Dicht wie Löcher eines Siebes stehn
Fenster beieinander, drängend fassen
Häuser sich so dicht an, daß die Straßen
Grau geschwollen wie Gewürgte stehn.
Ineinander dicht hineingehakt
Sitzen in den Trams die zwei Fassaden
Leute, wo die Blicke eng ausladen
Und Begierde ineinander ragt.
Unsre Wände sind so dünn wie Haut,
Daß ein jeder teilnimmt, wenn ich weine.
Flüstern dringt hinüber wie Gegröhle:
Und wie stumm in abgeschlossner Höhle
Unberührt und ungeschaut
Steht doch jeder fern und fühlt: alleine.
In his expressionist poem “Städter”, Alfred Wolfenstein talks about the estrangement of people in the rapidly growing cities of the early 20th century. Exponential urbanization especially did not leave the artists and writers of that time untouched and, like Alfred Wolfenstein, they expressed the drastic change of scenery that effected every aspect of the daily routine. Similar to the time of romantic one century earlier, nature now again is romanticized and longed for, as it depicts the contrast of the hostile, lethal city young people are unwillingly drawn to to find a job. Being not used to the fast, hectic tact of the city, artists express their repulsion in poems like the one above, where the streets very vividly stand ‘swollen grey like choked ones’.
Much has happened since the time of expressionism, two world wars have been fought, regimes rose and fell, and we look back at the era as if it were distant history, long forgotten. But has it ever ended? Would Wolfenstein’s poem not be as accurate if published today? The contemporary photographer/artist Ang Choon Leng, better known as “CLANG“, published the photo series “Time” that seems to embody exactly the words Wolfenstein expressed one hundred years ago. The people displayed in the composition don’t hold eye contact or show any sign of awareness of others or the situation around them. Surely, this is because they are each literally taken out of their own world or scene. As CLANG puts them together, however, the individual cosmos (cosmi) create a coherent scene, just like one you would find on the street. Only lines ‘as thin as skin’, as Wolfenstein puts it, indicate the separation of the different pieces. The spatial proximity of both the pieces in the picture, as well as people in our real world, seems absurd considering that they are mentally worlds apart. Cynical photographs of people waiting for the bus and all staring at their smartphone make fun of an adolescent society whose addiction to technology dislodges arbitrary interpersonal connection and awareness of the surrounding. People start living only in their own, limited cosmos which enables a paradoxical, bipolar situation– comical and sad–in which Wolfenstein’s lyrical I is lonely in a place that is crammed with people. And finally, it leaves the viewer wonder: have we ever progressed from the state Western society found itself in one hundred years ago?
Credits to Ang Choon Leng