of the object. One is reminded
of the ultimate failure of hardcore pornography, where, as here, nothing is
left to the imagination - eventually the observed process becomes surgical,
abstract. To sustain ones erotic involvement it is eventually necessary to eroticise
this very absence of eroticism. Something similar happens here - with our fantasy
enacted before our eyes, with our insides out there, projected, embodied, completed
-what are we to do?
Nature herself is projected "Only in the light of a Nature
which has been projected in this fashion can anything like a fact be found"-
That Truth has the structure of a fiction, that the Real requires
a minimum of fantasy for reality to appear as such, is no new notion, Heidegger
is merely iterating the founding trope of transcendental idealism, of Kant,
that cold father of Romanticism. Romantic licence takes its cue from our exclusion
from The Thing, our exile in the phenomenal. Potentially cosy option, make believe,
lets make it up, the soft core porn of Romantic Landscape Painting, Nature in
the knickers of Notion. But take it further, push Romanticism to its limit,
objectify the process of objectification and we move beyond fetishism into an
uncanny other realm, that of the Thing in itself. Husserl defined the Thing
as the ideal limit of all its possible modes of perception, an asymptotic point.
A fetish brought to such a pitch of completion, or in a state of such almost
perfect (over)explication, begins to approach the status of The Thing, as Romanticism,
taken to the logical limit, returns to its Kantian roots, and becomes the only
kind of realism we can ever have. Let us recapitulate the pathway that takes
us to the Thing’s unveiling in the clearing of this exhibition. Beginning with
the deployment of the standard tropes of romanticism, the work repeats its founding
gesture, overloads the object of the gaze until the gaze itself emerges from
The trees have eyes.
Looking back, we encounter our inability to see the thing beyond the act of
seeing, and in this clearing the thing itself emerges as a beautiful lie.
Vincent Deary 2000
Transromantik: What Lies Beyond the Romantic?
Cathy Ward and Eric Wright both come from a background of self taught painting,
and significantly both have spent time working for the Disney Corporation on
the production of 'Sleeping Beauty'. Their collaboration on the construction
of the forest of Transromantik owes much to a tradition of painting that has
more to do with theatre and popular 'folk' art than what is now called 'outsider'
art. The art world is notoriously difficult to rebel against- as soon as a position
of antithesis is found, the art world, amoeba like, envelops it as something
refreshing and 'new'. Now that 'outsider' art is accepted as far as post-modern
culture is concerned, TransRomantik at the Royal Society of British Sculptors
is succeeding in lifting the lid on another 'unacceptable' area of culture and
presenting something which to most people is, if not completely ignored, then
positively recoiled from. This is art that the art world would prefer to remain
hidden - we are immune to the sight of evisceration and blood in gallery settings
but souvenir wooden clogs are an entirely different matter.
Kitsch can be acceptable in many circumstances when it is sufficiently ring-fenced
and contextualised- either in the mind of the viewers aware of their own post-modernity,
or in its physical placement. One Green Lady painting or a collection of snowstorms
is sufficiently contextualised to render it harmless, even desirable. What Transromantik
does however is to up the stakes to a much higher level. By constructing a forest
of kitsch, we are effectively being denied a context. Like a genuine forest,
the sky is not visible, we cannot see very far into the distance, and we become
immersed in the experience of being amongst trees. This is fine in nature, in
this forest however it is the sensation entrapment in a varnished faux world
of folk art that is uppermost.
Why are our reactions so deep and automatic? It always
seems to be a particular kind of one star hotel that still finds it acceptable
to display, without irony, those wooden mementoes from old Bavaria or Switzerland,
that either hang keys or tell you the barometric pressure as a kind of sideline
to their main effect which is to induce in the viewer a kind of suffocating
nausea. This has more to do with associations which we bring to these ubiquitous
objects than any fault of the object itself. That a framed technicolour postcard
view of Neuschwanstein mounted on a dark brown 'log slice' of wood can have
this effect on the soul is remarkable and it is a reaction which Ward and Wright
have exploited in full.
Our discomfort is intangible and associative - Ward and Wright have dared to
carry their investigation to the centre of what one could call the dark heart
of the European psyche, in their revelation in 1999 at the 'Hofbrauhaus' beer
parlour, Berchtesgarden, Germany. It is no coincidence that this region is also
the seat of 1930's German National Socialism, because it is this which forms
one of the connections which starts to explain our reactions to the culture
which surrounds the trees in Transromantik. This place represents things hidden
and denied, as well as being a point of pressure, or recognition, in our unconscious
which has far reaching consequences -carrying well beyond recent 20th century
history. Ward and Wright's revelation had to do with cultural connectivity.
