The dowel of Damocles

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The dowel of Damocles

Video, 2005

The dowel of Damocles


Overload study




Fear lives in the smallest of cracks

Once upon a time, there was a man who was afraid. Because cracks were ajar in the corners of his room, branching out ever more finely ad infinitum. They were very wide next to the window and door. But what was worst for him was the unstable floor on which he stood and which his furniture weighed down, as the floor had noticeably cracked all the way to the wall, creating a chasm as it were.

Strangely, it was aversion that made him venture into the room every single day albeit with great care. This was because the man was also very afraid of vermin. His wife had to cut out all the pictures depicting insects and other small creatures in the morning newspapers before he could read them. She even had to remove articles that merely mentioned them. Naturally, then, he was most afraid that vermin might be colonising the countless cracks of the room.

One day, the man summoned up all his courage, bought putty and began to close all the cracks and crevices. But when he came into the room one week later, new cracks had burst open. Indeed, the putty itself showed fine yet clear cracks. The cracking noise in the room made him hurry off again and buy more putty with the last of his money. The man closed up all the cracks and crevices in his room again – but the result was the same. Again he applied more putty – and again. The cracking of the walls made his heart heavy. He again borrowed money in order to buy more putty and continued with his endless work.

When months later the police climbed into the flat through a window, they found two emaciated corpses on the floor. All the corners and wall connections had been puttied up with wide diagonal strokes. Even the door was hardly to be seen. The poor couple had spent all their money at the hardware store and had starved to death pitifully.

--> There are cracks and holes everywhere – and there is no end to them.

Both longing and load collaborate against the dowel’s resistance to give in.

The cross section of a two-storey building is shown. The legend of the sword of Damocles is expressed: a lamp hook in a dowel with a resistance to give in represents the weak spot, a cement block with furniture imprints represents the load, and a female air-guitar player shatters the very ceiling above the dowel.
→ Together, longing and load are able to loosen what is secure.


‘Damocles was a courtier of the younger and presumably also of the older Dionysius of Syracuse (4 BC). Dionysus allowed him to taste the unlimited delights of his princely table, but with a sword hanging on one strand of horsehair above his head. The sword of Damocles thus became proverbial for the danger that is always latent in joy and happiness.’ Trans. Brockhaus Lexicon, dtv, 1982.

Intended to hold lamps in the centre of a stucco rosette, the dowel’s load capacity is dramatically overstrained. Every moment is full of uncertainty about whether or not the actual load capacity will give in. The performance of the female air-guitar player is as unreal as the cement block precariously hanging from the lamp hook. The cement shows traces of furniture surfaces as if the walls were pulled up close to the last quiescent point: the entire load of domestic life is concentrated above the recliner. This is how it feels to be at the centre of the ever-constant and all-pervading threat – the threat of what is one’s own and what is simultaneously cut off from the outside world.
The beautiful air-guitar player is a phenomenal temptation. The desire to submit threatens what is fixed in a very different way.

‘The dowel of Damocles’ is about the doubt and uncertainty at the heart of the everyday refuge – it’s about a distrust of the home. The house as an uninhabited site. The house as a daily setting of domestic distrust. Foundations give in, plaster loosens and crumbles, walls cave in. Mould, mist, salt and the seven plagues all thrive between the cracks. The cracks undermine the firm belief in the statics of the house and drive away the peace. The unease is proof that something is not quite right and that domestic peace is mere pretence. The more hermetic the surfaces are, the greater the suspicion that one’s home has its own secret life. A struggle for survival against the protective cave begins. An obsession with an uncertain outcome. An obsession with a never-ending, recurring uncertainty. As if the inside were an imagined outside; as if – after finishing one’s daily work – one could rest within another deeper inside, an imminent eternal home with the glory of victory.
However: → Victories produce new threats.

Observation changes the observer. The person in this room wants to shake up the situation of longing and load, pull and shake the dowel with all their intent – by taking precautions. They, too, ultimately want to confront themselves, and so they create a world full of danger in order to not feel forced to accept this world. It is an ultimate delusion. The unsubstantial nature of the threat stands in direct relationship to the need of holding onto it. (It is often difficult to say what is worse: having a thought or holding onto it.) Holding onto the question hinders the answer. Those who are plagued by delusion are always a frightful moment ahead. And it can sometimes be long.
In the end, the driven one has to rest – yet their final rest is only found when they give in to the enemy. ‘At least I have a bed over my head,’ this person says and throws their furniture into the room for it to feed on.

The air guitar player’s boot