What is precious must be sustainable: Klaus Rinke, the "water worker"

The soles of my shoes are a bit wet after visiting Rinke’s “wasserwerks” in the former workshop of the Lichtenberg “Automobile Service”, which the Haubrok collectors have been developing with great effort but successfully for years into a model project for art and commerce. And I’m happy about my damp socks. Because I have seldom experienced so impressively and emphatically how much water is our elixir of life – all too often criminally wasted and squandered without hesitation. A substance that is becoming increasingly rare and valuable in many parts of the world (and unfortunately also in rich Europe) because our blue planet is getting hotter and drier and millions of poor people around the world have no access to water.

I’m standing in the “wasserwerk” of Klaus Rinke, a pioneer of early ecological performance art who was once active in Düsseldorf. I hear the rushing, rippling, and dripping of water, run around hoses, sacks, and zinc buckets filled with water, and admire the mirror-smooth surface of a zinc table. The object from 1971/1975, on which surprisingly there is no overflow, although water does flow, is called “water table/time flow”. I would almost like to think of this water-loving sculptor Klaus Rinke as a kind of David Copperfield.

Klaus Rinke/”Readiness to drive” Haubrok

Rinke calls this installation in the Haubrok Hall, which is as simple as it is crude, “time-measuring, slowly sinking water level”, 1969.

Rinke has filled the Lichtenberg Haubrok Hall with installations, objects, videos and large-scale photographs of his spectacular water actions, always seasoned with a touch of silly humor, i.e. intricate wit, such as “twelve barrels of scooped Rhine water” in 1969, the “walk-in water bag” , 1968, the “horizontal water jet” from the same year. Rinke has the quirk of consistently writing all his titles and written additions in lowercase.

The artist with the former mane of curly hair – today his parting is bare – was born in 1939, and he has been stirring up the art scene in the USA and Japan since the late 1960s with his water art, which insists on sustainability. Collector Axel Haubrok experienced Rinke as one of the great performance artists in the orbit of the Düsseldorf Art Academy. Rinke also taught there until 2004. And even today, retrospectively, so to speak, he shows us that, like hardly any other companion of Joseph Beuys, he stretched the “expanded concept of art” into the most everyday. But never with a raised index finger, but with dadaistic fun – and subsequent intellectual and emotional depth. Like a chemistry teacher who knows how to inspire an entire class for the magic of science with experimental setups and lively experiments.

Klaus Rinke/”Readiness to drive” Haubrok

View of the Lichtenberg Haubrok Hall with Klaus Rinke’s work on the “wasserwerk”.

A number of works belong to the Haubrok Collection, others are on loan. On a video we can follow a snow action in St. Georgen in 1979: Rinke produced 4000 liters of melt water on the snow-covered Black Forest slope with heating devices and full physical effort. He documented an action against the oil spill in 1971 on the Hudson River, New York, and shows the degree of pollution of the sea with a barrel of Mediterranean water, a brownish-red broth.

Rinke became a kind of prophet of the sustainability that is so much invoked today with the installation “temporarily slowly sinking water level”, 1969: two large glasses, between them a huge pendulum – as a parable for the water shortage threatening the earth.

Klaus Rinke/ “Ready to drive” Haubrok

“wassertisch/zeitdurchfluß”, 1970/75, detail from the show Wasserwerk Rinke” in the Lichtenberger “Automobility” Haubrok.

All over the hall we read Rinke’s biographical-theoretical texts on water, time, space, mass, gravity and his equation, with which he takes up the rhythm of Pythagoras’ theorem: “water + gravity = harmony”. His handling of the element water, especially the “flow” – whether in a river or at the sea or even just in (oil) puddles – always refers to the natural or fatally disturbed earthly cycle. Other works, on the other hand, visualize the forces of gravity. And water as such can be experienced again and again as the element from which life came.

Part two of this double show can be seen in the Kicken Gallery. There are Rinke’s “Projects (MoMA 1973 et al)”, his iconic “primary demonstrations”, mostly derived from his first solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. There we see him, at that time a long, thin lollipop, standing sideways in a room, it almost looks as if he is holding the walls of the room with his body so that they don’t collapse. This work has nothing to do with water, but with the situation of his body as the center of a precisely thought-out action in space and time.

Double show until June 17th: Haubrok-Foundation in the “Mobility Service” in Lichtenberg, Herzbergstr. 40-43, after registration please: Tel. 0172 210 95 25 or by e-mail info@haubrok.org. Gallery Kicken, Kaiserdamm 118, Tue–Fri 2–6 p.m., Tel: (030) 288 77 882

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