Their objects stand as products of a kind of a cultural 'rock family tree' -
but also they are about arrested development. They are at once deeply unsettling
on many levels, whilst at the same time being quite beautiful and somehow morbidly
fascinating. Instead of literal roots, these trees have instead grown from a
particular kind of mid-European monomania, which moves from Mad King Ludwig
11 of Bavaria the builder of fairytale castles and his connection with Wagner,
through to Caspar David Friedrich, Hitler and Walt Disney. In the case of Ludwig,
his monomania led to an 'excess of taste' which directly inspired Disney's visions
and the castle in Sleeping Beauty. It is a particular sickness which has strong
resonances in American culture, with figures such as Howard Hughes, Elvis and
Michael Jackson springing most readily to mind, an inheritance which Jeff Koons
has readily exploited. In the case of Disney, the cultural transplantation of
the Ludwig vision was helped by massive wartime emigration from 20th century
Europe of animators and designers from Germany to the safety of the US. But
Transromantik's more ancient provenance lies with the brothers Grimm, and before
that with German tree worship, the Weinachstsbaum (Night of the Sacred Tree)
tradition which we now associate with Christmas. The electric shock of recognition
we receive from the Transromantik forest is a product of this weight of folk
memory inherited from generation to generation, and the recognition that we
introduce the Tree into our homes every year as a matter of course.
The analogy with the Christmas tree is only partly apt. This has greenery, branches
and the smell of the forest. The trees in Ward and Wright's forest are denuded
of branch and leaf, like shell-shattered limbless trees in a World War One landscape
of trenches. They have been appropriated and removed utterly from their context,
bewitching us in with the language of old- time kitsch before we realise that
these trees have thorns and sharp bones for branches, and that even the woodiness
of them is removed from our touch by thick layers of varnish. These trees operate
like way-markers on the long road from Bavaria and the Berchesgarten through
the mountain passes to the film lots of Walt Disney.
Where does this leave us now, in our squeaky clean 21st century of designer
ideals and heavy post-postmodern irony? A quick glance at the computer games
in the living spaces of the average city dweller and you will find the same
polarities of good and evil played out, with perhaps even more seductive power
over our imaginations and just as many dark forces and endless forests as Disney
had. The difficulty here is that unlike past generations we have become almost
completely divorced from our environment and the natural world, and so the Disney
inheritance is serving to arrest us, Peter Pan-like, in a state of perpetual
childhood. The fairy stories that traditionally operated as bridges between
childhood and adulthood, as a moral rite of passage for the child, have now
lost their meanings and are recycled back at us. The imagery used in the trees
of the Transromantik forest is that of the Germanic/ Mid-European mountain forest
paradise which was traditionally bought by tourists in order to remind them
of what they had lost- glowing unpeopled landscapes and halycon mountain-scapes.
It is no fault of the pictures somehow that they have become laden with the
baggage of a European psychosis in their journey through to the present, where
they filter down to the lowest levels of society in the boot-sales and charity
shops. Attach as well to this loss of innocence an association with the heartland
of German Nazism, and a powerful conflict is in place which stretches out across
the Western Hemisphere and wherever Disney, nicknamed 'Mauschwitz' by its employees,
has spread its tentacles.
Stephen Felmingham - 2002
Excerpts from: Hungry Ghost in the Soft Machine: Reanimating Art with Ward & Wright
...Ward & Wrights’ ambivalent relationship to Romanticism has been an ongoing and evolving aspect of their collaborative and individual oeuvres – their sumptuous Transromantik installations teased out the common Romantic underpinnings of Nazism and Disney World, after all, while their Destiny Manifest project equated the mythology of western expansion – essentially an Edenic return in spite of the genocide and ticklish use of eminent domain – with the despair and cannibalism of the Donner Party’s doomed journey. These are the kind of historical associations typically used to discredit Romanticism in academic contexts, with the implication that cannibalism, genocide, and Race to Witch Mountain are the inevitable outcome of inherent flaws in the Romantic Weltanschauung.
As with the specific case of Western mystery schools (a history itself deeply entangled with that of Romanticism), W&W’s strategy is to simultaneously critique the shortcomings and abuses of Romanticism while laying prior claim to the fundamental philosophical ideas emcoded in its symbolic vocabulary. While the superficial narrative result can be a bleak, at times despairing view of humanity – as evidenced by frequent references to Charles MacKay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds -- it is undercut, and even superceded by the sheer psychedelic gorgeousness of the work...
...Which is pretty much where we find ourselves today. In the face of the imminent collapse of Western Civilization, with academia and the Art World vigorously policing their spurious claims to radical cultural authority, we are called upon find new models of artmaking that value all meaning, and locate the source of significance as below: subcultural, subconscious, decentralized, collectively authored, empirical yet indeterminate, and open to revelation. With their honoring of folkloric aesthetic vocabularies, their non-oppositional encompassing of complex verbally-based literary and philosophical realms and love of shiny things, their history of collaborative social experiment and advocacy for the viability of small scale group politics (both in their own work and within their communities), and their productive model of sensory-grounded human intellect that recognizes its continuity with the rest of nature, Catharyne Ward and Eric Wright have, in Tender Vessels offered a walk-through manifesto for the future of art, and the components for a makeshift coffin-raft to carry us to the next shore...