Rose pathos

Love an Pain – A Balancing Act

Heide Pawelzik, Rosenpathos, 1992
Steel, rose petals, ash, glue; steel mold: 240 x 120 x 15 cm

In summer 2005, the Museum for Sepulchral Culture took over the sculpture "Rosenpathos". The sculpture was part of an exhibition conceived by the working group against the death penalty of Amnesty International Hamburg in 1993. The art exhibition "Stop it, let me catch my breath ..." was intended to initiate a discussion of the death penalty and the emotional level of cruelty and to try to make the inhuman comprehensible. The special exhibition program of the Museum for Sepulchral Culture is dedicated to those facts in dealing with dying, death, mourning and commemoration that cannot be dealt with in greater depth in the areas of the permanent presentation. In particular, the many facets of violent death could and still can only be presented in fragments. For the subject areas are far too diverse, and it is imperative that they be illustrated in a house that is committed to change and continuity in funeral culture. With the takeover of the Hamburg exhibition in 1993, the opportunity arose to offer museum visitors the possibility to deal with this brutal form of dying.

A peculiar silence emanates from Heide Pawelzik's "Rosenpathos". The work renounces the ostensibly reproachful and accusatory. Mourning and restrained pain are subtly conveyed, pointing far beyond the death penalty to death itself. Unfortunately, it turned out that this particular work was far too fragile to be transported more frequently. It was therefore not available for subsequent stations. All the greater was the joy when, after years, the work was offered to the museum by Heide Pawelzik to remain permanently.

Flowers in detail
Flowers in detail
Photo: Frank Hellwig
© © Museum für Sepulkralkultur, Kassel, Bildarchiv
The "Rosenpathos"
Photo: Frank Hellwig
© Museum für Sepulkralkultur, Kassel, Bildarchiv

We already knew before the exhibition: Heide Pawelzik's "Rosenpathos" will be one of the exhibits that will primarily appeal to visitors interested in art. The title of the sculpture already hints at an irritating ambivalence. After the grandiloquence in monumental sculpture and funerary art of the 19th century, the designation "Rosenpathos" suggests that the work would like to be understood ironically: the rose as a sentimental sign for love and the pathos in the sense of "pathetic" as an excited, theatrical emotion. But Heide Pawelzik's sculpture lacks anything witty. Instead, the strict, clear conception suggests that the title is meant seriously – although it is anything but catchy. It comes across as rather unwieldy, combining a universal symbol of love and passion with a term from classical rhetoric that basically describes the same thing as a stylistic device of language. Thus, in the original sense of the word, "páthos" means suffering, sorrow, pain and unhappiness - but also passion. Since Aristotle, pathos has been the third component of a convincing speech, along with pragmatic arguments and ethos, i.e. the credibility of the speaker, and appears as an emotional appeal to the listeners of a speech. Thus, the term "rose pathos" demands that suffering and passion are not presented bashfully, but with emphasis. In the work itself, this demand is reflected in the monumentality. The "rose pathos" consists of two elements: A carpet of hundreds of blackened rose petals and a rectangle composed of five steel elements. A recessed steel plate is framed by four cubic pieces. This gives the steel sculpture the appearance of a broadly enclosed tomb. The mirror set off to the ground has the same dimensions as the narrow strip of the flower carpet. These immediate references to size and the exact alignment of the blossoms with the inner boundary lines of the construction give the impression that all preparations have already been made for the transfer of the rose quartet to the cold, steel tomb. However, due to the extreme contrast in the nature of the materials, the arrangement comes across not as an inviting gesture, but as a ruthless invitation. The roses are all covered with a layer of ash. They appear burned out by the black skin of the blossoms. The delicacy of the blossoms has disappeared, but without giving them time to slowly wither. The former delicacy has given way to fragility, but without losing beauty. Still conveyed in their number the lush and lavish, which fascinates as something lost forever. But at the same time one wants to turn away. After all, as an artistic theme, the fading of passion has slipped into the trivial through the countless variations in films, novels, songs and hit songs, and many people feel embarrassed by it. And yet – as an endless loop, so to speak – the theme keeps cropping up. In the artist's attempt to create a metaphor of great seriousness with "Rosenpathos," she makes it clear at the same time that the search for a vivid analogy of grief and pain is a delicate balancing act. All too easily, pathos slides into the pathetic, and instead of feelings, the sentimental, the sentimental shows up. And yet, in view of the universality of death, beauty as a counter-draft to the cruel fact of finitude has its justification and may be presented with passion. If only because all beauty is also inherent in the ephemeral and thus in mourning.


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Arbeitsgemeinschaft Friedhof und Denkmal e.V.

Zentralinstitut für Sepulkralkultur

Museum für Sepulkralkultur

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D-34117 Kassel | Germany
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