top of page

Heaven is Mindset

17 November 2017


16 Desember 2017
Semarang Contemporary Art Gallery, Jl. Taman Srigunting, Tanjung Mas, Semarang City, Central Java, Indonesia

a solo exhibition by

Franziska Fennert

curated by

Anton Larenz

written by

Susanne Altmann

Stitching the World Together

"My imagination, what are you? - I am the stream that feeds the fountain of your mind."  

Hazrat Inayat Khan

Nature is a temple in which living pillars 

Sometimes give voice to confused words; 

Man passes there through forests of symbols 

Which look at him with understanding eyes.

— Charles Baudelaire: Correspondences

Love is the final purpose of world history — the Amen of the universe.

Novalis: Fragments

We are living in “interesting” times, as the Chinese use to say when conditions are risky, even dangerous and troubled. Global politics are shifting, the economy and culture, - the arts and the art market included-, are affected by these changing conditions and circumstances. Artists are challenged by the upcoming transitions, too, and have to face the new context, responding with their works to new situations and upcoming dangers. But, nevertheless, the future remains unforeseeable. One solution maybe is the check of our mindsets in order to see if they are still suitable for the tides of change and to look for new and better answers.

Artists can help by broadening our knowledge and understanding. Artworks can figure as efficient channels of communication and as well as rich sources of knowledge, expressing the basic traits which are generally considered as the foundations of human relations, the social cement that keeps the society together. The mindset basically determines and controls how we organize and live our lives, according to established assumptions and methods. If this mindset is not developed and adjusted from time to time, stagnation and narrow perspectives will be the consequences.  Knowledge is one appropriate mean to feed our brains for a resilient and effective method to configure our visions of the world.

Franziska Fennert, a young artist of German origin and now living with her family in Yogyakarta, tries to remind us with her artworks that we live in a world in disarray, that humanity now seems to be characterized by crises and separateness. But her point of view is positive, because there are ways to surmount this situation of separateness and to re-unite again. She wishes to bring people together by communication and dialogue or, that’s how she names it, diplomacy.  Although humanity exists in a condition of disparities (racial, social, political, economical and cultural) mankind is perceived as belonging together and equal, or same.  In her paintings as well as in her installations the metaphor of one body with two different heads refers to the impossibility of separating them again, because neither part would survive without the other. Mankind consists of organic units where one part cannot live without the other. Her artworks present a sensible vision of a multifaceted and often conflicted world.

Having grown up in the Eastern part of Germany, she had developed from early youth on an interest to know about other cultures, at first through reading literature, especially classical Russian novels, and later by travelling around in Europe and the Near East. After she had decided to study arts at the Academy of Arts in Dresden, Germany and to become a professional artist, she followed there courses in Chinese calligraphy and ink painting. She studied also intensely Turkish miniature painting. Her studies at the Institute of Indonesian Art (ISI) in Yogyakarta led her to deeper studies of Balinese painting, she visited even Klungkung in Bali to see Balinese painting there on the location. All of these mentioned artistic activities have left their traces in her current works, so they can be read partially as an artist’s biography. Life and art are not separated. Her decision to become an artist came from her heart, an intuitive decision.

After participating in several group exhibitions in Indonesia (and elsewhere, China, Europe) with paintings only, she prepared for the next step in her artistic journey with designing and sewing big puppet-like figures as three-dimensional works for her solo exhibition in Bandung, joined by various paintings in bigger and smaller size. These figures were made of canvas, additionally combined with some accessories like artificial hair and other items like colored threads. The basic appearance of these installations showed fewer colors, more accentuating and maintaining the natural character of the linen fabric. But her special themes already emerged, the double-headed motifs and faces which previously have evolved in the paintings had morphed into three-dimensional objects.

