I was born in 1939, in Wattenscheid, Germany. My father was a railway man, my grandfather was a railway man and my great-grandfather was a railway man. I grew up near a railway station with numerous railway tracks and railway clocks. As a child, the railway tracks served as my daily playground; at night the clocks became my moons. Early on I incorporated these clocks into my life. In the evening, when I was young, I was required to be at home at 8:00 PM on the dot or face severe reprimand, so I depended upon these clocks. Each day the ever-present clock faces slowly ticked their way inexorably towards the eminent hour of departure towards home – like time bombs for us in the midst of a real war – as each evening became a race against time. The exactitude of these railway clocks and their power over my freedom encouraged in me at a very young age a sense of discipline and the notion of exactitude. Later in my late 20’s and early 30’s the German railway clock and the notion of time and duration would become a major factor in my artistic expression.
Nineteen-fifty-four. I was sitting at sunset amongst the reeds on a sidearm of the Lake of Constance at Ueberlingen. One the opposite bank, slim, long poplars and a church tower rose vertically into the skyline. The water was very quite – no movement. The whole scene was reflected in the smooth water of the enormous lake. I started to paint small water colors of the surrounding nature and then, larger more generous works as the sun slowly set. Then it became dark and I could no longer see any details of the landscape in front of me. I had produced water colors, all with the same motif. The fifth I made in the darkness; it was the most free and liberated drawing. When I finally stopped my work it was already night and I left for home.
The following morning I put all five of the water colors next to each other and reflected that here, in these five works, I had recorded the path of the slowly setting sun. I was the medium and through my work, I was able to share this physical phenomenon with others.
Nineteen-fifty-seven, April. I started to study at the Folkwang Schule in Essen. The first week of my studies, a dance instructor took me along with him to Paris. I wandered around alone, walking around Paris as a young student, and near Tuilleries, at the place de Concorde, in a building where French art was being exhibited. In a small, well-lit room, I witnessed 6 or 7 paintings of the Cathedral of Rouven by Claude Monet, depicting the same scene viewed at different seasons of the year and different hours of the day. I couldn’t believe that a human being could be able, in such nuances, to show us the different qualities of light (daylight, night, winter, summer, spring) which affected our perception of the cathedral. It was a revelation which deeply impressed me.
Forty years later, all the Roven Cathedral paintings of Monet were united in Rouven. Philippe Piguet, the great-grandson of Monet and a friend of mine, asked to interview me in connection with this exhibit, to discuss the theme of time and its relationship to art and specifically the Cathedral paintings by Monet. We started but we never finished enumerating this concept, though the notion remains an important one.
Nineteen-sixty-seven. I out that water was a sculptural material. In handling water I concluded that filling up a sculpture with water takes time. A ton… how long to fill it up? And then in 1970, I made endless black and white photographs of the surface’s infinite movement. I also photographed waves as they developed slowly and hit the beach.
Nineteen-sixty-nine. I was invited to Baden-Baden for an exhibition. En route to Baden-Baden from Dusseldorf, (Dusseldorf to Strassbourg) I ladled the water from the swiftly flowing Rhine River into 12 large barrels. I labled each barrel with exact time, date, year and place where I took the water out of the river. I placed these 12 barrels inside the main exhibit space. At the same exhibition, I pumped water from the Black Forest River Oos into the Kunsthalle and subsequently into a water basin which I had fabricated out of fiber glass. The water was immediately re-circulated back into the river. This action continued for the whole summer. It was my best water color – based in real time and space.
Nineteen-sixty-five. I returned to Germany from France, where I had lived for 5 years, and worked evenings in a Beat night club. One day I found a very old Coca Cola clock lying in an alley. I was always interested in clocks and decided to repair it. What I discovered was that the inner mechanism of the clock had a heart beat which ticked with precise regularity. Like a surgeon, I extracted the heart and threw the Cola sign into the garbage. I then went to my studio, in the middle of Dusseldorf and with the aid of a compass, drew a circle on the white wall with a graphite stick. I made 12 lines which extended from the center of the circle which where meant to indicate the distance of each hour, or 12 hours. In the middle I placed the heart of the Coca Cola clock. When I plugged it into the electrical outlet, the needle started to move. I put it on the exact time. The result was: Klaus Rinke was always on time. That clock had a very important place in the center of my studio and visitors often asked me: “Are you not afraid of always seeing this clock, knowing that our time of being alive is permanently diminishing?” I always replied that, on the contrary, it was the pulsation of my heart beat and reminded me that I was still alive.
Nineteen-seventy through nineteen seventy-two. I established an important friendship with Gerry Schum, an avant guard film maker who was known for the short films he made with artists. I produced several short films with him about the expansion of time. In one film, I pushed a barrel onto the pavement. The action of pushing the barrel was filmed in real time. Very smoothly, the water flowed onto the asphalt in what seemed to be slow motion, gradually slowing until it appeared that time had nearly stopped.
