Raum der Stille, 2000 - Pokoj Ciszy

Room of Silence

It is a place of quiet,
a place of contemplation,
a place for reflection,
a place to be.

It is a cube, an architectural sculpture,
the inside walls – a monochrome picture, shimmering graphite.
Day and night influence the atmosphere in the room.

Art is a path that one must follow.

I know what it is like to sit in front a shimmering panel picture,
I know what it is like to stand in front of a shimmering wall,
But I have yet to know what it is to be inside a shimmering space.

Ewa Kulasek, Cologne 1997


Relationship to the Building

Blücher GmbH is located on the grounds of the "Brügger Mühle",
a former paper mill from the halcyon days of German industrialisation.
It consists of a complex of several buildings, which were built one by one,
and that have now been converted for new purposes, such as offices,
laboratories, production halls etc.

To this I have added just one small building
- a "Room of Silence",
a walk-in sculpture with monochrome wall drawings.

To my mind, we all need art, the Other, in order to live.

I wanted to create an artwork that can be "used" by lots of people,
that is a part of their lives and is experienced forever anew.

So now the "Room of Silence" is there.
The structure is located away from the hustle and bustle,
on the edge of Neander Valley,
at a spot where once a sewage plant made this beautiful spot inaccessible.

One can see it from the factory grounds,
but to reach it one must first make a decision
and follow a small path leading through a flowering meadow.

The room is open to the public.

Ewa Kulasek, Cologne 2000

Raum der Stille, 2000

Raum der Stille, 2000 Kopie

Room of Silence.
Ewa Kulasek's sculptural intervention in the open

Room of Silence is the name artist Ewa Kulasek has given to a walk-in cube that she has created in the heart of a landscape that straddles civilisation and nature.
Made of pale grey cast concrete, its three outside walls each display three vertical openings, while its end wall has a central door that is similarly flanked by two slender light inlets. The side walls inside the cube are dark grey and covered in layers of graphite; up above is a white ceiling whose colour is echoed by the window wells, while the floor below is black. This architectural sculpture is located on the grounds of the Brügger Mühle in Neander Valley, to the right of the Rhine between Cologne and Düsseldorf. It is situated on the site of a former industrial complex, which recently however has taken the protection of the environment and humankind as its ethical guideline. This includes in particular the installation of high performance extractors to eliminate allergenic particles and gases, as well as filters to reduce gaseous pollutants in the air, as we read in a company brochure.

The countryside around the Brügger Mühle is marked by two distinct elements: on the one hand a small stream flows through an idyllic valley full of trees and meadows, and on the other there are three settling tanks from an erstwhile sewage works. But the water there is clear, the works have reverted to nature, well-considered landscaping has furnished them with well-considered greenery. Here in this new ensemble, the small, vibrant art edifice forms a lively blend of art and nature. With its strict forms it has the air of a modern hermitage; a place of quiet and isolation, of renunciation and contemplation.

“Recollection,” says the American Trappist monk Thomas Merton (1914-1968), who enjoys high regard in not only artistic circles, “is a change of spiritual focus and an attuning of our whole soul to what is beyond and above ourselves. It is a 'conversion' or a 'turning' of our being to spiritual things and to God. And because spiritual things are simple, recollection is also at the same time simplification of our state of mind and of our spiritual activity.”

As a place for such recollection, Ewa Kulasek’s cube functions in two ways as a kind of nucleus. On the one hand it is in itself the outcome of a highly concentrated creative process. The artist prepared the inner side walls of the concrete building by priming them and coating them in acrylic paint; after this, she worked over the walls throughout a period of several months, completely filling them with graphite strokes, which gradually created a kind of second skin. This is the skin’s level, extending over the structural features of the concrete wall, over the minute sand grains and tiny air bubbles in the construction material. Stroke by stroke, grain by grain, hole by hole: Ewa Kulasek shrouded everything in the grey of the graphite. Every single element was worked round in a process demanding the utmost concentration and recollection.

Concentration is not recollection. The two can exist together, but ordinarily recollection means so much more than the focusing of thought upon a single clear point that it tends to diffuse thought by simplification, thus raising it above the level of tension and self-direction. ... Recollection makes me present to myself by bringing together two aspects, or activities, of my being as if they were two lenses in a telescope. One lens is the basic substance of my spiritual being: the inward soul, the deep will, the spiritual intelligence. The other is my outward soul, the practical intelligence, the will engaged in the activities of life.

