Die Bürger von Calais (Die Neptun-brüder) / 2000 / 3'45"

planet 22
Geneva, Switzerland


Die Bürger von Calais (Die Neptun-brüder)
The burghers of calais (the brothers of neptune)

In an urban environment, its appearance characterized by post-ww2 architecture, a group of six men stand in front of a deserted gas-station. The men pose motionlessly in extremely stylized positions: they recreate Rodin´s sculpture "the burghers of calais" as a tableau vivant. The camera repeatedly circles the group in slow motion. It is a camera shot in the aesthetic style of a normal film momograph on Rodin´s work. The men, posing here as the heroic "burghers of calais", however, do not fit this image. They are people often seen standing outside of bars. Judging from their appearance they are alcoholics, unemployed or homeless. A female voice recites a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke accompained by melancholy music. Rilke describes childhood memories of feelings of hope and trust, and laments the pain of losing them. The circling movement of the camera and the dynamic of the increasing and decreasing swell of music underscores the distanced feeling of revolving time referred to in Rilke´s text.


In "the burghers of calais" Rodin erected a monument to the civic values of individual responsibility and determination. His sculpture was commissioned by the city of Calais in 1884. It is a reminder of an event captured in Froissart´s "chronique de france": during the hundred years war, Calais was besieged by english troops.
In this hopeless situation, the six wealthiest patricians in the city declared themselves ready to sacrifice their lives in order to protect the city. The English king had offered to spare the population on the condition that, "six of the most distinguished citizens leave Calais, bareheaded and barefoot, with a hangman´s rope around their necks, and carrying the keys to the town and the castle." Once Eustache de St. Pierre, Jean d´Aire, Jacques, Pierre de Wissant, Jean de Fiennes and Andrieux d´Andres had tipped the scales with their lives (but were not executed, on decree of the English queen), they went down in the history of the bourgeoisie as heroes.


Rodin´s monument is usually interpreted as a playdoyer for the "civic ideal ort he role model of the citizien" and as an expression of the tragic heroism of the "great individuals" who put their freedom to the test by their decision to accept death. (Rilke´s renowned interpretation of the sculpture can be understood in the sense of this existential explanation.)
Horten aims at subverting this prescribed interpretation, they assume the symbolism and history of "the burghers of calais" and give it new meaning: they show people in the poses of civic heroes who the bourgeois public discriminates against because they are perceived as unpresentable (and oftern enough "removed" from public space in paddy wagons). On one hand, Horten dismantles the idea of the civic monument. On the other, they emphasize the individual dignity of people - especially with the connection to Rilke´s text - whose problems are repressed by an achievement- oriented society because it cannot beart he thought that failure is possible.


The "burghers of calais" were never erected on the spot Rodin had intended. They are a placeless artwork. In this sense, they were taken as a mould standing at hand and employed in the description and re-evaluation of a social reality that would otherwise remain excluded from the fora of cultural representation.

Jan Verwoert


planet 22

fuera de la órbita
Hors Orbite
Out Of Orbit




Internet translation:


Nuestro planeta es nuestro hogar, nuestro punto de partida, nuestro centro del mundo. Con ella viajamos a través del mundo. De ella avanzamos en el mundo, a ella que nos retiramos. De nuestro planeta desafiamos el mundo, y huimos del mundo a nuestros planetas.

El mundo es el ambiente de nuestro planeta. La circulación entre el planeta y el mundo es vida. Separándose y doblando para arriba, buscando y encontrando, actuando y observando.

El mundo es el alfabeto a descifrar, nuestro planeta el texto, que intentamos crear. El mundo es el contexto, en el cual ponemos nuestro texto. El mundo es el contexto, que encaja nuestro texto.

- - -

Our planet is our home, our starting point, our center of the world. With her we travel through the world. From her we advance into the world, to her we withdraw. From our planet we challenge the world, and we flee from the world to our planet.

The world is the environment of our planet. Circulation between planet and the world is life. Spreading and folding up, looking for and finding, acting and observing.

The world is the alphabet to decipher, our planet is the text, which we try to create. The world is the context, into which we place our text. The world is the context, which embeds our text.

- - -

Unser Planet ist unser Zuhause, unser Ausgangspunkt, unsere Weltenmitte. Mit ihm gehen wir auf Reise durch die Welt. Von ihm aus stossen wir in die Welt vor, um uns auf ihn zurueckzuziehen. Von unserem Planeten aus fordern wir die Welt heraus, und wir fliehen vor der Welt auf unseren Planeten.

Die Welt ist die Umgebung unseres Planeten. Der Verkehr zwischen Planet und Welt ist das Leben. Ein Ausbreiten und ein Zusammenfalten, ein Suchen und ein Finden, ein Handeln und ein Betrachten.

Die Welt ist das Alphabet, das wir zu entziffern, unser Planet der Text, den wir herzustellen versuchen. Die Welt ist der Kontext, in den wir unsern Text stellen. Die Welt ist der Kontext, der unsern Text einbettet.

22 rue de berne
1201 geneve
t/f +41 22 731 53 81

contact: Peter Stoffel and Solvej Dufour Andersen