Unfinished Histories Vol. V

Contemporary Artists respond to Leonard Thurneysser


15. Dec - 30. Jan 2020

The first installment of the multi-part exhibition project relates to the alchemical puzzles of Leonhard Thurneysser, who lived in the monastery in the 16th century and ran the first printing press in Berlin. Curated by Katja Kynast and Hauke Zießler.

Until the 18th century, the genre of riddle rhymes was a common literary form used by many alchemists including Thurneysser who often encoded alchemical knowledge and factual questions in rhyme form. In the first episode of this year’s programme, two of Leonhard Thurneysser’s riddles from the 16th century are shown. The rhymes come from the Quinta essentia (1574) and from one of his major works, Archidoxa – an elaborately designed, large-format book developed in his printing shop that contained planetary tables, which he claims could be used to predict the future.

Thurneysser’s Riddles with their solutions

Born in 1531, Thurneysser ran Berlin’s first printing press and a laboratory in the monastery, he laid out a botanical garden, was the personal physician to the Brandenburg Elector and dealt with alchemy, botany, astrology, metallurgy, languages and writings, and much more. In his printed works he combined various fields of knowledge and used not only different traditions of knowledge, but also different scripts (Latin, Arabic, Hebrew). He intensively dealt with language and writing – exemplified by a dictionary published by him -, used original paratextual methods and praised the diversity of languages as “miracles of God” from the perspective of the translator.

Under the title “The Better Alchemists. Contemporary Artists Respond to Leonhard Thurneysser” the current winter program of “Unfinished Histories” begins on December 15, 2019 in the ruins of the Franciscan monastery church (Klosterruine). It opens with the riddles of the alchemist Thurneysser (Vol. V,) and continues from February to the first weekend of May with texts by Monika Rinck and Haytham El-Wardany (Vol. VI.). As “The Better Alchemists”, the authors* are invited to examine the approaches Thurneysser used.

The program curated by Katja Kynast and Hauke Zießler is part of the multi-year series “Unfinished Histories”, which explores the relationship between history and poetry.

The focus of the exhibition is a multimedia LED installation in the inner space of the Klosterruine. Artistic Production by Carolina Redondo. During the seasonal closure of the Klosterruine until May 3, 2020, the exhibition can be viewed from outside daily between 10 am and 10 pm.