Michael Witte starts by using a network of train lines to divide up the surface of his drawings. There is a clear correspondence to the Berlin local transport system. Train tracks such as these are called lines, as is the basic mark in drawing.
The line cuts through surfaces and makes connections which, out of people, creates fellow passengers, neighbours and ticket collectors. And it’s not only lines that pass through the landscape, an amputated foot emerges in the drawings every now and then. As does another figure: the so-called charmer (the “Schmuser”) – whose name sounds too good to be true.
He can be identified by his changing brightly-coloured hoods, with patterns reminiscent of emblems or coats of arms. These and the train lines are the only coloured parts of the drawings.
In the otherwise sparse formal language of technical drawing, some elements pictured call to mind trains and carriages as seen from above, others coffins, and the compartmentalisation of larger surface areas on housing estates or cemeteries. Here, we have different systems which permeate one another. To depict this reciprocity, Michael Witte doesn’t use three-dimensional space, he reflects it on a two-dimensional surface.
Only the transport routes often assume a surprisingly voluminous, organic quality, rendered on the page in graphite and coloured pencil. One can picture an arterial system with subways and flyovers.
A recurring motif is the dying foot attached to a living body; this simultaneity, this self disequilibrium of body, is experienced as uncanny, as uncanny as time itself. Just like the division of Berlin into East and West – now non-existent, and yet to whose existence topographical features still bear witness. How can this thing called time be depicted in two dimensions?
In one drawing, Michael Witte brings together intersections in the Berlin local transport system, their names and topographical relations. Thus, a system of contemporary historical references is created, as each of these locations was, in its day, an important juncture within a historical framework. In this inconspicuous way, different time periods in history merge together in a single layer.
Just as coats of arms once helped distinguish between friend and foe in the midst of battle, colour helps here with orientation and the creation of systems for order, to navigate a highly diversified reality.
Like the “Schmuser” in his hood, in spite of its simplification the stops along the traffic pipes are depicted in a manner that still manages to encapsulate a moment of envelopment, of preservation. These shapes are reminiscent of cocoons without ever being anything other than elements of circuit diagrams and site plans. The way in which two of these elongated cells lie alongside one another, encircling a hollow core – one train line leading away from them above and one below – gives them an unexpected, touching grace and pliancy.
But they are really only track layout plans. After all.
Here, drawing is simultaneously the organisation of knowledge, a deciphering process, and the apotropaic act of warding off demons and keeping harm at bay.
Andreas Schlaegel writes about Michael Witte's work (Back in Town, 2014, Kunsthaus Hamburg):
As in Michael Witte’s drawings, for instance, one of which maps out a residential estate, including regional transport connections to the outskirts of Berlin. The map, dominated by blue-green treetops, is dotted with brief, apparently incidental annotations: dates of the world wars, a small sketch of the Federal Republic of Germany and the former East Germany, human anatomy with lungs and stomach and the mysterious word Trichloräthylenblau . This stream of consciousness, mixing various snippets of fact and fantasy, reveals a distinct interest in artistic speculation vis-à-vis the German capital.
Another drawing continues this theme, with the districts in graduated tones and an idealised UBahn (subway stations) map, with notes on different churches, such as Church of Scientology, Church of England and Church of Satan. It is quite possible that these churches do exist, but what is fascinating about Witte’s work is the reinterpretation of that which already exists, liberating the city from its role as an overused symbol, for new forms of interpretation. The artist invents his own colour key for the Berlin districts, only to present in the next work, as an after-thought, a design for a casual Berlin hooded sweatshirt. This is so convincing that it could almost pass for an urban found object, such as the bright plastic lids or other mundane functional materials which Antje Bromma uses to make her lights. Laced to a frame with cords and definitely not crystal, they still produce a cheerful play of light and shadow on the walls and the art works. This playful engaging of individual artworks with one another sets the tone for the way in which the city motif is portrayed.
No substance of this name exists; the word is probably a combination of two chemicals: the colourless, hazardous solvent Trichlorethylen and Methylenblau, a dye used since the mid-19th century to stain the tissue of living organisms.