“All of us really just continue what we began sometime early in our first years: excavate wells and tunnels, build dams and houses, dig caves, models for which we could find deep in our past, dig ditches and canals, flood bottomlands, turn valleys into lakes, and sooner or later toss all our building blocks into a jumble again and start over, playing, forever playing, and yet living with the serious fact of our possibilities, in the middle of the drama of our own violent nature.” (A. KIEFER, quoted in C. Ransmayr, ‘The Unborn’ in Anselm Kiefer, The Seven Heavenly Palaces, 1973-2001, Riehen/Basel 2002, p. 21)
A long, shallow steel and glass vitrine filled with twisted sheets of lead, fragments of rock and copper residues, Die Schrecken des Eises und der Finsternis is a vessel laden with meaning. Made by Anselm Kiefer in 1997, it is a metaphor for memory, a space that can be filled, or emptied, with remnants and relics of reality. ‘I only use materials that tell me something’, he has said. ‘I don’t think that the idea can be found anymore- the idea in the sense of spirit is already inherent in the material’ (A. Kiefer, quoted in G. Celant, Anselm Kiefer, exh. cat., Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao 2007, p. 405). Lead especially is deeply symbolic to Anselm Kiefer. ‘Lead affects me more than all other metals. When you investigate such a feeling, you see that lead has always been a material for ideas. In alchemy, this metal stood on the lowest rung of the process of extracting God. On the one hand, lead was bluntly heavy and connected to Saturn, the hideous man- on the other hand it contains silver and was also already the proof of other spiritual levels’ (A. Kiefer, quoted in G. Celant, Anselm Kiefer, exh. cat., Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao 2007, p. 183).
Die Schrecken des Eises und der Finsternis takes its name from the 1984 debut novel by Christoph Ransmayr, an Austrian author who has meditated upon many of the substantial themes that have preoccupied Anselm Kiefer. Ransmayr, who has on several occasions written about Kiefer’s work, also weaves together history and fiction, image and text, exploring and probing the relationship between past and present, memory and myth. The Terrors of Ice and Darkness relates the story of the failed attempt of a young Viennese man to retrace a nineteenth-century polar expedition. The underlying concerns of the novel however, like Kiefer’s artwork, are philosophical; the form is a way of investigating timeless themes.