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 © Jens Harder (detail)

Jens Wiesner on "Cités - Lima"
The Beauty of the Fleeting Glimpse

Jens Harder rambled through Lima for five hours without a plan, without a goal. The outcome consists of fleeting, marginal observations that show that lengthy research isn’t always necessary.

It can drive you around the bend sometimes! It’s your first time visiting a foreign place, there’s a chance to explore a new culture, its people and its customs – and then the very work, that brought you to this place, traps you the entire time in conference and hotel rooms.

Graphic short stories about indigenous myths and legends

That’s what happened to Jens Harder in 2009 when he was in South America for the first time on the initiative of the Goethe-Institut. A workshop to create graphic short stories about indigenous myths and legends took the illustrator to the Peruvian capital of Lima. But his hopes of being able to go on an intensive tour of discovery during his time off came to nothing.

Perhaps Harder already suspected this might happen when he landed in Lima on a plane from Brazil. “I wanted to make use of my only day off and I started walking straight from the hotel with no plan or goal,” he recalls.

Four spotlights on Lima

The walk took Harder all over the city, from the affluent coastal districts to the foothills of the slums along the inland Rimac River. Through the four drawings published in his comic book "Cities – Empty Places, Crowded Streets," based on photos that he took along the way, we walk this path with him.

The reduction to four impressions, four spotlights, may initially disappoint the viewer – precisely because the other cities covered in the book were given significantly more space and drawings. That’s all? Our curiosity was just aroused! But out of necessity, the fleeting glimpse changes, intensifies, focuses. And the drawback becomes an advantage that activates our imagination.

The stories behind the drawings

The young couple in the background of the first street scene: What could the two of them be talking about? Where is the furniture transporter lugging his goods? Has he already sold them, or does he walk the streets every day hoping he will find a buyer? How do the people live in the poor neighbourhoods that eat their way into the hillside on the banks of the Rimac and are sketched with just a few strokes? Do they have real windows or just openings through which the wind whistles? Who built them, what are they made of?

The mind’s eye carries us further, into the past of the city, when animals and people were still sacrificed and tribal chiefs were buried in the temple complexes. The life-size statues that Harder sketched, fuel our imagination: Back then – between 200 and 700 BC – was the city already so often shrouded in thick clouds of fog as it is today? What skills and talents did it take to become a priest’s assistant? How did the rest of the population cope with everyday life?

Of course, we could look at Wikipedia or do more in-depth research in the nearest library to answer all of these questions. But why not stay in the dark and leave it to our own imagination? Harder’s four drawings can become the starting point for so many more pictures. Pictures, that arise only in our minds.

Cités: Lieux vides, rues passantes (French) – 28 August 2019. Publisher: ACTES SUD. Starting at 23 Euros.

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