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Maria, Quelle des Lebens

Streaming alongside the Petuelring highway, the Nymphenburger Kanal was untill recently considered a borderline between two parts of the city of Munich. Since the motorway has become covered over, and the Petuel Parc was layed out on top of it, this canal can be seen as a symbol of unification. I am thinking about ‘Maria, Quelle des Lebens’ (Mary, source of life), a christian theme in which Mary is seen as life-receiving and life-spending source. The idea is to have a marble Madonna, sitting in a bath, carved in Carrara. She is receiving water from the Nymphenburger canal, which flows back into it from her hand.
Building the Petuel park on top of the now subterranean highway dissolves the physical barrier between two neighbourhoods. Since most people in Munich are catholic, I thought it meaningful to use a religious symbol representing both the spot and the populations in the area north and south of the Petuelring. This fountain provides a ritual encounter.
Above all it is an artwork which articulates the context of the new parc. As all artworks in the ‘Kunstprojekt Petuelpark’ confirm the development of a secular society, I want to ritualise this ‘new’ German terrain in a christian way and thereby show its political dimension. ‘Terrain’ is viewed in this context as a collection of decisions. I want to sharpen and question the definitions of art and culture and the position they hold.
To me, reintroducing religious tradition in modern art’s perception is exiting, but it only makes sense if the artwork has a genuine ritual function. Therefore, last time I visited Munich, I went to see Wolf Günther Zielinski, a priest of the Saint George church on the edge of the park in Milbertshofen. To my pleasure he welcomed the idea and thinks it fits well within a religious perception.
The fountain, that takes water from the canal and gives it back again, symbolises a new era. “Because the canal and later the Petuelring separated sections of the city, churches and people, the canal should now unite the residents again, flowing through the Petuel park,” priest Zielinski writes in a letter.
A fountain is in line with the figure of Mary. He sent some images of the Madonna, sitting in a well, and writes: “These icons corroborate the basic idea, a seated Madonna and child, receiving water from the Nymphenburger canal which flows back into the canal via water basins.”
The priest has found the other religious communities in the area willing to support the plan. The first Friday after Easter, the Orthodox Church celebrates ‘Maria, Quelle des Lebens’ (Mary, source of life). He thinks it is very well possible to have an annual procession to the fountain, celebrating the unification of the communities. In my opinion, that would be the ultimate effect of an artwork in public space.
I truly hope the city of Munich will permit to realise this work. I am a little worried that some art-oriented people will have a hard time thinking about this proposal as modern art. Please have them realise that the impact, that is to be expected from this work, can be interpreted as very modern!

Source: Hans van Houwelingen, letter to Stephan Huber, curator art project Petuelpark, München, 2001
Note: For his Mariaquelle, Hans van Houwelingen used an original Gothic masterpiece by the German sculptor Jacob Kaschauwer. Because of this, it became clear that this sculpture had been stolen 32 years ago from the Pfarrenkirche, a church in the Austrian village of Leobendorf, and, stripped of its original polychrome colouring, had been sold. Kaschauwer’s Madonna now stands in its original place, once again.