In 2006 the Bavarian municipality of Haidmühle, the first model European Green Belt region, hatched the idea of sending a glass ark on a multi-year expedition through the countryside of Saxony-Anhalt. Rainer Helms, the deputy chairman of the landscape conservation organisation "Mittleres Elstertal", was inspired by the ark made by glass artists Ronald Fischer and Hubert Stern, who travelled for three years through the forests of the Bavarian-Bohemian border region, and Helms decided to initiate a similar project in Central Germany.
Based on the idea that art and nature can be wonderfully combined, and filled with enthusiasm by the intermedial journey of the first glass ark through the Bavarian Forest and Šumava national parks, the landscape conservation organisation spent ten years planning the route along places and regions particularly worthy of protection in the three-country delta of Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony and Thuringia. The project prominently displays the number 3 in its title not least because the glass ark is the third of its kind and will travel for three years through three countries.
The ark, the centrepiece of the project, was formed and brought to life between November 2015 and April 2016 by the talented hands of Ronald Fischer in collaboration with artists Stefan Stangl, Jo Joachimsthaler and Alexander Wallner from the studio “Männerhaut”.
Thanks to the support of the Foundation on Environment, Nature and Climate Protection of the State of Saxony-Anhalt and the dedication of numerous sponsors, the glass ark set off on its three-year journey through the green heart of Germany in June 2016.
The first glass ark was given the breath of life in 2003 in the Bavarian town of Zwiesel. Back then it bore a heavy load as its mandate was to spread the message – even across national borders into Bohemia - that humans were responsible for protecting nature. Armed with the conviction that nature and its protection know no boundaries and that we have to seek out mutual discourse on conserving species, the ark cast its anchor at many stops along the way.
And the load the third ark has to bear is no lighter. Travelling from Moritzburg castle in Zeitz across the Brocken, it will stop at 20 carefully selected points during its 1,095-day expedition with the aim of making people aware of the fragility of nature. This is precisely why the initiators of the project decided to make the ark out of glass – just like its two predecessors which simultaneously acted as reminders of the dying glassworks industry in the south of the republic.
The glass artwork is set in a 5-metre wooden hand which was conceived and designed by artists Christian Schmidt and Sergiy Dyschlevyy. The glass and wood ensemble is in a slightly inclined position and visually represents the preservation of the natural and cultural landscape which lies in humans hands. At the same time, the composition exhibits a flowing movement in which the glass ark appears to slip out of the wooden hand, suggesting that responsibility is transferred to the particular observer.
The initiators and supporters of the project want viewers of the ark to regard nature conservation issues in their entirety in the regions that surround each place of the exhibit. The entire piece of art is to be a haven of peace and deceleration, and it should consciously encourage an examination of the surroundings. Why is it important to create an area of protection at the respective locations? Which specific cultural and natural features are especially worth protecting? As the central focus at each respective stop, the glass ark is both the pathway and the goal. The creators and exhibitors hope that visitors will use the art object as an excursion destination to (completely re)discover the region.
Because the aim is also to create communication – between nature enthusiasts and creators of culture, between inhabitants and tourists and, not least, between local nature conservationists and those active in the region around the Bavarian Forest – the ark's travels will be framed by a range of events until 2019. It is certainly worth viewing the ark in person, but the journey of the art and cult object is also documented by short video clips which can regularly be viewed under the category "locations".
The third glass ark takes shape: the first draft by Ronald Fischer.
Männerhaut studio: the ark is created layer by layer.
Still under wraps: the glass ark before it sets off on its long journey.
Full of pride: father of the project, Rainer Helms, with the finished glass ark at the sports field in Haidmühle.