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Taking the Waters. An Allotted Span of Me-Time. Art exhibition in the Hamburg Central Library

Nov 10, 2020 - Nov 28, 2020
"This will help". Taking the Waters in Covid-Times.

"This will help". Taking the Waters in Covid-Times.
Image Credit: Josefine Buckenauer

Taking the waters. Who nowadays goes to take the waters? In times of wellness and urban spas, the good old spa resort seems to have outlived its time. In earlier periods though, many people dreamed of such places: romantic places of leisure and recuperation. A place of sickness too, admittedly, and hence of coming to terms with one’s own mortality. The spa resort was a ‘heterotopia’, an ‘other place’, that functioned according to its own rules. ‘In the twinkling of an eye’, Thomas Mann writes in his probably best known novel The Magic Mountain (1924), ‘it makes something like a vagabond even of the pedant and the Philistine.’

Though the exhibition was conceived long before the covid-19-pandemic set in, it fits well into our current world of lockdowns and social distancing. The covid-restrictions have given us an "Allotted Span of Me Time" – against our will. In self-isolation, our homes were turned into other places: an office, a school, or a gym, and our perception of time has changed dramatically. A stay in a spa, too, is an "Allotted Span of Me Time", though not in a familiar place, but an unknown one, be that at the sea-side or in the mountains. In any case, quarantine and health resorts have one thing in common: ‘One’s ideas get changed‘ (Thomas Mann).

Some fifty years after the German novelist, the French philosopher Michel Foucault coined his no less celebrated concept of the ‘heterotopia’ (from the Greek ‘hetero’ = ‘other’/‘different’ and ‘topos’ = ‘place’) to convey this experience of spaces that have a changing effect on us. Heterotopia: the word sounds mysterious, poetic. The idea behind it is a simple one. Human beings need ‘other places’ in order to take a step back from the pressures and rules of normal life. The spa resort is a heterotopia. But so too are museums – or libraries like this place, in which our exhibition is being held. Heterotopias are different from our everyday spaces in that they suspend the rules and routines that pertain in these – albeit temporarily. Heterotopias serve as places of encounter and creativity, but sometimes also as places of escape or even conflict.

Today the spa resort must regenerate itself, this old place of dreams and longing needs a new impetus. The artworks displayed in this exhibition offer just this, they shed a new light on the old spa and update the notion of the ‘other place’: The other is put in relation to today’s world. We see places where yearnings and fears, freedom and control meet and where the paths of people of different generations, nations and social classes cross. What was it about the spa resort that used to fascinate people so much? What form of society does the spa resort embody today, given that it both offers temporary freedoms and strictly regulates body and behaviour? And what changes has it undergone as a place of dreams and longing? How to determine its precise location between wellness and self-optimisation, between fitness trackers and mindfulness training?

The young artists follow in the footsteps of the classic spa writer Thomas Mann and are guided by his texts. After all, his protagonist Hans Castorp began his journey to the Magic Mountain in Hamburg! And the Lübeck family of the Buddenbrooks(1901) – equally well-known to the (German) reader – go, as their author did, for some rest and recuperation to the nearby Baltic resort of Travemünde. Accordingly, some of the visual artwork for the exhibition was produced in Hamburg’s celebrated shrine to natation, the Holthusenbad in Eppendorf, as well as plain air, along the beaches and buildings of Travemünde.

Artistic concept: Gaby Bergmann
Intellectual concept and texts:
Henrike Schmidt and Astrid Köhler
Co-ordination und Organisation:
Heinrike Buerke, Christoph Gärtner, Sarah Politt
Jalal Hosseini

We are grateful for the generous permission to reproduce: passages by Thomas Mann: S. Fischer Verlag; passages by Michel Foucault: Suhrkamp Verlag.

We thank Holthusenbad (Bäderland Hamburg), Grand Hotel Atlantic Travemünde, Peter Szondi-Institut für Allgemeine und Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft (Freie Universität Berlin) for their support.

Event Organiser: Zentralbibliothek der Bücherhallen Hamburg; HTK academy; (p)ostkartell. verein für angewandte kulturforschung e.v.; The European Spa Project.

Sponsored by HERA Humanities in the European Research Area and the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung BMBF(Federal Ministry for Education and Research).

Time & Location

Nov 10, 2020 - Nov 28, 2020

Hühnerposten 1 (Eingang: Arno-Schmidt-Platz)
20097 Hamburg