Nikolai Winter

The Dialogue of Hands: East Meets West

by Karen Gerig
translated by Daniel Young

Nikolai Winter is fond of hands, hands of flesh and blood or meter-high bronze hands at the museum in Rome. This fascination started a few years ago on a trip to the Far East where he discovered a small 11th Century Tibetan wood hand – it was the representation of a Buddhist gesture, the fingers partially broken off. Years later he repeatedly duplicated this image, creating an army of hands that mirrored the Chinese terracotta warriors. Just as a large mass of soldiers can have an ominous effect on people, the image of these individual hands can also remove people’s fears. These hands are so minimal that they function in a group as well as alone. The gesture that Nikolai Winter has chosen, Abhaya Mudra - that of a raised hand with a slightly bent middle finger – translates in Buddhism as ‘Do not be afraid’.

Before creating this army of hands, Nikolai Winter created individual ones. He quickly carved them out of Styrofoam, varnished the surface and created parts of the fingers from wire mesh. During this process he wasn’t interested in the meaning, but rather the working process and the technical implementation of an idea. The speed and power with which the carvings were made stand in contrast to the precision of the varnishing, a step that required a slowness that was needed to produce the perfect, scratch free surface. To this end the meaning of the gesture, its message and aura fuse together.

Nikolai Winter became more and more fascinated with using the hand as a means of communication. Coupled with his interest in Asian culture he began to further develop these expressions. Where as the Abhaya Mudra, represented by the artist in mystic purple, is an expression of fearlessness, the touching of the thumb and middle finger, the Shunya Mudra, symbolizes longevity. For the artist it seemed only logical to paint this hand in a blood red, a color that signifies the power of life.

At his St. Moritz exhibition, Nikolai Winter contrasts the spiritual gestures of the Far East with two great Western gestures. One is the gaudy pink victory sign represented as an outstretched V using the index and middle fingers. Not only does this symbolize victory, but also the desire to be victorious. The second gesture is the extended middle finger; a crude but internationally recognized symbol. For this he chose the shape of an elegant woman's hand, finished in subtle anthracite.

The works shown in St. Moritz are the résumé of a four-year period of creativity. West meets east, strength through peace, wealth and power through humility. Not only do the Buddhist inspired hands shine because of their polished surfaces, but also because of their innate spiritual purity. This is in contrast to the Western power gestures, which tend to wallow in a rich and conspicuous emptiness. Gestures that were never intended to be presented together, must now engage in a dialogue. As competing images they are compelled to escape their meaningful core, thus making the juxtaposition of their strengths more effective.