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What one usually only perceives are contexts that make sense - never or seldom contexts of non-sense. The Dosenfeld presents such a context of non-sense, which the viewer of course tries to alter into a context that makes sense. The viewer's occupation with each separate aspect makes sense; the aspects in their totality do not. In seeking intelligibility, these nonsensical situations usually go unnoticed, even though life is full of them.1
In 1574 the Mannerist architect Bernado Buontalenti (1536-1608) designed the altar steps for the church of Santa Trinita in Florence.2 Buontalenti, of course, didn't know he was a Mannerist, but he was certainly aware that his mission was to shape the surroundings of the Florentian nobility into the stage set for the living theatre of courtly grace. The function of form in this situation was to express the human arts in excelsis, surpassing nature in sublime complexity, in order that the backdrop thus created would cause the actions of those present to resonate perfectly as they luxuriated in their own reverberating presence and power.
Buontalenti's steps are, literally, fantastic. They face you directly as you approach the altar, rising towards, yet somehow not meeting, the gaps in the ornamental balustrade, their curved stone edges warping in ungraspable ways as if designed in a dream that Gaudi once had about MC Escher. They can do this because they are in fact three-dimensional trompe l'oeil carvings of steps; the actual, usable steps are in the traditional place at right angles on either side of the altar. The illusion is a deliberate reference to the pulpitum, the set of steps that led
Manfred Pernice, as quoted in the press release for '1a - Dosenfeld "00"',Portikus, Frankfurt am Main, 2000↑
The steps were moved in the late-nineteenth century to the church of Santo Stefano, where they can still be seen.↑
This episode was the starting point for British artist Mike Nelson's installation The Deliverance and The Patience at the 2001 Venice Biennale. Historical accounts are examined in depth in the first chapter of Linebaugh and Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic, London: Verso, 2000↑
Silvester Jourdain, 'A Discovery of the Bermudas, Otherwise Called The Island of Devils', in Louis B. Wright (ed.), Voyage to Virginia in 1609, Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 1964↑
Manfred Pernice interviewed by Raimar Stange, Spike, no.02, December 2004↑
The English translation of Dosenweg is 'path of cans'.↑