I made three short films with Gerry: “Going and Getting Water”, “Bringing the Water” and “Throwing the Water – In Front of Me, Above Me, Around Me.”. As well I made two short films as a diptych: “Inhalation, Air in Water” and “Inhalation, Water in Air”.
In 1972, Gerry Schum opened a TV Gallery near the Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf. The first artist he chose to exhibit was Klaus Rinke. In the Gallery I hung 10 televisions on the ceiling, facing downward. The Gallery was filled with chairs. Gerry Schum and I were not there. We were at the Konrad Fischer Gallery situated 400 meters away nut we were connected to Gerry’s Gallery by cables which we had trailed through the many intervening gardens. People at the opening did not know where we were. The only proof that we were in the Konrad Fischer Gallery was the clock which we hung in the Gallery in front of one of the video cameras and which appeared on the television screens in Gerry’s Gallery. Gerry had a second camera which he used to film me as I made a direct time performance. With my little finger I gave him a sign to switch the picture to the first camera filming the clock in the Konrad Fischer Gallery and then back to the second camera for the next performance piece. In total, the performance lasted an hour. We performed to give the public a conscience of time shared and lived together. With this performance, “The Same Time People”, I showed the audience the past, present and future in direct reality, the simultaneity of a moment lived together ´, the synchronization of all of us.
When the performance ended, Gerry Schum and I decided not to allow this film to be viewed again. Though I still possess the original, I will never show it, as it marked a specific moment in time, captured and viewable only in “real time”.
In 1971 I also created a performance piece in the Baden-Baden Kunsthalle, entitled “Primary Demonstrations”, in which I utilized the entire empty museum space. On the central wall of the large main exhibit space I placed, for the first time, a German railway clock as an instrument to indicate the shortness of our life. It was hung in complete symmetry with relationship to the space, which was divided by drawings, with the middle-point of the room indicated by a plumb bob. Below the right side of the clock was a space where “The Man” stood; on the left side, an equal space for “The Woman” to stand. I created “Primary Demonstrations” to show the public what it means to be together at the same time, - man and woman getting up, sitting, standing, being there, getting tired, going slowly down, lying – daily rhythms, life rhythms, gravitation, earth bounded-ness. Water as the most important material that gives us life – I installed a plumb bob hanging, immobilized, over a very quite water mass, crystal clear, cold, no time – the time of other forces. Is that art? Yes, it is just then that art begins to live. Time is reality, ticking towards a future – fresh, crystal clear in our heads – consciousness. The performance took the time of a whole day from 8:00 in the morning until the closing of the museum. A day lived together in creativity, directly in front of the public.
Nineteen-seventy-two, Essen. The Folkwang Museum’s Director Dieter Honisch invited all the artists from the Rhine and North-Rhine Westphalia area to exhibit in one of the museum’s large halls. I was given my own space. In this space I again placed the railway clock (“Normal Zeit”: Normal Time). Next to it I positioned another clock, which took its impulse from the mother clock in Braunschweig and transmitted the exact middle European time to the Bauhaus designed railway clock. At the opening I had already filled 20 containers with total mass of 220 liters of water in each barrel. I then proceeded to ladle the water, in front of the audience, from each of the 20 barrels into different size containers: 100 liter, 50 liter, 25 liter, 10 liter and 1 liter cans, all galvanized gray-silver. The mass of each original barrel, 220 liters took me more time to empty than than the 1 liter can. I expanded the action. At the end there were 20 empty barrels whose water had been divided into the different size containers. The piece took the whole morning. The time it took to transfer the water differed according to its mass. Superimposed upon this action was exact time, as displayed by the railway clock. I dedicated this piece to Albert Einstein’s “Theory of Relativity”.
I performed my pieces in cities around the world. I made graphite drawings on the floors and on the walls. Orientation lines added precision to my performances offering exact points and separation space. I then began my graphite drawings, line drawings which were philosophical diagrams of a real measured time, space and distance – human beings standing, walking and expanding into infinity – coming back, going somewhere, being seen by one person, by a second person (who then looked at the two persons who looked at each other) all on their lines – fast, slow, standing, right or left, in front of and behind. This was represented in graphite line drawings, diagrams of this huge process of life going from the past into the future by being in the present. (These drawings are now often accompanied by photographs of the actions taken at the time).
