In this painful time of mass displacement, I started to think about what “place” means, how “place” influences us, defines us, what remains, and what is left behind. I am fascinated by the complexity of the philosophical, literary, geographic and mathematical concepts of “topos” and decided to explore this problem further in my most recent installation.

I have always been interested in what constitutes “myth”. I believe that myth as “the dreams of humankind” in Jungian sense are the universal tools for self-liberalization. Historic myths, however, as the comfortable un - or semi-truths a culture tells itself, have the opposite effect and imprison us.

It is important to me that my work moves beyond self-expression, is relevant and has direct social impact. The focus of all my endeavors is the human being in all of his / her complexity.

The Gilgamesh Epic has interested me for a long time. The solarized photographs of cuneiform numbers were done by me in the late 1990’s. The story of Gilgamesh resonates on many levels with our time as we experience the end of the Heroic Age.

Nishida Kitaro’s concepts of Pure Experience, Self-Awareness and Absolute Nothingness appeal to me as an artist and a practicing Buddhist.

Pallas Athene symbolises for me a powerful and complex female energy which I find represented in the person of Angela Merkel.

Note: I chose Asmat warriors to represent Gilgamesh because of the many cultural similarities: it is an Asmat practice, for instance, that at birth each boy is paired with another newborn boy and they stay lifelong friends and lovers. It is a very sad coincidence that the community I photographed in 1995 was almost totally wiped out in the tsunami that hit Papua New Guinea in 1998.

Bettina WitteVeen


Bettina WitteVeen is a mid-career German artist residing in New York. Born in Mannheim, Germany, she graduated in 1980 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, mastering in American History, from Wellesley College and studied law at Maximilian Ludwig University in Munich. WitteVeen’s interest in history and in the philosophy of the law, and her commitment to human rights, are the conceptual basis for her art. WitteVeen’s latest work, When We Were Soldiers...once and young, was a month-long installation of 133 photographs that occupied the abandoned hospital building at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 2015. WitteVeen’s major installation of When We Were Soldiers...once and young transformed the abandoned hospital building of the old Brooklyn Navy Yard into an epic meditation on war and healing. The exhibition was hailed by critics as “brave and brillant”. It was the fourth part of a decades-long project that has invovled installations in Toulouse, France, New Yorks’s Goethe Institute, and it what was once an underground munitions factory and air raid bunker in Berlin.

WitteVeen began exhibiting in 1992. Her career comprises three long-term projects, each demanding a decade or more of research and on-location photography. WitteVeen’s first project, Sacred Sister, a meditation on spirituality, myth and womanwood (with a contribution by Robert Wilson) was exhibited at Art Basel Miami in 2003 and documented in a monograph published by Verve Editions. WitteVeen’s work was included in the exhibition Body Art: Masks of Identity at the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 1999 - 2000. The ErlKing project, a broad philosophical re-interpretation of Goethe’s poem was exhibited at the Miart Foundation during Art Basel Miami Beach in 2005 and a year later at the White Space Gallery in Amsterdam and at the Berliner Liste contemporary art fair in 2010. Another version of the work took the form of a film, The ErlKing / Altar for Shiva (Philip Reinhold Productions, 2012) screened at Fleurs du Mal in Munich 2011 and by the Arte / Catalogue Contemporary Art Fair Artists’ Film Festival, Paris in 2013, where it was nominated for the Prix / Arte Catalogue Creative Video award.

WitteVeen’s installations of photographs and sculpture have garnered critical acclaim and reached broad audiences in Germany, France and New York. Her work has been reviewed in the international art press, prominently featured in The New York Times, Newsweek, Der Tagesspiegel, Berliner Zeitgung and was discussed in “Photography: A Cultural History” by Mary Warner Marien. Bettina WitteVeen’s photographs are in several private and corporate institutions, including the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Art at its greatest, like Nature, is replete with codes. Strong art, and WitteVeen’s art is very potent art indeed, has inner meanings that are not just for art historians to play about with, but strike deep into the spiritual, emotional and cognitive strata of the human mind in amazingly universal ways. Each color, for example, in WitteVeen’s work offers a key to multiple meanings that are like ligatures tying the series of fragments of photographs together as a whole.

Bettina WitteVeen is substaintially represented in Christa: Manifesting Divine Bodies at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine New York, Oct 2016 - March 2017. In a compelling and timely installation titled 5 Wounds, WitteVeen pays tribute to the ultimate sacrifice made by five women activists for freedom, truth and justice: Sophie Scholl, Viola Liuzzo, Anne Mae Aquah, Rosa Luxemburg and Petra Kelly. She transforms a side chapel of the cathedral by placing life-size, cruciform photo sculptures in an emotionally and visually arresting phalanx.

Charels Riley II Phd
New York 2016