With the start of summer travel, I thought is was time to write an appreciation of the Bavarian island medieval town of Lindau, located on the eastern shore of Lake Constance (the Bodensee). Lindau is close to the borders of Austria and Switzerland and can be reached by a short train ride from Munich or Zurich for a day’s visit or a longer stay. During good weather there is no better place for a bike ride on the path beside the lake and in the fields nearby. Along the way, one can pause for a swim in the freshwater lake.
The cultural treasure of Lindau is its Marionette Opera (Lindauer Marionettenoper), founded in 2000 by Bernhard Leismüller. I was fortunate to see Swan Lake performed by his exquisitely crafted puppets to the music of Tchaikovsky. Adults and children in the audience were enchanted by the magical effect of seeing puppets move and gesture with emotional expression. I was waiting for the dramatic “dying swan” ending only to be surprised that Leismüller, with artistic license, gave us a happy ending with swan and prince united—a stroke of intuitive genius for the perfect dénouement with marionettes in Lindau.
After the performance, everyone was invited backstage to see the puppets and puppeteers in action. Leismüller and his assistants patiently answered questions. Noted facts: One must apprentice for three years before becoming a puppeteer; there is a minimum of 11 strings to manipulate on each puppet; and a dragon takes two puppeteers to control.
I happened to be looking at the artwork of Julius von Bismarck, whose exhibition I had recently seen at the Marlborough Gallery in New York, when I discovered his photograph above, Public Face II. This is a well-known view of Lindau at the entrance to the harbor with the only lighthouse in Bavaria across from the famous lion statue. And I thought how appropriate was the Smiley Face, on top of the lighthouse, to loom over the kind of storybook-doll atmosphere of this medieval city that, on the façade of its buildings, has frozen in time. With further investigation, I discovered that this was an interactive installation in August 2010 for the summer group show, “PROVINZ”.
Von Bismarck, with Benjamin Maus and Richard Wilheimer, needed a helicopter to help install the Smiley Face on top of the lighthouse. Inside the lighthouse they placed a telescope that focused on the opposite bank where crowds gather for the view. With a complex algorithm, developed by the Fraunhofer Institute, the telescope analyzed human emotions visually based on facial expressions. The Smiley Face registered the results as happy (upward curve of the mouth), indifferent (straight line), or sad (downward curve) in real time. The eyes also moved in tune with each emotional state.
While immensely seductive and clever, there is something unsettling about this projection of the people’s mood. The pressure to always be “happy” in front of the lighthouse would be a natural reaction. One can’t help but think of its potential for group control with a more sinister purpose. In this short video of its installation, the people do not disappoint and are delighted to watch the Smiley Face look happy–not unlike the response to Leismüller’s charming puppets. Von Bismarck is a kind of puppeteer but of a different nature.
— Gayle Rodda Kurtz, Zeteo Contributor
Note: In another project, Julius von Bismarck created a an object , called the Image Fulgurator, that looks like a camera:
The Image Fulgurator is a device for physically manipulating photographs. It intervenes when a photo is being taken, without the photographer being able to detect anything. The manipulation is only visible on the photo afterwards.
In principle, the Fulgurator can be used anywhere where there is another camera nearby that is being used with a flash. It operates via a kind of reactive flash projection that enables an image to be projected on an object exactly at the moment when someone else is photographing it. The intervention is unobtrusive because it takes only a few milliseconds. Every photo another photographer takes of an object at which the Fulgurator is also aimed is affected by the manipulation. Hence visual information can be smuggled unnoticed into the images of others.
One can’t help but think of the subversive possibilities that exist for these invisibly projected subliminal ghost-like images.
Credits: Top and bottom photographs—Julius von Bismarck, Public Face II (Lindau Bodensee, Germany) , 2010. mixed media, 5 x 5 x 3 meters, with Banjamin Maus and Richard Wilhelmer. Courtesy the artists and elxander levy, Berlin. (Public Face I was installed in Berlin, 2007.)
Other photographs by the author.
My thanks to Maren Hensler for introducing me to the many pleasures of Lindau.