click on thumbnail image to watch video ‘Context’


the Cella Project: The development of Cella Capitalis.

The concept of synergy is central to the work of Reinhardt Helm. The fact that a combination of two or more of their works created different and unexpected changes in how these works were perceived had fascinated them for some time.

What fascinated even more was that the environment the works were placed in, introduced new changes both in perception and meaning. This puzzling and somewhat disturbing aspect of what they were to call ‘context’ was to be explored and exploited. Thus the ‘Cella’-project was conceived.

Cella is the root of the word ‘Cell’, as in ‘cellar’, or cellular. A small enclosure.

A Cella could take different shapes, from a hole in the ground  to a circular shaped walled space. It needs an entrance, but in principle it is a very basic architectural given. No windows, no ornaments. Reinhardt Helm developed different kinds of Cellae.

Cella Capitalis

Two works, a painting and an object, which somehow suggested a  relationship, were chosen for the first experiments with an enclosure. They were Reinhardt’s painting ‘Segunda muerte de Goya’ and Helms ‘In Suspended Animation 6’. The theme of both works is movement and stagnation, life and death. Their relationship is less formal than it is metaphysical. They influence each other. The object faces the painting. It seems to contemplate its meaning. The painting seems to explode outward, but is confined by its rectangular black frame, the frame echoing in the steel frame of ‘in ‘Suspended Animation’.

The dimensions of both works determine the dimensions of the enclosure. The artists aimed for the most efficient and minimal use of space, the smallest enclosure possible. Small, yet not oppressive. Intimate, but not womblike.

Formal dimensions:

By experimentally positioning both works in the studio, the artists could decide on dimensions and proportions.

A square groundplan was chosen as a matter of course: The ground-plan of ‘’in Suspended Animation’ was a square. To contain both painting and object, the plan could be no smaller than 4 x 4 meters. Symmetry suggested itself.


The walls could not be lower than 3 meters without visually crushing both object and painting. A new context presented itself: The Pythagorean triangle, a basic geometrical formula. A code of relationships of a different kind, recognisable through the ages.

An entrance with a minimal width of 80 cm would run the full height of the enclosing wall, thus preventing the need for an architrave. The cella would be capped by a semi-transparent  roof,  supported by wooden beams.

Reinhardt Helm was provided with the opportunity to actually realise ‘Cella Capitalis’ in 1995.

Its prototypical form was constructed from plaster blocks, with stained stucco on the inside walls. Its floor was covered in sand, lending a different tactile sensation from the outside world. A threshold was made from thick African Red granite, with gilded lettering. A paper roof provided diffuse lighting inside.

An audio track was made by the artists, which filled the Cella with a dynamic sound scape. The air was scented with incense, thus all the senses would be influenced by entering its inner space.

 Cella Capitalis became the manifesto for Reinhardt Helm.


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