The 16 Offenbach Pictures reflect the mood of about 1200 people in the city. Women, men and children from different layers of society and different cultural backgrounds filled in the presketched areas of the paintings with abstract patches of color or realistic drawings. For each area the first name of the painter, his or her age and nationality were recorded. The paintings were done in places each of which represents one field of life within the city. The Offenbach Pictures are conceived by Büro Gabriele Juvan. The project links individuals and groups whose spheres of life rarely touch. Thus the pictures form a panorama of what it is to live together in Offenbach.
The genesis of communication in public space is the topic of Gabriele Juvan’s “Offenbach Pictures”, a visionary and extremely convincing representation of the characteristic locations in which the life of Offenbach was led, in the period between 2001 to 2004. The paintings "composed” in the course of Offenbach Week in the city center, during the Kunstansichten art show, in German-as-foreign-language courses, in the municipal library, at a Kickers Offenbach soccer game, and by the musicians of Oldie Club. The process of painting, together with its results, embody in more than one way an artistic, cultural and political vision.
In a manner fitting to a jubilee year, in which Offenbach celebrates 50 years as a major city, 1,200 people of all ages, from all social backgrounds, and from many nationalities demonstrated that the public space of a large city can at least for a time become a space for culture and art, and that the usual barriers and obstacles to participation in cultural events can be set to one side.
This art project demonstrates further how the people of Offenbach, meeting in the places I have just mentioned, understand themselves: whether they come there for conversation, to learn, or for some other form of exchange, they are parts of a communal life, not foreign to it; they are an expression of the city’s culture, rather than islands of foreign cultures. The artistsfor- a-moment are to Offenbach as Offenbach itself is to the Rhein-Main Area of which it is part: a significant aspect of a region which has grown together into living space, working space, and a space for culture, sports and leisure. This isbecause the region along the rivers Rhine and Main unquestionably forms a whole as far as landscape and culture are concerned.
It is not far from the straightforward observation that we live on the banks of great rivers to a more visionary remark, that Offenbach lies "on-the-Sea”. This slogan has always been more than a pun, more than word play on the geographic facts. More an observation than an assertion, it captures a south German and Mediterranean willingness to make the best of its situation - in this case, the situation of being a small metropolis next to the larger metropolis of Frankfurt, and both being part of the multi-centered Rhein-Main Area. Driven by necessity, the city has been a successful pioneer in fiscal controls, in modernizing its administration and, simultaneously, in developing an innovative cultural profile.
In fact Offenbach is now really "on an ocean”. It will soon be possible to go surfing and to barbecue, to swim and to get tanned on the banks of the Main; to have a beach party in the harbor of Offenbach, where not long ago scrap metal and fuel were stored. Along the Main - and here vision blends together with reality - open-air swimming pools and pubs, galleries and artists’ studios will stand side by side, open to the sun-hungry and to the curious about culture; to numerous old and new citizens, citizens who, in ever greater numbers, are moving to the city because they appreciate its quality of life.
While we are talking about "visions”: I hope to see, come 2014, the following view of our city. Citizens who stroll along the banks of the Main encounter its dam covered with sculptures. It displays Offenbach’s role as a regional center of young art and modern design, as a fruitful melting pot of artistic styles and cultural genres of the most diverse kinds. The ART Offenbach fair, which has developed out of the annual Kunstansichten show is a counterpart to the international ART Frankfurt. It displays in our city what has been created in the art studios of Offenbach. The Hochschule für Gestaltung has become a university, and is working to further extend its reputation as an international think tank and a hothouse of aesthetic innovation.
The Klingspor Museum for Modern International Book Art, Typography and Calligraphy has been enlarged; its building is now as high as the neighboring Booktower. The additional glassenclosed floor holds a cafe, meeting facilities and an exhibition space. The banks in Offenbach buy local art - as a safe investment in public spaces. The city hall has become a gallery. During the Kunstansichten 2014 art show 1000 studios and galleries open their doors. Offenbach, which is now debt-free, has put the much frequented street running along the Main River underground; above the tunnel, one finds an urban life and wine tasting - of wines from Schneckenberg and other vineyards.
This characterization of Offenbach-onthe- Sea is as much cultural as political. It follows the insight of the great poet Ingeborg Bachmann, who not only wrote a poem titled "Bohemia Lies on the Sea,” but said of literature, that it is "always the hoped for, the wished for .... and thus an empire of unknown borders, endlessly opening out before one.” In this sense our city already stands for openness and for going beyond boundaries – so much so, that many citizens who participated in the Offenbach Pictures answered the question about their nationality by saying: “Offenbacher”.
How could the phenomenon of Offenbach - this city, which for the last 300 years has been molded by ever new groups of immigrants and arrivals from East and West - be better grasped than by unregimented, dis- and reassembled mosaic elements which form paintings? These sensually conceived images taken from the minds of the painters were released to take form together with others. The amateur artists, between 2 and 82 years old, from different countries of origin, and differing in education, sex and upbringing, nevertheless for the most part declared themselves to be ”Offenbachers”. What brought them to identify themselves with this city - a city which one does not find described beautiful by the media, local or national, a city with an above-average unemployment rate for the state of Hesse, and which, to top it off, has a high, ugly town hall?
With a background of this kind, shouldn’t we have expected grey and somber images?
No, the flower paintings leap to the eye, colorful and strong. They can’t be ignored and they can’t be suppressed. They are signs of an active and ever-changing city and society, which again and again redefines its self-understanding. This free, tolerant and lovable city lives with much self-assurance - and with materials for conflict, which can be played out in the open. Thus the mayor has no choice but to follow his motto: "To make it go right, we must work all night!”