Nineteen-seventy-two. Dr. Paul Wember, an important art historian after the war in Krefeld, who discovered Yves Klein, asked to have an exhibition of my time works in the Hause Lange. He had just bought in Cologne a very important plumb bob piece, an instrument for measuring timelessness, which is currently in the Krefeld collection. The exhibition was scheduled for January 1973 – a “Time” exhibition. I told him that my vision was to make drawings on the wall and on the ceiling, all connected to each other at eye level to measure the seconds. All lines would be dominated by a railway clock set to MEZ (Middle European Time).
In Space Number One, the big space, the human being was placed in the middle point of his time: present time. Space Two was the corridor: a straight graphite line with a beginning point and an end point – the distance or movement between beginning an end, past, present and future. On opposing walls between the two ends of the corridor were to be two clocks. The visitor would move between these two points at different speeds. Space Three: a two-meter-fifty flat steel container with crystal clear cold water and a plumb bob – absolute earth-bound time piece – quiet. Space Four: The Rhine, ladled in 12 barrels (piece described previously, now in the collection of the Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg). Space Five: a hose, coiled in a spiral, in which water would permanently circulate on the floor. Space Six: 3 hundred-liter stainless barrels on 3 gas burners – the first barrel on zero, barrel number 2 on medium, the third barrel on full – cold water, warm water and boiling hot water in the process of evaporating. Finally, on the wall in the entrance to the museum, was hung the instrument to measure timelessness, recently purchased by Paul Wember. Unfortunately, this exhibition never came to fruition as Paul Wember who was already old, died and his successor did not want to pursue Dr. Wember’s exhibition. It remains an important project.
In the 80’s the lawyer of the steel conglomerate Hoesch AG Dortmund called me. The Chairman of the Board, Mr. Roweder, wished to install works of art in front of the renovated Hoesch AG headquarters. I returned to Dortmund having just installed my Studio in Venice on Abbot Kinney. In the middle of Dortmund between small houses belonging to the local factory workers was a small park with huge old sycamore trees. Near to the headquarter buildings there was an 80 meter alley of younger and smaller trees. I had the idea for Hoesch to produce a huge steel cylinder, 80 meters long, 3 meters in diameter, all painted shiny black, inside and outside, with a small door cut into the middle. I wanted to cover both ends of this cylinder with two huge 3-meter diameter illuminated railway clocks. These clocks would be inlaid into massive blocks of white Carrara marble. One would enter the cylinder through the small door in the middle and walk along steel grids covering fresh running water circulating underneath one’s feet. The observer would walk between the two opposing clocks: at one end the clock turning clockwise, at the other side the clock that turned counter-clockwise.
For the second piece in the park on the green field, the same tube would be placed vertically, reaching towards the sky, the bottom stuck into the ground, the top end open to the sky. As with the prior piece, this tube would have a small door at the bottom and a grid covering running water. Inside the tube would be a spiral of clocks, facing downward, extending from the bottom of the tube to the top and seemingly to the sky. If one would look upward, one would see the Ruhr district’s grey sky – sometimes blue with clouds. Both sculptures had the same title: “The Dortmunder Time Tunnel”.
Roweder liked both ideas and it looked as if we would produce the 2 pieces. However in 1989 the Berlin Wall collapsed. Soon after Roweder was killed by German terrorists; Hoesch was taken over by the massive conglomerate Krupp and the “Dortmunder Time Tunnel” remained forever as an idea.
In 1986 the Dusseldorf City Council decided to put some artwork into an old Dusseldorf park. They asked me for a proposition and I gave them the idea of a time field in the middle of the park. The City Council agreed to re-landscape the park entrance and created an empty field, ¾ of a circle in which I placed 24 full-sized German railway clocks, synchronized to the Braunschweig Atomic Clock – the most exact clock in the world. The entrance to the park is beside the major railway track from Dusseldorf to Cologne where the fast trains pass. The most mysterious moment of this sculpture is at midnight when people in the passing trains can see the illuminating clocks, synchronized to the exact second, as they zoom past the time field in their fast trains. Better yet, if one is standing in front of this time field and looking from one clock to another, one perceives that the hands of the two clocks are never at the same time though the clocks are synchronized, as the seconds are faster than the eye’s ability to process this information. This piece was finished in spring 1987 and since then it is a very successful and very popular sculpture in Dusseldorf.
Most recently, in 2002 the French architect Jean Nouvel invited me to Switzerland for EXPO 2002. Jean planned to construct a monolith out of steel, 34 meters square, which would float in the lake of Morat. I decided to place a huge railway clock, 3.4 meters in diameter, into the lake which would give the real time of the lake. The lake of Morat is very old and originated in the Ice Age. Both projects, his monolith and my piece, the “Einstein Clock”, seemed to float in the water like remnants from an old, long buried civilization.
In general, if one were to summarize my vision of art it would be this: Art is living together with each other at the same time, earthbound to the same globe. Some people come earlier into this life, some people later but all in a time structure measured by instruments.