MANNHEIM – WELTSTADT
A World-Citizen is seeding Symbols
Sibylle Zerr graduated in cultural anthropology from Heidelberg
University, and works as an author and photo journalist. Her works
have been published in magazines and newspapers, as well as in book
form; her book debut "Blues für einen Schmetterling" (published 2006
in the German language), a collection of interviews, reportages,
short stories and photos from pre-Katrina New Orleans, has been
Translated by: Sibyll Kalff, 2011
water splashing from a spring, the words pour out of Dr. Ahmad Nadalian.
His eyes are sparkling under the wispy and
with silver hairs, similar to
He is sitting well-behaved, hands on his knees, next to a water basin,
looking like a temporary
that he build in the Foyer of the Mannheimer Goethe-Institute. Arriving
as a language student in Mannheim, the Iranian multimedia artist and
philosopher always incarnates his original avocation where ever he is:
to set symbols, that are beyond any culture and language and
internationally understandable and readable.
He is always carrying a set of chiseler's tools in a white linen bag
with him, always ready to engrave his messages somewhere: fish, crabs,
spirals, hands, feet, faces.
The photo exhibition on the walls of the Foyers inspired Dr. Nadalian to
water-installation: portrays of language students, participating in
courses of the Goethe-Institute, Faces from all possibly thinkable
countries worldwide. Water is the
origin. It is the
- the foundation of all life existing. Water in the Persian tradition is
the mirror of the divine.
Dr. Nadalian’s basin looks like some kid's
pool, this impression is created by the use of blue plastic foils.
naive in this intellectual context. But
and thus, the blue foil oval is attracting everyone's attention. The
irritating waterbuses serve as nothing but the vehicle. It is the diving
In the few centimes deep puddle - two plates of stone are placed, that
have the imprints of human feet chiseled into, just as if Adam just
stepped out of the waters, as if the creational act of human mankind
would have been finalized right here and now, as if man already left
paradise from right here, to conquer and to make the world tributan, his
It is not easy, to do the creator of this irritating little blue basin
justice, Dr. Nadalian, who sits there that quietly and whose words are
He is homed in a little village, called Porlour, literally at the feet
of the Damavand-mountain region, 68 kilometers from Teheran and at the
same time he, the world citizen is constantly travelling the virtual and
real world alike. Normally, he is forming his art directly in nature.
After his studies fine art, painting, at the University of Teheran, Dr.
Nadalian studied philosophy at the »University of Central England« in
Dr. Ahmad Nadalian
and finalized with a dissertation about mystic dimensions in the field
of fine art.
Dr. Nadalian is teaching fine art, art history and philosophy in a
pluriety of Iranian universities, works as an international web- and
performance artist, as a painter and sculpture. Due to the
photo-documentation of his land-art-project »The River Still Has Fish«
represented on his homepage
Dr. Nadalian was internationally that well received and honored, that he
was invited to the 50th biennale in Venice.
Rather close to his village, he chiseled his signs into the stony bed of
the Haraz river. Hundreds of fish, over and under the waterline, that
are only visible, depending on tidal conditions of the season, the
precise coordinates of the installation concealed by Dr. Nadalian. But
he left for everyone that detects his art his phone number and web
address, chiseled into the stony riverbank.
Already Natalia’s ancestors had their summer-camp in Polour alongside
the river Haraz. Nadalian lived in Polour, too - during his studies of
fine art, until he transmigrated to Europe for his studies of
philosophy. He lived seven years abroad, being homesick for his paradise
in the ´mountains of the river Haraz, because the untouched nature of
his home country incarnated for him his ideals of paradise. The
contamination of nature alludes to Nadalian to nothing else but the
contamination of the human soul. In the industrial civilizations he saw
and perceived evil, This was no world, he wanted to live in. He returned
to his mountains and his river, where he was already playing as a child.
Bt the paradise of his childhood and youth did not exist any longer. The
wild and untamed river did not exist any longer, In some tired runlet
swam nothing but and only plastic bags and garbage instead of any fish.
