As part of the 2010 Culture Capital project, a collection of thought-provoking artworks have been installed on a lake in Essen. Visitors are invited to walk all over them - and rethink energy use and climate change.
Visitors who aren't afraid of getting wet can experience the installations up close
It's not your typical museum. Those who want to experience the Ruhr Atoll art project up close have to take a paddle boat to get there. And touching the work won't draw nasty looks from some museum employees - quiet the opposite actually, it's strongly encouraged.
The 300-square-meter (about 3,200-square-foot) installation is particularly child-friendly, said the mastermind behind the project, artist Norbert Bauer. His aim is to make art accessible.
"I think art can and should always be fun," he said. "I'm not going to take it all so deadly seriously."
Bauer's vision for the Ruhr Atoll was a product of runner's endorphines, he said
Located in the middle of the six-kilometer-long (3.7-mile) Lake Baldeney reservoir, Bauer's work includes an iceberg, an abandoned submarine, a teahouse and a rusty waterworks. It was created because nearby Essen and the surrounding Ruhr region - historically, Germany's heart of heavy industry - were selected as Europe's 2010 Capital of Culture.
"I can't say if it has great public significance," said passer-by Johannes Limbeck of the Atoll, "But it's interesting to stand up here and look down at Lake Baldeney and see something other than little boats."
Limbeck is one of three million visitors who make their way to Essen's reservoir each year to enjoy the water and the sunshine. It's precisely these unsuspecting lake-lovers that Bauer wants to impact with his art.
"Art is there to be touched," he said. "I reach the people who don't go to museums."
From the outside, the submarine is an ominous symbol of war
Bauer explained that he had a vision for the Atoll project while training for a marathon 15 years ago. It remained just a picture in his head, however, until, a decade later, he invited artists to develop ideas for an island installation based on the theme "Energy and Movement." For the European Cultural Capital year, 24 models were selected, but funding only allowed for five to be realized.
The artificial iceberg, positioned in Lake Baldeney as a clear reference to climate change, was developed by artist Andreas Kaiser, together with physicist and polar researcher Lars Kindermann. It is a walk-in sculpture, with a research tent placed on top. During the night, the tent lights up and realistic nature sounds - like thunder and ocean waves - are broadcast from it.
Nearby, the grey tower of a stranded submarine, designed by artist Andreas Kaufmann and media expert Hans Ullrich Reck, juts out of the water. It is a symbol of the conflicts and wars that are fought over energy resources, said Ruhr Atoll spokesman Holger Kruessmann.
"But the effect when we enter the submarine is that this weapon is transformed into a chapel on the inside; it practically seems like a church," he explained.
On the inside of the submarine's tower, the words "I can, because I want to, which I have to" are spelled out in a collage made of hundreds of press photographs. The resulting mosaic resembles a stained-glass window in a church.
The inside of the submarine resembles stained-glass windows
Island of absurdity
Norbert Bauer's favorite part of the Ruhr Atoll is the island called "Project to preserve natural resources," designed by renowned Russian installation artist Ilya Kabakov. The island is a piece of Absurdistan, joked Bauer. Kabakov has turned the renewable energy discussion on its head - in a ridiculous way, he added.
On the island, water is pumped through rusty pipes and boilers, then passes through a series of whimsical-looking filters that are powered by wind energy and diesel motors. The water then flows through a mock laboratory before landing once again in the lake.
"It was really fun putting it together with a mechanic," said Bauer.
Spokesman Kruessmann said the great irony behind the model island is that there's plenty of rattling, clanging and moving parts that give the impression of productivity, "but really nothing happens except that the water is transferred from left to right."
At the end of the year, when Essen's title as Culture Capital is passed on, the island will be transported to different waters. Norbert Bauer is in the process of looking for buyers for the various objects that make up the Ruhr Atoll. Kabakov's absurd island is going for around 300,000 euros ($360,000).
Kabakov's island is a picture of ironic absurdity
Author: Bernd Riegert (kjb)
Photos: Per Henriksen
Editor: Sue Cox