By Angela Valente Romeo
More than one Austrian has spoken “I’ll be back”. And every August this Austrian returns to the Coachella Valley. Hans Biwi Lechner is an artist with a mission.
In 1986 Hans embarked on an ambitious global art project, The Common Denominator. The project has linked over 10,000 people through stones. “I found a thirty pound stone at the banks of the Danube River in Austria. I took it home and painted it with a symbol I created of a genderless human figure looking up to a triangle. To me this symbol represents the question we all ask, ‘What is the meaning of life.’ I have travelled the world, like Sisyphus who was sentenced by the Greek Gods to roll a stone against a steep hill. The stone always rolled back leaving Sisyphus to start the journey again. To me the stone is universal and we are all climbing a hill in a quest for answers. I am like Sisyphus. I am constantly rolling the stone around the world. It unites us. It makes us realize that we are more alike than we are different. The simple stone is more than an art project. It is never ending work that will for all eternity connect and unite people, beyond religion, color, money or nationality. We are all united in a common search for the meaning of life and we are all connected in this quest. Like the stone, it is always there, always will be and will always be a common denominator for all people.”
Hans seems intent on making us all think and question. I am a fan of the 1960’s cult show The Prisoner. His Blue Suitcase project is another bold conceptual artwork. In the tradition of the Dada Movement, Hans’ Blue Suitcase can be heaven or earth and can carry all one needs to journey through life. “This work is dedicated to the artists of the Beat Generation but I also looked to The Prisoner. That show asked more questions than it gave answers. The hero always pushed against the establishment for the sake of individuality. His fate was tied to the individual versus the collective establishment. That one’s life can be contained in a suitcase is as poignant. ”
Hans is always looking for answers and challenging us to join him. “I grew up in the shadow of World War II and the ugliness that is an inherent part of that era. I understand that power and submission is the loss of identity. I want to be a part of the generation that celebrates the individual and the common denominator, things that bring us together.”
August may bring the dog days of summer but it also brings Hans. His work continues the defiance of the Beats with the wanderlust of Gauguin and the truth that we are more alike than we are different.