ARCHIVED BULLETIN ARTICLES: Wolfgang Gowin

 BULLETIN ARTICLES:  Wolfgang Gowin

 Wolfgang Gowin was raised and educated in Germany and has lived and worked in the USA and Costa Rica. He now
lives in Bonnells Bay on the shores of Lake Macquarie in NSW. He is a medical researcher, Professor of Radiology and
Osteology and has lectured all over the world. He began sculpting well before his medical studies and his passion for this
art form has never ceased. His sculptures are located in museums, universities, public places and corporations in
Germany, USA and Costa Rica. Gowin has lived in Australia for only the past 4 years; he visited Australia back in 1978,
fell in love with this country and decided then that Australia was where he would settle down.

His sculpture encompasses installation art, land art, large outdoor sculpture and indoor sculpture. His works can be
playful and they can also be deeply thought provoking; he is also fond of including references in his sculptures to different
cultures, past and present. Gowin is strongly anti-war and he is not timid in showing it, tackling this subject in an
innovative way with the inclusion of genuine military hardware in his works.

Wolfgang Gowin is a Professor of Radiology and Osteology, but he has also studied philosophy and art history.
He has a wonderful philosophy of life in which he values people, their cultures and their individuality.

His first exhibition was in Germany in 1980, a group exhibition held at the Kleine Gallerie, Berlin; and his first solo was
in 1987 in Oregon, USA. Since then his work has been in numerous exhibitions in Germany, USA, Costa Rica and
Australia. He has a long list of artists whom he admires, but he especially likes and is inspired by the works of Jean
Tinguely, David Smith, Mark di Suvero, as well as Alberto Giacometti. He also admires the works of Salvadore Dali,
Yves Klein, Richard Serra, Pablo Picasso (sculptures), Anselm Kiefer (Paintings), Joseph Beuys (sculptures), Rebecca
Horn and Eduardo Chillida.

Gowin believes that sculptures should fit into the environment in which they are placed and that they should not obscure
their environment; the viewer should be able to look through a sculpture to the landscape beyond. Gowin is able to
achieve this with his style of construction; space flows through his sculptures.

Some of his works have a humorous appeal. ‘Blonde Woman Walking the Dog’ (pic 1) is a parody of a blonde haired
woman poking out her long, red, narrow tongue while walking her poodle; her tongue is about the length of a man’s neck
tie. The leash attached to her little poodle also adds to the humorous aspect of this work, it is a large heavy chain, the type
you see attached to the back of towtrucks.

According to Gowin, the past is as important as the future and every culture as important as any other.

His sculpture, ‘Justice’ (pic 2) brings together symbols pertaining to justice from different cultures and religions. The top
section of this sculpture which includes scales, an ostrich feather and a heart, encapsulates the belief of the Ancient
Egyptians that justice was served on the deceased before they entered an afterlife. To determine the deceased’s
worthiness of an afterlife, it was believed the God Anubis would supervise the weighing of the deceased’s heart on
scales against the feather of Ma’at. The hearts of those deemed unworthy of an after life were thought to be devoured by a
beast. Ma’at was the Goddess of truth and justice and was represented by an ostrich feather. In Ancient Egyptian
sculptures she was depicted wearing the ostrich feather on her head.


Later in history, according to Gowin, these scales became ‘Scales of justice’ a symbol seen in old Jewish, Roman and
Greek mythology.

The blue felt coat, red silk cloth and the scales are a reference to the female Justice; a figure often portrayed holding
a sword in one hand and scales in the other. Her origin can be traced back to Ancient Greek and Roman images of
Themus and Justitia. In Ancient Roman sculptures, Justitia was depicted wearing a red dress
and blue coat. She was one of the four virtues in Roman Mythology, the others were Prudence, Fortitude and Temperance.
The female Justice has continued in various forms throughout history, all over the world.

Her image is also found on the Taro card which Gowin says has its origins in Ancient Jewish culture.
Her image on the Taro has undergone changes, a reflection of periods in history. She has been represented on the
Taro wearing a red dress and blue coat. The remaining section of the sculpture, the wheels, represent the Dharma-chakra
sometimes called the ‘wheel of truth’, a symbol in Budhism. The wheel of truth has its origin in old Bon religion. The
eight spokes denote the eight paths to enlightenment, a set of codes to live by.

Gowin is strongly opposed to war and his use of recycled war parts in his sculptures help to impart this message.
His installation work (pic 3) ‘Crematorium Place’ conveys his message to “burn the bombs”, hence the bomb’s location
in a fireplace. The mourning veil and the title impress further the sad message on the viewer that bombs kill people. His
anti- war sentiment was behind his involvement in the Bunker project in Wünsdorf, Germany. The project was an
intitiative of the developers Waldstadt Wünsdorf/Zehrendorf Ltd who commissioned Gowin to transform an old military
site in Wünsdorf, Germany which had 19 cone shaped military bunkers left from WWII (pic 4); 12 were in ruins.

Gowin’s plan was to change this military landscape to one filled with art.

Some of these bunkers were restored by Gowin to their original historical form. He said many of the visitors to the bunker
site had no idea what these weird cone shaped buildings were, nor did they have any knowledge of what this site had
been used for. The area had been kept top secret for decades, first by the Nazis, then later by the Russians who took over
the area after the Potsdam treaty.

Gowin submitted his plans for the site over the years 1996/7; work began in 1997 with 12 people working on it each day;
the entire project was finished in 2001.

During WWII other underground bunkers on the 600 ha property were used as the hub of all telecommunications and as a
place where all the plans for the war were discussed. All phone calls to Berlin were directed through the largest of the
underground bunkers which had a lift large enough to fit a truck. As a directive of the Potsdam Treaty, the Russians were
supposed to destroy the bunkers; they managed to destroy only 12 of the above ground bunkers and all but the largest
underground bunker. The structure and unique design of the bunkers had made them difficult to destroy. Later the Russians
also kept the area top secret and used it as a facility to control air space during the cold war.

 After the wall came down in 1989, what was left were 7 above ground bunkers still intact and a mess of steel reinforced
concrete rubble spread about this enormous area of forest. All this was part of the huge clean-up that Gowin had to
ultimately deal with. All 19 above ground bunkers, the 7 still intact and the 12 in pieces, were converted into land art
sculptures which blended harmoniously with the surrounding landscape.

After talking to Gowin, he has opened my eyes to different cultures past and present and to cultural and religious
symbolism such as the Dharma-Chakra which has endured the test of time. He has also reminded me of how powerful art
can be in expressing the message of the destructiveness of war. It was a priviledge to interview someone who has
devoted four years to a land art project which culminated in something wonderful from something so horrific.

Gowin’s next project is to find a large home on a dreamlike acreage where he can settle down permanently and create a sculpture park.

1.  ‘Blonde Woman Walking the Dog’ wood and painted recycled steel. (211x160x48cm)
    


2.   ‘Justice’, rusted steel, wood, leather, plastic cast of a heart, ostrich feather, felt, silk, copper (244x97x114cm).

     


3.  ‘Crematorium Place’, fireplace, fabric bomb shell site specific (Medford, OR, USA) (305x178x229cm).

     

4.  One of the remaining intact Bunkers refurbished to look as it did when first built according to historical documents.

     

5.  Sections of bunker painted to resemble a rising moon.

     

 

6.  Part of a bunker decorated with a stone mosaic of the rising sun.