Apart from the actual genesis of the cube, there is another important aspect that makes it just the right place for the modern mind and recollection: its cubic shape and its grey colour. The cube consists of six squares. For Kasimir Malevich, the square is a sign of the liberation of art from representationalism. In his view it manifested, as it were, the zero point from which the spiritual penetration of the world must set out. For Wassily Kandinsky the square is a fundamental planar form: the most objective form taken for the schematic ground surface is the square - its two pairs of boundary lines have the same sonorous power. Warmth and cold are balanced in relative terms. Josef Albers took this idea a step further when he conceived of the artistic form of the square as an alter ego, as an active partner. The square appears as a figure that presents itself to the perceiving eye and elicits a response.

In the same way the square reduces space to its active ground, so does the colour grey. Located somewhere between the poles of black and white, it is a non-colour that nevertheless binds and neutralizes all other colours in itself. Grey is chromatic reduction with charged potentiality, from which the viewer can definitely summon an interior recollection of all other colours and over and beyond that all manner of inner representations. In keeping with Joseph Beuys, colours per se must be regarded as substances that essentially must be seen as free-floating. In this context, the grey is a colour concentrate containing all other chromatic possibilities; thought is able to set them free.

Thought that does not proceed from recollection tends by its very nature to disperse our powers of thought and will. ... And if it is not strengthened by interior recollection, such thought must seek its strength elsewhere - in the vain power of excitement and interior tension.

This is not the first Room of Silence to have been created by Ewa Kulasek. Five years ago she created a similarly concentrated space, likewise though months of labour, for the Kunst-Station Sankt Peter in Cologne in its Romanesque church tower. On the gallery above the nave is a door. If on entering the visitor turns round and glances back – he or she beholds the nave, and sees there the stained glass windows in the apse dating from the dawn of the Modern Era. These windows give visual expression to Western religious beliefs about death and resurrection. Through the ever-changing play of light in the stained glass, the windows visualise this aspect of belief in God and humanity in the West.

Likewise in the present cube at the Brügger Mühle, the observer is presented with a similar focus on a particular subject. The windows are clear. The viewer’s eye looks out to nature – and to that which in their mind is moved or reflected by it. The view is open. But the world picture is no longer fixed on an object or motif; and yet this picture remains present in each and every question, as long as the question focuses in a state of inner recollection on an answer.

Recollection is more than a mere turning inward on ourselves, and it does not necessarily mean the denial or exclusion of exterior things. Sometimes we are more recollected, quieter, simple and pure, when we see 'through' exterior things ... than when we turn away from them to shut them out of our minds. Recollection does not deny sensible things, it sets them in order. Either they are significant to it, and it sees their significance, or else they have no special meaning, and their meaninglessness remains innocent and neutral.

Understood in this way, inner recollection in art leads to transformation. Above all, it is the aim of all forms of art based on the study of humanity to transform everyday experience into the spiritual. Technical, logical thought must be instilled with intuition, imagination and inspiration if it is to re-establish the link with its spiritual roots. All this, the thoughts and work, must reconnect to the spiritual dimension. In keeping with this, one further intention of this cube is to link it with an industrial product whose manufacture went to pay for the room’s creation: the filter. The cube is situated between two state aggregates. On the one side something rather fine, and on the other something more coarse - and vice versa: here the unfiltered, there the cleansed; variously outside and undifferentiated, and clarified within; sometimes clear in one’s consciousness, but mysterious in the other, yet brought together through concentrated thought...

With its clear, geometrically varied form, this cube stands between two states: the undeveloped unconsciousness of the subject and the diffuse and unmastered impressions of the outside world. The dullness of the one contrasts with the darkness of the other. And yet it is the inner, creatively flowing power within people that is discovered and awakened at this place of art. The power focuses, lets go, wends it way to and fro, sweeps out and turns in, compares and distinguishes and filters... The rebus of the person is exposed to clarifying light.

This simplification gives us the kind of peace and vision of which Jesus speaks when He says: "If thine eye be single thy whole body will be full of light" (Matthew 6:22). Since this text refers principally to purity of intention, it reminds us that recollection does this also: it purifies our intention. It gathers up all the love of our soul, raises it above created and temporal things, and directs it all to God in Himself and in His will.

Pastor Friedhelm Mennekes S.J.

The quotations have been taken from Thomas Merton’s book,
No Man is an Island, Curtis Brown, New York (1955), new edition Harvest Books, San Diego, 1983, p. 217-229.