Daytime view, detail from inside, 2020

Nighttime view, 2020

Art in architecture project at Neues Palais,  University of Potsdam


88 laminated glass panes


   A field trip to Israel, a thornbush, a photograph. A historic orangery. A façade of coloured squares. This Is Not a Thornbush is the outcome of a process that considers the fundamental question of representability in relation to a symbolically charged plant.

In The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems (1974–75) Martha Rosler uses photography and text to investigate what she calls the “poverty of representation”.1 Michel Foucault, discussing Magritte’s The Treachery of Images, takes this a step further, asking what is actually meant by the “reality” of an object.2 In Judaism the unutterable (or unrepresentable) is associated with the name of God.

This Is Not a Thornbush began with questions such as: What does representation (and specifically photography) relate to religious thought and experience? What does representability have to do with the sphere of belief? How could one stimulate discussion of these questions at a place of religious study? And – last not least – how do these thoughts connect with the special situation of the historic orangery?


   The work comprises the glass façade that extends the length and height of the southern side of the building. The photograph of a thornbush was taken on a field trip to Israel. After removal of the background, the image was enlarged to the size of the façade. The process of enlargement reveals the smallest units of which the (digital) image is composed: monochrome squares (pixels).

The ultimate outcome of the process is loss of representation. The idea of the thornbush remains, but its image is no longer identifiable. All that is left is an arrangement of coloured squares. These are printed in translucent form onto the individual glass panes of the façade, of which they become a part (for example when viewed from outside when the lights are on inside). They also function as filters, creating shifting patterns of colour inside the building.

 As a wild desert shrub, the thornbush is antithetical to the building’s original purpose: an orangery housed precious exotic fruits for human consumption. In the Hebrew Bible the thornbush symbolises lowliness,3 and the thorn the pain of mortal life.4 In rabbinical literature the thornbush is frequently associated with the land of Israel.


   This Is Not a Thornbush is an art in architecture project in the context of the conversion of the former orangery of the Neues Palais to house the School of Jewish Theology at the University of Potsdam. 


[1] Martha Rosler, cited from, Hammer Museum Digital Archive. (accessed 2018).

[2] Michel Foucault, Dies ist keine Pfeife (Munich: Hanser, 1974).

[3] Judges 9:7ff.

[4] Genesis 3:18

Daytime view, detail from inside, 2020

Daytime view, detail from outside, 2020

Construction site, 2020

Competition entry, 2019

Renderings by Joseph Thanhäuser