The discussion of how human beings came to be on Earth still rages in almost every corner of our globe. This anthropological mystery involves questions of science, religion, philosophy, and even aliens. Some artists use their work to express their own answers to the "big questions", or to offer a new direction from which to look at ancient mysteries. Austrian artist Manfred Kielnhofer uses his looming "Guardians of Time" as a symbol for some greater force that stands above human beings, regardless of the name different people might give to that "higher power".
Guardians of Time: The Reichstag, Berlin
Kielnhofer first designed these monk-like sculptures back in 2006 as a kind of homage or statement of belief that human beings are watched over and protected by ancient, god-like forces which occasionally visit the earth. In ancient times, as well as in legendary settings, the "Guardians of Time" are often depicted as cloaked and hooded figures, wise and powerful ancients that control the destiny of humanity and the threads of time itself. Variations on this theme can be found in the Druids of Stonehenge, certain characters in Lord of the Rings, and other sources of popular culture or mythology. They are creatures of great power, typically not from Earth, and often have a capacity of understanding the universe that dwarfs that of human beings . They are often depicted as mysterious visitors from some far-off place sent to observe, or occasionally intervene in, the progression of humankind.
The artist works within this heady and fantastic background theory and then installs these ominous sculptures in spots of cultural significance, mystical locales, or just places with really good photo ops.
Guardians of Time: St. Marks Square, Venice
Guardians of Time: Brandenburger Gate, Berlin
The other unusual thing about these Guardians is their very brief presence in these noteworthy locations. Many of them appear for a single day, and are gone by the next, which certainly increases the mystery and spooky quality of the sculptures. Some people are getting once-in-a-lifetime chances to photograph these intriguing sculptures in places where they will never appear in again. That transience is a somewhat unusual characteristic of any work of art, even for installments, due to the quickness with which the Guardians locations are changed. It is as though these Guardians are at the center of a worldwide and extremely challenging game of Where's Waldo, but Waldo can basically run away to other cities or nations overnight.
Guardians of Time: Venice
Guardians of Time: The Fridericianum Museum, Germany
Guardians of Time: Festival of Lights, Berlin
Kielnhofer has a few variations of the Guardians of Time, including smaller sculptures which he calls Mini Guards, decidedly less menacing and frightening than their older brothers. Both styles play with the ideas of space and sculpture in a way that few other art exhibitions can. What sort of meaningful elements are added to an installment piece in a completely blank, white gallery? What if you place that sculpture in front of the Reichstag? Or the Statue of Liberty? Or the tallest building in the world?
The artist's intent and the viewer's perception and understanding are naturally shaped by the surroundings. These sculptures draw from mysterious subject matter like wizards, alien gods, and even the Nazgul of Middle Earth, so a wide range of response and symbolism will surely be placed on them. The changing setting of the installments only adds to that depth of meaning and artistic vision.
Mini Guards: Vienna
The Guardians of Time and the Mini Guards have done more than just mysteriously arrive and depart in various spots around the world. They have also made significant appearances at Gallery Artpark (Linz, Austria), Art Basel (Switzerland), the Festival of Lights (Berlin), and most recently, the statues played a very visible part in Art Dubai Week 2013. From March 20-25th, the statues popped up in different places each night, keeping both art lovers and critics on their toes to see where the Guardians would be watching from next.
Mini Guards: Burj Khalifa, Dubai
Guardians of Time: Burj-Al-Arab Hotel, Dubai
Whether or not you believe in strange visitors from other times, planets, or dimensions coming to oversee the workings of the world, these sculptures would still manage to chill my spine if they popped up in my front lawn overnight.
But what do you think? Has Kielnhofer finally found a way to blend modern art with ancient mystery? Or is this project so injected with supposedly "deep meaning" that it becomes as unrelatable as a shark in a tank of formaldehyde?
Dig deeper into the mysterious art of Manfred Kielnhofer at his website.
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All images are subject to the copyright of the artist.