Ingeborg Strobl

Untitled, 1989/90

Cenotaphs were originally erected to commemorate the dead whose bones could not be found. Since antiquity, however, they have also been used as horticultural features. They remind us of the transience of human life and represent a particular kind of outdoor sculpture. These two ‘gravestones’, which characteristically for Strobl remain untitled, also refer to the cult of the dead and remembrance. The ancient Greeks, for example, conceived of their dead as shadows. Thus the inscription (‘Be patient with your own shadow’) could refer both to death and to the shadow as a splitting-off of the self.

 

Gravestones constitute a particular kind of outdoor sculpture, and some art historians go as far as thinking that the gravestone – a stone set up to mark a certain location – was in fact the first work of art; the first picture.

 

In a well-chosen spot, Ingeborg Strobl set up two small stones of the rather ordinary kind that can be found in graveyards everywhere. The two stones are reminiscent of the Mosaic tablets of the law, which are also frequently depicted in pairs and with a similar shape.

 
Stone settings are an important element of classic garden design. The stone inscriptions were intended to whisper a message to the wanderer that would make him pause and think. Margravine Wilhelmine of Bayreuth, for instance, had so-called cenotaphs in the style of the 18th century set up in the Hermitage and in Sanspareil, empty graves or monuments to commemorate persons not actually buried at the site. On half overgrown stones, inscriptions such as “Manibus Dorotheae“, “For the Death Spirits of Dorothea“, are still legible.

 

Ingeborg Strobl evokes this tradition of a garden art that is closely connected with the commemorative cult of the dead. The inscription on Strobl’s stones is similar to the standard gold engravings on gravestones and addresses the viewer – the “viator” – directly: “SEI GEDULDIG MIT DEINEM EIGENEN SCHATTEN”; “BE PATIENT WITH YOUR SHADOW”. 


The ancient Greeks thought of their dead as shadows who gathered in Hades, the Underworld. The exhortation to be “patient with your shadow” might thus be understood to refer to death on the one hand, which would make the installation a subtle Memento Mori, or as an appeal in a psychoanalytical context on the other: handle your shadow carefully, it is your split-off part that is projected onto the world. The two stones look like doubles; like each other’s shadows.

Author: Elisabeth von Samsonow 
Plan & Overview: Position 17
Owner: [Austrian Sculpture Park, Universalmuseum Joanneum]
Biography: Ingeborg Strobl

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