Media comments on the book "Back to the Lakes" by Markus Ganz, with artwork by Betha Sarasin
Neue Zürcher Zeitung – 28. September 2018 – Feuilleton
When a pear tree falls in love with a water lily, it has to bend down
In the graphically elaborately designed book "Back to the Lakes" Markus Ganz tells the story of the journey of mythical creatures. The story is illustrated by idiosyncratic images of the late artist Betha Sarasin.
Markus Ganz is known above all as a music journalist who expertly and critically reports on pop cultural events and reviews albums. The fact that he also pursues completely different interests is in principle no surprise. But the story "Back to the Lakes", published by Friedrich-Reinhardt-Verlag in Basel, falls out of all frames and open drawers. Trilingual, German, Chinese and English, the text is supplemented by Ganz with pictures of the artist Betha Sarasin, who died in 2016 at the age of 86.
"Back to the Lakes" has a predecessor, the multimedia book "The Journey to the Lakes" from 1988, also illustrated by Betha Sarasin. Now, after thirty years, Markus Ganz has published a sequel. The two volumes are the result of a joint trip to China, hence the translation into Chinese.
Science fiction mythical creatures
The travelers to the lakes, are they mythical creatures from a science fiction fairy tale? There is the small pear tree Lantau, which was a must pear giant before a downsizing. The miniaturization seemed necessary to him for amorous reasons, because he discovered the love for the water lily Liliette. At the beginning of her journey Lantau puts the delicate blossom in his branches. A hawthorn called Habakus turns out to be a hermaphrodite who has decided to live his feminine side. When she, Habakus, talks to her thorny neighbours, we are talking about a "rustling chat". Other travellers have even stranger names: Balubalubi, Chichimoya and Koffitea - is the latter also a hermaphrodite, half coffee, half tea?
The destination of the magical beings are the magical lakes. The way there leads via La Serenissima, the old water city of Venice, where readers and protagonists get to know the new gods, including Dr. Qinghöngbäng, a digital idol (among others) with Facebook features: "People were less and less able to distinguish between reality and virtuality. For they were in bondage to Dr. Quinhöngbäng, constantly looking into the mirror book of ten thousand faces. That's why they had countless friends, but no one to meet, no one to meet. They were satisfied with themselves."
Journey to the West
Finally, three figures from "The Journey to the West", the groundbreaking Chinese novel from the 16th century, appear: the monkey king Sun Wukong, the insatiable boar Bajie and the wise sand monk. A "biocomputer lake" performs an actual water ballet, a false bird named Swi-Switch leaves his life in the fragrant flowers of the water rose, which he has fallen in love with just like the hawthorn.
Wondrous figures populate the fairytale-like travel narrative, in which past and future flow into each other. Equally peculiar are Betha Sarasin's illustrations, a mixture of concrete art and drawings that remind one of the surrealists Hans Bellmer and Leonor Fini. The conclusion does not solve any puzzles: "Until they understood that they had only dreamed the first journey and would only undertake it in the future. Or was the new journey perhaps just a dream? Is "Back to the Lakes" at the end a parable of life? The answer is left to the readers.
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Tages-Anzeiger - 26 July 2018 - Page: 28 - Culture & Society
Three plants on a salvation trip
The Zurich music journalist Markus Ganz has published a story.
Literature In "Back to the Lakes" a hero descends into the underworld, like Dante in "Commedia" - but in the end there is no ascent into the sky, but only a "spiralling fog" that gives no answers.
Markus Ganz, born in 1961, is a music journalist in Zurich. The music also plays a role in his new narrative, a continuation of the "Journey to the Lakes" published thirty years ago. For example, a fairytale bird called Swi-switch sings the "Song of the Young" by E-Neutöner Karlheinz Stockhausen. Already here it becomes clear that Ganz' story is not just a kind of modernized grim fairy tale. Although plants, trees and animals can also speak for him, they do so from a complex, contemporary human psyche, so to speak.
Humans are in bondage to "digital idols
Lantau, Liliette and Habakus - these are: a small pear tree, a water lily, a hedge bush - set off on a journey to the "magic lakes", whereby these lakes stand for a place of longing to "gain knowledge" and "redeem" people. Even if the plants Lantau, Liliette and Habakus are anthropomorphic, they are at the same time a counter-world to human reality.
At the beginning, the seemingly harmless story develops into a disastrous one. On the way to the magical lakes we encounter the three sensitive plant creatures of a human world that is in bondage to "digital idols" and that is also acclaimed as progress. A negative utopia.
Ganz's story is increasingly getting on your bones. This can become almost oppressive in combination with the many images that accompany the text. "Forever damned" is a large picture signed, on which thick black lines are hopelessly mixed up.
Homage to the artist Betha Sarasin
It comes from the Swiss artist Betha Sarasin, who died in 2016. Around a hundred of her pictures - paintings, drawings, computer-assisted works - illustrate the text (which also sees itself as a tribute to the artist). In their often abstract, multi-layered style of painting, they expel Ganz's narrative from the last seemingly harmless fairy-tale tone, pointing to the profound meaning of the text.
At the end of the book, at the "lake of fragrant flowers", all answers are lost in the fog. After all, there remains a little bit of salvation. Finally, at the lake, a "primordial sound full of dissonances" sounds, which conjures up a smile on even sad people's faces. And the sound wafts into the distance. It wafts towards the fog of missing answers. Loses itself only slowly. Loses itself nevertheless.