Streifzug 5: Unity Men

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A ramble* on Friday, about 7:00 p.m. . .

This year marks the 25th anniversary of German reunification.

The federal state of Hesse, charged with organizing the celebrations, commissioned conceptual artist Ottmar Hörl to create an installation of serial sculptures.

As many as 1,000 little green Einheitsmännchen or Unity Men will tour Germany. At the moment — until August 30 — they are on the Schlossplatz in the city center of Stuttgart.

For my conceptual idea to release its communicative potential, I work in public spaces — a sphere that belongs to everyone and to nobody at the same time. . . . For this space — outside the confines of museums — I consciously choose motifs that are already firmly rooted in collective memory. By gradually shifting their context or by an act of re-creation, I turn them into a new experience.

In line with my strategy as an artist, it seemed obvious to me for the anniversary of the German reunification to adopt, and rework, the well-known East German Ampelmännchen, or traffic light man, first developed by Karl Peglau in 1961. I turned the two-dimensional pictogram of a little green man into a three-dimensional serial monochrome figure, carved in the round and standing 38 centimeters tall. He is still wearing his hat, but has been given a face, too. In a manner of speaking, this is a new generation Ampelmännchen, the Einheitsmännchen (“Unity Man”): cosmopolitan, friendly, and with a positive outlook for the future, smiling, holding out his hand in a attempt to meet you halfway, full of energy, dynamic, courageous, and advancing with determination. He is a symbol of our mobile society. . . . When our society manages to stay flexible, in motion, in a constant state of flux, there is always room for advancement and improvement. Individuals as well as society as an entity will thus keep their chance to escape the risk of paralysis or deadlock.

In this respect, the “Unity Man” may be regarded as an emblem of free democratic principles, of flexibility, of hope and trust in the future. . . .

Ottmar Hörl, from the exhibit’s brochure

The green men are available for sale online here. An unsigned figure is €60; a signed one is €140.

*Streifzug means ‘foray,’ ‘ brief survey,’ or ‘ramble.’