The Spirit coming from the Past

For her new solo exhibition Franziska Fennert decided to try something else, to experiment with different materials and to create a visualization that goes one step further into the direction of freeing her mind on her quest for different expressions. Although she kept truly to some of her former style, she added now completely other material, for example stones, wires, a suitcase, parts of an antenna, all kinds of worn clothes (using her own clothes refers to her biography again, but some textiles have been bought for this artistic purpose, second-hand clothes, she he says that it is important that they are already used), even growing flowers (orchids) and more. It’s a montage style, now reflecting the fabric of multiplicity, or a bricolage, by creating an object gradually, more oriented toward the process of making and developing it. Her installations show how she perceives the actual state of the world, oscillating between utopian (there is still a chance for a better living together, assumed that we change our mindset) and dystopian elements, regarding the problems which result from history up to present times, the traces and consequences of colonialism and imperialism as causes of inequality and injustice, of a planet that is not living under the conditions of unity and harmony.

But besides the installations she did not abandon painting. “Open Source!” talks about basic needs, food and knowledge. Knowledge and education are as important as food for having a decent living. Knowledge, or the access to knowledge is not shared equally on a global scale. It’s all about sharing, being together on an equal level. The figures in the middle are grown together like Siamese twins, being separated they would hardly survive.

A new medium for her, she felt attracted to produce video art. So she did this video “Walking” as her first time approach to this new media art. Moved by the scenes in the TV news she chose pictures of Rohingya refugees on their march to Bangladesh contrasted with shootings of a person that is temporarily prevented from walking because of a broken foot. The Rohingya were forced to walk in order to save their life, running away from their home villages. Destinies can look very different when compared. The foot will eventually heal, but the Rohingnya probably can’t go back. 

The Correspondences

During the process of preparation for her show Franziska Fennert was inspired by a book from ancient Egypt, titled “Kybalion”, which is ascribed to some mysterious author named Hermes Trismegistus. Hermes Trismegistus was originally another name for the Egyptian god Thoth, the inventor of the hieroglyphs, music, astrology, alchemy and other kinds of science at that time. Thoth was seen as a mediator between worlds, assembler and maintainer. The book contains the philosophy and knowledge of an ancient culture, transmitted, interpreted, used and changed by many people and cultures, from its Egyptian origin translated into Arabic, Greek and Latin language, finally also into modern European languages. The name Thoth was replaced through the Greek god Hermes, becoming Janus in Roman culture, at the end he was known as Hermes Trismegistus. The Italian author Umberto Eco described such name changes as regular, so that the foreign became comprehensible as another expression of the familiar:”Now many things could be true at the same time, even though they contradicted one another.” (Eco:1990)

The Janus head as underlying theme in Franziska Fennert’s paintings and figures serves here as a central motif that is taken from Roman mythology. Janus, typically depicted with two faces but one body, is the god of transition, of passage, guarding the threshold of the entrance door of houses. He had a direct access to heaven and the other gods in the Roman pantheon. This head is a symbol of duality, but also of unity. An intermediary, involved with the settling of disputes and even the beginning and ending of wars. Janus is a perfect metaphor for relativity, pluralism, polarities and the exchange of information.

One of the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus is contained in the formula “As below, so above, and as above so below”, there is a direct link between the sky and the earth, everything corresponds to something, a total inter-connectedness between elements, plants, stars and all beings. In the beginning of the creation the universe was considered as one entity, according to the perception of the ancient world. Everything what exists is linked through correspondences or analogies, visible and invisible links existing between planets, metals, plants and parts of the human body. Such correspondences provided the basis for astrology, alchemy and wisdom, philosophy and theology, also for medicine. Everything was reflected in something else, the universe comparable to a huge hall of mirrors. Changes occur in parallel on all levels of reality. Opposites are knitted together in ever novel configurations, as it is mentioned in the most famous writing of Hermes Trismegistus, the “Emerald Tablet”. The Corpus Hermeticum proclaims a specific kind of redemption, a liberation of the spirit by knowledge.

