The Black Gate

The Black Gate, walk-in installation, Stadtgalerie Bamberg Villa Dessauer, 2022
The Black Gate, walk-in installation, Stadtgalerie Bamberg Villa Dessauer, 2022

In his “Tale of the New Era,” E.T.A. Hoffmann describes the adventure of the student Anselmus in his struggle between bourgeois constraints and his calling to poetry, in which he experiences the wonders of an imaginary Atlantis. This world of daydreams and imagination contrasts with the dark realm of the uncanny, where the forces of evil, embodied by the market woman who returns as a witch, threaten Anselmus’s creative inclinations. In the house and garden of Archivarius Lindhorst, Anselmus feels the enchanting power of fantasy, transforming the mundane grayness into magical realms with lush vegetation, exotic animals, and splendid ambiance. E.T.A. Hoffmann structured his tale into twelve “Virgilias,” or night watches, alluding to his nocturnal writing sessions.

Thomas Michel has interwoven three key scenes into a walk-in installation, that was realized at the Stadtgalerie Bamberg Villa Dessauer in 2022. The location where the Black Gate once stood in Dresden, situated on the route of Kapellmeister Hoffmann’s journey home from the opera house in the Old Town to his apartment on the opposite bank of the Elbe, symbolizes the gateway to the realm of the unconscious. The door knocker at House Eisgrube 14 in Bamberg, where E.T.A. Hoffmann often visited his friend Carl Friedrich Kunz, inspired the scene where Anselmus encounters the apple woman and faints. The mysterious curse of the apple woman, “soon your fall into crystal,” culminates in the scene where Anselmus finds himself trapped in a glass bottle, along with five others who are unaware of their captivity. At the beginning of the 19th century, the sensation of being enclosed in glass was often interpreted as a symptom of madness, for Anselmus, it was the price of artistry.