3. April 2014

Saint Walter, 2010

Installation with sound piece 8 min, table, glass, pictures of saints (ready-mades), offset prints, CD player with headphones

For an exhibition in a building adjacent to the Berlin TV tower, I made a work centred on the figure of Saint Walter. »Saint Walter« used to be one of several sneering nicknames for the TV tower which opened in 1969. The nickname emerged because of the cross-like reflection on the aluminium-covered sphere on sunny days, which courted indeed a lot of resentment among the GDR officials. The name also referred to Walter Ulbricht, Head of the State of East Germany who initiated the building of the TV tower, a highly prestigious project of the young socialist state. 
Influenced by the catholic environment of my current residency in Rome, I wrote a legend based on the life of Saint Walter of Pontoise, an abbot who lived in the second half of the 11th century. In the description of his life I then, in a rather unobtrusive way, introduced aspects and anecdotes from the life of communist politician Walter Ulbricht. In fact, the merging of several persons into the figure of one saint has occasionally occurred, primarily in early Christian times. The new Legend of Saint Walter was then read by a female speaker and presented as an audio piece. The listener was invited to take a seat at a small table on which, under a pane of glass, a collection of pictures of saints was presented. Among them a picture of Saint Walter that I had printed, using a pencil drawing of Walter Ulbricht in a saint-like manner. This portrait was the only hint to the politician; his name was not mentioned otherwise.

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Ulrike Kuschel: Legend of Saint Walter

Saint Walter, a Christian of great piety and humility, was born in a small village in Picardia. His parents were very religious, his father was a tailor and called Ernestus Augustus, his mother Paulina. Upon reaching adolescence, Walter shunned the frolics of his friends and studied, following the example of his parents, the Holy Scriptures. After a period of wandering, which led him to northern France, he took his vows and entered the abbey of Rebais. One day he freed a peasant from the monastery who had been imprisoned there because he owed the monastery money for a sack of grain. Some explain this by saying that it appeared to Walter inconceivable that someone could remain in the House of God for reasons other than love. Walter is supposed to have once met Saint Vladimiro. Placing his hand on the shoulder of the young monk he said: “The teaching of Christ is all-mighty because it is true.” From Rebais he went to Pontisara to establish a new confraternity, and the monks there elected Walter abbot. But the cares and worries weighed down on the abbot and he soon began to yearn for a life without the burdens of his office. So it came about that he one day donned his old vestments and secretly left Pontisara. Dressed as a simple monk, he asked to be admitted to the abbey of Cluniacum. At the time, Saint Hugo was abbot there. Upon noticing his flight, the monks of Pontisara hurried to find Walter and bring him back to Pontisara. Walter thus returned to Pontisara. For a while he lived secluded, as he continued to dream of a life as a hermit, in a cave not far from the monastery. For God he had left everything behind and owned nothing more than a fly. He kept it like a companion in his cave. Then Walter left the abbey once again. As tradition would have it, he fled with a boat from Capra Collum crossing a lake and found on an island a partly derelict chapel, dedicated to Saints Cosmas and Damian, which he repaired with his own hands. A pilgrim called Garin recognized him, however, and his hiding place was revealed to the monks of Pontisara, who hastily came around to bring Walter back to the abbey for a second time. After this, Walter decided to go to Rome to appeal to Pope Gregorius VII to be released from his official duties. But other than Walter thought, the Pope evoked the threat of excommunication and ordered him to return to the abbey and never to leave his office again in the future.
From this time forward, Walter would no longer seek to flee these responsibilities, but he took up the fight against the loosening of rules and customs and vigorously rebuked the King for promoting simony. As the Bishop saw how resolute and pious Walter showed himself to be in his faith, he sent him to the perilous region beyond the eastern border, to the realm from where the Eurus blows. Through various circumstances some fellow brothers had ended up there who were persecuted due to their faith and had flown there. This took place in the fifth year of the reign of terror of the usurper from Brunodunum. Walter stayed seven years in Mosca. But there too his brothers were not safe. Of the nine brothers, five were martyred, and only Walter and Wilhelm remained miraculously spared from being hunted down. Then, in the sixth year of the reign of terror of the usurper from Brunodunum, the fateful war broke out between the usurper’s realm and the lands and kingdoms allied against him. Tens of thousands died on both sides. It is said that Saint Walter went and preached amongst the soldiers. He is also said to have converted many of them to the faith, so that they threw down their weapons and refused in the future to fight for the commander from Brunodunum.
Once, after the fateful war, the province of Saint Walter was stricken by misery. Ten-lined beetles flew over the sea in a massive swarm, so large that its scale was immeasurable, and devoured the harvest on the fields. Walter ordered the monks to fetch bread from the granary of the abbey and distribute it amongst the hungry. He then demanded that the faithful put their trust in God and pray. The very same night, in a dream Walter heard a voice which told him that demons had sent the beetles to befall the land. But if a thousand pious virgins and 9999 children went to the fields to pray, the plague would come to an end. The next morning Walter told his brothers what the voice had said to him in the dream and had it made known. The virgins from the villages flocked in front of the monastery gates, and as one thousand virgins had gathered, a procession embarked for the devastated fields, followed by 9999 children. Upon a sign given by the saint, the virgins and the children began straightaway to pray ardently. Suddenly a glorious blaze of light shone, a deafening roar rose and the beetles soared upwards in black clouds extending high into the sky. They left behind a trail of horror on the fields, but the spell cast by the demons was broken.
I am of the view however that what is related about the liberation from the beetle plague is not credible, the saint could have presumably achieved through his own praying what the virgins asked for. Another time, towards the end of his life, the virgin Chimea appeared to Walter in a dream and told him to search for the virginal oil. This substance would purportedly not only nourish but also clothe the people: it would ensure that they could live in prosperity and beauteousness. On the following day, Walter announced his vision publicly and henceforth sought out allies from amongst the noblemen and princes of his  land willing to seek out this miraculous substance. After numerous problems with the castellan of the land  who attempted to hinder his ideas, he succeeded in founding, in modern parlance, some "companies." He could not realize however his vision of “Olium petrae gives bread, prosperity and grace”. Walter died on a Good Friday.It is thought that the day was the eighth of April in the year 1099 and therefore his feast day is set on this date. But it has also been speculated that he died on the twenty-third of March 1095. His body was buried in the abbey church, where he had performed numerous miracles.