It was the unity of the spiritual-divine; it left its imprint on the multiplicity of earthly phenomena. As Ebeling (2007:28) comments: “Nothing that possessed dignity and being was separate and isolated, but had its ground and cause in the higher, the spiritual, the divine realm.”

Such was the ancient view, or the mindset, of the world around the Mediterranean, particularly in old Egypt and Greece. Greek philosophers like Democritus, Plato, Pythagoras and Thales of Milet knew these Egyptian teachings and were influenced by it.

This concept of the cosmos which was written down in the book “Kybalion”, ascribed to the mythical Hermes Trismegistus, finally shaped the foundation of the so-called “Hermeticism” or Hermetic Tradition which had a profound influence on Renaissance philosophy and theology. Traces of this thinking can still be found in the philosophy of more modern thinkers like Gottfried Leibniz (also a renowned mathematician) and others. Hermeticism is one of the undercurrents of Western cultural memory. According to Jan Assmann (in: Ebeling: 2007) it has never been a main current, but neither has it been entirely marginal or entirely forgotten. 

Franziska Fennert was surprised to find so many ideas corresponding to her own thoughts about separateness and unity, dignity and connectivity contained in such old wisdom delivered through the centuries. The way this old text took through time and space (and many languages) responded to her perception of knowledge sharing.

History is has been made the subject of the cocoon with the title “Non-Stringent”, an assemblage of several items including a chained mirror, a part of a traditional Javanese hair style (konde) surrounded by dark spots, representing a substratum of human mindset, forgotten or suppressed memories of  history, which is nevertheless present, reflected or channeled through the mirror that cannot be removed because of the chain. Each nation certainly has darker periods or parts of history that is not being spoken about.

The Magic of Art

What does magic, or alchemy, mean in contemporary time, and especially to artists? Many modern artists have shown a deeper interest in alchemy, for example Joseph Beuys, Marcel Duchamp, Sigmar Polke, Yves Klein, André Masson, Salvador Dalí, Anselm Kiefer, Max Ernst, Remedios Varo and many others. James Elkins (2003) remarks: “From Ferrara in the fifteenth century to the Venice biennale, artists have drawn on alchemy, and art historians have worked hard to elucidate the artists’ intentionally hidden meanings. So art history and even art criticism should be added to the list of disciplines that are legitimately concerned with alchemy.”

Alchemy can be traced back to old Egypt and the Arabs who were famous for their knowledge of alchemy. Generally alchemy is often taken for a material transformation of lead (or other cheaper metals) into gold, but the alchemists have been more concerned about the inner process which is experienced during the alchemical procedures. This alchemical work induces a transformation of the mind as the final purpose of alchemy.

Another point of view about magic and artists in the following quotation about Post-expressionist art makes the difference between art and sorcery clearer: “The magical element in the Post-expressionist art is not linked to sorcery, superstition or divinity; instead it derives from an unmasking of material reality through contemplative awareness.” (Felicity Claire Gee:2013). Gee discusses here the ‘Magic Realism’ concepts originating from the art historian Franz Roh who labeled the term. In this sense the magical element in art represents an open mind, another perspective towards reality.

From the short list of artists above mentioned it already becomes clear that especially surrealist artists have been close to the theme of occultism, looking for another level of reality. Surrealism is foremost concerned with anchoring alterity in the order of the symbolic. It ‘primarily serves as a pathway for navigating the inner mind, it is not associated with aspects of material reality:  …but with the imagination and the mind, and in particular it attempts to express the “inner life” and psychology of humans through art.” (Bowers 2004:22) Surrealists are looking for the reality below the surface, exploring the relations between the conscious and the unconscious: “ …strange forces capable of augmenting those on the surface.” (Andre Breton, poet and founder of Surrealism). This is a psychic process, a quest for ‘absolute reality’, a ‘surreality’. Striving for a beauty that is fecund, irrational and improbable, in Breton’s words a ‘convulsive beauty’. So they evoke an enigma, and a fascination, paired with a sense of surprise. The ordinary is thrown into a new light. 

