Peacock Island, 2009
Fingerprints on paper, wrapped in aluminum; placed under the original parquet floors of the Otaheite Cabinet in the castle on the Pfaueninsel (Peacock Island) near during restoration work in 2009. The parquet was last removed in 1870, so these fingerprints will probably remain there for the next hundred years.
The castle on the Pfaueninsel is a kind of pseudo-building whose one-dimensional architecture and construction are based entirely on illusion. The Otaheite Cabinet, a circular tea room, seems to oscillate peculiarly between antiquity and the South Pacific: it is lined with canvas and designed like a bamboo hut. In addition, the real windows have been filled with fictive views of an illusionistic exotic landscape in which the castellan’s house on the Pfaueninsel and the distant marble palace can be seen, surrounded by pineapples and parrots. The pattern of the wood floor is supposed to represent a cross section of a palm trunk. Otaheite is the former name of the South Pacific island of Tahiti.

The wood floor of the Otaheite Cabinet on the Pfaueninsel, near Berlin, cross section
of a palm trunk
, 2009
Drawing based on a photograph

The opened wood floor of the Otaheite Cabinet on the Pfaueninsel, near Berlin, based on a photograph by the restorer J. Messing, 2009
Drawing based on a photograph

The hand-painted wallpaper of the Otaheite Cabinet on the Pfaueninsel, near Berlin, 2009/2014
Drawing based on a photograph

Jan Brandt

Under the Wood

I’m the only one, some say the last one but I don’t like that, it’s too negative, it sounds as if no one is coming after me. Maybe it’s true, who knows, that’s how it was with the others but that doesn’t mean it has to be the same with me. I’m not looking for a successor and no one is looking to be one either; my sons don’t want to, my daughter can’t and my assistant is too stupid, but I haven’t given up hope yet that one fine day a young man or a young woman with a bit of brains will knock at my door and say, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll keep it going.’ And if not that’s fine too, then it’ll just come to an end like everything comes to an end at some point; that’s the way of the world. Holding onto the past although circumstances have changed entirely is the quickest way to go under. I might as well throw myself straight in front of a train. I’ve seen what happens to those who clutched on to old times, who got up every morning and went to the workshop and dusted their machines until lunchtime. I’ve seen the blank order books and the blank faces, and I’ve heard them complaining about the present at the Beach Hotel in the evenings. And when I did say something about it, because I couldn’t take any more, I’d get an earful about how it’s easy for me to talk, my business is still ticking over. (...)

The tourists only pay to get in because there are no other cultural activities for miles around, apart from the School Museum. And the school classes herded through like cattle for the slaughter every year don’t cast a glance at the exhibits, don’t listen to the museum director, prefer to tread on each other’s heels, pinch each other, stare longingly out of the windows waiting for the moment of redemption.
I know that because I’m the director. I’m a volunteer; I wouldn’t take money for it. If I didn’t do it, nobody would. The old generation, those of my age, are happy to sit together and talk about the old days. They have far less ahead of them in comparison but they wouldn’t swap places with me. ‘Always the same stories,’ they say, and then I say, ‘Yes, always the same stories, I have to listen to yours all the time too.’ (...)

A couple of months ago I found something during demolition works, something I can’t explain. I was prising up the parquet flooring in the rectory – a lovely herringbone pattern from the beginning of the last century, very well preserved despite a few worn spots – when I saw a piece of tin foil under the wood, carefully folded up like an envelope. I threw the first one behind me heedlessly but then I came across a second and a third and a fourth piece, scattered in the cassettes between the beams holding the parquet. I picked one of them up, stroked a hand across the surface, felt that something very thin must be inside it, and when I unwrapped it I got a real shock: a fingerprint on paper, with jagged edges as if cut out by a child’s hand. The other envelopes contained fingerprints too, blue, black, green. Some smudged and patchy, others very precise, absolutely clear, with a fine grain, with loops, whorls, curves. I looked for some kind of explanation but there was nothing more than that under the wood, no note, nothing that might give a clue as to how the fingerprints had got there. (...)

He called me two weeks later, said he had some news, and asked me to come into the station – he couldn’t discuss it over the phone. So I drove to town again, sat down with him again and we had a cup of tea again, but this time he showed me photos projected onto the wall – photos of fingerprints, fingerprints like I’d found in the rectory, ‘But these,’ Saathoff said, ‘come from the Anna Amalia Library in Weimar, and these,’ he waved his hand around the room, whereupon a new photo of new fingerprints appeared, ‘are from the court apothecary in Heidelberg, and these ones,’ another wave of his hand, and again new fingerprints appeared on the wall, looking identical to the previous ones, ‘were found in the palace on Berlin’s Peacock Island. I could show you umpteen examples from all over Europe.’
‘So what does that mean?’ I asked.
‘Fingerprints have been found in all these places in recent years, all wrapped in aluminium foil. Interpol has set up a database specially for them because none of them can be identified.’
‘So they are fakes then?’
‘Apparently not.’
‘What then?’
‘The only thing we’re sure of is that the paper and ink are very old, at least a hundred years old. The oldest sample, from the,’ – he looked at a note – ‘Otaheiti Cabinet, is from about the year 2010.’(...)

Read the full story and order:

The days are long, the nights are cold

with texts by Jan Brandt, Roman Ehrlich,
Hanna Lemke, Nils Markwardt and
Dominikus Müller

Design: Till Sperrle (ITF)
argobooks, 2015
Softcover, 224 p. (112 color)
ISBN 9783942700610

Order: Motto Berlin / Argobooks / E-Mail