Even the skies seemed to have turned away..
No one seems to have more intensely called the heavens and to have
prayed for rain. The river was nearly dried out.
The humans seemed to have lost all and any belief in the holiness of the
waters and the elements.
Nadalian simply felt the need and desire, to give form and "gestalt" to
his lost paradise. He started to chisel fish reliefs into the stony
riverbed of the Haraz. In his imagination, all fish, that he created,
were like living beings. But the modern technical did not even let the
plantain-fish in the Haraz river survive. Bulldozer arrived in many
places, to build new and more houses and streets, and destroyed Dr.
Natalia’s recreated and reinvented paradise. Thus, even his stony
fish died. He then arranged a cemetery for his fish and gathered all the
big stony quavers together, recollecting all the fish reliefs, chiseled
into the big stony quavers, that the bulldozer destroyed. Sometimes he
is walking hundreds of miles in the riverbeds, to find his fish and
clean the dirt off the engravings, It became a ritual for him, to clean
them with his sheer hands. Maybe, and until the end of his days, he will
keep on living this ritualized tradition.
In Mannheim, Dr. Nadalian left his first signs in a water vein, located
in the Luisenparks. There, he chiseled in the beginning of September
2003 fish into the water washed diesel. While being at the Rhine, he
continued to work on his
»River Art Project«.
»The river Rhine still contains fish, and now, it contains even
more«,he smilingly states and is plain happy, that the people in Germany
still obviously did not give up the belief in the holiness of the waters
and the elements, as he, chiseled into stone, ritzed into a layer of
algae, cut into kiesel Dr, Nadalian handed his fish over to the
landscape of the Rhine close to and around Mannheim, to serve as symbols
for the never to be satisfied craving for knowledge of the human soul
and its unrepeatable bondage with the creation.
Without the movements and the sound of the floating waters, his work
would not express too much. He transformed the river in the art and the
meaning of this art can only be seen in correlation with the cosmic
order. According to an old mystic Persian ritual, that invokes the
powers of life, it equals, when the waters are rising in spring and
nearly dry out in summer and Dr. Natalia’s fish swim sometimes over and
sometimes under the water. As exactly this visions stand in the pivotal
focus of attention of his river-art.
One should listen much closer to the of the waters, to understand, that
nature is to be honored and praised. Nadalian's fish, chiseled into the
stony riverbeds arise the question, what happened to the real fish, and
why they only return as artificial fish. Fish, the symbol of the waters,
that ever returning symbol in Nadalian's cycles of works.
The stony quaders of the riverbanks of the Mannheimer Reißinsel host
five of Nadalian's paradise fish, his hand and one crab.
While people search for his art that they know from the pictures of his
website they might discover something very precious additionally,
explains Nadalian his intentions.
His work seems to be that inscrutable and neither
tractable, nor locatable, that one could believe, the silver hair
streaks, that surround his head, would be fibers, like from some magical
foggy field that surrounds the thoughts of the artist, to have them
never ever really visible.
»It makes me happy, to keep humans busy«, confesses Dr. Nadalian and
Many of his works are that small and easy to transport, that one could
carry them away as objects trove. One circle of kiesel was arranged by
DR. Nadalian around a tree in the Luisenpark, a mystic circle full of
universal signs like hand, foot, eye, cross, spiraled, sun and star. He
transformed the tree thus into a »Tree of Humanity«: Dr. Nadalian is not
irritated or feels disturbed, when his works vanish in the flow of times
in any natural way, change or when they are sedimented by human hands.
This would be nothing but a natural process. As natural as his fish
reliefs being sometimes covered by the waters and sometimes not. would
be a condition that connects Nadalian's work with humanity and being
human. Very often, he is making drawings at the places, that he chose
for his sculptural land art, that lie like yet undiscovered bases of
natural resources within the landscapes, like some cultural act, hand
and footprints with water on the stones, that after a short while
evaporate and forever.