Breton was fascinated by stones which he saw with their hardness and rigidity as crystallizing the past, like cold lava petrified over time, frozen images of temporal constraints. Crystal meant for Breton creation and transformation. The liquid becomes solid, like stopping or catching time. It is a process of stasis and motion, like frozen drops of water. There is a contingent magic of circumstance implied in the artistic process, through the choice of items, sometimes following a chance composition.

The figures of Franziska Fennert look sometimes strange, even bizarre, but at the same almost funny. Her choice of materials is considerate and follows her conceptualization, but she admits that there are moments when she chooses items by chance. There is a pronounced sense and taste for the detail, the particular is represented, the specific of her story behind. Her spirit interacts with the solidity of the physical objects. 

The ceramic works with the title “Solid Heart, Honest Tongue” exemplify the point of solidness and liquidity once more: speaking honest, with a language that utters the truth, but fluently/ liquid, contrasted by the anchored heart, that doesn’t move from its place, having found its harbor. From the material aspect this corresponds again with the stopped time, earth hardened by fire. 

The assemblage of stone faces (Extension of Thoughts”) combined with an arrangement of growing plants is another perspective on the stasis/motion contrast. Franziska Fennert explained the stone faces as a limited worldview, a narrow perspective on the outside. The stone material is taken from the local volcano Mount Merapi, as petrified lava. There is no fluidity anymore, but stagnation. The stone faces can’t recognize diversity, they look straight into one direction. “Stoned Consciousness” shows an additional impression of the impact of a closed mindset. The eyes of one face closed with a golden eye patch.

The contrast is from the opposite figure (“Four Directions”) where heads are directed to each other, uniting through and by communication. The heads, characterized through their hair and skin color symbolize persons from different races. Although different, they talk to each other.


Language is a common faculty of all human beings, but, alas, there are so many different languages so that not all people can talk directly to everybody else. As the basic tool of communication language serves all mankind, but foreign languages have to be learned first, or translation is needed. However, language is the common bond between humans, a symbol at the same time of separateness and unity. The old story of the fall of Babel reminds us of this. In Franziska Fennert’s works we find words (words like brotherhood/sisterhood, dignity, respect and so on) sewed or written upon the objects, but in several different languages, as a reminder that it is possible to come over such obstacles of communication. There should no hierarchy be involved, all languages have their own value (unfortunately she cannot present all of them, it would be beyond the scope of the artworks).

Franziska Fennert has experienced the process of conceptualizing, producing and arranging like a three-dimensional painting with the difference that she used materials like fabrics, stones, pieces of synthetic leather and metal wires instead of paint. Finally all of this becomes a beautiful and bright composition of colors. She says that color is healing, as a kind of therapy for mind and soul. More insights and more understanding can only arise when people open their heart and minds.

Color is also symbolic and meaningful. The color of human skin often responsible for exclusion, oppression, even annihilation, is represented several times through a special multi-colored fabric, symbolically integrating all human skin colors, used for the lower part of “Stoned Consciousness”. It looks a bit fashionable (and actually it was made of fabrics used for bathing suits), but this fabric carries a serious message, the appeal that we all belong to the same mankind. A pair of gloves made of the same multi-racial textile is applied to some tiger skin imitation. Besides the inviting visual effect it delivers the message that people living in precarious living situations should better keep together in their struggle for survival. And that it needs courage and power for achieving that. Textile fabric represents the social fabric between people, the point that Franziska Fennert concerns tremendously.

Mindset again

What is shaping our contemporary mindset? Modern communication technologies have quickly conquered whole continents now. Some decades ago not everybody in Asia, or elsewhere, had access to telecommunication. Cell phones or smart phones are ubiquitous and flood people with news and images. But people often are not able to check the objectivity of the new information sources or to process this sudden amount of information. Fake news are spread in very short time all over the world. 

