This artwork was installed at the Internationale Waldkunstzentrum (IWZ) ( International Forest Art Centre) in Darmstadt as part of the StadtgARTen – Vogelfrei 10 festival that took place in from August 23 -September 9, 2013. The multi-sited exhibition was curated by Ute Ritschel.

The installation ‘Lenz’ is inspired by the novella of the same name by playwright and poet Georg Büchner, who was born near Darmstadt in 1813 and now the subject of a bicentennial celebration. Büchner composed Lenz while a fugitive from his birthplace, wanted by the authorities for his involvement in the authorship of a revolutionary pamphlet denouncing the government. The book is a highly fictionalized account of a harrowing period in the life of the Sturm-und-Drang playwright J.M.R. Lenz, both a case study of a mental illness and an ecstatic journey through a mind gripped by madness.

“Müdigkeit spürte er keine, nur war es ihm manchmal unangenehm, daß er nicht auf dem Kopf gehn konnte.”

Following a brief, romantic description of the protagonist’s journey through the Vosges mountains, this strange sentence is the very first indication that Lenz’s way of organizing his experience is completely opposite the ordinary. In the installation, viewers first encounter this quote printed upside-down on a large sign in front of the Forest House. They may then enter a room of the house that has been transformed into a camera obscura, a viewing technology well-known in Büchner’s time. Inside, due to light coming through a lens mounted in the wall, they will be able to see the exterior scene projected upside down, with the quote on the sign then appearing right side up, like a subtitle to the inverted landscape.

The way in which the camera obscura seems to shift between a scientific instrument depicting actuality and an entertaining device manufacturing a topsy-turvy world of illusion is analogous to the blending of fiction and nonfiction in Büchner’s Lenz, both in the construction of the account and in Lenz’s mind. Its immersive quality recalls how the protagonist repeatedly is swallowed up by his own perception, which appears as an all-encompassing other. The resulting urge he has to “up-end houses and stand them on their roofs” can be seen as a sign of dangerous detachment from reality, or as a revolutionary impulse that echoes Büchner’s call for revolt against the status quo.

Visitors to the installation were given their own handheld camera obscura devices that were designed to fit atop a cellphone’s camera. Using a web app designed by next question that also provided quotes from the original text, they were able to take their own camera obscura photos.

  • Visitor photos
    Visitor photos
    Visitors used handheld camera obscuras to take photographs with their cellphones using an web app