Hannsjörg Voth, Das Boot aus Stein (1978-1982)
In 1982, a boat sank to the bottom of IJselmeer. The boat – made of stone – would never have been able to stay afloat of its own accord, but it sank even before it was completed. It was the abrupt end of an extraordinary art project. In his works, the artist Hannsjörg Voth incorporates myth, nature and natural magic.
Most of his creations are large-scale, temporary, and require lengthy preparations. What remains of them are reports, with writings and drawings by the artist, and, in some cases, films. Many of his earlier ideas for artworks were never realised, but in 1978, his project Reise ins Meer (1978) travelled through Germany and the Netherlands. In a reference to the last voyage of the Egyptian pharaohs along the Nile, Voth transported a twenty-metre-long mummy on a wooden raft down the Rhine. The mummy started its journey in the German town of Ludwigshafen and was set alight on the ninth day of the voyage, when it had reached the open sea.
Project full of symbolism
After this art project, Voth started preparations for his next work, Das Boot aus Stein (1978–1982). Initially, he wanted to realise the project in Germany, but due to difficult contacts with the German authorities, he decided to do it in the Netherlands. Voth’s idea found an enthusiastic reception with Rijkswaterstaat, who offered him the use of a spot on IJsselmeer near Trintelhaven. The building was started in March 1981. Nine piles were sunk into the bottom of IJsselmeer to provide a foundation for a wooden structure in the shape of a pyramid. The structure was covered with dark plastic sheeting and served Voth as a temporary shelter and workshop. Voth had a block of Bavarian bluestone delivered and placed in the central room of the pyramid, where he would work the stone and turn it into a boat. Beside the work in progress stood a large U-shaped table for dinners with guests. Around this central room, a living room, a kitchen and several guest rooms were made.
Voth went to live and work in the pyramid in April 1981, intending to stay there for a year. Once a month, he would host a dinner party. The rest of the time, he would remain largely alone in the pyramid. The project was full of symbolism: the pyramidal shape of his shelter, for instance, refers to Ancient Egypt. Voth worked in isolation, far from his ordinary life, in heat and cold that were unbearable at times, on a boat that would never float. The guests he received every month were able to share his experiences in the pyramid for a short while.
Violence of nature ends project
Symbolism and mythology are found in Voth’s other works too. In the Moroccan desert, for instance, he built a triangular staircase that reaches up into the sky, Himmelstreppe (‘Staircase to Heaven’, 1980–1987). In the same desert, he made his Stadt des Orion (‘Orion’s City’, 1998–2003). Orion is one of the oldest constellations and features in several mythologies. Stadt des Orion (1998–2003) consists of seven towers with slits through which certain stars can be seen at certain times. At the same time, it is a three-dimensional representation of the Orion constellation.
The winter of 1981–1982 was severe. IJsselmeer was covered with pack ice. At the end of November 1981, it became too dangerous for Voth to stay there, and he was forced to leave the pyramid unattended. On 27 January 1982, the structure was blown off its piles during a storm and drifted out onto IJsselmeer. The bluestone boat sunk on the spot. The wooden pyramid was later found adrift a few kilometres away. On Voth’s request, the boat has remained on the bottom of IJsselmeer ever since. Films were made of the project and an exhibition on the project toured Germany in 1983. The show was accompanied by a book, in which Voth published the diary he had kept during his stay in the pyramid on IJsselmeer.
1 From February till April 1983 at the Kunsthalle in der Norishalle in Nürnberg, from April till May 1983 at the het Erhohlungshaus der Bayer AG in Leverkusen and from June till July 1983 at the Kasseler Kunstverein in Kassel.
2 Hannsjörg Voth, Boot aus Stein, Nürnberg 1983.
Hannsjörg Voth, Das Boot aus Stein (The Stone Boat)
1940, Bad Harzburg, Germany
Das Boot aus Stein (The Stone Boat, 1978–1982)
Wood, plastic sheeting, stone
Location: IJsselmeer, near Trintelhaven