What do the painters identify with?
Very strongly with athletics. Kickers Offenbach, the local soccer club, appears in many of the pictures, and can be proud. The Kickers are real ambassadors of this city. What Offenbacher doesn’t know the team’s motto: "Together we make it!” In the search for identification, the Kickers are most mentioned. Representations include not just the ball, not just messages in the club’s red and white, but soccer fields as well. However, we also find flowers, animals, suns, playgrounds ... nothing that would lead you to guess that Offenbach was an expanding industrial city in the nineteenth century. Today the green spaces prevail - at least in the paintings. There are also weathermen (for Germany’s National Meteorological Service DWD is located in Offenbach). And dogs (along with their droppings!) because the nagging Offenbacher can scarcely hold back his criticism. The noise of the airplanes of the nearby Frankfurt Airport is indicated by the drawings of large airplanes. In contrast, little spaceis given to nostalgic glances back at the past. Historic buildings, such as the castle or Büsing Palace rarely appear. The painter’s gazes are firmly directed towards the future. Friends, and finally, love are what they wish for.
One painting differs clearly from all the others. It has chosen as a motto, inscribed in many languages: "Only together we have a future!” Or - as revealing as the beforehand mentioned - it has a drawing in its center: "I OF”. It gives hope to us all to see so much identification with this city, a city which a fashion journal once called "the Bronx of Frankfurt”. The eighties slogan once sprayed by youths on the city hall’s grey concrete - "Learn to live and learn to love” - seems to have become reality.
Dr. Gudrun Geis-Tronich
The Offenbach Pictures were painted at sixteen locations which respectively stand for the spheres of common life I find most important: self-help, education, culture, the institutions where society deals with disadvantaged people, administration, science and scholarship. The approximately 800 hour voyage began by accident, brought me to places I had never seen and into contact with several thousand people. Twelve hundred of them (more precisely, 1191) ended up painting a numbered region on one of the sixteen canvases.
On occasion the paintings emerged only a few days apart; others were separated by gaps of several months. These variable intervals make clear what dialogue among people is really like: there are periods of openmindedness and curiosity, of weariness and retreat, and of return and renewal. Rapidly, indications of the mood of a location and the dynamics of the people frequenting it would make themselves apparent. Was there a strong sense of community? Of competitiveness? Uncertainty and fear? Indifference? Or were the points of contact among participants - as in the paintings done in the street - coincidental? In the course of working on the Offenbach Pictures, I came to experience communication with the painters as intensive but limited in time and ephemeral.
In 2001, my sister Sabine Sterzl brought the first canvas to one of my recent projects ‚A Roof for Offenbach’. For each numbered area on the canvas, she wrote down the painter’s name, age and nationality. To our surprise, not only children but women and men of all ages - and of all cultural backgrounds - stood in line to participate. Only after two more paintings were completed on different occasions, I realized that these pictures ought to be the vehicle for a project of their own. I have always dealt with such questions as: How can temporary projects unite people whose spheres of life otherwise rarely touch? Can participation create a sense of community? Do projects of this kind contain a kernel that lives on as positive energy, however diffuse?
Almost everyone we approached said at first that they couldn’t paint at all. So why did they nonetheless pick up paint and brush, and apply themselves, sometimes hastily, sometimes calmly and painstakingly, to one of the numbered areas? Some of them said it was ‚’to do something for a change’, ’to do something pretty’ or ’to quickly do something completely different’. The paintings also reveal the depth of the desire that we human beings - ever since our cave origins - have to leave traces behind us, to send messages to unknown others or to evoke magic moments - and thus inscribe ourselves into eternity. In the end, group dynamics clicked into place when participants asked bystanders to join in: "We want our painting finished!”
A second surprise was that each painting turned out to be
something complete and cohesive; after all, much of the format was a given:
The size of the canvas had been preset, as had the shapes of the flower, the
numbered regions, the colors. Nevertheless, the paintings differ in tint, in
the choice of abstraction, image or inscription, in response to the limits
of the numbered regions, and to some extent in the painting techniques.
Choosing from an abundance of possibilities, the painters gave shape to
their painting. In the first few regions of each picture, this choice was
unconstrained, but the more a picture had been filled, the more it developed
a life of its own. The genesis of each painting differed from those of the
others, but the process remained a constant: Who starts it off? Who already
has a theme in mind? Who joins in? Who mobilizes others? Who sees what’s
missing? Who finishes it off ... sometimes even when the others have left
longsince? This ability to create a group
Each painting makes up a snapshot of communications between particular people at a particular place in Offenbach at a particular time. As a whole each painting has a distinctive character of its own, but in detail the paintings show both parallels and unique details. As I remember, there was only one young participant (who by the way painted the first area of the first picture) who reappeared in another painting session. But over the last few years, I have been approached several times on the street, by people wanting to know where "their painting” was now. In this exhibit, all the participants will have the chance to see their region in a painting - and all the 1190 others. Almost all groups who dida painting will contribute to the exhibit and to the events around it; they will thus help to create a ’temporary meeting point’ at which the project aims. This provides at least a chance to get in touch with one another, regardless of the place in which a painting was done.
The Offenbach Pictures which are assembled for the exhibit, are afterwards to be scattered once more, and to reappear in different public locations in Offenbach. In this way they may evoke memories of a moment in which everything seemed simple and joyful - a small moment of freedom which only creativity can give rise.
But like all processes of communication, this one too is transient and ephemeral. It can be set in motion but not controlled. Only time will show where it leads - and this is true even if it comes to an end or if it has an outcome we will never learn about.