Say Samarkand. Or say St. Pölten.
Let's not talk about art. Let's talk about calendars and maps. These are the two axes that keep us in the world. The framework of references that we cling to when we awake in the night, drenched with sweat because we have forgotten who we are.
Some calendars even have a little satin ribbon, to keep your place. We can put it between Tuesday and Wednesday to mark the fine, mathematically ambiguous line that divides the past from the future.
The map, on the other hand, anchors us on the planet. It makes us locatable. It makes us into mountain dwellers, desert people or seasiders. If we're lucky, it even gives us citizenship. Sometimes we use color coded pins to show where we belong.
When murder mysteries remain unsolved, the investigators sometimes mark the crime scenes with the same sort of pins, connecting them with threads. At least that's the way it is on TV. In doing so, the police detectives on these shows make an important promise: all you have to do is clearly establish relationships in space and time, precisely define coordinates on the spatial axis and the temporal axis. Then you can solve every case. Then you know what really happened. Deliverance is found.
Today the job of the little colored pins is taken care of by GPS and by the location services of our smartphones, which produce continuous diagrams of our movement through space and time without our even asking. To find out who we are, all we have to do is ask Siri. And yet in a world where our everyday lives are so thoroughly localized and protocolled, we don't need more and more information. We need a little fresh air on the space and time axes. We need someone who puffs a little uncertainty into our lives, dissolution, yearning.
That is exactly what Olaf Osten's pictures do.
His calenders and maps divulge to me that the way things are is not the only possible aggregate state. At another time the same place was a different one, and who knows how it will look tomorrow or in 350 years. Likewise, right now on this page of my appointment calendar, I could be in a completely different place. Let's say Nagorno-Karabakh, or say Zanzibar, say Salt Lake City, say Samarkand or say St. Pölten – there I would also be I. And yet at the same time I would be a little different.
Yes, that is the way it is with our supposed surety, with our appointments and our little colored pins: all it takes is a little doubt – and they are gone. Take the lines on political maps, the borders. Travelers are magically attracted by the word border. Behind every border a secret may lie waiting. That gnaws at you. You want to catch a glimpse of the other side, to have a little look. The line on the map can have various meanings. Is it an impenetrable barrier with barbed wire and guards with orders to shoot? Is there a multilane freeway from one side to the other? Or must one, stranded in the steppes among chirping cicadas, wait for days to get a passport stamp before one can cross? Does the border keep enemies, who would be at each another's throats in an instant, at a distance? Or is it a brutal, dividing slash through families, neighborhoods and common history?
No, it is no longer clear at all. Where the Russians end and the Ukrainians begin. The Afghans and the Pakistanis. The Germans and the Austrians. Who devised the pastel colors used so meticulously on political maps to color in the different countries? Who assigned them – pistachio green for one, pastel violet for the other – with such provocative, hypocritical certainty? While on the radio we hear of ethnic cleansing, civil war, annexation.
Overpainting, like Olaf Osten's, is the only passable response. He restores to the things the ambiguity that is rightly there's, hot-wiring the present with the past. He is almost maniacal in doodling them full, the surfaces that are designed to box in our certainties, and in doing so he augments them with a thousand other certainties. He charges the nineteenth of April with the twentieth of November, and the twentieth of November with the twenty-first of January next year. He fills the North China Sea with the waters of the Baltic, or with the blues of his painting box.
What is close to you, and what is far away? Is that which is farther away more alien than that which is close? And is that which seems the most impossible really farthest away?
Suddenly we are no longer where we should be. We have appointments, but unfortunately we have painted over them, and we come too late. We have lost our way, become distracted while folding up our map. We have been carried off by what is happening along the Donaukanal, and thus we can no longer find our way to the place where we are awaited.
But these pictures say: That's quite alright.
Sibylle Hamann, 2014