Hito Steyerl, a German new media artist and essayist, has commented these new developments critically, also discussing the role of art in this process: “I think art’s role,” she says, “is to investigate the way things are comprehended – the lenses through which people see. In conflict, these lenses tend to be very standardised, very stereotypical.” 

The contemporary state of constant distraction she calls “junktime”, which adds its own filter to our reading of current events. Junktime commitments – emails, Instagram, Snapchat – keep our eyes flicking between images, never resting long enough to question things properly. (Judah 2017) Facebook and Google are shaping now our mindsets.

In Franziska Fennert’s installation “I Don’t Believe in Your Scapegoats” views of open clouded skies are attached to the body of the figure, open space for insights, and maybe imagination. The depicted skies are channeling views, from limited to unlimited, personal and individual. The artist says: “I wish that people can see so far that they can into the clouds.” The general theme of this artwork relates to exclusion of minorities, turning them into scapegoats. She explains further that her three-dimensional visualizations grow with the time; new ideas, or insights, and spontaneous intuitive decisions guide her way of creating these artworks.

The Power of Imagination

The imaginary is close to form of thoughts, underlying the discourse  (either as conversation or as literary and artistic works, it could be a current of thought (reflecting what is called “Zeitgeist”), or artistic and political trends, whether consciously or not. This does not mean that it is unreal. The French philosopher and scholar Henri Corbin spoke of the so-called “mundus imaginalis”, where imagination is supposed to give access to this intermediate realm between the divine and nature, opening the access to “subtle”, angelic or archetypical entities. Antoine Faivre wrote: “Creative imagination is the visionary faculty that enables one to grasp the multileveled meanings of reality.”(Faivre 1995:64).

The universe is a forest of symbols, and we can read in it like in a book, if we once understand how these symbols can be decoded through channels or mirror. That is essentially the wisdom of the scholars of the Renaissance like Pico della Mirandola or Giordano Bruno. 

Franziska Fennert once mentioned that if we believe in something it can become true, become reality. That’s how active imagination works.

But we also have to be in accordance with the Zeitgeist. The “Kumbang Bawa Zeitgeist” is reaching out with his four human arms to catch the Zeitgeist and to keep it. The beetle stands on four different feet, symbolizing the power of four different animals: goat, bull, camel and tiger, all of them representing power in their specific way. The Zeitgeist beetle needs power to grasp the Zeitgeist, to keep it for a while and to release it again so that it is able to read the signs of time accurately and to refresh its mind. The colorful clothes shows its interest in fashion and to go with the times.

Franziska Fennert successfully stitched the broken and fragmented parts together, sewing together what belongs together. From such actions new configurations will arise, the opposites will still exist but rather complementing and enriching each other. Her message is that multiplicity and unity can exist side by side without destroying each other. Through the diplomacy of art our mindsets are reset again.


Bowers, Maggie A. Magic(al) Realism. New York, 2004

Corbin, Henri: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn `Arabi. Princeton, NJ., 1969 

Ebeling, Florian: The Secret History of Hermes Trismegistus. Ithaca, New York; Cornell University Press 2007

Eco, Umberto: Limits of Interpretation. Bloomington, Indiana; 1990

James Elkins: Four Ways of Measuring the Distance. Between Alchemy and Contemporary Art. HYLE – International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry, Vol. 9 (2003), No.1, 105-118.

Faivre, Antoine: The Eternal Hermes. From Greek Gods to Alchemical Magus. Grand Rapids, Phanes Press, 1995 

Gee, Felicity Claire: The Critical Roots of Cinematic Magic Realism: Franz Roh, Alejo Carpentier, Fredric Jameson. Thesis University of London, June 2013

Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas: The Western Esoteric Traditions. Oxford, University Press, 2008

Judah, Hettie: Liberation day: the artists fighting the power of the market – and the internet. The Guardian, 17 October 2017

bottom of page