Chasing Shadows of Schlemihl’s Zoo | Anneke Ingwersen


Schlemihl stands in the desert. The cicadas are screaming like man-made sirens. The sun is slowly pushing the shadows of the cacti around their own axes. The occasional windy ghost of sand, dances around him like a whirling dervish. Walls of former houses are crumbling. The processes of ruination are all around him but he holds on. He has become united with the natural forces of light, wind and earth; yet he stays focused, standing as still as a salt figure. He holds a device in his gloved hands, trying to catch the shadows of the invisible aliens that trespass the horizon.

A long time ago, Schlemihl lost his shadow in a transaction with the devil. He traded it for a bottomless wallet, endless financial resources. He saw his shadow as futile, as a source of lost income, so he was rather delighted when the devil proposed the bargain. After his loss, he was surprised to discover to what length people would go to, to avoid him. It seemed as if they had developed an unconscious aversion to him. Apparently, those around him ranked his shadow more highly than he did.Even his closest friends rejected him. People sensed a certain absence around Schlemihl, but no one could name what it was. Even his civil rights as a member of the community started to go unrecognized. Every time he went to deal with some bureaucratic formality at the city hall, he was neglected and his requests went unprocessed. Everyone besides Schlemihl seemed to recognize some unspoken inner truth: Those who want to be integrated in human society must have a shadow.

Schlemihl decided to immigrate. To try to find another community that would accept him, but everywhere the same thing would occur. He was a man rejected by love and law. He lost sight of any possible connection with civilization. He was an outlaw, a pariah.

Finally Schlemihl decided to move away from the civilized world to find refuge in nature. At first Schlemihl felt freed from his bonds with the pressures of society. Was he now truly free? He had become a real Schlemihl—a person hiding away from society. Let’s look more closely at his activities out there.

The first signs of his activity are apparent in a wooded region in the North West of Mexico. In the dark forest Schlemihl adjusted to the loss of his own shadow. In the darkness of that space in which every shadow fades away, he could experience a comfort with his loss. He felt united with his surroundings, his individual identity was sucked up in a greater whole, the interconnected shady space of the woods. Traces of his time there were tracked and recorded by the experts: holes of light were suddenly appearing in certain spots. Like blind spots, they looked like fluorescent drawings. And when somebody moved close to one of these blind spots they would notice their shadow alter.

Schlemihl, however, grew more and more unsatisfied in his self-imposed exile from public life. He began searching for ways to reform bonds with society. He wanted to share something in public, something that needed to be shared. The next signs of Schlemihl and his altered behaviour were tracked and recorded by Agents of the Border Patrol in the Southwestern part of the United States, in the desert,around Marfa, Texas.

Experts are divided in the discussion around the symbolic meaning of Schlemihl’s transition between the antithetical spaces of the forest and the desert. Schlemihl felt himself that he had changed upon moving into the frontier of the desert—he felt empowered. Through his transition to the open fields of the desert—where the sunshine retraces, phantom-like, the contours of every object or creature—Schlemihl’s loss became more obvious than ever. The desert space continually reminded him of his absolute loneliness as the only creature without a shadow. Through this confrontation with the absence of his shadow, he became aware once again of his difference. It was there in the desert that he recognized his special abilities to trace the shadows of others.He had found a new project.


In the arid space of the desert, along the remote border region, Schlemihl noticed an odd occurrence: A caravan of camouflaged animals, wearing masks representing other animals, trespassing along the endless horizon. The masks made the animals unrecognizable. They utilized their strange disguises and slipped through the control mechanism of the state machine. They were unidentifiable; they became hybrids. But their shadows remained unaltered. This was where Schlemihl found his project. It was only Schlemihl, in his obsession with shadows, who could still recognize the animals’ true forms. However detailed and profound the creatures’ invented masks were, however great their success in misleading the Border Patrol, Schlemihl—the Shadowhunter himself—could still see them for what they really were.

Schlemihl stands in the desert. The cicadas are screaming like sirens. The sun is slowly pushing the shadows of the cacti around their own axes. Schlemihl the Shadowhunter is holding a screen. He is tracing and hunting for the animals’ real shadows. Schlemihl senses the shadows of hidden creatures. He knows what it means to be invisible. He feels an affinity with them, these so-called Aliens, and he recognizes the other Schlemihls of his time. He begins to track the animals.

We could call Schlemihl The Man of the Frontier Space. He knows how to move in the space outside of civil order, in a space of transgression, along the borderline. He thinks beyond the boundary—he is not intimidated by the strict and static lines formed by nation states. He is familiar with the transitional zone of explorers, smugglers, pioneers and settlers.

A special department of the Border Patrol is now investigating the kind of devices Schlemihl uses to hunt the animals’ shadows. The results were for a long time a well-kept secret, only recently becoming known to the public.The screen of the Shadowhunter, his main device, registers shadows via an optical-sonical system developed to detect activities which the untrained human eye would fail to register. It senses the intangible differences in light and mediates these differences into a drawing of the truth of the shadows. Schlemihl’s eyes, helped by the prosthesis of the shadow screen, are able to detect the undetectable: The shadows of disguised creatures. The device shows the outlines of their hidden identities.

Even during the night when the stars and the moon shed only scarce light, turning the shadows bluish, Schlemihl’s screen depicts the original shadows of trespassing creatures very clearly. The screen also functions as a kind of camera. Schlemihl’s screen captures the silhouettes on a special paper. He exhibits the registrations of the true silhouettes on public boards in nearby settlements. The papers seem, at first glance, to be a mixture of WANTED posters issued by the police and death notices, surrounded by a black square, published in the newspaper. Schlemihl has never been sighted sticking the posters on the boards or during a shadowhunt. There are only traces, which can be read by the spaces, the small fluorescent drawings, the blind spots, like shattered pieces of shadow on the ground.

His motivation for his activities has been unclear until now. Some say that he wants only to register shadows, to share them publicly, instating his status of a conscious pariah, that he wants to engage with the community around him, by making visible that which society tends to forget. Others believe that he is in charge of the United States Border Patrol, and his aim is to control the border region, to secure the territory of those who own a clear and true shadow.

But Schlemihl does not hinder the caravan of camouflaged animals. He lets them trespass. He simply registers—observes—saving outlaws from a life of invisibility and total absence. The task he ascribes himself seems rather endless. Like Sisyphus pushing the stone up the mountain. Like tracing your shadow in the sand.

Posted on by admin1963 Posted in Fall 2014, TAAK

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