Reading a book on a park bench, taking a quiet stroll, leisurely enjoying the sun—Petuelpark offers an array of opportunities for urban relaxation. It also symbolizes the human desire to briefly escape the vortex of hectic life in the big city for just a few moments. At first glance, then, Harlad Klingelhöller’s Rhetorical Woods is all the more surprising. Amid a cluster of trees symmetrically laid out not far from the Feuchtwanger School, a group of abstract sculptures invites visitors to occupy and play in the area. Upon closer inspection, these six stands of different heights, made of white and black granite, turn out to be lecterns that fulfill yet another function: push a button and they are also refreshing drinking fountains.
The different sizes and designs in this “Speaker’s Corner” are odd, however. There is a lectern for children and one for wheelchair users; two people can talk to each other at another one or argue at a second or simply talk past each other at a third. The black and white granite of these lecterns, however, illustrates the idea that the thesis and antithesis are the seminal means of human communication; moreover, the artwork’s double function as both lectern and fountain also suggests that talking and drinking are symbols of mental and physical nourishment and thus original factors of human existence.
As the twenty-first-century information society continues its frighteningly rapid process of anonymization, with e-mail and Internet, home shopping and mobile phones, the Dusseldorf artist Harald Klingelhöller’s “social sculpture” succeeds in making an appeal that is as coherent as it is provocative: every man and woman can make themselves heard if they want to. The piece is a clear invitation to communicate, to spend time with each other, to have a dialogue, for the individual to confront society—or, as the artist himself put it, “To provide a place for the presence of the human voice!”