He is fascinated by the possibility that humans can find his works
accidentally within the landscapes and would not know, whether it would
be any prehistoric or postmodern works of art at all. They use his signs
and symbol, They perceive them and create meaning. Any of time would not
be necessary, as Nadalian wants to evoke meaning. The spectator shall
not at all perceive his art to be pompous, but he appreciates, when
people are surprised and wonder about their simplicity and originality,
the meaning of his art would be relative always according to what any
spectator would see into them or maybe would love to see into them. Thus
the meaning transforms with each and every spectator, his individual and
cultural background and his very one version, ways to read and perceive.
Nadalian watched peasants in the Iran, collecting his engraved kiesel
and used them as warning signals for snakes on the paths. His signs
would not be helplessly to the interpretations by humans, but they would
on the contrary nearly demand for human interpretation.
His modest worldviews and appealingly simple work techniques expedite in
his eyes the fundamental and basic situation of human existence into the
light of day and furthermore then translocate them onto a mystic level.
Nadalian states, that in the cognition and the being recognized, a basic
and fundamental condition for the optional interaction between cultures
and nations. Between the digital documentation of his land art via
internet and the appealingly primitive conditions of their origination
with hammer and chisel in the riverbed, between the mystical dimensions
of signs and symbols, that obliterate the interrelation of space, time
and place and the simple allocation of simple meanings, Dr. Nadalian is
straining and tensioning the oppositional fundamental conditions of
mankind in the postmodern times to the extent of rupture.
Last, but not least, Nadalian states, that he himself is nothing but a
representative of the postmodern man, that undertakes the spigot between
local traditions and global communications, between his rural life in
Iran and his world citizenship in its virtual and real space.
Under conditions, where seemingly nothing can be kept unseen and where
humans can get in touch via the world wide web that not necessarily ever
share or shared any common reality. Such an exchange functions via a
virtual world, but can not be seen or understood in any abstract way,
otherwise it would exist in "reality". We are long used to move around
in a more or less abstract world, when we order goods via internet and
pay with some plastic-cards. For Dr. Nadalian is this worldwide web
nowadays as well a means to find likeminded humans, to exchange ideas
With this elective affinities, criteria as gender, color of the skin and
age actually are of no further importance. The possibilities of the
world wide web fundamentally and drastically changed the human
communication, the art and the traditions of knowledge and the
transmittance of knowledge.
»The contemporary knowledge reacts like water, running though your
fingers.« Maybe something like a circuited civilization does not even
exist any longer in the world of today. »I come from my village« states
Nadalian, »I live and work there, but I am collaborating as well with
Land-Art-Project »The River Still Has Fish«
humans in the global village.« Nadalian's water basin placed in the
Goethe-Institute is long dried out, his stones in the Luisenpark are
Tran located, but there is still fish in the Rhine. But there are two
stones with the intercultural decipherable signs and symbols that Dr.
Nadalian dedicated and left after his four weeks long stay while being a
language student in September 2003, at the Goethe-Institute Mannheim.
Since then, he is again "On the Waltz" - The world citizen that seeds
This story could take place allover the planet and everywhere - but
nevertheless, it took place just and exactly like that in Mannheim, this
little spot on earth, that approximately 308 000 humans call their
hometown. Out of their very own thoughts and feelings, their dreams and
deeds, the soul of the city is interfused - and could one perceive all
voices chorused together simultaneously, there would be a whisper of
gigantic dimensions over the roofs.
Bibliographic Information by the Deutschen Bibliothek:
The Deutsche Bibliothe/(Deutschen Nationalbibliografie;
you find detailed bibliographic information online under:
© Sibylle Zerr 2006
All stories in this book are based on true events.
For protectional reasons, the author invented some names of the
and consciously concealed some of the settings.
Picture Credits: Cabaret Deluxe: Page 30, 33, 36,
Dr. Ahmad Nadalian: Page 206,
212; All other photos by Sibylle Zerr
Cover design: Matthias Mikolasch
Publisher: Books on Demand GmbH, Norderstedt
Printed in Germany
»But you know - I love Mannheim. «