“We were to rest this evening in peace, there would be no threat of a raiding party, there would be no mortar for tonight there will be no war to fight… One by one they had fallen asleep and again I seemed to be the last still awake so with my pipe and a bit of tobacco I sat on top of the parapet. I watched the sky move past and the moon. I was the only man alive.” – Diary entry from December 24, 1914.
TRENCH – Diary of a German Soldier was one component of the multi-media triptych, “Surrounded by Lions”. Published independently, it is the fictional diary of Alphonse Korb, a young World War One soldier in the German 1st army. The diary begins with H. Korb’s mobilization on August 01, 1914 and concludes in Zurich in February of 1916 after, quite inexplicably following the sound of a discordant string quartet, he wandered off the trench lines, through the Swiss countryside and into the art maelstrom that was the Cabaret Voltaire, birthplace of Dada.
“A light that reflects from the evening sky, a glowing star I wander towards. Life is common from step to child, from cattle to stream, the peace of family. I am not one seen through these paths, I am not seen as a dream. I only hear the single strains of the string. I am found, I am where I am to be. Past door and café and past horse that carries no load. Past cart that carries no death. I am where God wishes me to be. I am unnoticed. A ghost on cobblestones. Here I will be my artist. Brief but forever, for a moment of my eternity, I am where God wishes me to be.” – Alphonse Graf arriving in Zurich February 1916.
The diary, which includes Alphonses’ drawings from the trenches, his poetry and a brief Dada manifesto, is introduced by Alexander Graf, who’s fictional life is the primary focus of Surrounded by Lions. H. Graf was a young tavern worker who befriended Alphonse after he arrived at the cabaret during a simultaneous poetry reading lead by Tristan Tzara. Both young men were artists, both a witness to history but only Alexander would live to realize his talent. Alphonse was doomed to return to the war, as he knew he must, and the carnage that was Verdun. It was during H. Korb’s last day in Zurich, and after an unsuccessful attempt on the life of V. Lenin, that he left the diary in the trust of Alexander.
As an artist, Alexander was mentored by Cabaret Voltaire and Dada founder Hugo Ball and his wife, Emmy Hennings. It was here, working as a bartender, waiter and cook, that Alexander would be educated about art and artists and be forever influenced by the movement that would alter the course of 20th century art and literature. With Alphonse returned to the war and Hugo and Emmy and Tristan and the rest of the Dadaists moving on, Alexander emigrated to New york City in 1920. It was here that he would meet his second most influential artist, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven and attempt to begin his life as an artist amidst the likes of Marcel Duchamp, ManRay and prohibition.
Surrounded by Lions was created as a multi-media triptych and live performance. The triptych included the aforementioned book, the short film, TRENCH(where Graf is interviewed in 1951 by a Dutch speaking giant fly) and a gallery show of paintings created by H. Graf. The live performance occurred in April of 2016.
TRENCH – Diary of a German Soldier was printing in a limited run of 50 copies and was included as part of the full ticket price for the live presentation Galerie Graf:DADA. There are a few remaining copies intended for distribution as a gift to a select group of international artists. An audio book is intended for production in 2017.
“Pages roll up behind my feet, only one page of life and history. There has been nothing before and nothing awaits, time moves with me in time and step. There has been no war and no past and I am the only man in existence amid the ghosts of those who have never existed.” – Alphonse Korb
The Surrounded by Lions project, included the written words, drawings and paintings and performances, both live and on film are all courtesy of the blog’s author and artist Lon Parker. Alexander and Alphonse are completely fictional characters and any resemblance to people, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Their creation was the result of extensive research, imagination and a strong personal attachment to the subjects of the project, that is, Art and War.